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THESE ARE OUR SAVIORS? SPARE US!

THESE ARE OUR SAVIORS? SPARE US!

It is interesting that people who hate government are so desperate to be involved in its epicenter. Thus we have Bennett of Utah and now Lugar of Indiana who are insufficiently right wing to cut the mustard, and must go – and have gone.

 Apparently the rationale of the far right wing is to get into government so that they can destroy it. There seems to be an attitude that government is inherently bad and that we must follow the constitution in order to defray its excesses, real or imagined. This view is the opposite of the view of the Founders who wrote the constitution and considered government to be a noble exercise of representative democracy, the central thread/rationale for having a government in the first place.

I am of the opinion that a lot of the line we hear from the right is false by design; that they care little of the real issues of the day (unemployment, international trade issues, the environment etc.), but use them very cynically for the purpose of effectuating their real design, which is to make the rich and corporate class richer with a view toward a form of a latter day feudalist state in which we are the vassals and corporations are (effectively) the state. I have blogged on this topic a couple of times to this effect.

Methodologies to make this happen include privatization efforts (designed to make profits and remove public control over public matters such as education, social security and other now government programs where lots of money is there for the taking). It is important in such a scheme of things that all such programs subject to privatization be trashed by pre-takeover propaganda about how  cost ineffective and un-American they are, how government cannot do anything right, and how private enterprise can come in on the white horse and save the day.

There are those of us who disagree with this cozy assessment; we have seen the bankrupt prone Trumps, Gilded Age trusts, the Enrons, Madoffs et al. and have witnessed firsthand the performances of those on the white horses in our recent bailouts of these intrepid horsemen, who never met an asset that could not be securitized.

These are our saviors? Spare us!

It appears that the role of government should properly be to bail out the rich but leave the poor and the veterans under the bridge in the far right wing’s philosophy of government. It seems to me that if the only real purpose of government is to serve as a blocking back for the rich ball carrier to make money, whatever the pretense and propaganda, then it is time to cancel the game. I, for one do not wish to participate in such a phony excuse for government, where money capital writes and enforces the rules ranging from sexual mores to the air we breathe. There are numerous and better options, and all involve an active engagement of the citizenry and a refusal to sell our public wealth and our futures as serfs serving a corporate culture.

 We should show corporate privatizers the gate and proceed to flesh out our own futures (financed in part by more equitable taxation rates – the latest outrage being that GE has paid an annualized rate of only 2.3% on its billions in profits over the last decade, a far less rate than many pay who are on food stamps)! Such disparities in financing America (among other things) must cease – now!  GERALD E

CONSTANTINE AND WHAT HE WROUGHT

CONSTANTINE AND WHAT HE WROUGHT

I have just finished reading a book by Kevin Phillips entitled American Theocracy published in 2006 in which he discusses at some length the joining of church and state in this country and in other countries in history who have joined church and state and how such joinders have worked out. In general, they haven’t worked out well, but of course there were economic and political and other factors that led to the downfall of other once great countries, so it seems to me, even in retrospect, that assigning religion as a principal force leading to downfall of nation states is an exercise in subjectivity though occasionally accurate.

At any rate, this is not a review of his book, though it is a good one. This essay springs from history I already knew before reading his book, though reading his book has inspired me to write this piece. I have always been fascinated by how a little known Palestinian sect from a far flung unimportant Roman province which combined the Jewish idea of one god and a risen messiah could conquer mighty Rome; how such persecuted believers could face life in the catacombs and be eaten by lions and still conquer Rome from within, something no one else could do militarily or philosophically up to the time of the Emperor Constantine, whose conversion to Christianity and decision to split Christianity into two venues, Constantinople and Rome, had historic consequences still felt today.

The polytheistic Rome followed before Christianity came to town was a liberal religion. Not many Romans were entranced with their religion. It was not central to their lives as it was to Christians and was not invasive in matters of state. The gods were mostly associated with such matters as fertility, harvests, war and the like, pagan celebrations according to the immigrant Christians and those in Rome they proselytized. The Romans, on the other hand, considered the Christians’ fixation with a risen redeemer and monotheism as pagan. Crucifixion of Christians and slaves involved in uprisings continued as before. Rome was Rome, and justice was speedy – and stern.

Phillips assigns more emphasis on the church state Constantine ordered toward the end of the fourth century A.D. as the reason Rome fell than I would. I am sure it was a factor, but in fact Rome was headed for the dustbin of history by reason of political and moral rot long before Constantine came on the scene, and by the time he declared himself a Christian and his order that the state church of Rome would henceforth be Christian there were many other externalities that, in my opinion, would have caused Rome to fall irrespective of his admixture of religion and government. Rome was vastly over-extended; it was nearing defeat by Assyrians to the east and was defending borders on the Rhine and Danube which drained their treasury, not to mention the “barbarians” at their gate who, after multiple sacks of the city, finally ended the Roman Empire in 476 A.D. Christianity had been the state religion of Rome for almost a century before its fall and the so-called Pax Romano (or Roman Peace) was hardly peaceful, and it was costly, whether its state religion was polytheistic or monotheistic.

