Wednesday, February 22, 2017

VISUALIZING INTERNATIONAL TRADE FLOWS

Check out this cool interactive map at Visual Capitalist that shows us global trade flows. If you click on individual nation-states the map will show you trade flows by state. Below are trade flows from and into the United States ... 



Immediately below are global trade flows, with a view from the North Pole (the U.S. is to the left, Europe to the bottom right, Asia to the top right).




If you click on this link - "Four Maps Showing China's Rising Dominance in Trade" - you will learn that while the United States is the top trading partner for 56 countries, China is most important trading partner for 124 countries, dominating in Asia, Eastern Europe, Africa, and Australia.

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- Mark

TALLEST BUILDINGS BY STATE

Via Visual Capitalist, we get the tallest buildings by state ...

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Click here for ginormous version of this picture.
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For a list of the world's five tallest skyscrapers, with a view from the top, click here.

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- Mark


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

WAR MADE THE STATE, AND THE STATE MADE WAR ... POLITICAL SCIENCE 4640 MID-TERM NOTES


In my International Political Economy class (PS 4640) we have a mid-term this Thursday (2-23-17). Below are links to issues I have discussed on my blog, which tie directly into lectures and, not coincidentally, are important for answering the questions that will be asked. The focus of the mid-term exam is on the historical transformation of the state from Feudalism through our Mercantilist period and, now, towards the modern Liberal state. What's below are links to ancillary "cliffs" notes for my class.  

Of course, for those who are just interested in knowing about the transformation of the state, and markets, you can begin by reading the links below.
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EXAM-BLOG NOTES FOR PS 4604


The Moral Justification of Capitalism is on the Ropes ... Here's Why. This is a review of the transformation from feudalism and mercantilism towards the modern liberal state. These are the roots of the liberal perspective. 

From War to Mercantilism & Market Capitalism: The historical role the Renaissance, Reformation, and the Enlightenment had in paving the intellectual path for Market Capitalism to arrive. It's here we begin to learn how war made the state, and the state made war.


Waves of Imperialism ... War and Markets: Why Great Wealth is not a product of individual initiative alone. Here we learn about the three waves of imperialism, which were driven by successive but distinct eras of mercantilism after 1648, 1815, and 1919.

Waves of Imperialism, II ... It's not free markets. The state creates the conditions under which wealth is created (with an all too brief discussion-mention of John M. Keynes and Friedrich List).

The Dark Side of Our Free Market Myths ... There's a very simple reason why the state has had to step in and work to make sure "the laws of justice" actually exist. Rules and regulations are the product of a long history of stifling feudal customs, traditions, entrenched privileges, slavery, sexism, racism (the Black Codes), and outright fraud (among others) undermining the moral justification of capitalism.

- Mark 

DEAR CONSERVATIVES: "YOU BOUGHT IT ..."


For your conservative friends who voted for Donald Trump, the post below is from former Labor Secretary Robert Reich's FB page (it's credited to one of his followers):

1. He called Hillary Clinton a crook.
You bought it.
Then he paid $25 million to settle a fraud lawsuit.

2. He said he'd release his tax returns, eventually.
You bought it.
He hasn't, and says he never will.

3. He said he'd divest himself from his financial empire, to avoid any conflicts of interest.
You bought it.
He is still heavily involved in his businesses, manipulates the stock market on a daily basis, and has more conflicts of interest than can even be counted.

4. He said Clinton was in the pockets of Goldman Sachs, and would do whatever they said.
You bought it.
He then proceeded to put half a dozen Goldman Sachs executives in positions of power in his administration.

5. He said he'd surround himself with all the best and smartest people.
You bought it.
He nominated theocratic loon Mike Pence for Vice President. A white supremacist named Steve Bannon is his most trusted confidant. Dr. Ben Carson, the world's greatest idiot savant brain surgeon, is in charge of HUD. Russian quisling Rex Tillerson is Secretary of State.

6. He said he'd be his own man, beholden to no one.
You bought it.
He then appointed Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, whose only "qualifications" were the massive amounts of cash she donated to his campaign.

