Nel's New Day

April 15, 2019

Tax Day: ‘Cuts,’ Returns

Today is the deadline for paying 2018 taxes, and the amount of taxes that people pay has consumed conversation for over a year, ever since DDT and other Republicans gave the wealthy and big business a huge tax break that cost the United States $1.5 trillion. When Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) delivered his rally speeches, he promised that people would get an additional $4,000, but over 80 percent of taxpayers didn’t get this generous bonus. Instead 10,260,263 paid more taxes last year after DDT’s 2017 Tax Cut and Jobs Act, and raises for most people were under $1,000. The law eliminated personal and dependent exemptions, caps on state and local deductions, employee business expenses deductions, etc. The cap of $10,000 on state and local tax deductions was onerous for many people, especially those who have lived in their home for a long time or have high state income tax, although DDT claimed that only the wealthy were hurt.

Researchers found that “half the tax cuts went to the richest five percent, with about a quarter going to the richest one percent. Those among the top five percent got bigger tax cuts not just in dollar terms but even when measured as a share of their total income.” Households making between $500,000 and $1 million had their after-tax income rise by an average of 5.2 percent. Households making less than $50,000 experience only a 0.6 percent increase. In even greater income inequality, W-2 wages fell 2.0 percent in 2018. Bonuses fell $0.22 for 2018, and the average bonus for 2018 was just $0.01 higher than in 2017. Most bonuses came from recruiting because of low unemployment instead of production from company tax cuts.

Big benefits went to Fortune 500 companies: at least 60 profitable corporations will pay nothing—some of them getting back extra money from the government. That number is double from previous years. Instead of paying $16.4 billion in taxes on their $79 billion of pretax income, the companies got rebates of $4.3 billion—a GOP gift of over $20 billion used to buy up stock and sock away in hidden offshore accounts. A few corporations with this advantage: Amazon, Chevron. Deere, Delta Air Lines, General Motors, Halliburton, Honeywell International, Molson Coors, and Prudential Financial. Another 51 companies with zero or minus taxes.

Jamie Dimon, J.P. Morgan’s CEO, bragged to shareholders that tax cuts for the bank add “$3.7 billion to net income.” But the increase “will be erased” so that shareholders won’t expect to get higher profits. The justification for the company’s spending $55 billion in stock buybacks? You have to buy back your own stock at “tangible book value.” And then at “two times tangible book value.” So buy back stock at any price, according to Dimonomics.

DDT surely gained millions—perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars—from DDT’s tax cuts for the wealth as did people he chose for his officials. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testified in support of $6.7 billion in education cuts at a congressional hearing, but she saved at least $10 million in taxes for 2018. Amway, her family’s company structured as an S-corporation, dropped its taxes from 39.6 percent to 29.6 percent in what Republicans called a small business cut. The education cut comes from the tax cuts’ failure to continue revenue for the government; instead revenue is plummeting. DeVos’ $10 million in taxes would have supported work-study funding for 5,600 students, Nevada’s entire share of the 21st Century Community Learning Center after school program, or funding for Full Service Community Schools academic and social services at schools in 20 communities—programs that DeVos wants to eliminate because of no revenue. DDT wants to make his tax cuts for the wealthy permanent with a conservative addition to the deficit of $1 trillion over a decade.

In their effort to convince people that they are paying lower taxes, Republicans have decided to make the withholding form so complicated that they can just say that people aren’t being ripped off. Past forms asked for the number of allowances based on exemptions. The new form requires annual dollar amounts for nonwage income, such as interest and dividends; itemized and other deductions; income tax credits expected for the tax year; and total annual taxable wages for all lower-paying jobs in the household for people with multiple jobs. The new form references 12 IRS publications for its completion and looks like the 1040 for final taxes instead of a simple W-4. The former year’s 1099, pay stubs, or 1040 returns are necessary for making the withholding calculations.

People are required to tell the “primary” employee about all their other income as well as that of their family and will probably need training to fill it out. Productivity will shrink and privacy goes out the window. And states may also require a new withholding form instead of the current W-4. Remember when Republicans said that people could fill out their tax return information on a postcard? It’s not happening.

Polling indicates that only 17 percent of people think that they got any tax cut even if they did. This perception comes from most taxpayers getting only a small cut. Only one-third of people approve of the legislation that DDT saw as his signature legislative achievement. Economic growth, a talking point around tax cuts, is slightly worse than in 2015, and job growth has slowed. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said about the tax cut when it was passed:

“If we can’t sell this to the American people, we ought to go into another line of work.”

The 77-year-old man is up for re-election next year. He may have the chance for “another line of work.”

Presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)’s tax reform proposal, “Real Corporate Profits Tax,” might force a modicum of honesty on huge corporations. She recommends that companies reporting more than $100 million in worldwide profits pay seven percent on every dollar above the first $100 million claimed in profits to their investors. After CEO’s like Dimon brag about their tremendous profits, companies currently convince the IRS that they make no profits and thus pay no taxes. J.P. Morgan made over $131 billion in 2018 but paid less than $10 million in taxes. Warren maintains that raising the corporate tax rate does no good because the tax code is “so littered” with loopholes. She estimates that charging 1,200 companies subject to this tax would give “smaller” businesses “a fighting chance.” Companies paying no taxes would pay some taxes—Amazon would pay $698 million in taxes and Occidental Petroleum, $280 million. Last year, Amazon got a tax refund of $129 million plus paying no taxes.

For people who complain about costs of Social Security and healthcare, consider another destination for tax money. Of every dollar in taxes, 24 cents go to the military. Of those 24 cents, only 5 cents go to our troops while 12 cents go to corporate military contractors. The average taxpayer gave $1,704 to Pentagon contractors last year but only $683 for military pay, housing, and other benefits except $833 to military health care. The average U.S. taxpayer gave $225 to Lockheed’s executives and shareholders. Its CEO Marillyn Hewson got over $20 million for 2017, but the top pay for a four-star general or admiral is $189,600. The lowest-rank enlisted soldiers make just $20,172. Boeing got $100 from the average taxpayer, the same amount as all of education received.

And a shout out to DDT’s tax returns. Writing that concerns from Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin “lack merit,” House Ways and Means Committee Chair Richard E. Neal (D-MA) has given IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig a firm deadline of April 23 to turn over six years of DDT’s tax returns. Two days later, DDT’s personal lawyer wrote the Treasury Department to stop the tax returns from being handed over to House Democrats.

DDT’s tax preparer Mazars USA told House Oversight Committee Chair Elijah Cummings (D-MD) that it would turn over ten years of DDT’s tax returns if the company received a subpoena. In an attempt to hide the returns, DDT’s lawyers have threatened the firm with legal action if it follows the law. The letter accused Cummings of wanting the returns only for political reasons, basically accusing a member of Congress of being a liar.  calling it a politically motivated scheme to take down the president. Reps. Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Mark Meadows (R-NC), members of the Oversight Committee, also accused Democrats of requesting DDT tax returns “solely to embarrass President Trump.”

Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders passed along the DDT party line of smears and threats about Democrats requesting DDT’s his tax returns when she claimed that Democrats aren’t “smart enough” to look through his returns and that they are on a “dangerous, dangerous road.” DDT was tried twice for civil tax fraud, criticized by judges in both cases, and faced his own tax lawyer testifying against him.

Protesters brought an inflatable figure to the steps of the IRS when they asked for DDT to release his tax returns. The group uses the figure because DDT is “too chicken” to release his tax returns. The first “chicken bearing a resemblance to DDT was 23 feet tall and complete with golden hair pompadour and preening gestures. It arrived at a Chinese mall less than a month before DDT’s inauguration in preparation for the Year of the Rooster in the Chinese lunar calendar.

Questions: If there is nothing wrong with DDT’s tax returns, why would he be embarrassed? If there is something wrong, why isn’t a look at them not warranted?

 

March 13, 2019

Facebook Controlled by U.S. Government

Everything on Sue Hardesty’s Facebook page disappeared today, and she couldn’t post anything. Gone were all her writings and photos about marine life, dredging, a trip along the Oregon Coast, and much more. Disclaimer: I have never liked Facebook from its founding for misogynic cruelty through its formation via fraud and theft to the peak of aiding the election of a U.S. president. Now the ultra-wealthy Mark Zuckerberg, worth over $65 billion, has plans to take over the world by controlling everything that you do online—messaging, commerce, payments, etc. FB has destroyed self-esteem with the concept of “defriending” and eliminating privacy, especially for young people. Some people think it’s a nice way to make friends and keep in touch, but Facebook has a much darker side. Hardesty’s FB page may be back—temporarily—but my research shows how Zuckerberg’s company is controlling what you read.

Recently FB removed advertising information from Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren about breaking up Amazon, Google, and Facebook giants to unwind “anti-competitive” tech mergers, including Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp and Instagram. Her ads read:

“Three companies have vast power over our economy and our democracy. Facebook, Amazon, and Google. We all use them. But in their rise to power, they’ve bulldozed competition, used our private information for profit, and tilted the playing field in their favor.”

