Wednesday, September 17, 2014

DONALD TRUMP ... POSTER CHILD FOR WEALTH EXTRACTION IN AMERICA?

So, after using the Trump Plaza to weasel his way out of contracts and obligations during his companies' four bankruptcies - while paying himself millions in the process - Donald Trump has finally given up on Trump Plaza, for now.


If you read the story behind Donald Trump and the four bankruptcies (1991, 1992, 2004, and 2009) that surround this business "empire" it's easy to see that both a Ponzi scheme and wealth extraction are now the heart of his deals. In effect, Donald Trump has been upping the ante with borrowed money every time his companies run into financial trouble, and then paying himself more in the process.

But this is nothing new for corporate America over the past 30 years, which is a problem that should concern us all. But wealth extraction as corporate goal is not our only problem. We need to look at the human wreckage that this type of arbitrage and wealth extraction does to real people.

Robert Reich asks the right question here:

Thirty years ago on its opening day in 1984, Donald Trump stood in a dark topcoat on the casino floor at Atlantic City’s Trump Plaza, celebrating his new investment. Today, as the casino folded, and some 1,000 employees lost their jobs, Trump was on twitter clarifying he currently has “nothing to do with Atlantic City,” and praising himself for his “great timing” in getting out of the investment.  
In America, people with lots of money can easily avoid the consequences of bad bets and big losses by cashing out at the first sign of trouble, because the law protects them through limited liability and bankruptcy. But workers who move to a place like Atlantic City for a job, invest in a home there, and build their skills, have no such protection. Jobs vanish, skills are suddenly irrelevant, and home values plummet. Should Donald Trump and other big investors have some legal responsibility to workers and communities for the messes they leave behind?

Borrowing more to make bigger market bets, and then hiding behind corporate and legal walls as you pay yourself big bucks at the same time your firms declare bankruptcy is not my idea of market capitalism. And it's all built on what the laws of our country allow, and encourage.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Favorable legislation, deregulation, and artificially cheap money are eating the spirit out of America.

- Mark

Monday, September 15, 2014

OUR WORLD, IF THE KOCH BROTHERS GOT THEIR WAY

As I suggested here ...


- Mark 

READING FOR THE WEEK (9-15-14)


The bankruptcy of Detroit and the division of America (Robert Reich / Bill Moyers).

Scalia's utter moral failure: How he destroys any claim to a superior system of justice (Salon).

Obama says we are at war with ISIS (Yahoo News).

Smart Charts: Six ways to tackle inequality in America (Bill Moyers).


THE WAR STATE
The American fear-mongering machine is about to scare us back to war, again (The Guardian).

The pleasant fiction of "no boots on the ground" (Truth Out).

Judge says U.S. doesn't have to reveal costs of Guantanamo's Camp 7 (McClatchy DC).


FERGUSON: A POLICE "COMPANY TOWN"?
In Ferguson cops hand out 3 three warrants per household every year (Mother Jones).

How many ways can the city of Ferguson slap you with court fees? We counted (Mother Jones).


JUST WRONG ... 
Conservative Navy Seal arrested for fabricating story about being shot by a black mob (Addicting Info).

Public school police department receives mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle (Mint Press News).

Even more jobs created, Republicans crap all over it (Blue Nation Review).

House Republicans slash funding that would help fight Ebola (Salon).

Abbot's Houston raid didn't end with arrests, but it did shut down voter registration drive (Dallas News).


MEANWHILE, IN CRAZY LAND ...
Sarah Palin and family engage in drunken Alaskan brawl (Politics USA).

Commenting on Ray Rice Maryland GOP candidate says, 'How is she the victim when she began the assault?" ... 'Women want equality', Ray Rice just gave 'some of it' to his wife (The Raw Story).

Former Republican state senator, and current Arizona Republican Party vice-chair, wants to sterilize poor women on public assistance, in addition to testing them for drugs and alcohol (Crooks & LiarsPhoenix New Times).

Fox guest suggests biblical principles prevent an Ebola epidemic (News Hounds).

Religious right calls for deportation, sterilization and holy war on Muslims (Politics USA).

Sean Hannity defends Duck Dynasty's 'strong Christian' Phil Robertson's biblical belief that ISIS members should 'convert or die' (News Hounds).


MISCELLANEOUS
Forget the bucket list: These are the things to avoid before you die (The Guardian).

Workers in Maine buy out their jobs, set an example for the nation (Truth Out).

Should we all be taking a little lithium (NY Times)?

Are we approaching the end of human history (Bill Moyers)?

How the Tea Party is causing big business to back Democrats (Mother Jones).

- Mark

Saturday, September 13, 2014

MOONLIGHT SERENADE ...

In the spirit of the my previous mariachi post ... I've always liked this one.


-Mark 

MARIACHI FLASHMOB

If you enjoy mariachis - and I do - this flashmob is for you ...