7. He said he would "drain the swamp" of Washington insiders.
You bought it.
He then admitted that was just a corny slogan he said to fire up the rubes during the rallies, and that he didn't mean it.

8. He said he knew more about strategy and terrorism than the Generals did.
You bought it.
He promptly gave the green light to a disastrous raid in Yemen- even though all his Generals said it would be a terrible idea. This raid resulted in the deaths of a Navy SEAL, an 8-year old American girl, and numerous civilians. The actual target of the raid escaped, and no useful intel was gained.

9. He said Hillary Clinton couldn't be counted on in times of crisis.
You bought it.
He didn't even bother overseeing that raid in Yemen; and instead spent the time hate-tweeting the New York Times, and sleeping.

10. He called CNN, the Washington Post and the New York Times "fake news" and said they were his enemy.
You bought it.
He now gets all his information from Breitbart, Gateway Pundit, and InfoWars.

11. He called Barack Obama "the vacationer-in-Chief" and accused him of playing more rounds of golf than Tiger Woods. He promised to never be the kind of president who took cushy vacations on the taxpayer's dime, not when there was so much important work to be done.
You bought it.
He took his first vacation after 11 days in office.
On the taxpayer's dime.
And went golfing.

And that's just the first month.

- Mark 

Monday, February 20, 2017

YES, IT CAN HAPPEN HERE, AGAIN

Yes, it can happen in America, again ... 


In simple terms, when you place an entire group of people into a suspect class, it becomes easier to question their claim to the legal protections that are an integral part of the American experience. This makes it easier to take away their constitutional rights and, eventually their human rights.

It's happened in America before ...
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PILGRIMAGE from Tadashi Nakamura on Vimeo.
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Unfortunately, many Americans choose to ignore this history because they believe the fear they feel today is so great that it justifies taking away the rights of others. 


  

- Mark


Sunday, February 19, 2017

JES SUIS SWEDEN

After the tragedy in Sweden, which was so eloquently spoken about by President Trump, we should all stand with our IKEA-producing friends ...
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Sigh ...

- Mark

Kudos to Leonel for the meme.

UPDATE: Just in, via my friend Leonel (who else?) ... "This video of the terrorist attack on Sweden mentioned by President Trump is horrifying! Warning: Not for the squeamish."


LATE WEEKEND READING (Feb. 19, 2017)


Why pre-industrial life was anything but paradise (ATI).

'Data-driven' campaigns are killing the Democratic Party (Politico).

The classroom where fake news fails (NPR).

With billions at stake a federal judge just nullified the GOP's most cynical attack on Obamacare (LA Times).


JAMES COMEY HAS SOME EXPLAINING TO DO
The mysterious James Comey (Washington Monthly).

James Comey has some Goddamn explaining to do (GQ).


WHY WE SHOULD BE WORRIED
Trump's refusal to condemn Putin as a 'Killer' (The Atlantic).

'Last night in Sweden'? Trump's remark baffles a nation [and Sweden] (NY Times).

Yemen withdraws permission for U.S. antiterror ground missions (NY Times).

REPORT: Paper trail suggests Trump was paid off to do 180 degree pivot on China policy (Reverb Press).


DEMOCRACY IN PERIL?
North  Carolina is no longer classified as a democracy (The Hill).

Democracy at the Tipping Point (Spiegel Online).

"We have at most a year to defend American democracy, perhaps less" (SZ International).


THINGS TO REMEMBER WHEN IT ALL FALLS APART
Paying attention: Senator Elizabeth Warren on Financial Regulation (attn:).

Donald Trump is targeting an agency that has recovered $11.8 billion for consumers (Fortune).

Trump is being handed  a great economy/ What happens when it goes wrong (Denver Post).

Non-partisan congressional tax report debunks core conservative economic theory-GOP suppresses study (Forbes).

Trump's OMB pick seems poised to ignite a worldwide financial crisis (Washington Post).


OTHER THINGS TO REMEMBER WHEN IT FALLS APART
Day 26: Clusterfuck (WTFjusthappenedtoday).

Trump campaign aides had repeated contacts with Russian intelligence (NY Times).

Who told Fynn to call Russia? (Politico Magazine).