The message on the ads read: “This ad was taken down because it goes against Facebook’s advertising policies.” FB claimed that it took down the ads because it used their “corporate logo” but returned them after public protest. Warren responded:

“Curious why I think FB has too much power? Let’s start with their ability to shut down a debate over whether FB has too much power. Thanks for restoring my posts. But I want a social media marketplace that isn’t dominated by a single censor.”

FB keeps material supporting Israel—including a page from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—while removing pages about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with “a strong bias in favor of Palestine.” In 2016, the Israeli Justice Ministry in 2016 bragged that FB removed 95 percent of content according to their requests and proposed a bill to allow government to remove content from the internet based on its preferences. Israel’s National Cyber Directorate announced that FB removed “thousands” of accounts ahead of municipal elections. The same thing could happen in the U.S.

Gone is the Hebrew @Polcartoons. Zuckerberg has partnered with the Atlantic Council Digital Forensic Lab (DFRLab) to decide what should be removed, and it claimed “curated cartoons from various Israeli news outlets that lampooned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and conservative Israeli political sentiment.” DFRLab told FB to remove @StopMEK for promoting views against the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, or MEK, an Iranian group opposed to the country’s clerical leader because it was “the largest and most active political opposition group against the Islamic Republic of Iran leadership.” Yet the FB of the Majlis, a coalition critical of President Hassan Rouhani much larger than the MEK, has 2.1 million followers, far more than the tiny MEK.

Atlantic Council, FB’s new partner to vet its content, has been described as a neoconservative “think tank,” directly funded and composed of groups connected to big pharma, the military complex, and government. Contributors include the United Arab Emirates, the U.S. Air Force Academy, and multinational giants like energy titan such as Exxon-Mobil and Chevron, weapon-makers Raytheon, and banks such as JPMorgan Chase. Many foreign countries supporting Atlantic Council lack a strong belief in human fights and press freedoms. FB gave Atlantic Council almost $1 million. Now, Atlantic dictates who is permitted on FB and who is “removed,” and the federal funding takes away FB as a “private” company classification.

Immediately before midterm elections, FB purged years of hard work and six million followers for The Free Thought Project (TFTP) that now follows the government involvement in FB. Under the leadership of Nathaniel Gleicher, FB removed another 800 “pages” with missions of “anti-corruption” or “protest” movements at the same time, many of them antiwar and pro-peace—immediately before last fall’s midterm elections. FB claimed that they were spam. Top adviser to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Jamie Fly, took credit for the massive purge of antiwar pages.

Matt Taibbi, a highly respected investigative journalist, reported on the FB purges in December. He began his piece on James Reader, San Diego resident whose pro-Democratic site, Reverb, was judged “high for factual reporting, as all news is sourced to credible media outlets.” With 30 contributing writers, four full-time editors, and an IT specialist, the site reached 13 million people a week on FB and social media. He paid $2,000 to $6,000 a month to FB and followed their suggestions to grow the page. Starting in 2016, Reader’s articles went to right-wing FB groups with negative comments and reports to FB that his stories were spam. Traffic dropped, sales declined, and his investments in FB’s boosting tools weren’t successful. He couldn’t find a human at FB so that he could address these problems. On October 11, 2018, Reverb was taken offline, as an example of “coordinated inauthentic behavior.” That day saw the first of two purges with no leading announcement. Twitter accounts also disappeared. All on the same day. Reader was never told why his site wasn’t published. Also gone were his Everlasting TOP Stoppers blog and his America Against Trump with 225,000 followers. He said, “Everything I’d worked for all these years was dead.”

Liberal America from Tiffany Willis Clark was removed on November 2, 2018. With 750,000 followers, the site is about “raising conscious kids who are aware of the suffering of others.” The most political she got was the list “87 Things Only Poor Kids Know and Conservatives Couldn’t Care Less About” including “We go to the doctor when we’re sick, but mom doesn’t.” She put her life savings into boosting readership on a platform that “seems to be redefining its mission minute to minute.”

By claiming to be a “private” company” FB can censor at will, but its connection with official or quasi-official groups creates a problem with “soft censorship,” according to Eric Goldman of the Santa Clara University School of Law. “We’re seeing removal of content that isn’t illegal but the government doesn’t like. It’s a backdoor form of censorship.”

When U.S. senators met with representatives of FB, Google, and Twitter, they supposedly answer outrage about the Russian” fake news” that had been influential for the 2016 presidential election. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) expressed concern about content “intended to worsen racial tensions” with stories about law enforcement abusing blacks. Google revised its search tools that resulted in deep drops for reputable alternative progressive news sources such as Common Dreams and Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now as they almost disappeared from the search sources. Traffic for a dozen anti-war, progressive-leaning sites dropped 67 percent, and Alternet went down 63 percent.

A major critic of FB, The Free Thought Project has suffered under fact-checking, but two of its four “false” ratings were later overturned. Yet the FB page was eliminated with no explanation. The methodology for removing pages is opaque. Many removals come from user complaints, another method of information suppression. As Taibbi wrote:

“We’ve empowered a small cadre of ex-spooks, tech executives, Senate advisers, autocratic foreign donors and mainstream-media panels to create an unaccountable system of star-chamber content reviews—which unsurprisingly seem so far to have mostly targeted their harshest critics.”

In the past day, FB apologized for banning content from Zero Hedge, a conservative anti-finance website that predicted the 2008 recession. Complaints have also come about censorship of cannabis content. FB blocks anything about sale or use of the product despite its legality in Canada and many states in the U.S.

After the “paranoia” about being removed from FB with no notice, people finally discovered—with no notice—that FB has been down for much of the day in both Americas and Europe. Nobody knows why, but it bodes ill for using FB for more than social media.

Hardesty has saved much of her beautiful FB posts, some of them in hard copy. Losing the record of her “friends,” many of them school classmates and other writers, would have been sad, but she could recreate some of the material on a new page. On the other hand, my eighth anniversary of writing posts for this blog is April 30, 2019. Publishing almost 400,000 words a year on Nels New Day, I have about 3 million words—far too many to copy. I sometimes use past posts for historical reference and illustrations that have been removed from the internet for political purposes. People like James Reader and Tiffany Willis Clark lost not only years of work but also hundreds of thousands of dollars.

We are all at risk; our history is being “removed.” I’ll subscribe to the saying, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean that they aren’t out to get you.” The loss of FB for a day or two may not be a problem to most people, but it should have been a wake-up call about what would happen if FB decided to take you off its social media.

February 12, 2019

GOP Builds on Former Hypocrisy

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) listed “American Indian” on her 1986 application for the Texas bar because he family had told her of her Native American background. We’re shocked, despite her DNA shows some Native American ancestry generations in the past.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s (R-CA) family received $7.6 million in government contracts for its company, Vortex Construction, through a program with no-bid contracts for “disadvantaged minorities.” McCarthy’s brother-in-law William Wages told the Small Business Administration that he’s one-eighth Cherokee in the Northern Cherokee Nation with “no federal or state recognition as a legitimate tribe.” The media largely ignored this fraud.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam may have posed for a photograph over 30 years ago either in blackface or in a KKK costume, and the country is questioning whether he should resign.

DDT called neo-Nazi’s at the Charlottesville (VA) racist marches “very fine people” even after they caused the death of Heather Heyer, severely beat a man, and terrorized thousands of others. After his racist comments, DDT was described as appointed by God. He also demanded the death penalty for the young black and Latino men, the Central Park Five, and refused to apologize after their convictions were vacated. DDT continually—and falsely—accused President Barack Obama of being born in Kenyan, called undocumented immigrants rapists and murderers, ridicules Native Americans, and made more racist remarks.

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) tweeted about the American Israel Public Affairs Committee paying lawmakers to be pro-Israel. When she was accused of being anti-Semite for her factual statement, she immediately apologized:

“Anti-Semitism is real and I am grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes,” Omar said. “My intention is never to offend my constituents or Jewish Americans as a whole. We have to always be willing to step back and think through criticism, just as I expect people to hear me when others attack me for my identity. This is why I unequivocally apologize.”

DDT—who made multiple racist comments—called for Omar’s resignation, and Republicans demanded that she be stripped of her committee appointments. While campaigning, DDT accused Jewish donors of wanting to control politicians and called them “negotiators.” The Anti-Defamation League, which censured Omar, defended DDT. The “very fine people” who DDT protected in Charlottesville (VA) were shouting “Jews will not replace us.” He uses the anti-Jewish slur “globalist” to describe his opposition and vilified Holocaust survivor George Soros, as did McCarthy who called for sanctions on Omar and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), another Muslim who criticized Israel. No Republican criticized McCarthy when he accused Soros of  trying to “buy the election,” a statement that sent a bomb to Soros’ home.