Constantine was around when the final canonized version of the bible was approved at the Second Council of Nicea in 381 A.D., approved by bishops from Alexandria and elsewhere, and I recall hearing a preacher tell us that the average bishop of that time had the equivalent of a high school education, though that elitist observation would not be a problem if inspired by God, as they claimed.

So, speaking of Alexandria, what happened to the Great Library of Alexandria, which was one of the “Seven Wonders of the Ancient World,” a library established by Alexander the Great, whose mentor was the Athenian Aristotle, perhaps the most brilliant man in history? The newly empowered Christian Rome shut it down, disavowed such classic characters as Aristotle and Socrates and Pericles and essentially laid civilization to rest through the Dark Ages for some 1,000 more years, before Galileo and others braved burning at the stake for their scientific findings and the Renaissance begun in the city-state of Florence.

There was no church and state problem during such dark interlude because the church was the state. (We have a similar problem today where all laws in Iran must pass final approval by reigning ayatollahs.) Everything thing had to pass muster through the papacy during the Dark and Middle Ages, such as Charlemagne’s papal appointment as emperor of the Holy Roman Empire (which Voltaire noted was neither Holy, Roman nor an Empire). Rome was militarily great and ruled for some 1,000 years, and then after Constantine’s edict, ruled via religion by another 1,000 year or so, until the likes of Copernicus and others who knew more than any pope about astronomy and that the earth revolved around the sun and not vice versa, an assertion that could earn such a scientist a trip to burning at the stake if it was deemed to be contrary to papal authority, hardly a Christian response to free thought and scientific inquiry by my standards today, as in what do preachers know about stem-cell research?

To bring this old situation up to date, there are those who as seen would apply a religious sanction to science today if and when it is deemed to conflict with their subjective view of what God’s intentions are. I think this is akin to the tinkering of scriptures that medieval monks did with the product of the Second Council’s efforts in 381 A.D., and for the same purpose, i.e., the takeover of the state by the church.

As the reader will have guessed by now, I am 100 percent for separation of church and state not to demean either’s influence in a free society, but rather to show that in the real world whether divine or profane separation works best for all of us whether we are religious or not – and that history proves it.    GERALD      E

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE BOTTO HOUSE AND THE SILK STRIKE (PART II)

THE BOTTO HOUSE AND THE SILK STRIKE (PART II)

There are Luddites in spirit if not form in every economic transition, of course, from the home-built to the central workshop of manufacture, and now in broader terms from such an industrial society (aided by automation) to an information society (also aided by automation), all such transitions which trigger a certain resentment of those whose jobs are displaced by innovation, and who can know at this time what the transition from our information society to the next economic transition and its effect on working people (if any) will look like?  What will their then resentment look like and what will be their sociopolitical response be to massive automation and job displacement, which remains to be seen?

These are not matters dwelled on by working people who have mortgages to pay and children to be educated today, and the silk strikers in their day did not dwell on such niceties, either. With a few exceptions, they left such theoretical concerns to academia. The silk workers lived in the real world and not some theoretical construct and wanted an eight hour day, better working conditions, raises in pay and assurances that there would be no retaliation for their participation in strikes; they lived in the world of the here and now and not some promised future capitalistic nirvana that hadn’t yet arrived.

They were living in a world of flux, where in 1913 the war clouds of World War I were looming and but a year away, where the Russian Revolution was only four years away, and where perhaps half of them were impoverished by innovation and thus susceptible to the hue and cry of socialist and communist agitators. They were what I would call social Luddites but blamed the mill owners and not the improved looms for their plight. There were hard-working immigrants of every language and description who looked for help from any source, and socialists such as Sinclair and communists such as Harwood filled the bill, much to the consternation of more conventional labor leaders of the day such as Samuel Gompers, who said that the Wobblies were treating the Paterson strike as though it were “the revolution.” Margaret Sanger, Planned Parenthood founder, also disagreed with the Wobblies’ treatment of the strike and sought alliances with middle-class reform movements. It is easy to assess blame in retrospect, and an argument can be made that the Paterson silk strike of yore can be attributed neither to innovation nor left wing agitation but rather to poor pay, child labor and deplorable working conditions provided by the mill owners which in turn invited the strike.

The Paterson strike in 1913 started with a walkout of 800 silk weavers in late January, and on February 25, 1913, 5,000 mostly Jewish weavers walked off the job. By spring, 300 mills were shut down and within the next six months, 4,800 people were arrested out of which 1,300 were sent to jail. What started the strike was not destruction of the looms, which never happened, but a Luddite response nonetheless as noted in Part I of this essay as the silk workers resented the introduction of the so-called four-loom system which allowed the mill owners to lay off half their workforces while doubling their production. These workers were not socialists or communists; they just wanted decent jobs at decent pay, the same situation that even ardent capitalist workers wanted. Paterson nevertheless became wrongly known as “Red City” due to socialist and communist agitation in the strike by way of mill owner propaganda, which it was not. The agitators were not on strike; the silk workers were.