- Mark

NEVER FORGET: NO, NOT 9/11 (we're all too patriotic for that) ... NEVER FORGET WHO'S FOOTING THE BILL FOR THE 2008 MARKET CRASH, AND WALL STREET'S EPIC GAINS

For a host of reasons most Americans have given up on tracking how much money the American taxpayer was put on the hook for after the market collapsed in 2008. I have not. 

This Monday, September 15, marks the 6 year anniversary of our inglorious market crash.

Since the 2008 market collapse the federal government - i.e. the American taxpayer - has bailed out Wall Street and backstopped the market bets of our nation's biggest financial players. From providing low interest loans (0.75%), to backstopping market insurance programs, and by purchasing Wall Street's toxic assets, the American government (led by the Federal Reserve) has committed a little over $14 trillion to America's largest financial institutions.


Throw in the more than $1.5 trillion made available through President Bush's TARP and President Obama's stimulus package and we're talking about $16 trillion (give or take a few hundred billion dollars). Then we have the fact that America's middle class saw lives ruined  as its wealth collapse by 40 percent after 2008.

But this isn't about Main Street. It's about Wall Street.

To give you an idea of the scale behind the Mother of All Bailouts, the entire U.S. economy is expected to produce $16.8 trillion worth of goods and services in 2014 (and only produced about $14.4 trillion in 2008).

If you're looking for a functional equivalent of what we handed Wall Street that's easy to understand, imagine your bank offering to loan you the amount of your entire salary for the year at 0.75 percent interest. Now imagine your bank also agreeing to accept the full value that you paid for your house in 2007 (say, $500,000) as collateral when the value of your house today is only 60 percent ($300,000) of what you paid for it.

This is effectively what we offered Wall Street after the market collapsed in 2008. We gave them almost free money, and took crap for collateral. Nice.

So, where did all the money go? Seriously, after raining trillions on Wall Street and the financial sector, why hasn't any of the wealth trickled down to the rest of us?




The wealth hasn't trickled down for two reasons. First, the money's gone to our pampered and protected banks, who are using a variety of ways to hoard cash. As well, the money has effectively been stashed away as credits and guarantees for Wall Street's next industry induced market collapse. I have two inserts below that show who's hoarding (Wall Street and the Too Big To Fail banks) and stashing (the Federal Reserve and Treasury Department) our money.

The first tells us who are the recipients of the various government loan programs. It's from the GAO's 2011 audit of the Federal Reserves bailout costs, which was released July 11, 2011 (p. 131 in the audit report, 144 on your screen as you scroll).

Loans made to financial institutions via assorted government programs (in billions of dollars).

Because the loan programs were viewed as insufficient to deal with the totality of Wall Street's market mess the Federal Reserve and the U.S. Treasury Department are also offering an alphabet soup list of financial programs that pretty much guarantee the market bets of our nation's biggest financial firms will pay off.

Below are two area charts of the individual programs that were made available by the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department. They add up to more than $14.2 trillion. Coupled with the more than $1.5 trillion that Presidents Bush and Obama coughed up - via the bailout (2008) and stimulus (2009) programs - and we're looking at almost $16 trillion (again, just about the value of all the goods & services we'll produce this year).



In 2011 the NY Times did a break down of these programs and their costs, which you can access here. A description of each program can be found in the appendix section of the GAO's audit (p.p. 148-242).

The point is that if there's one thing we shouldn't forget it's that the American taxpayer is footing the bill for Wall Street's foolishness, and their epic financial gains. Unfortunately, the complexity of it all is one of the reasons why we don't pay much attention to the damage.

In fact, I would say that we've forgotten all about it. Because we're patriots.

Sigh ...

- Mark 

Friday, September 12, 2014

PRESIDENT OBAMA ... IT'S WAR IN PERPETUITY

I've been thinking about President Obama's speech on ISIL Thursday night. When I find some time I'm going to put a few more thoughts down. At this point, though, all I heard from President Obama is that we should prepare for war in perpetuity in the region ...



And don't believe the "drone war will work" logic. We've been using drones throughout the Middle East for years, and the region has not gotten safer or more stable. These are not "Goodwill Drones." They have done real damage.




What makes President Obama's drone strategy less convincing is that we're going to depend on the Iraqi army to fight and hold drone bombed territories when it was the U.S. trained Iraqi army that dropped their weapons and ran when ISIL showed up the first time.

Unless our allies (or us) are willing to make investments that go beyond simply putting boots on the ground, we're in for a continuation of the military mess we've seen in the region over the past 60-plus years.

War in perpetuity, indeed ...

- Mark 

WEATHERING LIFE STORMS


- Mark

Thursday, September 11, 2014

DECLASSIFY ALL OF THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT


No synopsis. This is worth reading in its entirety.