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY), who supported DDT’s anti-Muslim travel ban that blocked entry to the U.S. for everyone from Omar’s native country of Somalia, has harassed Omar since the 116th Congress was sworn in. His attacks on her led to his claim that he would declare her as a hateful anti-Semite if she didn’t vote for the bill penalizing anyone boycotting Israel and has worked for over a month to have her removed from the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations because of her religion. Not one Republican complained about Zeldin’s disgusting comments. (In researching this piece, I also discovered that using terms such as hypnotize, manipulate, and conspiracy are anti-Semitic. Who knew?!)

Steve King may be the most amazing case of GOP hypocrisy. Despite the GOP representative’s ongoing racism, Republicans did nothing about King’s bigotry until he declared that the term “white supremacy” might be acceptable.

2002: In the Iowa State Senate, King filed a bill requiring schools to teach that the U.S. “derived it strength from … Christianity,” and sponsored a law making English the official language of Iowa.

2005: In the House, he introduced the bill to make English the official language of the U.S.

2006: King advocated a fence on the U.S.-Mexico border and falsely claimed that 25 people in the U.S. died daily because of undocumented immigrants, a statement that DDT has repeated. His prototype of the wall, which he showed on the House floor, called for electrified wire on the top. King said, “We do that with livestock all the time.”

2010: On the House floor, King said that law enforcement can spot undocumented immigrants by “what kind of clothes people wear … what kind of shoes people wear, what kind of accent they have … sometimes it’s just a sixth sense they can’t put their finger on.”

2011: King opposed the coverage of contraception in the Affordable Care Act because “birth control is “not constructive to our culture and our civilization.”

2012: He described multiculturalism as “a tool for the Left to subdivide a culture and civilization into our own little ethnic enclaves and pit us against each other.”

2013: In opposing legal status for Dreamers, brought into the country as children, he said:

“For everyone who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there that weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert. Those people would be legalized with the same act.”

2015: King invited the far-right, anti-Islam Dutch politician Geert Wilders to Washington and appeared with him at the Capitol, praising him for having “the guts to speak out.” Wilders has called Islam “not a religion,” said the Quran was “worse than Mein Kampf,” and called for the closing of mosques. The two men posed in front of a portrait of Winston Churchill.

2016: At the RNC, King avowed that nonwhite groups have not contributed as much to civilization as whites. Days later, he said:

“The idea of multiculturalism, that every culture is equal — that’s not objectively true … We’ve been fed that information for the past 25 years, and we’re not going to become a greater nation if we continue to do that.”

Meeting again with Wilders and Frauke Petry, the leader of Germany’s far-right Alternative for Germany party, in Amsterdam, King tweeted, “Cultural suicide by demographic transformation must end.” Endorsing Wilders in the Dutch elections, King tweeted, “Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny. We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” In Austria, King also met with leaders of the far-right Freedom Party founded in the 1950s by former Nazis, including Heinz-Christian Strache and Norbert Hofer.

2017: On Iowa talk radio, King recommended The Camp of the Saints, a 1973 racist 1973 novel about an invasion of Europe by nonwhite immigrants. He also tweeted agreement with Viktor Orban, Hungary’s authoritarian leader: “Mixing cultures will not lead to a higher quality of life but a lower one.”

2018: Mr. King wanted to block Somali Muslims from working in Iowa meatpacking plants saying, “I don’t want people doing my pork that won’t eat it, let alone hope I go to hell for eating pork chops.” He also reinforced his belief in The Camp of the Saints:

“This narrative should be imprinted into everyone’s brain. When you are importing people, even importing one single person, you are importing their culture.”

He also supports the “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory positing that an international elite, including prominent Jews such as George Soros, are plotting to make white populations minorities in Europe and North America. King endorsed Faith Goldy, a neo-Nazi supporter, for Toronto mayor.

2019: “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” King said in an interview with the New York Times. At that point, McCarthy, House Minority Leader, and GOP House members stripped King of his committee appointments, but that may not be permanent.

King was a national co-chairman of Ted Cruz’s 2016 presidential effort and of Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds’ 2018 election. House leadership made him chair of the subcommittee on the Constitution and civil justice, and DDT boasted from the Oval Office that he raised more money for King than for anyone else. Only when King questioned why “white nationalist” and “white supremacist” became “offensive,” did Republicans think they should take a bit of action—and even then, there was no talk of censure. King described his being stripped of committee assignments as a political witch hunt, a popular claim by racists these days.

And Rep. Ilham Omar (D-MN) was damned because she told the truth about AIPAC donating money to U.S. lawmakers.

Congressional Republicans:

  • Hate “socialized medicine” but insist on keeping their own “socialized” federal insurance.
  • Praise “democracy” while keeping people from voting and removing elected leaders from other countries.
  • Call for “humanitarian crisis” aid while killing thousands of innocent civilians in the Middle East.
  • Laud family values while pandering to a serial adulterer in the Oval Office who gained his position through lying, fraud, and bigotry.
  • Fight for barriers on the border while hiring undocumented immigrants to work for them at slave wages.
  • Demand law and order while supporting access to assault rifles for psychopaths and terrorists.
  • Ban guns except for their own personal protection.
  • Claim they want local over central government unless they don’t like local laws.
  • Oppose all abortions unless they are for their girlfriends and mistresses.
  • Object to crime unless it’s by a GOP candidate violently attacked a reporter, choked him, and then lied to the police about his crime.
  • Call for neither deficit nor national debt unless the money goes to the wealthy and big business.
  • Mandate an investigation into FBI supposed partisan views while putting unqualified partisan hacks into federal positions and on the nation’s courts.
  • Criticize any Democratic delay in confirming appointments after delaying a Democrat’s Supreme Court appointment for almost a year as a gift to a GOP president.

And that’s the tip of the hypocrisy iceberg.

September 21, 2016

CEO John Stumpf, Candidate Donald Trump Caught Scamming

“Eight rhymes with great.” That’s the reason that Wells Fargo demanded that its employees squeeze eight accounts out of every customer—and the reason that employees were fired if they failed. (Do you have eight bank accounts with your bank of choice?) Then, as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) emphatically announced during a Senate hearing, CEO John Stumpf fired employees for “cheating” employees and went off to get hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation. CEO John Stumpf claims that Wells Fargo knew nothing about these scams until the LA Times published information about it in 2013 although it appeared to have started as early as 2011.

The scam came to light when it was discovered that battered employees opened unneeded accounts for customers, ordered them credit cards without their permission, and forged client signatures. Employees begged family members to open ghost accounts and opened duplicate accounts for themselves. A homeless woman was talked into opening six checking and savings accounts with fees of $39 per month. When the forced scams were discovered, Wells Fargo fired 30 workers just in southern California, and other workers were put on leave. A total of 5,300 lower-level employees had to leave Wells Fargo. Senior-level executives kept their jobs.

The purpose of the scam was to drive up stock value, and Wells Fargo reported a $5.6 billion quarterly profit last year in October. The bank averaged 6.15 financial products per household—almost four times the industry average. A former branch manager said that if he didn’t make his goal that he was “severely chastised and embarrassed in front of 60-plus managers in your area by the community banking president.”

Wells Fargo has agreed to pay $185 million in fines but won’t admit wrongdoing. It claims that the company will end its aggressive sales targets in another three months by January 1.

Carrie Tolstedt, the executive in charge of the division causing the problems, retired—instead of being fired—in July with a payout of $100 million and the hopes that more compensation throughout the coming year. Stumpf said that he talked to her weekly during the three years after the fake accounts were revealed and employees were being fired. Despite the illegal activity, he didn’t fire her because she did well with branding and improving customer loyalty.

Asked if the bank plans to “clawback” compensation for these acts from the top-level bank employees who make millions, Stumpf said that the responsibility lay with the bank’s board. He is the board chairman but said that he could not get involved and doesn’t plan to “prejudice their process.” Also asked how the bank will help customers with damaged credit ratings from the fake accounts or whether the case is one of fraud, Stumpf said that he was not a lawyer, a compensation expert, or a credit consultant. After being a micro-manager for many years, Stumpf now depicts himself as an innocent bystander.

Warren showed 12 transcripts of Wells Fargo earnings in which Stump “personally cited Wells Fargo’s success at cross-selling retail accounts as one of the main reasons to buy more stock in the company.” When Stumpf refused to answer how much his Wells Fargo stock holdings had gained during these three years, she said that his 6.75 million shares had increased by $30 each during that time—more than $200 million in gains from employees forcing customers to each have the “Great Eight” accounts. Much of Stumpf’s increase in wealth came from the creation of 200 million fraudulent accounts. As Warren announced in the hearing, Stumpf is not resigning, not returning any of his earnings from fraudulent actions, and not firing any senior executives.

In chastising Stumpf’s actions, Warren said:

“Here’s what really gets me about this, Mr. Stumpf. If one of your tellers took a handful of $20 bills out of the crash drawer, they’d probably be looking at criminal charges for theft. They could end up in prison. But you squeezed your employees to the breaking point so they would cheat customers and you could drive up the value of your stock and put hundreds of millions of dollars in your own pocket. And when it all blew up, you kept your job, you kept your multi-multimillion-dollar bonuses, and you went on television to blame thousands of $12-an-hour employees who were just trying to meet cross-sell quotas that made you rich.”