Even the four-loom system might not have provoked the strike if the mill owners had increased the wages of the remaining weavers, but they did not. The profits increased by such innovation went to their bottom lines, much as increased worker productivity has gone unshared and sent to corporate bottom lines in this country for the last four decades and continuing to the present while median wages adjusted for inflation have been static or even falling, all of which raises the question of whether innovation is good for working people or just another means of sending them into poverty while Wall Street grabs the resulting profits. Current and politically approved practice gives such growth in worker productivity 100 percent to the financial sector and has for forty years. Result? Chronic wage inequality, which in my opinion is the number one domestic issue of the day and the greatest cause of our underperforming economy with its depressing effect on aggregate demand in the marketplace.

No one wants to talk about automation, including (as Keizer reports) either Trump or Hillary during our last election campaign, who were, as he nicely puts it, “constrained by prevailing pieties,” and he further notes that “. . . The Paterson strikers would have had fewer scruples about offending the gods of high tech and their tweeting evangelists.” We heard much from Trump about “horrible trade treaties” and how they are taking jobs from Americans but not a peep about accelerating automation which is doing the same thing, so should we join the Luddites and stop or slow the pace of innovation? Of course not.

What we should be doing is agitating for a system that shares the wealth innovation brings to the table with the rest of us and not just handed over to the financial class on Wall Street, but that’s a topic for another essay, one in which not innovation but how to distribute the profits it brings to the market is the topic for discussion, especially when much of the basic research that led to such innovations is paid for by you and me via government appropriations for R & D, and thus when Wall Street hogs such increased profits, it amounts to nothing more than corporate welfare in indirect fashion, but corporate welfare nonetheless, as in, where are the dividends owed to you and me coming from our investments in such innovation?

Where’s our share, and how do we collect it? Hint – how about a separate tax on taxpayer-funded innovation to corporations who are now getting a free ride on our investments in proportion to identifiable corporate profits resulting from use of such innovation? I will leave the details to the tax wizards, but there has to be a way for you and me to recover our investment beyond handing it over to financiers, who in many cases will compound this socioeconomic felony by patenting and licensing such innovation over the years for yet further profits – while complaining of high taxes and overregulation.

Keizer notes that one of the most poignant photographs at the Botto House Museum shows three rows of Jewish children, posed as in a school function, just before their evacuation from their homes to out of town safety by striking parents, sober-faced in their caps, knickers, and pinafores. He writes that it takes a moment to realize that some of these children may have also been on strike. This is a disgusting possibility, and tells me all I need to know about why child labor was later outlawed. I was reminded of the novel Oliver in which Charles Dickens targeted child labor during the Industrial Revolution in Britain almost a century before the silk strike, an unconscionable use of innocent human labor then and now.

So, beyond the sensational intervention of socialists and communists who had their own political fish to fry and seizing on the Paterson silk strike to demonstrate their views, what have we learned from this famous strike? We know that the workers capitulated and went back to work in July, 1913, and that the mill owners ended their child labor practices in Paterson by outsourcing their production to annexes in Pennsylvania, where the wives and children of coal miners were more easily brought to heel. So what have we learned? Very little, as demonstrated by union membership today on the verge of collapse and a financial class that is hogging all the income and wealth of our economy while pontificating about such  diversionary nonsense as “free markets” and supremacy of private enterprise’s profits over the common good.

What to do? Change politicians. Do something for working people. End this charade.     GERALD      E

 

THE BOTTO HOUSE AND THE SILK STRIKE (PART I)

THE BOTTO HOUSE AND THE SILK STRIKE (PART I)

I was acquainted with the Paterson Silk Strike of 1913 over a century ago from taking a couple of labor economics courses in undergraduate school leading to my degree in economics, but it was a bare acquaintance. I knew some of the contours and results of the strike but few of the details of this sordid experience in labor history where even skilled immigrants along with the unskilled were treated like criminals during this and other strikes in the silk industry, especially those strikers who were Irish, Italian and Jewish. I know much more now thanks to an article in the July edition of Harper’s Magazine entitled “Labor’s Schoolhouse, Lessons from the Paterson Strike of 1913,” by Garret Keizer, which serves as my research base for this essay thanks to his efforts.

The Bottos came to Ellis Island from Italy in 1892. He was 26, his wife was 22 and they had a one year old daughter. Pietro Botto was a skilled weaver from the Piedmont region in Italy renowned for its weaving. His skills made it easy for him to get a job in New Jersey’s thriving textile industry. He worked in a silk factory in Paterson, New Jersey, and his wife Maria worked at home “picking silk” for imperfections while maintaining the household and giving birth to three more daughters. The Bottos were hard working and thrifty and in 1907 had saved enough money to build a 12-room house in Haledon, a suburb of Paterson and within easy “trolley ride” for transportation, a house now known as The Botto House and a tourist site which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.