Mike Flynn might be done - but Trump's nightmare has just begun (The Guardian).

The spy revolt against Trump (Observer).

Donald Trump's Russia Scandal is Just Getting Started: The White House says Mike Flynn was going rogue, but there's no good reason to believe that (Foreign Policy).

Donald Trump firing Sally Yates isn't the big story. How he did it is (Washington Post).


SERIOUSLY? (and, yeah, they're idiots)

Pro-Trump propaganda outlets are blaming an Obama shadow government for massive anti-Trump protests (Media Matters).

GOP congressman urges self-rationing of human health care after Obamacare repeal (Huffingpost).

After bullying remarks about environmentalists and immigrants, Rep. Tom McClintock calls for 'civil discussion' (Michael Hiltzik/LA Times).

Shoker! Rediculous choker Trump attaks and dishoners English with ever-dummer spellings (San Jose Mercury News / Dana Milbank).

White House official repeated massive lie that should worry you (attn:).


YEAH, THEY'RE MISINFORMED CLOWNS TOO 

U.S. Military sources claim Trump approved Yemen strike without enough preparation (New York Magazine).

Trump says terror attacks 'under-reported': is that true? (BBC).

Donald Trump was right, there was a recent attack in Sweden. By Neo-Nazis on a refugee centre (Independent).

Anderson Cooper shuts down the White House's terrorism list in just 45 seconds (Huffington Post).

Trump's entire campaign was a bait-and-switch: Washington's a mess, and it's all the president's fault (Salon).


OH, YEAH, THEY'RE ALSO NAZIS
How White House advisor Stephen Miller went from pestering Hispanic students to designing Trump's immigration policy (Univision).

Here's a list of 39 white terrorists for the smug congressman who challenged CNN to name more than two (Slate).

White Baton Rouge judge calls black woman the N-word at local restaurant (The Root / WBZR2).

Texas high school students make Nazi salute and shout 'Hail Trump' in senior class photos (Raw Story).


MISCELLANEOUS
In mapping the Holocaust, a horrifying lesson in Nazi "paths to persecution" (PBS).

Breathless in  Bakersfield: is the worst air pollution in the US about to get worse [yes]? (The Guardian).

How the welfare state helped make America what it is today (ati).

Rachel Carson: The American Experience (PBS)

- Mark

Thursday, February 16, 2017

YES, WE KNEW ... AND, YES, WE KNEW ABOUT DONALD TRUMP'S RUSSIAN TIES


My good friend Leonel Martinez (no relation) posted the following on his FB page ...

We knew President Trump had questionable ties to Russia before he was elected. 
We knew he lied. 
We knew he had shady business dealings. 
We knew he was sued for racial discrimination, disparaged immigrants and demeaned women. 
We knew he had little to no knowledge of foreign policy. 
We knew he had no background in politics, was incredibly self-absorbed and wasn't exactly an intellectual heavyweight.  
Why did millions of Americans ignore those facts when they entered the voting booth? Our country will pay the price now


Incredibly, we knew so much about Donald Trump's Russian ties - a fact I pointed out back in July - Hillary Clinton was able to spell out what we knew during the third presidential debate ...




So, yes, we knew all about Donald Trump's ugly character traits AND his compromised position with Russia. Yet millions of Americans ignored these basic facts, in part because many prefer to live in an alternative universe ... which has given rise to the "alternative facts" universe many conservatives openly accept.

Leonel's final observation - "Why did millions of Americans ignore those facts when they entered the voting booth? Our country will pay the price now" - are spot on, and an appropriate way to close this post.

- Mark

Monday, February 13, 2017

TRUMP'S GROWING RUSSIA PROBLEM


This should be troubling, even for Trump's most ardent supporters. It makes Hillary Clinton's "so called" email scandal look like a bungled Inspector Clouseau investigation. Specifically, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich discusses "The Spy Revolt Against Trump Begins" (my italics/bold) ...