In yesterday’s hearing, Warren accused Stumpf of “gutless leadership” and called for his resignation. She also demanded that he return his personal compensation and face criminal investigation. Hillary Clinton wrote, “We need to make sure that no financial institution is too big to manage. And if any bank can’t be managed effectively, it should be broken up.” According to Democratic legislators, Wells Fargo and Stumpf highlight the reason for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) that GOP leaders want to dismantle.

Senate Republicans, especially those up for re-election, didn’t defend Stumpf’s wrongdoing. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) called it “fraud,” but last year he fought to eliminate the CFPB. Republicans claim that Stumpf is an example of their belief that regulations don’t do any good.

Stumpf’s tentacles go much farther than just Wells Fargo: he serves on the Federal Advisory Council, 12 bankers who guide the Federal Reserve’s board members on U.S. financial policy and act as the nation’s leading bank regulator.

Donald Trump has said nothing about John Strumpf; he has his own fraud issues. Weeks ago, a few media sources published information about the illegal campaign donation from Trump’s charitable foundation, totally composed of other people’s money, to keep the fraudulent Trump University from being investigated in Florida. More recently, Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold revealed much greater wrongdoing. Using the Trump Foundation as his personal slush fund, Trump took $258,000 to again benefit himself, this time to pay his businesses’ fines. Jeffrey Tenenbaum, who advises charities at the Venable law firm in Washington, said, “I represent 700 nonprofits a year, and I’ve never encountered anything so brazen.” Trump has been known to say, “There’s nothing like doing things with other people’s money.”

GOP VP candidate, Mike Pence, attempted to defend his new boss. After the Trump campaign accused the article about the “slush fund” of being “peppered with inaccuracies,” MSNBC Brian Williams asked Pence what they were. Pence couldn’t identify any. The campaign staff couldn’t name any specific “inaccuracies” either.

GuideStar, an organization that tracks nonprofits, compared the foundations connected with the presidential candidates and found that the Clinton Foundation is he more transparent of the two. It tracks the Foundation’s philanthropic programs to determine the number of people benefitting, such as women getting job training. The Trump Foundation has no such tracking; the report said that it would “appear to indicate an unfocused generosity.” The Clintons also most likely donated more money to charity than the Trumps—who haven’t donated more than $10,000 in the past several years. But no one knows for sure because Donald Trump refuses to release his tax returns.

Asked about their candidate’s use of a charitable foundation to illegally satisfy his personal needs, House Republicans who skewered the Clinton Foundation either said that they hadn’t heard anything about problems with the Trump Foundation or that the conservative Washington Post is a Democratic propaganda machine. Once again, Clinton is judged by a different standard as the Clinton Foundation, which has not been found of any wrongdoing, is used against her, and the illegal activities of the Trump Foundation are ignored by millions of people.

August 5, 2015

GOP Wants Return to the 1950s

To conservatives, the 1950s were an ideal time. These quotes show who they’re working to return to a time when “men were men” and everyone except white men was subservient to them.

New Hamphire state Rep. Jeanne Notter to a colleague about oral contraceptives: “As a man, would it interest you to know that Dr. Bernstein just published an article that links the pill to prostate cancer?” She couldn’t explain why, but a study published this week in The Lancet Oncology responds to complaints about “Uncle Sugar” paying for pills for “sluts.” More than helping to reduce pregnancies in 88 percent of women, oral contraceptives help to prevent cancer by imitating pregnancy in the woman’s body. The less estrogen in the body, the lower the risk of uterine (endometrial) cancer. About 400,000 cases of this cancer have been prevented in the past 50 years—200,000 during the past decade alone. For every five years of using birth control pills, a woman reduces her risk of contracting endometrial cancer by about 25 percent. Only 42 percent of women take this medication only for contraception.

Matt Beyon, Rick Santorum’s communications manager on tomorrow’s GOP presidential debate: “The idea that they have left out the runner-up for the 2012 nomination, the former four-term governor of Texas, the governor of Louisiana, the first female Fortune 50 CEO, and the 3-term Senator from South Carolina due to polling seven months before a single vote is cast is preposterous.” The debate is even more preposterous because Fox changed its rules after looking at the polls, possibly because they wanted Gov. John Kasich rather than Rick Perry on the main stage. After all, the debate on Thursday is in Kasich’s state of Ohio. Fox declared that it would use the five most recent polls to determine the top ten candidates but then ignored an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll conducted between July 26 and 30 showing Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Ohio Gov. John Kasich within one percentage point of each other. Instead Fox used a Quinnipiac University poll gathered between July 23 and 28 showing Kasich ahead by three percentage points. Fox claimed it dismissed the NBC/WSJ poll “because it did not meet our criterion that the poll read the names of each Republican candidate in the vote question.” The RNC has officially put Fox in charge of selecting the GOP candidate.

Last night on All In, Alex Wagner, substituting for host Chris Hayes, asking Ted Cruz’s spokesman, Rick Tyler, about the problem of the Fox debate: Tyler started by explaining the advantage of the “kiddie table” because “5:00 p.m. on the East Coast is 8:00 on the West Coast. And 9:00 start for the second debate is midnight on the West Coast. So, look, the 5:00—I think—you know, the network has done the best they could.” Wagner had to explain him that 5:00pm EST is actually three hours earlier—not later—at 2:00 pm that that the 9:00 pm main event would begin on the West Coast at 6:00. Then the Cruz spokesman extolled the virtues of Donald Trump.

The outline of the scientific study, “Historically unprecedented global glacier decline in the early 21st century” in The Journal of Glaciology: “Centennial glacier retreat is a global phenomenon.” One example of the rapid glaciers’ disappearance is the Jakobshavn glacier in Greenland where the ice is moving at 10 miles a year, twice the record in 2003, which was twice as fast as in 1997. “The observed glaciers currently lose … two to three times more than the corresponding average of the 20th century,” said the study’s lead author, Michael Zemp. Glaciers help maintain the climate zone differences that drive weather patterns and provide distinct ecosystems to support precisely adapted lifeforms, from mountain wildflowers to snow leopards. Some glaciers may now be doomed.

New York pastor James David Manning: “Let’s just say I know [Starbucks is using semen in lattes].”  That’s what he said last year and repeated on a Daily Show segment with Jessica Williams last night when she re-interviewed him. Manning also ratcheted up last year’s comparison between President Obama to Adolf Hitler to this year’s statement that the president is the “Son of Satan.” Last month he described a “sodomite demon” contracted by women who kiss or have sex with men who have had sex with other men. According to Manning, the semen in gay sex goes directly into the blood.

A growing conservative movement against marriage equality: “What if a city decided that it was important for children to have mothers and fathers, declared itself a sanctuary city for traditional marriage, and refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples?”

Jeb Bush on defunding Planned Parenthood: “You could take dollar for dollar. Although I am not sure we need a half a billion dollars for women health issues.” (Spoken like a true elitist!) When George H.W. Bush was elected to Congress from Texas, he so strongly supported Planned Parenthood that some House colleagues called him “Rubbers.”Bush’s grandfather Prescott Bush was the first treasurer of Planned Parenthood when it was founded in 1947, yet Jeb defunded Planned Parenthood while he was Florida governor and wants to send women to “Crisis Pregnancy Centers” where they receive bad care and lies to keep them from having abortions. These centers also don’t provide health care for men; Planned Parenthood does.

Donald Trump: “We have to get rid of that whole gun-free zone nonsense and just stop it.” Managers at many Trump hotels, golf clubs, and other properties are gun-free zones; even people with concealed carry permits can’t bring their firearms onto the property. The Trump properties that do allow guns require concealed carry permits and do not allow any open carry. Gun shows also forbid guns on the premises. A person at the Crossroads Gun Show explained, “Safety is our Number One Priority, and a safe environment in the show can only be maintained if there are no loaded guns in the show.”

Meet the Press’ Chuck Todd: “We all have a responsibility here I think to say, you know, has [Donald Trump] earned his way on this stage? I mean, again, we’re four years removed from the ridiculous spectacle of birtherism…. It’s not fair to what is the strongest Republican party presidential field in 36 years.” Scott Walker is not removed from the question of whether President Obama is a Christian and bought off the Wisconsin state Supreme Court to skip his indictment, while Rick Perry is still under indictment. Sen. Ted Cruz is threatening a shutdown for Planned Parenthood’s legal behavior. Mike Huckabee is a huckster for bogus medical cures. Chris Christie yells shut up at teachers who try to reason with him. Sen. Rand Paul’s campaign leader just got indicted for conspiracy in falsifying campaign expenditure reports. And the list goes on.

rondesia-jarrett-schell-and-peter-schell-with-their-sonPolice Stop in the South: You have to read the entire dialog in this link to understand the abuse by racist law enforcement after a police officer pulled over Rev. Peter Schell, an Episcopal priest and the lead pastor of Calvary Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., for not signalling that he was pulling over for the officer. He was traveling with his interracial family (right).