The Bottos were ambitious. They supplemented their income by renting out their upstairs rooms and conducting a kind of workers’ weekend resort, cooking and serving as many as 100 guests, featuring homemade wine. There was a small balcony attached to the front of the house, a balcony during several months of the Silk Strike of 1913 in Paterson that featured such notable speakers as Upton Sinclair and organizers for the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World, familiarly known as “Wobblies”) such as Elizabeth Gurley Flynn and “Big Bill” Haywood, who spoke to crowds in Haledon numbering from 3,000 to 25,000, most of whom were striking silk workers.

The crowds were diverse, and deliberately so, as agents for the silk industry went to Ellis Island to recruit a workforce as diverse as possible with the hope that language differences and ethnic rivalries would serve as a check on collective action. (Keizer reports intra-ethnic bias as well with his recounting of the story of a northern Italian woman that if a girl came home and said that she was going with a Napolitano, “Oh, her father would have killed her.” (It seems there was a north and a south Italy with their own sets of biases, and as an aside and though past the dating age, I note this with some levity, being myself a part-time resident of Naples, Florida.)

Paterson had a history as America’s first planned industrial city and began producing silk products in 1840. By 1910 it was producing half of the silk draperies, upholsteries, and clothing in the United States with more than 20,000 men, women and children who worked in the 276 mills, one of which employed 8,000 workers in a virtual city within a city. Children as young as eight climbed up the giant looms to fix jams and remove impurities and Paterson’s schools were open at night for children who had the energy after a ten-hour workday to go to school. One such mill hired only women, believing them to be more docile than men, and withheld every new hire’s wages for the first six months. A strike under such workplace conditions was certainly in order in 1913; we were still 20 years or more from FDRs New Deal labor reforms featuring the Wagner Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act, long and painfully overdue.

Owners of the silk mills in Paterson who hired immigrant labor straight from Ellis Island to Paterson (not far away from New York City where such immigrants disembarked) were cut from the same pattern as corporate owners are these days, though modern employers (finally) can’t get by with hiring child labor and not paying wages for six months’ running, not even with Republicans in control. Slavery, after all and at least officially, has been outlawed by constitutional amendment following the Civil War.

These days we substitute right to work and other legislative edicts and rules to blunt the labor reforms of the New Deal such as, for instance, Trump’s proposed rule in his infrastructure plan to allow states to set prevailing wages in their jurisdictions for work done there, in defiance of the federal Davis-Bacon Act which, unsurprisingly, acts to set “prevailing wages” at a higher rate than those likely to be set by states and which, if my conspiracy theory is any measure, gives Trump an opportunity to decide what states will be in line for his infrastructure plan to (as cheaply as possible) gussy up our roads and highways and bridges before handing our transportation system over to Wall Street privatizers who will make guaranteed profits from our tolls and fees for using the roads, highways and bridges we used to own and use in common.

Strikers at Paterson included workers from nine nationalities, including thousands of Jewish weavers, who when Upton Sinclair and others were giving speeches from the Botto House’s balcony, would come to the front of the line when the speeches were translated into their language. They, unlike now, were united in understanding that the touted benefits of technology are always contingent on who owns the means of production. They were not Luddites; when the so-called four-loom system doubled the mill owners’ production and triggered layoffs of half of their workforce, they did not destroy the looms as did the Luddites in Britain. They instead demanded an eight-hour day, wage raises, improved work schedules and a promise of no retaliation for union activities (all demands later recognized in New Deal legislation), but the local politicians and police and the mill owners and other hardliners at the time weren’t having it. As one Socialist and editor wrote of police conduct at the time: “They don’t waste words with workingmen – they simply crack their heads.” Whose heads? Those of thousands of Irish, Italian and Jewish members of the workforce which, I hope but cannot know, at least excluded women and children.

I will discuss the results of the Paterson strike and its contrasts with modern day Republican treatment of our workforce, both immigrant and native, such treatment being in many respects a fine-tuning of that employed by the mill owners in Paterson, but under thinly-disguised legislative cover, in Part II. Stay tuned.     GERALD      E

 

 

 

 

 

TRUMP AND THE PARIS AGREEMENT

TRUMP AND THE PARIS AGREEMENT

As we all know by now, Trump has said that the United States will be withdrawing from the Paris Agreement on climate control, which at the recent G-20 conference earned him the enmity of the other 19 members who said their decision to join the accord was “irreversible,” though Turkey has since indicated that their country in a “monkey see, monkey do” mimicking would also withdraw. Whether Trump in his otherworld wishes to withdraw because Obama agreed to it or because of corporate lobbyists who see their clients’ business models and profits at stake or for some other unknown reason I do not and cannot know. My guess is that his decision is a bit of overturning anything Obama has done but mostly because of protecting corporate bottom lines, including his own.