Disturbing news this morning about how much “truth” about the rest of the world is getting to Trump. 
1. The Observer reports that the U.S. intelligence community is so convinced that Trump and his administration has been compromised by Russia that they are no longer giving the White House all of their most sensitive information, lest it end up in Putin's hands. A senior National Security Agency official explained that the National Security Agency was systematically holding back some of the “good stuff” from the White House, fearing Trump and his staff cannot keep secrets. 
2. The intelligence community is concerned that even the Situation Room – the conference room in the West Wing where the president and his top staffers get intelligence briefings -- has been compromised by Russia. A senior Pentagon intelligence official stated that “since January 20, we’ve assumed that the Kremlin has ears inside the SITROOM. There’s not much the Russians don’t know at this point,” the official added in frustration. 
3. The New York Times reports “chaotic and anxious days inside the National Security Council.” Council staff get up in the morning, read Trump’s tweets, and struggle to make policy to fit them. Most are kept in the dark about what Trump tells foreign leaders in his phone calls. Some staff members have turned to encrypted communications to talk with their colleagues, after hearing that Mr. Trump’s top advisers are considering an “insider threat” program that could result in monitoring their cellphones and emails for leaks. 
4. National security adviser Michael T. Flynn has hunkered down since investigators began looking into what, exactly, he told the Russian ambassador to the United States about the lifting of sanctions imposed in the last days of the Obama administration, and whether he misled Vice President Mike Pence about those conversations. His survival in the job may hang in the balance. 
Bottom line: U.S. foreign policy is now in the hands of a man with a severe personality disorder, who is not getting the information a president needs about the rest of the world. If that doesn’t worry you, nothing will ... 

If you are a Republican, and had problems with Hillary's emails, but have no issue with Trump's Russian problem you need to reconsider what being an American patriot is all about. Your political priorities and sense of national honor are seriously distorted.


It's one thing to say you're OK with Russia meddling in our elections, as long as your guy wins (which I still have a serious problem with), but it's entirely another matter if our president has put our nation's security at risk because he and his team are viewed as potentially compromised moles by the intelligence community.

- Mark

Friday, February 10, 2017

21st CENTURY WOMEN FIGHTING 20th CENTURY BATTLES (and, yes, they're fighting the mindless hypocrisy too)

Since Donald Trump became president it's almost as if we've taken a step back into the 20th century. The ugliest parts of the early 20th century, that is ...



Specifically, the silencing of Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) for reading a letter from Coretta Scott King, which criticizes Senator Jeff Sessions for his antagonistic positions on civil rights, takes us back to a day when women were expected to shut up and let the men do the 'manly' work.


Men tearing up a suffragette banner
in front of the White House, 1917.

Below is a a clip of Senator Warren effectively being asked to shut up and sit down by Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) because there's a rule against U.S. Senators criticizing other U.S. Senators on the Senate floor ...




There's only one problem with Senator McConnell objecting to Senator Elizabeth Warren reading Coretta Scott King's letter on the Senate floor, which compelled the acting president of the Senate to tell Senator Warren to "take her seat": Republicans have violated the same rule many times, without penalty.


The Republican Party's political hypocrisy and outright misogynistic whining about Senator Warren makes it clear something is seriously wrong in Trump's Republican led America.



Still, what happened after Senator Warren was shut down provides a glimmer of hope in an otherwise increasingly ugly political environment.

* In a show of unity, Senate Democrats took to the Senate floor and read King's letter after Senator Warren was told to quit speaking.

* Senator Marco Rubio stood up in the U.S. Senate to say "we are becoming a society incapable of having debates." Later in his commentary he said, "If this body isn't capable of having those debates there will be no place in this country where those debates can occur."

* The Washington Post picked up on the hypocrisy and asked, "Why wasn't Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex) silenced in the summer of 2015 when he all but accused McConnnell [of] lying on the Senate floor?"

Another development from the GOP's attempt to silence Senator Warren is their efforts appear to have backfired. Senator Warren has benefited from a surge of strongly supportive social media attention after Senator McConnell's political tantrum dominated the mainstream medias coverage.

Still, after watching Senator Warren get shut down on the U.S. Senate floor, I'm sure many women (and men) feel that, in many ways, little has changed from our early 20th century beliefs and experiences ...

Suffragette arrested in London, May 1914.