Apple in 2013: “[The company] “powers all its data centers [in Maiden, NC] with 100 percent renewable energy” and has been “100% renewable since opening June 2010.” It wasn’t. In 2015, 76 percent of the data center’s energy was generated on-site by two photovoltaic solar arrays and its fleet of biogas-powered fuel cells, but it must turn the energy over to NC GreenPower and buy all its energy needs from Duke Energy Carolinas (Duke). By March 2015 Duke had less than 0.02 percent renewable energy in its grid mix. About 33 percent of the energy Duke sells comes from nuclear, half is from fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas), and 15 percent comes from hydroelectric sources. When Duke’s grid fails, Apple relies on backup diesel-powered generators from fuel stored on on-site tanks. Annual emissions from the Apple facility are on an upward trajectory, by now the equivalent of burning 262 million pounds of coal.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren on defunding Planned Parenthood—my favorite: “Did you fall down, hit your head, and think you woke up in the 1950s or 1890s?” Chris Christie may brag about “telling it like it is,” but Warren is far ahead of him:

“The Republican scheme to defund Planned Parenthood is not some sort of surprised response to a highly edited video. Nope! The Republican vote to defund Planned Parenthood is just one more piece of a deliberate, methodical, orchestrated, right-wing attack on women’s rights.”

Unfortunately, conservative men claim that they want to return to the 1950s. That’s their aim—no reproductive rights, no threat of climate change, no problem with being racist, and no “homosexuals.” A return might require them to give up some of their guns, though.

May 18, 2015

TPP Closer to Passing But No Better Deal

“The president has done an excellent job on [the Trans-Pacific Partnership].” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made this statement yesterday on This Week. That alone should tell people that the TPP is very wrong for the country. Those touting the wonders of the proposed trade agreement have refused to address its flaws.

Any legislator who reads the highly secret document in the windowless basement room of the Capitol is first stripped of any electronic devices, told they couldn’t take notes, and then strictly forbidden to tell anyone what they’ve read, on threat of prosecution. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) broke these rules and told members of Congress why they should oppose the proposal.

A major complaint is that the agreement is a “living document,” meaning that the president can change at will after Congress passes the TPP. Sessions is concerned, of course, about what President Obama would do after Congress okays the agreement, but others should be highly concerned about what a GOP president would do to the country through changing the TPP. The first trade representative in the Obama administration, Ambassador Ron Kirk, has said that “if the American people knew what was in this agreement it would never become law.”

President Obama attacked Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) for her opposition, dismissing her as a “politician.” When the Democrats turned on him for his treatment of her, he softened his approach, but Warren is still speaking about the TPP’s problems.

This morning Warren issued a report of failed trade enforcements, including ones by the current president. He has consistently insisted that the TPP contains robust labor protections and called Warren’s criticisms “dishonest,” “bunk” and “misinformation.” The U.S. consistently fails to enforce any labor protections in trade agreements, according to reports from the non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) as well as the Department of Labor (DOL) and the Department of State. Since Barack Obama became president, the DOL accepted only five claims for labor violations, and the first-ever labor enforcement case too six years to restart after it was originally filed.

Of the 14 U.S. trade agreements with 20 countries, 11 countries continue to perpetrate child labor, forced labor, or other human rights abuses related to labor. The president called a deal with Colombia a “win-win for workers” in 2011, but 105 union activists have been murdered there in the past four years and 1,337 death threats have been issued since the special “Labor Action Plan” was finalized four years ago.

President Obama has said that he has a commitment to bring “the first-ever labor dispute under a free trade agreement”–in Guatemala. Although the AFL-CIO has pushed for action on violations in Guatemala for over six years, the dispute is unresolved, and the country remains one of the most dangerous places in the world for union workers. Seventeen labor activists were murdered there in 2013 and 2014, three of them during a dispute over unpaid back wages.

The Obama Administration predicted that the South Korea Free Trade Agreement would create 70,000 jobs and deliver up to $11 billion in exports. While imports have climbed to over $12 billion, the United States exported $1 billion to Korea. The growing good trade deficit with Korea eliminated over 75,000 jobs in the last three years.

The president touts the TPP as involving 40 percent of global GDP. The United States already represents 22 percent, and existing trade agreements with six TPP partners make up 80 percent of the TPP. Japan, with its 1.2 percent tariff has most of the rest.

GDPThe TPP will also not create “an additional 650,000 jobs,” according to Peter Petri of the Peterson Institute for International Economics. He said, “We don’t believe that trade agreements change the labor force in the long run.” Because the agreement increases copyright and patent protections, prices for drugs, movies and music will increase here and abroad.

Most of the arguments supporting the TPP cite improved trade, but the agreement backers ignore imports, and thus the rapidly increasing trade deficit. Another favorite argument is “containing China.” Either China can join the TPP because the agreement is a “living document,” or it can import goods into TPP countries with no tariffs without following any TPP regulations.

Robert Reich wrote, “[The TPP is] being sold as a way to boost the U.S. economy, expand exports, and contain China’s widening economic influence, [but] the biggest beneficiaries would be giant American-based global corporations, along with their executives and major shareholders.” He further explains how worker protections are unenforceable, as he discovered when he was Secretary of Labor and asked to implement NAFTA. It also won’t help U.S. exports because it does nothing to prevent other nations from manipulating their currencies to boost exports. Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) is trying to fix that problem with amendment, but the TPP is a “living document.”

Warren also talked about the danger of trade agreements to the Dodd-Frank Act designed to protect consumers. Major financial institutions have lobbied hard for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a proposed trade deal between the United States and the European Union, and strongly support the TPP.

The TPP may keep the Federal Reserve from imposing separate liquidity requirements on foreign banks that force banks to have a certain level of assets they can sell off in case of a crisis. Agreements could also change the Dodd-Frank compliance rules on derivatives that currently protect people from another recession. U.S. banks could reincorporate outside the country to avoid regulations. The TTIP also has a provision to evaluate bank regulations on trade impact instead of financial stability, again avoiding reforms. President Obama might not allow this, but President Jeb Bush would definitely put benefits to banks above those to individuals.

Supporters of TPP consistently declare that U.S. law can’t be changed without congressional action, but trade agreements automatically make laws for anyone dealing with corporations outside the United States. Many companies are moving to other countries to avoid U.S. law. Dodd-Frank would require 60 votes in the Senate to be repealed; the trade agreement is a much easier route for a GOP president. In addition to Dodd-Frank, environmental and labor regulations can be at risk through the same fast-track process.

Opposition to the TPP comes from legislators such as Sens. Harry Reid (D-NV), Warren, and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) as well as most Democrats in the House. These people are not isolationists; they support workers, the environment, net neutrality, and human rights.

The Apple Corporation is a classic example of the predatory companies that have designed the TPP. Apple’s overseas untaxed cash, now about $157 billion, is expected to be $200 billion within two years. Cheap construction of their products overseas makes enormous profits for the company. A 16 GB iPhone 6 costs about $200 to manufacture, but without an expensive phone contact with a wireless carrier such as Verizon or AT&T, the product sells for at least $650.

GOP presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has praised Apple for its job creation of over one million jobs in the United States. Apple, however, has 66,000 employees in the U.S., half of them retail store workers. The company pays their full-time retail “specialists” less than $30,000 a year while earning $600,000 profit for each one: employees generate $20 in profits for each $1 they are paid.

Laborers at Chinese factories such as Foxconn suffer from low wages, forced overtime, safety hazards, abuse, and increased production quotas. They worked 15 hours a day for ten weeks without a day off before the iPhone 6 launch in late 2014. These problems and others, such as locked fire exits, are reminiscent of the U.S. a century ago.

According to leaked documents, the TPP drops the tariff, bringing far more profits to Apple, Nike, and other huge corporations while destroying the middle class in the U.S. That’s why McConnell approves of the president’s “excellent job” and pushes for the TPP to pass the Senate this week. TPP will destroy the U.S. ability to set regulations, allow corporations to control U.S. law through international tribunals, further eradicate the middle class, outsource more jobs, and block manufacturing in the United States. And McConnell says that no one in Congress is going home until it passes.

March 31, 2015

Stop the TPP

Fast Track in Congress means that the legislative branch gives the executive branch the power to make agreements without any debate or filibuster to provide transparency about any of the issues of the agreement. The highly conservative members of Congress, who want to sue President Obama for taking too much authority in perfectly legal executive orders, wants to let him adopt disastrous trade agreements, at this time the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Fast Track gave the U.S. the job-killing wage-flattening North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) through offshoring U.S. jobs to low-wage countries. It also takes away the nation’s non-trade policies for safe food, a clean environment, affordable medicines, financial stability and more.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) wants the Senate Finance Committee to approve a Fast Track bill “very quickly after we come back” from the Easter recess on April 13. A key player is usually progressive Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) who, for reasons unknown, strongly supports passing the Fast Track authority. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) wants the Fast Track passed before Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe addresses a joint session of Congress in late April.