Elizabeth Warren in her new book, This Fight is our Fight, zeroes in on the tactics used by huge corporations to continue their for-profit destruction of our environment. She observes that 97% of climate scientists agree that the evidence is beyond challenge; that climate change is already here and that when fake experts are paid off to lie to us that they are putting all of us in “grave danger.” I agree with her. I think that chronic wage inequality is our greatest domestic issue which when played out could destroy our market economy and that climate change is our greatest global issue which is, as she notes, “because the climate of our planet is changing in ways that could make life as we know it impossible. . . . . The American Academy of Pediatrics has warned that global warming endangers the health of our children, and the American Lung Association has concluded that millions of people face greater risk to their health because of climate change.”

I am reminded of the lead threat to our environment years ago when it was a component in the mix of paints and gasoline. Humans and especially children were dying or having their brains adversely affected by ingesting leaded paint and fumes from burning leaded gasoline. We reached political consensus on what to do about it and largely ended that threat to the health and futures of Americans.

Though we have reached a 97 percent scientific consensus on global warming we are nowhere near reaching political consensus on not only what to do about it but whether it actually exists, as insisted by corporate lobbyists and paid think tanks. Why, when we (and the overwhelming number of G-20 countries) know (per Warren) that “dirty power plants and emissions from our cars and clear-cutting of forests are accelerating changes that are likely to have catastrophic consequences for our planet?”

So what is the reaction of the giant polluters to this looming catastrophe? It would cost them a lot of money to change their power sources, alter their business models and make other efforts to reduce their environmental impact, so how do they respond, like the Koch Brothers, for instance, whose many lines of business make them a top polluter of our air and water? Easy; deny the problem exists, but how can they deny 97 percent of the scientific community who put their respective reputations on the line who say it does in fact exist. Again easy (per Warren); just bring in a bunch of experts-for-hire, fund phony op-eds, underwrite fake academic articles, and shovel big money into friendly think tanks to support even more fake experts.

The Koch Brothers and their organizations have given $88 million into groups that deny the existence of climate change, not to mention secret other donations to so-called “non-profit” organizations which deny climate change. Warren reports that one study turned up $558 million in secret donations made between 2003 and 2010 to groups denying climate change.

Is it working? Yes, indeed, and now we have a president who is withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, which presumably gives legitimacy to corporate propaganda that global warming does not exist, or if it does, it is not man-made. Such well-funded climate deniers just keep repeating over and over that there’s no consensus, a lie in view of the fact that 97 percent of climate scientists say otherwise, but as Dr. Goebbels advised Hitler, if you just keep telling the big lie people will consider it to be true. Thus the goal of the climate deniers is gridlock and paralysis, maintenance of the status quo and profit-making of their polluting clients. The losers? All of us everywhere on the planet, including the Koch Brothers, who along with their progeny have to breathe, too.

So where are we? How far will we go to protect corporate profits over, literally, international survival? With his withdrawal from the Paris Agreement and his calling climate change a “hoax” dreamed up by China, Trump has apparently caved in to corporate propaganda and will do nothing to slow our corporate contributions to foul air and water and soil on the only planet we will ever know. I also note in passing that China is one of the G-20 nations who recently advised Trump at their meeting that their decision to abide by the Paris Agreement is “irreversible.” Trump aside > That is action and not a “hoax,” Donald. The only “hoax” in this environmental arena is the one you and your corporate friends are pulling on the rest of us to preserve their and your profit pictures and to blazes with the planet and its inhabitants.

It is glaringly obvious that Trump cannot lead; he cannot even follow. So much for America’s leadership in the world so carefully put together from The Bretton Woods Conference in New Hampshire in 1944 to today as this Bannon-inspired loose gun continues to isolate America from mainstream global thinking and critical decision-making.

What’s next? Will he propose that the American dollar that became the world’s reserve currency at the Bretton Woods Conference be abandoned to Chinese and Russian demands for a “basket of currencies” as the world’s new reserve currency? Withdrawal from NATO? (Yes, I heard him say a few days ago that our backing of NATO has never been stronger, but who can believe anything he says when he reverses course five minutes from now?)

So what now? My advice is to keep telling the truth and keep resisting Trump’s campaign to “Make America Second-Rate Again.”      GERALD       E

 

 

 

 

INFORMATIONAL MALPRACTICE AND ELECTORAL MEDDLING

INFORMATIONAL MALPRACTICE AND ELECTORAL MEDDLING

I am a lawyer and though retired from the practice for many years I plead guilty to informational malpractice. I should have figured out what I am about ready to describe long ago, but didn’t, hence my plea.  I have just discovered a connection between one of the effects of the Supreme Court’s holding in Citizens United v. FEC and possible and even likely foreign meddling in our elections. How so? Bear with me while I first write the background for this discovery.