- Mark

For additional photos of suffragettes being arrested by the police click here.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

THREE LIES IN ONE TWEET ... A NEW TRUMP RECORD?

Did President Trump just outdo himself by triple whining about stuff that isn't true, again? Check out this Tweet of Three Lies ...

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For all the Trump supporters who probably need this stuff spelled out, the three lies are ...

1. A DISGRACE?
It's not a "disgrace" that his cabinet picks aren't in place today (Feb. 9). There's a process, and it takes time. The real disgrace is how the GOP is rolling over and allowing President Trump's unqualified nominees to be confirmed.

2. LONGEST DELAY?
Look, if you're going to lie, at least do it so your critics have to spend some time looking things up. The "longest delay in the history of our country"? Seriously? You don't have to leave the 21st century to see that Trump is a lying SOS.

3. OBSTRUCTION BY DEMOCRATS?
Only an ADD-addled chimp, who's bought into the first two lies, would believe this. Oh, and Fox viewers too. Fox viewers, no doubt, also believe Democrats are obstructing the process ... I have no evidence on the Fox viewers claim, but Trump's supporters don't seem to care about the truth so I'm OK, right?

Seriously, the real disgrace here is that Trump's GOP supporters don't care about his lies. The lies actually embolden their position. What's worse, they get mad when Trump's lies are pointed out to them, as if we're the bad guys.

Sigh ...

- Mark

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

JPMORGAN CHASE RIPPING OFF AMERICANS ... AGAIN. THIS IS WHAT WEALTH EXTRACTION LOOKS LIKE



From Bloomberg Markets we get yet one more example of wealth extraction in America, courtesy of JPMorgan Chase. This time it comes at the expense of people doing their civic duty, and having JPMorgan Chase cashing in on someone elses precious time and sacrifice. Check it out ...
For some people, jury duty is a dreaded American civic obligation. Now, JPMorgan Chase & Co. is adding another unwelcome element: banking fees. 
In a handful of jurisdictions, the biggest U.S. bank by assets handles administration of the juror-compensation system, issuing debit cards instead of the age-old system of paper checks. 
In addition to the juror pay, the cards also come loaded with fees -- for balance inquiries, for inactivity, for using non-Chase ATMs, for charges with insufficient funds and for cash or check issuance. The funds become impossible to withdraw from an ATM once the balance falls below $20, and in at least one jurisdiction -- Washington, D.C. -- there are no Chase branches or ATMs within 90 miles (145 kilometers), ensuring the funds will eventually be frittered away to the bank. 
William Mark Scott, a lawyer who served on a jury in Washington last year, sued JPMorgan, accusing it of unjust enrichment and violation of the Consumer Protection Act. He’s seeking to represent all other jurors who were paid with JPMorgan debit cards. 
"Chase uses its monopolistic control over juror funds to steal captive jurors’ money by assessing unconscionable and deceptive fees," Scott claims. "By making it prohibitively expensive to receive an over-the-counter cash withdrawal from, or to receive a check drawn upon the debit card, Chase ensures a ‘rump’ balance will be left on each debit card -- and forfeited" ...
You would think that when American do their civic duty that companies like JPMorgan Chase should do their civic duty and provide bank cards free of charge. It's not like their the ones funding the cards with their cash, right? 

The focus is on wealth extraction rather than wealth creation by big financial institutions like JPMorgan Chase is endemic, and helps explain why America is in trouble, in so many ways. 



You can read the full JPMorgan Chase rip-off story here.

- Mark


UPDATE: Via CNBC we learn that a U.S. federal judge on Wednesday upheld an Obama-era rule designed to avoid conflicts of interests when brokers give retirement advice, in a possible setback for President Donald Trump's efforts to scale back government regulation ... You can read the rest of the story here.


Tuesday, February 7, 2017

WE'RE SUPPOSED TO BE PROUD OF THIS?

This is what makes living in Bakersfield such a challenge (and fun too). Some people actually believe we should be both proud and celebrating the Donald-Kevin relationship profiled in today's local newspaper ...