Last week, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) met with House Democrats to talk about the damage TPP would do to the people of this country after Wikileaks further revealed the expansion of corporate power to supercede U.S. laws that now protect the environment, consumers, and public health. WikiLeaks explained that TPP lets firms “sue” governments to get taxpayer compensation for loss of “expected future profits.” The New York Times reported that the TPP “giv[es] greater priority to protecting corporate interests than promoting free trade and competition that benefits consumers.”

According to Warren, the seemingly benign title Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) would allow foreign companies to challenge U.S. laws—and potentially to pick up huge payouts from taxpayers — without ever stepping foot in a U.S. court. For example, a foreign company that makes a banned toxic chemical added to gasoline could pass by the U.S. courts and move on to an international panel. The ruling could not be challenged in U.S. courts even if the panel demands U.S. taxpayers to pay billions of dollars in damages. Panels would not be required to have independent judges; they can be corporate lawyers. In 2012, one panel ordered Ecuador to pay Occidental Petroleum $2.3 billion for expropriating oil drilling rights.

These courts were set up after World War II when investors worried about putting their money into small developing countries with undependable legal systems. The TPP, however, is with many well-developed countries such as Australia and Japan, whose courts would also be pre-empted. Companies can also purchase political-risk insurance.

History shows the increasing problem of ISDS cases: fewer than 100 claims were made worldwide between 1959 to 2002, but 2012 saw 58 cases in just that year. A French company sued Egypt because Egypt raised its minimum wage, a Swedish company sued Germany because Germany decided to phase out nuclear power, and a Dutch company sued the Czech Republic because the Czechs didn’t bail out a bank that the company partially owned. Philip Morris is suing Uruguay from implementing new tobacco regulations. With TPP, about 9,000 foreign-owned firms operating in the United States could bring cases against governments, and more than 18,000 companies based in the United States would gain new powers to go after the other 11 countries in the accord.

Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) wrote in an op-ed, “It’s a bad deal for American workers.” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said, “Members of Congress and their staff have an easier time accessing national security documents than proposed trade deals, but if I were negotiating this deal I suppose I wouldn’t want people to see it either.”

The TPP also allows corporations to fight limitations and exceptions to intellectual property rights such as copyrights and patents. Included are the provisions that allowed Eli Lilly to sue for $500 million because of Canada’s termination of patent extensions for medicines developed in the 1970s. Beyond that, it states that private companies can challenge “the cancellation or nullification of such [intellectual property] rights,” as well as “exceptions to such rights.”

Although a theory is that workers in all nations will benefit from bigger markets and more trade, a large portion of trade is done by multinational companies that have different interests from national corporations. Multinationals profit even if U.S. workers suffer, which is why these companies report their profits in or ship their jobs to countries with the lowest standards. The corporate movement of jobs overseas drives down wages in the U.S.; workers here will be forced to compete with workers in Vietnam who have no rights to organize in protest of wages that are under 60 cents an hour.

Corporate-defined trade rules have resulted in huge trade deficits, more than $8 trillion since 2000, and trade deficits cost jobs. Low trade tariffs allow current trade treaties to focus less on tariffs and more on “harmonizing regulations” for investors, “an excuse for corporations to institute a race to the bottom” according to Katrina vanden Heuvel. Trade agreements support corporate interests while trampling on the U.S. people. Drug companies are protected from introducing generic drugs, agribusiness is protected for its GMO food, and Wall Street is protected from regulations against secret derivatives.

Another provision among the 29 chapters of the TPP is that the U.S. government must treat bids from any TPP country in the same way as they treat U.S. companies. Tax dollars will no longer support U.S. communities, and taxpayers will be forced to send them money overseas, negating a 1934 law to give preference to U.S. corporations. With TPP, Chinese state-owned enterprise firms in Vietnam would have to be treated the same as a U.S. company and be awarded government contracts. Schools will no longer be allowed to “Buy Local” if a multinational company has a lower bid.

Republican members of Congress have fought everything that President Obama has supported—except the TPP Fast Track. That should raise a huge red flag for anyone who supports the rights of 90 percent of the U.S. people. For the past decade of TPP negotiations, the members of Congress, along with everyone else in the United States, have been refused access to TPP meetings and drafts of the agreement. The only information about TPP comes from leaks such as those revealed by Wikileaks. Yet 566 advisory group members, 480 of them representing industry groups or trade associations, are welcome to see and comment on the proposals. The few other participants are from 20 labor unions, three or four environmental groups, one consumer group, and two family farm groups.

U.S. workers are not the only people suffering from past trade agreements providing the prototype for TPP. Sister Simone Campbell, famous for her “nuns on the bus” movement to reverse income inequality, has written about the havoc wreaked by NAFTA, leading to a 60-percent increase in undocumented migrants from Mexico into the United States. This influx was followed by more undocumented migrants trying to cross the U.S. border from Central America after growing drug violence. In the United States, the 63 percent of workers without a college degree lost 12.2 percent of their wages since NATA took effect. According to the Government Accountability Office, labor provisions like the ones in TPP have failed to stop even the most severe labor abuses.

While appearing to be a great deal for huge corporations that are already taking money from the country in subsidies and unpaid taxes, the benefit for individuals, according to Peterson Institute for International Economics, would be one quarter—that’s $.25—a day. The pro-TPP study projects a 0.13-percent increase to the GDP by 2025, half of what Apple’s iPhone 5 did by itself.

If the TPP is so wonderful for the country, why is everything about it cloaked in secrecy? It’s so secret that people voting to approve it aren’t allowed access to information about it, yet they’re pushing for it sight unseen. The same people who think that the UN will destroy the United States are fighting to have international control by corporations.

My other question is why Wyden supports it. His constituents are so upset about his push to pass the TPP that they are floating the possibility of opposition to the extremely popular senator in the upcoming election. He owes Oregon and the people of the United States an explanation.

Moveon.org has a petition for people who oppose the TPP.

June 16, 2014

Decline of the U.S.: Brandeis, Warren, Reich

Louis Brandeis’ book, Other People’s Money and How the Bankers Use It, was published 100 years ago, but it has a strong parallel to Elizabeth Warren’s latest book, A Fighting Chance, according to reviewer Jill Lepore. Brandeis contends “that the country was being run by plutocrats and, especially, by investment bankers, who, by combining, consolidating, and aggregating the functions of banks, trusts, and corporations, controlled both the nation’s credit and the majority of its resources—including the railroads—and yet had not the least accountability to the public or any sense that the functions they had adopted were essentially those of a public utility.” He wrote:

“The power and the growth of power of our financial oligarchs comes from wielding the savings and quick capital of others. The fetters which bind the people are forged from the people’s own gold.”

One hundred years ago, the Gilded Age plutocrats used savings in banks to build giant, monopolistic conglomerates controlled by the shareholders instead of the people who had deposited their money into bank accounts. Brandeis’ book originally appeared in Harper’s as essays. Its compilation of facts and figures shows the massive control that banks wielded:

J. P. Morgan and the First National and the National City Bank together held “341 directorships in 112 corporations having aggregate resources or capitalization of $22,245,000,000,” a sum that is “nearly three times the assessed value of all the real estate in the City of New York” and “more than the assessed value of all the property in the twenty-two states, north and south, lying west of the Mississippi River.”

When Brandeis republished Other People’s Money in 1933 at a cost of $.15, the book was designed to influence President Roosevelt’s administration. The result was a number of anti-trust reforms and financial-industry regulations that grew the middle class during the middle decades of the last century.

While Brandeis’ book deals with the banks’ use of savings, Warren’s A Fighting Chance shows how banks today use the massive debt of the middle class to make money and wield control. With the repeal of financial reforms starting in the 1980s and the loss of the wall between commercial and savings banks from investment banks came the fetters on people from excessively-high interest rates on credit cards and mortgages. People were lured into a sense of false security with “teaser” rates before they faced the shock of skyrocketing interest rates.

Warren first published about bankruptcy in a monograph with Teresa A. Sullivan and Jay Lawrence Westbrook, As We Forgive Our Debtors: Bankruptcy and Consumer Credit in America (1989). Studying 2,400 bankruptcy petitions filed in 1981, they discovered that many of them belonged to the middle class. Over half were homeowners, and many were women rearing children. In The Fragile Middle Class: Americans in Debt, published six years later, Warren reported on personal-bankruptcy filings a decade after her first study. She found that between 1979 and 1997, the number of these filings had increased by 400 percent.