Citizens United (wrongly in my opinion) decided that corporations were people, that money was speech (in a legal sense) and that corporations could spend as much money in electing candidates as they pleased – no limitations – thus opening the legal floodgates for truckloads of cash to buy our elections. I assumed that such an ability to buy elections along with state ALEC-sponsored suppression of rights of human voters and gerrymandering could lead to minority rule, and I was right, since Trump lost by millions of votes but won by geography, hardly the mark of a democracy in which we are supposed to be governed by those who win a majority of the vote. I think the Citizens United holding was the second worst in Supreme Court history, surpassed only by its Dred Scott decision.

What did not occur to me and why I am pleading guilty to informational malpractice is that I did not connect the court’s unleashing of billions of dollars by corporations with foreign investors. I just learned today for the first time that as much as 25 percent of the stock held in publicly owned American corporations is owned by foreigners in the name of trustees for such foreigners who do not want their names known (much as Americans with their Swiss bank accounts) because they are laundering their loot from their countries into Western investments in bonds, equities, real estate and other such assets both tangible and intangible, and don’t want people back home to know about it for fear of revolution.

We have laws in this country which strictly forbid foreigners from spending any money to influence our elections, but, since corporations are “people,” and Citizens United says that corporations can spend as much as they please in our elections, presumably corporations however owned are exempted from our other laws which proscribe such investments (“investments” which may be designed to facilitate meddling in our elections while simultaneously hiding such assets from public view). When finally connecting the dots, it occurred to me that it is not only the Saudis who have major investments in our stock market, but that it may also include such as Putin and his merry band of oligarchs from Russia who are (via their trustees) now arguably if indirectly legally entitled to “meddle” due to the conflict of Citizens United with prior law.

Where the rubber meets the road, then which one applies, our prior laws which outlaw any money from foreigners in our political campaigns, or the Citizens United holding that says that corporations may spend any amount of money they please in influencing our elections? Can we invite foreign control of our elections just because there is a corporate cover for their otherwise illegal acts? If Putin or even the Saudis can either influence or direct their partly or wholly-owned corporations to spend money for a particular candidate, it seems to me we have a serious conflict of laws and one that should be resolved promptly. Talk about inviting the foxes into the henhouse, and even foreign foxes at that!

There are many ways to launder foreign plunder into Western investments. The most notorious means for Putin and his oligarchs is via the Bank of Cyprus, a bank which Trump’s current Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, once co-chaired with a Russian under the thumb of Putin. Other methods include buying real estate at vastly inflated prices, as was the case when a Russian oligarch bought a piece of real estate in Florida from Trump, property valued at some 40 million dollars which Trump sold for some 80 to 90 million dollars. There are probably a number of more secretive and sophisticated ways to convert rubles into dollars or euros of which I am unaware, and I hope Mueller is investigating those as well as the ones we know about because I think but cannot yet prove that what happened with the Trump-Putin-Ross connection with the Bank of Cyprus may be one of the keys to Trump’s removal from office, among other corrupt and illegal acts.

Meanwhile, what are we going to do about this conflict of laws? We can’t have it both ways. We badly need clarification of whether corporations wholly or partly owned by foreigners can spend all the money they please in electing candidates of their choice. If they can, and if they team up with libertarian interests such as the domestic Kochs and the Mercers who are currently buying our elections, then it seems to me that our experiment with democracy is over and that Bannon and Trump were successful in not only “destroying the administrative state” but in destroying the state itself. Can’t happen here? Don’t be too sure.      GERALD       E

 

UNREGULATED CAPITALISM

UNREGULATED CAPITALISM

I am about half way through reading a book by a socialist but still cling to the fleeting hope that capitalism can work if properly regulated by those of us who have an interest in their activities, though not as investors, managers, shareholders or bondholders of corporate enterprises. Corporations have more actors involved in what they do and don’t do than mere financiers. The rest of us are consumers, producers, vendors, vendees, environmentalists and others who have a stake in corporate enterprises in our respective capacities as well and we should have a say in what they do and don’t do via regulation in our community, our state, our country and increasingly, what our corporations do overseas in the global economy. (See the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which our Wall Street banks routinely ignore, since those such as JP Morgan Chase when caught pay a chump change fine for their corrupt briberies and their executives walk. The CEO of JP Morgan Chase was even given a raise by his board after his bank admitted to bribery in China for his deft handling of this potential PR disaster!)

On a purely local level, for instance, we have zoning laws that protect churches and residential neighborhoods from having slaughterhouses and drive-in movies next door. We restrict toxic enterprises from operating next to schools. We, in short, regulate noxious activities in the name of public safety, as well we should, but we have trouble in regulating the financially toxic activities of a faraway and very influential Wall Street that affect all of us, and when we try we are met with cries of socialism, anti-free enterprise and the usual propaganda of libertarian bankers backed by their legislative toadies who want to be left alone to pursue the buck and if a bit of graft and bribes make a buck, so be it – they have to compete with other bankers and it’s none of the government’s “regulatory” business. Free enterprise, you know, but for whom?