This is what happens when celebrity gets confused with the responsibilities of power. Assisting the man who's accelerating America's decline, especially in the eyes of the world, should not be cause for a community chest pounding. There should be no pride in the fact that Kevin is enabling a narcissistic man-child who has no mandate, but acts as if his warped world view is America's.

Seriously, our local newspaper should not be celebrating the fact that our local congressman is doing the bidding of a man who doesn't respect American principles, and who seems bent on creating a dysfunctional tin-pot dictatorship.

- Mark

Kudos to Whitney for the clip.

Monday, February 6, 2017

AMERICA'S LOOMING $20 TRILLION DEBT CHALLENGE

As of today (Feb. 6) the United States owes $19.88 trillion. Via Visual Capitalist we get some debt numbers we should be keeping our eye on as we move  deeper into the Trump administration's deregulation and debt driven economic plan ...



For a simple explanation of what's been happening check out this video clip ...



- Mark

WE'RE DEALING WITH FOOLS AND TROLLS ...


- Mark

Sunday, February 5, 2017

SNL SPOT ON WHEN IT COMES TO TRUMP & HIS TEAM


From last night (Feb. 4), we get Melissa McCarthy doing a great job reminding us what a Sean Spicer press conference looks like ...



Then we have Vladimir Putin's January 22nd cold opening ...



Finally, Alec Baldwin's cold opening from last night ...


- Mark

COMMUNITY TOWN HALL EVENT AT CSU BAKERSFIELD

Immediately after Donald Trump won the electoral college vote count many people understood that his inflammatory rhetoric would soon become policy. In Kern County a group of attorneys (26 at last count) joined forces with numerous community groups to form the Immigration Justice Collaborative, and are now providing legal clinics in a series of town hall meetings for our regions undocumented and international populations. To date, there have been three events (Miramonte High School, Delano, and Lamont), with several more in the works.

The next town hall will be held at CSU Bakersfield on February 21st.


The town halls are organized to provide general information on rights and responsibilities during the introduction - with specific emphasis on the 4th Amendment, immigration, employment law and civil rights - followed with attorneys answering individual case questions for those in the audience. Audience members can speak with attorneys individually after the introduction, and it's all done free of charge.

California State University Bakersfield's Center for Social Justice (which I co-direct) secured funding from The California Endowment to create a documentary of this traveling legal clinic, and have been working with the Immigration Justice Collaborative on this project from the beginning.

Raji Jhaj-Brar discusses Indian-Sikh community issues with the film crew.
Attorney's David Torres and Beto Sala just before opening remarks.

In the FYI department, as I noted in an earlier post, the California State University Office of the Chancellor issued a strong open letter to the CSU statewide community that says "unless contravened by California Government code or required by law" ...

• The CSU will not enter into agreements with state or local law enforcement agencies, Homeland Security or any other federal department for the enforcement of federal immigration law;  
• Our university police departments will not honor immigration hold requests; and  
• Our university police do not contact, detain, question or arrest individuals solely on the basis of being – or suspected of being – a person that lacks documentation. 

We are also partnering with elected officials at the state and national level to inform and work to prevent negative developments regarding immigration for our undocumented students, including those with DACA status."
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With the positions taken by California's governor and our legislative leaders, it's clear at this point that California and the CSU community will not be working with the uglier elements of the Trump administration when it comes to immigration.




For those unfamiliar with the CSUB campus, the map below will be helpful. Look for the Student Union (Building #53), which is right next to parking lot "K1." Parking is free for this event.



I'll provide updates on additional town hall forums we are working on as they progress. Stay tuned.

- Mark

MAP UPDATE:



Friday, February 3, 2017

HOW TO SLAP DOWN AN ARROGANT WALL STREET SYCOPHANT WHO THINKS SOCIAL SECURITY IS AN INVESTMENT FUND (that doesn't need to be paid back)

Last week, on January 27th, a FB friend posted this Social Security meme ...

Image may contain: 1 person, text

Simple enough, right? The meme makes two very simple points.

First, Social Security is an "INSURANCE PROGRAM." It was created this way because people don't always save for a rainy day and, when they do, there's really no guarantee that the money will be there, especially if Wall Street is involved.

So, yeah, Social Security is an insurance program. It was designed that way. Period. End of story.