Part of Brandeis’ work led to abolishing child labor and establishing maximum-hour and minimum-wage laws. These laws lost the power to help the middle class, starting with insufficient increase in minimum-wage during the late 1900s. Warren’s work concluded that women holding jobs and raising children become more economically vulnerable, not less. “For middle-class families, the most important part of the safety net for generations has been the stay-at-home mother,” Warren and her daughter, Amelia Warren Tyagi, wrote in The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers and Fathers Are Going Broke (2003). As wages grew stagnant for the middle class in the early 1980s, married women, like Warren’s mother decades earlier, were forced to get a job to help the financial crisis. Once the family grew dependent on the second income, there was no cushion for wages that continued to be stagnant.

stagnant wages

The only answer for struggling families was to spend savings. Once those were gone, they took on huge debts. The final step was filing for bankruptcy. Financial crisis for a two-income family is the loss of one of these jobs. Warren and Tyagi reported, “Having a child is now the single best predictor that a woman will end up in financial collapse.” Between 1981 and 2001, the number of women filing for bankruptcy rose more than six hundred per cent.

During the battle for Massachusetts senator in 2012, Scott Brown tried to paint Warren as an Ivy League elitist. A Fighting Chance shows a far different picture. The divorced Warren was a single mother when she worked to get her college degrees and a registered Republican until the mid-1990s. It was her study of bankruptcy that destroyed her faith in unfettered market systems and “crony capitalism.”

A parallel to Elizabeth Warren’s work is Robert Reich’s research that has been recently promoted in the documentary, Inequality for All based on his book Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future.

Income-Inequality-Graph-from-Robert-Reichs-New-Film

A recurring visual during the film is a suspension bridge superimposed over a graph of wealth concentration of wealth during the 20th century. The two high points are 1928 and 2008 when equality peaked in the United States. Immediately following both these peaks were crashes—the Great Depression and the Great Recession. At both these high points, the top 1 percent took home over 23 percent of the national income. Currently, 400 people in the United States have more wealth than the bottom half of people in the U.S. That’s 400 people with over $2 trillion who have the same wealth as over 150 million people in the United States.

share in income 1

The Golden Age from 1945 to about 1975 disappeared with the anti-union legislation and rapid increase in college tuition. Taxes were also high during this period of time, as much as a 70-percent marginal rate, but they shrank rapidly starting with 1980. At the same time, taxes on the middle class such as sales taxes and payroll taxes (including Social Security) rose.

During the time shown by the suspension bridge, other trends parallel the suspension bridge concept in reverse. Wages grew during the middle of the 20th century as did union memberships. By the 1980s, wages stayed stagnant and union membership shrank.

In his work, Reich goes farther than Warren to show how the rigged system destroys not only the people but the corporations. When workers lose an adequate share of the nation’s income, they can’t buy anything. Lower consumption equals lower corporate earnings. In a vicious cycle, resulting layoffs causes even lower corporate earnings and more layoffs. In short, it is the majority of people who are the job creators, not the wealthy.

share in total income

A common perception among conservatives is that people are poor because they won’t work. As more and more people struggle, that perception is gradually changing. The following chart shows that during the past two decades, more and more people understand that people who work hard cannot climb out of poverty. By 2012, less than one-fourth of the people blame “not working” instead of “not earning enough.”

chart poor people in us

Reading A Fighting Chance and watching Inequality for All (http://inequalityforall.com/) provide a great background for the problems we face and the ways that we can move forward.

June 14, 2014

‘A Fighting Chance’: Elizabeth Warren’s Thoughts on the Rigged System

fighting chanceMen complain how women take everything personally. Elizabeth Warren makes that a good thing. For the past four decades, she has taken the problems of the poor and the middle class of this country very personally. She’s fought against unfair bankruptcy, concealed bank practices, and now excessive interest for student loans.

Warren’s newest book, A Fighting Chance, is far more than her personal story about her family and political campaigns. Throughout her book about how the middle class is trapped in a vise of debt, she shows that she is a person determined to help desperate people in this nation.

Warren grew up when employers could refuse to hire her because she was pregnant—or just because she is a woman. She married and had children early, and her husband—as most men in society at that time—thought it was her responsibility to be sole caretaker of both him and the children. Yet she managed to earn a law degree from Rutgers. Part of her success in education, according to her book, is that education was much cheaper then. She attended a state commuter college and paid $50 a semester for tuition. Now a state college can cost $15,000 a year for instate students.

 

Her original title of the book, Rigged, shows that U.S. politics gives control to plutocrats and bankers at the expense of most of the people in the nation. She writes about this issue in clear, simple language instead of the vague, ambiguous, wordy “fed speak” that most people high in the economic leadership use. Past Federal Reserve chair Alan Greenspan said about his use of fed speak: “You soon learn to mumble with great incoherence.”

One joy of A Fighting Chance is the lack of mumbling. With clarity and common sense, Warren delivers her message of giving everyone in the country a fair chance. Early in her teaching career, she taught a class on bankruptcy at a time when textbooks didn’t cover the new 1978 Bankruptcy Reform Act. In doing her own research on the law, she learned that almost 90 percent of people declared bankruptcy because of a job loss, a medical problem, or a family breakup, not because of bad choices.

Passion about the subject of bankruptcy led Warren to write a book about it and talk to groups about the law. That led her to become an advisor to lawmakers, giving her the opportunity to advocate for vital updates that allowed desperate people to get relief from their debt. Through this advocacy, she met such greats as former Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA), whose seat Warren now occupies in the U.S. Senate.

As Maura Casey said in her review:

“She’s mad as hell, and many readers will be, too, by the time they finish this book. Warren explains how the financial crisis was preceded by congressional and court decisions that shredded public protections for high interest rates and predatory banking practices during the 1980s and ‘90s. ‘Gradually [the bankers’] strategy emerged,’ she writes. ‘Target families who were already in a little trouble, lend them more money, get them entangled in high fees and astronomical interest rates, then block the doors to the bankruptcy exit if they really get in other their heads.’”

Her next project was to give the financial world transparency for everyone. Warren knew that as long as financial industries kept consumers and voters ignorant, that banks and credit cards could charge whatever fees and interest rates that they wished. The same ignorance on the part of consumers led to eight times as many bankruptcies in 2010 over 1980 and caused these same people to lose their homes at a enormous rate. Thanks to her support from such luminaries as Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) and a Democratic president, a new agency, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, created a simpler way of looking at financial contracts. Credit card agreements are now one page, and mortgages use understandable language.

elizabeth_warren_graduates-620x412Republicans made a major mistake when they refused to make Warren the head of this agency. Because of this loss, she ran for Senate against a popular incumbent—and won. Her current crusade is to put student loans on the same footing as bank loans.

Banks pay less than 1 percent in interest, giving them a subsidy of $83 billion a year that they stash away instead of helping people with the funds. Students pay nonnegotiable rates of over 8 percent, in a time when mortgages are under 4 percent.

The bill allows students to take out government loans at 3.86 percent interest and let existing borrowers to refinance their current loans down to that lower rate. It also proposes that the $5.1 billion loss each year through refinancing would be off-set by $7.1 in new revenues from a surcharge tax on millionaires to ensure that they pay at least 30 percent of their income in taxes.

Warren said:

“We put the plan to pay for it right on the table. No gimmicks or smoke-and-mirrors. We said that when the government reduces its profits on student loans, the money should be made up by stitching up tax loopholes so that millionaires and billionaires pay at least as much in taxes as middle class families.”

As Warren told the Boston Globe:

“It’s a basic question on our values. Does this country protect millionaires’ and billionaires’ tax loopholes? Or does it try to help young people who are just starting their economic lives?”

This past week, GOP senators filibustered her bill on student loans and temporarily killed it. She obtained 56 votes to overcome the filibuster: that’s six votes over a majority of the Senate but not enough for the filibuster policy that mandates 60 votes. There were actually 57 votes to close the filibuster, but Majority Leader Harry Reid changed his vote to no so that he could bring up the bill again. Thirty-eight GOP senators voted to protect the 22,000 millionaires/billionaires.

Warren never quits. She’ll be back with the bill again. And she’s got help. A few hours after the bill was blocked, Chuck Schumer, the third-ranking Democrat in the Senate, told Jon Stewart on The Daily Show:

“You can refinance your home, you can refinance your car, but the federal government doesn’t allow you to refinance your college loan if you’re paying too much. Why shouldn’t we do that? We’re gonna keep going at it. We’re going to bring this bill up over and over.”

Businesses and local governments can also refinance loans for a lower interest rate.

High interest on the $1.2 trillion that over 40 million people owe in student loans hurts the country’s economy. Most of them cannot buy cars and homes, causing fewer jobs to make and sell these. Dropping the interest rate would put billions into the economy and billions into the government coffers through tax revenue.

The GOP couldn’t even come up with a rationale justification for voting against the bill. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)  said, “The Senate Democrats’ bill isn’t really about students at all. It’s really all about Senate Democrats. They want an issue to campaign on to save their own hides this November.” At the same time, the Senate Finance Committee has approved a measure to cut taxes for the wealthy that cost $8 billion a year with no offset.

Warren has an answer for McConnell. She’s headed to Kentucky to campaign and fundraise for his opponent, Alison Lundergan Grimes.