How free was it for the millions of Americans who lost their jobs and homes and $22 trillion in home equity they were depending on in retirement as a result of the banks’ reckless investment practices that brought us Bush’s Great Recession and a near repeat of The Great Depression that engulfed the world some 85 years ago? Who bailed those innocent bystanders out like we did the guilty Wall Street banks recently? Are Wall Street banks and their futures more important than those of the American people whose jobs, savings and home equities were wiped out? If we were going to save these insolvent banks, couldn’t it have been with the proviso that they were to pay into a fund for the foreseeable future that compensated those Americans for their losses? We were falsely told that these banks were “too big to fail.” Why aren’t millions of your hard-working fellow Americans who were cheated “too big to fail,” too? Call your friendly Republican senators’ and representatives’ offices and pose that question.

Thus we learn in Elizabeth Warren’s new book, This Fight is our Fight, that Regan swept into office under the banner of free-market economics and that he was cheered on by boisterous calls for “liberty” and “freedom.” She writes that “The Reagan administration proudly embraced the idea of “deregulation,” as if financial and corporate regulations were the biggest problems faced by Americans – rather than the wrongs those regulations were designed to prevent. From Reagan’s perspective, it was far more important to protect a corporate giant from the government than it was to protect a customer, investor, or small competitor from the actions of a corporate giant. Regulation became the new enemy. Forget exploding gas tanks, cancer-causing chemicals in the water supply, or drugs that caused birth defects – regulation was proclaimed to be the real danger in America. From the 1980s onward, “deregulation” became a sacred tenet of all conservatives, a mantra that can be translated to mean: let corporate America do more of whatever corporate American wants to do.”

We decided in 1999 to “let Wall Street bankers do whatever they want to do” with the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933,’ which was designed, among other things, to segregate banks’ abilities to mix commercial with investment banking, a crucial distinction. Banks soon went wild with investments into derivatives and other such esoteric instruments using little of their own and lots of your and my FDIC-insured money and other borrowed money to ply their toxic trade.

The inevitable crash came, our economy was on the verge of collapse, and George Bush’s Treasury Secretary went to Congress in emergency mode to shore up the Wall Street banks who caused the emergency in the first place. A scared Congress ponied up $800 billion for a bailout and the Fed liberalized the banks’ recovery with near zero interest loans, bought up worthless bank paper at face value etc., all with a view to avoid an international depression, and while it worked (and why wouldn’t it when a bankrupt industry is flooded with free money with no collateral to offer to secure repayment?), what happened to those Americans who were impoverished by the banks’ investment trading antics?

They lost their homes by the millions, their jobs, $22 trillion in collective home equity and for many their hope for a future retirement on schedule. Their mortgages were collected into packages, securitized by Wall Street banks and sold to police and fire and teacher retirement funds. It was then determined that many of such mortgages were fraudulently procured and sold by, guess who? The same Wall Street banks who caused our near-depression in the first place, thus proving that Wall Street banks have ways of making money whether the economy is booming or in recession, a choice denied to the rest of us.

The banks agreed with regulators (who finally woke up) to pay chump change fines for pedaling such tainted paper and no one went to jail, as usual, and in apparent keeping with the idea voiced by our then AG that if a banking executive went to jail it might set off an international depression. That is one view, but I have another, and it is this: If we put crooked banking executives in jail we might have fewer crooked banking executives. Furthermore, by announcing out front that executives will not be going to jail for their transgressions, we are giving such executives a green light to continue their greedy ways, a policy hardly in the public interest, as proven by Bush’s Great Recession debacle.

So do we need regulation of corporate America, and especially our banking component? Does a parched man stumbling into a desert oasis need a drink of water? Back to the beginning sentence of this essay, I still have hope (if weakening) that capitalism can survive if regulated in the interest not only of financiers but of the rest of us who have a stake in corporate performance since, as we have seen in 1929 and 2007-8 and beyond what can happen with an under-regulated industry that can bring economic ruin to the world, including us. The corollary, of course, is that I think capitalism will not survive unless regulated since as presently practiced it is headed for collapse as in, how many other such unregulated atrocities can our economy stand before it fails not just as a result of a turndown here and there but systemically? Ask yourself that question today now that the banks are back to their old tricks again due to a Republican amendment to the Dodd-Frank Act which again allows using your money and mine (FDIC-insured funds) to play their investment games. Bailout #2, anybody?

We are again at risk and Trump is arguing for even LESS regulation of corporate enterprises! Is he trying to destroy capitalism, a system under which he has done well? What, if anything, is he thinking? Our task, if this economic system and our democratic institutions are to survive, is to regulate corporate enterprises not only in the interests of their financiers but in the interests of the rest of us – period – and we can start with the restoration of a new Glass-Steagall Act- and then enforce it.    GERALD      E

G-20 RECAP AND TRUMP

G-20 RECAP AND TRUMP

Trump spent more time with Putin than with any of the leaders of NATO and other countries with emerging economies at the recently concluded G-20 conference. I wonder why and, I hope, so do those who are investigating his collusion and that of his “campaign” with Putin in the game of their mutual blackmail. His daughter Ivanka accompanied him and as his special envoy sat in his seat while he went to the bathroom, hobnobbed with Putin, or whatever it was he was doing in order prevent a demonstration that he didn’t know or perhaps even care what the leaders were talking about in such matters as trade, Russia’s annexation of Crimea (which he had previously approved), Russia’s presence in the Ukraine, Russia’s cyber interference with the election in our country and others, North Korea’s saber-rattling with missiles and other such (in his mind) mundane matters since making a profit from his real estate and branding business were not primarily involved. Trump was, is and will always be for Trump’s bottom line and the G-20 setting where he had to share the spotlight on matters unrelated to his pursuit of the buck does not fit in to his narcissistic otherworld and is not his cup of tea.