The second point is pretty simple too.

Because so many workers have been paying into Social Security the program has been running surpluses, for years. Like trillions of dollars. These surpluses have been sucked out by successive presidential administrations as they've needed money to plug budget holes. This money (about $2.8 trillion) MUST BE paid back.

It says so in the U.S. Constitution. Specifically, the 14th Amendment makes it clear that when we borrow money that debt obligation "shall not be questioned."

Again, pretty simple, right?

Not so fast.

While responding to the FB meme above I wrote, "if we can find $4.3 trillion to bailout Wall Street - who wrecked the economy - we should be able to find the $2.8 trillion that we've raided from our seniors' SS fund."

Here, check it out ...

Mark Martinez If we can find $4.3 trillion to bailout Wall Street - who wrecked the economy - we should be able to find the $2.8 trillion that we've raided from our seniors' SS fund. 

What I wrote was pretty basic, and self-explanatory. Or so I thought.

I got a response from a former military guy who made a career as a stock broker (wealth manager?). For the sake of simplicity, let's call this FB respondent "Pilot Al."

I've gotten into it before with Pilot Al. Mostly I explain to him that his industry (finance) has been bailed out so often, and been the beneficiary of so much favorable legislation and generous fiscal policies, that it's effectively a ward of the state. Ergo, Pilot Al shouldn't crow about being a rugged individualist who made it on his own, as he would like everyone in the FB world to believe.

As you can imagine, Pilot Al doesn't like me telling him he's not a self-made man, or that he's really a ward of the state. So he's usually looking for a way to go after me in front of his FB friends. It's hilarious, and a lot of fun (for me).

Anyways, Pilot Al responds to my post, and says that my numbers "are bullshit as usual." He likes to cuss. It fills in for the facts he doesn't have, and probably makes him feel like a tough guy.

Pilot Al then went on to explain that he doesn't "disagree with the way the Social Security Trust Fund is invested," and then blames projected Social Security shortfalls on "trending demographics."

Where do I begin?


Let's begin with this. Pilot Al ignored the trillions of dollars borrowed by successive administrations MUST be paid back to the Social Security program.

Oh, Pilot Al also ignored that Social Security is an insurance program, again.

With so much confusion on Pilot Al's part, I took my time reminding him (and everyone in the FB thread) what Social Security is all about. I also explained to Pilot Al how the trillion dollar bailouts and favorable legislation for Wall Street have probably clouded his judgment.

Specifically, I wrote ...

Pilot Al, what's BS is your knowledge of how markets actually work and your flawed understanding of how the SS system was set up in the first place. Let me repeat for you something you apparently never learned, or are incapable of understanding: SS was not set up as an investment instrument, and was never designed to be used as an investment arm of the state (or by the retirees). It's an insurance program. Pretty simple ...

Let me make it even simpler for you Pilot Al, since this is a bit difficult for you. Stay with me here ... If you have insurance on your home and it burns down, would you expect your insurance company to pay up? Of course you would. Now, what happens if they don't because your agent/broker decided to use the money elsewhere, like paying their girlfriends bills or while gambling in Vegas? Wouldn't you demand they make it right, or would you simply call for them to be more diligent on where they spend your premiums in the future (as you're effectively suggesting SS do now)?

Pilot Al, you need to understand that your knowledge of the world has been skewed by the fact that Fed and taxpayer backed bailouts saved your bacon numerous times. This, unfortunately, leads you to believe that your success, and the "success" of the financial sector in general, is a product of sound business strategies. It's not. Sticking your hand out for trillions in bailouts is not success, Pilot Al.

Show of hands: How many think trillions in bailouts for Wall Street after 2008 is a sign of success? 

One more thing, Pilot Al. I never said that SS is solvent into the future under the current environment (though it still runs periodic surpluses). It's hard to be whole when others are sticking their hand in the till. What I'm saying - if you bothered to read - is that if we did what we did with the financial sector, and suddenly found the trillions to plug the holes, things become much better. In fact, the SS trust fund becomes solvent way past what the actuaries can forecast (read that again if you need to). 