Although much of the book is about policy and law, it is a very personal book as Warren writes about how she developed her value system. She grew up poor and always has an eye on the dollar. It is that background that makes her valuable in her fight for the people struggling against a rigged system. She has lived their lives. And she understands how all these lives, rich and poor, are interconnected.

“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear: You moved the goods to market on roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory…. Now look, you built the factory and it turned into something terrific, or great idea? God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid that comes along.”

Warren’s  weapon throughout her achievements is her call for transparent systems. As she says, “When you have no real power, go public—really public. The public is where the real power is.” After the GOP blocked her bill, she said:

“I think it is time to come back louder than ever. I think it is time to show up at campaign events and town halls and ask every single Republican who voted against this bill why protecting billionaires is more important than giving our kids a chance to pay off their loans. I think we need to ask, and ask again, and ask again.”

That’s what Warren is doing in Kentucky, and it’s great advice. It might give the people of the United States a fighting chance.

November 22, 2013

We Need to Return to JFK’s Dream

Today is the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s death from a gunman in Dallas (TX). For weeks, the media has discussed the controversy surrounding his murder and the tortured activities of the Warren Commission that investigated the killing. Fox network, however, took a slightly different approach.

Fox News host Chris Wallace, son of 60 Minutes journalist Mike Wallace, tried to convince Kennedy’s niece, Kathleen Townsend Kennedy, that the president was “quite conservative.” When Wallace insisted that the president lowered taxes because he thought this would spur the economy, Townsend Kennedy pointed out he lowered the top marginal rates from 90 percent to 70 percent, over double today’s 33 percent.

Wallace claimed that Kennedy was a “Cold Warrior”; Townsend Kennedy responded that he resisted generals who wanted to declare war during the Bay of Pigs incident.

Conservative columnist George Will asserted, “Well, he was a conventional liberal before liberalism changed in the late 1960s. He … did indeed believe in supply side tax cuts, increased revenues from lower rates.” According to Will, that was the reason Kennedy was killed, because he was too conservative. “We happen to know he was killed by a silly, squalid, little communist,” Will finished.

Fox contributor Brit Hume followed up by saying, “I think he was the coolest president we ever had. I think, however, despite the thinness of the record that [Wallace] just mentioned and that George mentioned, he has been the subject of the most successful public relations campaign in political history. It is a legend bordering, I think, on myth.”

Missing from Wallace’s narrative is that conservatives hated Kenndy because he supported equality for blacks, suggested that the U.S. should agree to a nuclear arms treaty with Russia, and planned to withdraw U.S. troops from Vietnam after the 1964 election.

For his book JFK and the Unspeakable, endorsed by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Jim Douglass’  information from declassified government documents showed the actions of a man who was definitely not conservative:  

  • A major conflict with military contractor United States Steel because the corporation double-crossed the president by raising steel prices despite a deal between the two parties.
  • Refusal to start an all-out nuclear war despite regular pressure from the military-industrial complex.
  • A secret arrangement with Russia’s Nikita Krushchev for a nuclear disarmament treaty.
  • Open support for Castro in the Cuban Revolution.
  • Efforts to end the U.S. occupation of Vietnam.
  • Refusal to stage terrorist attacks on U.S. soil that would be blamed on Cuba.

Fifty years after Kennedy’s assassination, the government shows the destruction of conservative politicians. Minimum wage is 20 percent lower than 45 years ago, and Social Security benefits are 25 percent lower than 30 years. At the same time, 60 percent of the pensions disappeared, and the recent recession wiped out much of the retirement that some people had saved in 401(k)s.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is a leader in moving the United States back to Kennedy’s dream. In response to a study by Dr. Arindrajit Dube, a University of Massachusetts Amherst professor who has studied the economic impacts of the current minimum wage, she said, “If we started in 1960 and we said that as productivity goes up, that is as workers are producing more, then the minimum wage is going to go up the same. And if that were the case then the minimum wage today would be about $22 an hour.” Dube pointed out that growing the minimum wage at the same pace as the increase for the top 1 percent of income earners would make the minimum wage closer to $33.

Warren also spoke about other changes in the past 50 years:

“During the Great Depression and the years after World War II, our country made two remarkable decisions. First, in a boom-and-bust world, we created a basic set of fair rules that ended the financial panics and provided almost a half-century of economic stability and growth. Second, we invested in ourselves and our children, creating the basic building blocks for a strong middle class and a strong economy: education, roads and bridges, mass transit and rail, water and sewage, research, and energy. It worked. America’s middle class prospered. We celebrated success, but we always paid ahead, making sure that the basic ingredients would be in place so the next generation could do even better.

“But about a generation ago, Washington turned in a different direction and changed the rules.

“Financial cops were taken off the beat, and government regulators began to work for those they were supposed to regulate. We fought wars we didn’t pay for, recklessly piling on debt. Powerful companies got subsidies, and ordinary families and small businesses had to pick up the burden. We didn’t repair our roads and bridges, and we cut back on research.  We stopped investing in our future.”

An important piece of investment in the dream and the future is Social Security. Those wailing about how the program is going broke are forgetting about the free ride that the wealthy is getting. The current cap on deductions is under $114,000, much less than the $200,000 in 2013 several years ago. The wealthy also make most of their money now from capital gains which Social Security does not tax.

The growing wealth of the top percent of people in the United States might bring up the question of how people manage to spend hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars. People can have only so many mansions, jets, yachts, cars, and other expensive items yet still have left-over money. If that’s your problem, here’s help:

  • A $95,000 truffle: Russian billionaire Vladimir Potanin recently ordered this at Nello, a Wall Street restaurant. To him, $95,000 wouldn’t seem like much money: the relationship of $95,000 to $1 billion is the same as $.95 to $10,000. Before going to Nello, however, you might want to read Yelp reviews—two stars and complaints about inedible food and rude service.
  • A $5,000 hamburger: In Las Vagas at Mandalay Bay, the Fleur de Lys restaurant offers the “Fleurburger 5000, a Kobe beef patty “topped with a rich truffle sauce and served on a brioche truffle bun.” For that price it comes with a bottle of 1990 Chateau Petrus served in Ichendorf Brunello stemware that you get to keep.
  • A $500 milkshake: The Powder Room restaurant in Los Angeles includes “special stuff: edible gold, Belgian chocolate, and a crystal ring.”
  • A $117,000 bottle of 1811 Chateau d’Yquem: If that’s not enough, the Le Clos wine shop in Dubai International Airport offers three 12-liter bottles of 2009 Château Margaux for $195,000–each.
  • A $142 million piece of art by Francis Bacon: At the same auction, three other pieces sold for more than $50 million; 11 for more than $20 million; and 16 sold for more than $10 million. An Andy Warhol piece sold for almost $60 million.

As Thomas Galbraith, of online auction house Paddle8, said, “Since the recession, the wealthy appear to be becoming even wealthier, while middle-class wages are more stagnant.”  Katherine Markley, artnet’s lead market analyst, added, “The 400 richest Americans [are] now worth a cumulative $2 trillion, up $300 billion from a year ago and with an average net worth of a record $5 billion, an $800 million increase from a year ago.”

As the first Catholic president of the United States, Kennedy swore he would not let his religion rule. His inspiring call to people of this nation led to the establishment of the Peace Corp, an organization that still sends thousands of U.S. volunteers around the world to help the needy. He was committed to land a human being on the moon; his support of space exploration helped that happen six years later. His Area Redevelopment Act helped states suffering from high unemployment rates, his laws ended segregation in interstate travel facilities, and his executive order stopped discrimination in housing sales and leases financed by the government. Kennedy also promoted the arts through concerts, plays, and musicals at the White House.

Fifty years later, the GOP wants its religion to rule the United States, works to deprive the poor of food and housing, fights the accomplishments of science through denial, increases unemployment rates by austerity, and demonstrates extreme racism. To the GOP, the arts are a waste of money.

Average hourly earnings have been flat for 50 years (after adjusting for inflation), as companies steer their wealth primarily to senior management and owners at the expense of average employees. Tax policies increasingly favor investors and high wage earners over middle-class and upper-middle-class wage-earners. An obsession with “shareholder value” at the expense of other stakeholders (namely, customers and employees) has led companies to cut employee costs to the bone.

These and other factors have contributed to the most radical redistribution of wealth that the United States has ever seen. Since the late 1970s, the country’s assets and income have moved steadily from “average” Americans to the richest Americans. The wealth inequality is the greatest since the 1920s. Consumers have little money to spend, businesses suffer and look for way to cut costs, and consumers are hurt even more.

Big companies and their owners and senior managers, however, are not suffering. They’re doing better than any other time in history. The free-market system, which worked well 50 years ago, is costing everyone except the top 1 percent. The result is a nation of over 300+ serfs who serve a few million overlords.

As Warren said, “The Republican vision is clear: ‘I’ve got mine, the rest of you are on your own.’ ” That wasn’t John F. Kennedy’s dream, and it shouldn’t be ours either.

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