On the plus side after being cold-shouldered by Macron of France and others, at least he did not grope Merkel or May, leaders of Germany and the U.K., respectively, who happen to be female, so perhaps he is improving on a learning curve of what is politically correct. “Now, now, Don. I know you are a star but you are not supposed to grab women, so stop it before you get outed and sued for sexual perversion,” one might hear if one of his grandmothers were around to admonish him.

The cold shoulder given him at the G-20 meeting was most pronounced by the statement of the other 19 countries that, unlike Trump, who has announced that the U.S. is withdrawing from the environmental agreement previously reached in Paris, the accord reached in Paris on the ecological future of the planet is “irreversible,” or in words of the street, “Stick it, Don. This is the way it is and is going to be. We are going to clean up our environmental mess and give you clean air and water whether you like it or not. Go back to your profit-at-all costs cave.” Parenthetically, I understand that since the G-20 meeting the dictator of Turkey has joined the U.S. in withdrawing from the Paris Accord on the environment, and note while he was recently elected by the people that so was Hitler, who seized all power after his election gave him the legitimacy of office for such a power grab.

Speaking of 19, that’s also the number of American intelligence agencies that have unanimously  confirmed that Russia and by necessity its current dictator, Putin, interfered with not only the recent presidential election but our institutional democracy as well. This attempt to destroy our democracy from without having to fire a shot is in keeping with the philosophy of one of Trump’s chief advisers, Bannon, a self-professed Leninist who wants to “destroy the administrative state,” and who appears to be succeeding via his clueless advisee, Trump, who has no philosophy other than making money.

Trump asked Putin in their long discussion of current affairs if he (Putin) had interfered with the recent presidential election and Putin said (contrary the findings of our 19 intelligence agencies) that he had not. Trump seemed to accept Putin’s answer, thus dissing the unanimous findings of 19 of our American intelligence agencies, and if so, the result can have a profound effect on our foreign policy that was so carefully and meticulously constructed by our diplomatic corps over 70 years marked by Truman’s Berlin Airlift, Churchill’s 1947 definition of the Iron Curtain, the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, a continuing MAD (mutually assured destruction via atomic bombing), the fall of the wall in 1989, Russia’s incursions into Ukraine and annexation of the Crimea etc. etc. etc.

With a president who so blithely dismisses over seventy years of painful and sometimes fearful diplomacy with a wave of the hand, it is becoming clear to me that our greatest danger in playing rollover to the Russian dictator is not the Russian dictator who is just doing what Russian dictators do, but Trump himself, who is apparently unaware and woefully ignorant of history and willing to ignore reality in favor of the one he has constructed in his otherworld. I can only hope that Trump’s unwillingness to confront Putin with fact will not be a green light for Putin to occupy Ukraine, invade the Baltic Republics and threaten our other NATO allies, fueled by Trump’s dissing of NATO.

It’s as though Trump is running interference for his running back Putin. Putin could not have wished for a better situation than having a country with the world’s largest military absolve him of liability for his aggressive tactics both in Europe and in our country, carried out by conventional war and cyberwar and other threats to their (and our) democratic institutions.

We have an old saying in the law that ignorance of the law is no excuse, so as applied to Trump, is he by reason of his conduct and misconduct guilty of treason? Possibly. Sedition? Probably, proof of either subject, of course, to what current investigations turn up on the evidence front. In accord with our democratic institutions, he must be considered innocent until proven guilty. We await admissible evidence. . .

Meanwhile, I suggest to readers of this essay that we keep an eye on Trump in everything he says or does since it appears (on Bannon’s advice) that he may well be acting to destroy our democratic institutions with a view to assuming authoritarian control for himself. I hope I am wrong and that he is just an ignorant man so obsessed with self and profit that he cannot represent any other interest in a representative capacity, even that of his country.

We will know much more when current investigations are completed at some time in the future, a date that I contemplate with considerable anxiety, and one that may chart our and the world’s future. During this interim, we are well advised to be watchful and confrontational since this president, knowingly or unknowlingly, is proceeding with the demise of our democracy and, as I often write, democracy is our most important asset held in common and one of the last few things worth dying for. Our democracy, Messrs. Putin and Trump, is not for sale or by conquest by you or anyone else.    GERALD       E