Pilot Al, you need to understand that state-led market bailouts, favorable legislation, and generous subsidies and tax cuts are what made you a "success." Once you understand this you can get off of your market pedestal and acknowledge that you are effectively a ward of the state. Once you see this, it becomes a lot easier to understand that your SS argument - and your "only the market can save the SS system" BS - doesn't hold water.


Rather than accept these basic facts, and go away, Pilot Al decided to respond.

Incredibly, rather than address (or acknowledge) how Social Security is an insurance program - and not an investment program - that needs to be paid back Pilot Al seriously drifted off course. He mistook the metaphor I used, misstated why Social Security might fall short of funds (blaming fewer payees rather than focusing on raided Social Security funds) and, strangely, discussed the national debt.


Oh, Pilot Al also childishly pretended he wasn't talking to me because he doesn't "argue with idiots." Yeah, Pilot Al effectively said "neener, neener" and stuck his tongue out at me when he thought no one was looking (as it were). Check it out ...

 ... Mark will be shocked to learn that insurance companies are required by law to maintain reserve funds to make sure they can pay claims. Those reserve funds are invested. The issue with SS is this. For decades the system took in more money than it paid out. The excess cash had to go somewhere, they were not going to stack cash in some warehouse until they needed it. What they did was "store it" in a special issue Treasury bond. Sometime around 2008-2010, the cash-flow reversed and now they system is paying out more than it collects each year. The government saw this as a cheap source of financing when market interest rates were much higher. As far as raiding the SSI system, I would remind you that when obama came into office the national debt was about $10T and now it is $20T, so you might want to ask him where your money is. Do I think the government will default on SSI payments, NO. Congress will make the payments out of the general fund if the trust fund runs dry. Watch what happens with the SS Disability Trust Fund. I think it is supposed to run out of money in about 4 years. As for why more doesn't get done to fix the mess, American voters tend to shoot the messenger. Politicians demagogue the issue so they kick the can down the road. Currently the SSI Trust Fund can pay full benefits until around 2047. None of the current politicians will be in office when it blows up. California has a similar problem with it's big pension funds. As for Mark's diatribe, I don't argue with idiots.

Of course I had to respond to the silliness. I made sure to reiterate the point that Social Security - per the U.S. Constitution - must be paid back. Because Pilot Al was so petulant, and wasn't talking to me, I also decided to end with a creative flourish.

My God, Pilot Al, you're even more childish than you look. You can pretend you're talking to "Jerry," as if I'm not here, but we all know what's up.

Look, Pilot Al, the insurance example was deliberate, and used more as a metaphor. I'm pretty sure everyone else got it, but since it went right past you let me spell it out for you ... the SS fund-account was raided. While there is no law that says reserve funds must be paid back the U.S. Constitution says the U.S. government must honor its debts, which would include what's owed to the SS account.

What's funny, Pilot AL, is that you actually try and pass yourself off as an expert on all things financial. I guess all those tax-payer backed subsidies and bailouts for your industry did more than pad your bank account. They also stuffed your pie hole full of pious arrogance that's neither warranted, nor substantiated by what you claim to know.

I'd explain the national debt issue - which I've explained elsewhere - but I'm pretty sure you're not up for it (since you're apparently not speaking to me I'll let "Jerry" in on the national debt issue later, and maybe he'll pass a note to you in 4th period class ... this is seriously pathetic 👽).

Sigh ...

Pilot Al stopped responding. It's a good thing too. None of the Peanut Gallery that usually chimes in to support him were helping him out. They understood that Pilot Al really didn't know what he was talking about. Many of them also depend on Social Security. They don't want Wall Street (or the government) messing with what they have coming to them.

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Moral of the story: If you want to slap down an arrogant Wall Street sycophant, know the issues, be persistent, and be creative when they get in your face. Rinse and repeat as needed.


- Mark

AMERICA'S ROLLING FOREIGN POLICY DISASTER ... SO, WHO'S READY FOR WEEK THREE?

It's been two weeks now since the inauguration of President Trump. It's gone pretty much as expected, especially in the foreign policy arena. You can file this under the "I told you so" department. Something tells me we're going to need a bigger department ...


- Mark