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From: Washington’s Blog

9/11 Commission Chairs, Congressmen and Intelligence Officers All Call for Declassification

The 9/11 Commission Co-Chairs – Lee Hamilton and Thomas Kean – have called for the 28-page section of the 9/11 Commission Report which is classified to be declassified. Kean said that 60-70% of what was classified shouldn’t have been classified in the first place:


Congressman Thomas Massie read the 28 classified pages of the Joint Intelligence Committee Inquiry into 9/11 (the joint Senate and House investigation into 9/11) and immediately called for them to be released to the public:


A bipartisan bill – introduced by congressmen Walter B. Jones (Republican from North Carolina) and Stephen Lynch (Democrat from Massachusetts) – would declassify the 28 pages of the Joint Inquiry which implicate the Saudi government. Former Congressman Ron Paul is also demanding the 28 pages be declassified:


The Co-Chair of the congressional investigation into 9/11 – Bob Graham - and 9/11 Commissioner and former Senator Bob Kerrey are calling for either a “permanent 9/11 commission” or a new 9/11 investigation to get to the bottom of it.

Senator Graham has lobbied Obama for years to release the 28 pages and to reopen the investigation, but Obama has refused. The former Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee and 9/11 investigator has even resorted to filing Freedom of Information requests to obtain information, but the Obama administration is still stonewalling:
Graham said that like the 28 pages in the 9/11 inquiry, the Sarasota case is being “covered up” by U.S. intelligence. Graham has been fighting to get the FBI to release the details of this investigation with Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and litigation. But so far the bureau has stalled and stonewalled, he said.
And high-level former NSA official Thomas Drake provided testimony to the 9/11 investigations documenting that the “official story” of 9/11 makes little sense, as the intelligence agencies had all of the information they needed to stop it. Drake’s testimony has – for no real reason – been classified.
Drake is seeking to declassify his testimony to the 9/11 Commission:
I would argue for declassification and release because the 9/11 Commission asked for it in the public interest, my testimony was given to Congress via testimony (oral and written) to investigators as a material witness and whistleblower, because of NSA’s coverup of its accountability for 9/11, and the coverup committed by NSA to obstruct official Congressional investigations, plus declassification is timely in terms of ongoing efforts to reform NSA by Congress and the President. 
I do know that my testimony and evidence was fully suppressed and censored as a deep state secret – so secret that it was not included in the classified report of the 9/11 Joint Inquiry.
Indeed, the 9/11 Commission admits that it never got all of the facts … and many officials are eager to spill the beans about what they know.

Still Urgent Today

Ancient history, you say?

Graham notes:
Although it’s been more than a decade ago when this horrific event occurred, I think [the questions of who supported the attacks] have real consequences to U.S. actions today.
As Graham told PBS:
We need to have this information now because it’s relevant to the threat thatthe people of the United States are facing today.
Postscript: People may not remember now, but – at the time – the supposed Iraqi state sponsorship of 9/11 was at least as important a justification for the Iraq war as the alleged weapons of mass destruction. This claim that Iraq is linked to 9/11 has since been debunked by the 9/11 Commission, top government officials, and even – long after they alleged such a link – Bush and Cheney themselves.
But 70% of the American public believed it at the time, and 85% of U.S. troops believed the U.S. mission in Iraq was “to retaliate for Saddam’s role in the 9-11 attacks.”

Only last year, John Glaser noted:
Significant portions of Americans still believe that Saddam and al-Qaeda were in cahoots and cooperated in the 9/11 attacks. The reason is simple: the administration told them this lie. 
An investigation by a committee in the House of Representatives in 2004 identified “237 misleading statements about the threat posed by Iraq that were made by President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Secretary Rumsfeld, Secretary Powell, and National Security Advisor Rice. These statements were made in 125 separate appearances, consisting of 40 speeches, 26 press conferences and briefings, 53 interviews, 4 written statements, and 2 congressional testimonies.” According to the committee, at least 61 separate statements “misrepresented Iraq’s ties to al-Qaeda.” A Senate investigation in 2006 also covered these lies. 
Keeping this lie afloat took some work. The Bush administration, primarily Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld, “applied relentless pressure on interrogators to use harsh methods on detainees in part to find evidence of cooperation between al Qaida and the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s regime,” McClatchy reported in 2009. 
According to Lawrence Wilkerson, chief of staff to Bush’s Secretary of State Powell, “the administration authorized harsh interrogation” in 2002, and “its principal priority for intelligence was not aimed at pre-empting another terrorist attack on the U.S. but discovering a smoking gun linking Iraq and al-Qa’ida.”
Wilkerson is right.

In other words, the failure to conduct a real 9/11 investigation contributed to the Iraq war, torture, and the failure to fix fundamental weaknesses in – and threats to – America’s national security.

**************
- Mark