Thursday, April 28, 2016

GOP Presidential Primary Elections

Are the primaries rigged?

Is the GOP presidential selection process rigged?

In a revealing comment, a Colorado Republican leader, rebutting Trump’s charge that the outcome there was rigged, exposed the fault line in the modern GOP. He said, “We’ve had these rules for a hundred years.”

Exactly. The rules come from a time before blacks had the vote, before women had the vote, before U.S. Senators were elected directly by the votes of the people, instead of by state legislators (A change made by the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1912).

The GOP presidential selection process is a hold-out against democracy and the direct expression of the will of the people in elections. This anti-democratic animus is at the heart of the so-called “Constitutional Conservatism” of Ted Cruz and other reactionaries.

When Cruz says the Constitution intended “limited government,” he means that, like the “Framers,” he prefers that the people have a limited opportunity to direct the established elites and their policies.

Cruz would, for example, limit the capacity of the federal government to respond to the demands of the people to enact regulatory measures to guard our water from poisonous lead, protect taxpayers, depositors and investors from the bankster, free market parasites or accommodate changing social mores.

The “Founders” and “Framers” – Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Madison and the rest  – were the 1 percent and establishment of the time; men (only) of wealth, education  and property; or like Hamilton, they fronted the money.

Jefferson’s first draft of the Declaration of Independence enumerated our “inalienable rights” as “life, liberty and property.” Jefferson was a slave holder, who bequeathed those slaves to his daughter as his property.  It was Franklin, the prototypical American from what he called the “middling classes,” who changed “property” to “pursuits of happiness.”

Maybe the most important edit of all time.

Those famous 1 percenters of American revolutionary lore feared democracy and the uneducated “masses,” and kept the people several steps removed from direct access to government decisions by all sorts of rules, many of which survive in one form or another to this day.

But over time, the people asserted themselves and voting was expanded. The elites have been fighting a rear guard action all the way. That is the calculation behind campaign finance laws which allow vast and unaccounted for sums of money to pour into elections from the 1 percent: “Okay. We lost that one. They got the vote. So, let’s just buy the elections.”

The GOP is not called the Grand “Old” Party for nothing, and its myriad and convoluted presidential candidate selection rules represent the old way, keeping as much of the decision making as is possible in the hands of party leaders, representing their local elites; and keeping decisions as far removed from a direct and popular election as is possible.

In an age when average citizens have access to the same information as their 1 percent “betters.” 

Pennsylvania is a good example of this fault line in the GOP. There will be a Pennsylvania GOP primary vote for president. An appearance of democracy. But of the seventy-one delegates, seventeen will be selected by the GOP State Committee insiders, pledged only on the first ballot to the winner of the vote.  Another fifty-four (three for each congressional district) will be selected in the primary election -  way “down ballot” and perhaps overlooked by many voters - pledged by the rules to no one.

Who are these people? If history is any guide, they will be faithful party insiders. And if elected, if history is any guide, they will function as a team, led by the county chairperson, who will broker those votes with the other county chairs and the state chair, right up to the convention, when it will be announced on the first ballot that “The Great State of Pennsylvania proudly casts all seventy-one of its votes for…”

Or maybe not. Who knows? What you will know is that whatever the delegates do, it will all be within the law and the rules. But it may not be even remotely democratic. And that is Trump’s complaint. It is another battle in the long fight to establish a working democracy in the United States.

Trump is on the side of Lincoln, and a government “of the people, by the people and for the people.” The GOP, the “Party of Lincoln,” is on the other side.

Some readers may note the irony.

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Future of NATO

OMG! Trump takes on NATO -- and should!

Bucks County Courier Times
April 11, 2016

The American people are in open revolt against their governing elites. Put Donald Trump’s numbers together with Bernie Sanders’, and you’ve got a real revolution.

But the entire establishment, much of the media, both political parties, all the opponents in both parties, economic and foreign policy experts and business and government leaders from Washington to London and Paris are really hammering Trump. Why?

The answer lies in Trump’s challenge to NATO, which he has called “obsolete,” and suggests it costs the American people too much. Both arguments are substantive, the implications enormous.

NATO was created to defend Europe against the Soviet Union, which no longer exists. With the collapse of the Soviets, NATO became a solution in urgent need of a problem. Russia is now demonized to provide a reason for NATO. Days after Trump offered his critique, the Pentagon announced it was going to increase American force levels on the Russian border.

“The Russians are coming!."  Transparent.

Regarding the costs of NATO for American taxpayers, according to most reports, the U.S. provides two thirds of the budget of the 28-nation NATO membership.

The Statistica web site reports the 2015 U.S. defense budget was more than $650 billion dollars. The Washington Post reports that this figure does not include “primary costs for direct military action,” or “arms transfers to foreign governments.”

The Post’s “all in” estimate for 2012 U.S. defense spending was $718 billion. So let’s round it up for 2015, to about $800 billion (Likely, it is more). What did all of our European NATO allies spend for defense in 2015? About $250 billion, combined, roughly the same one third calculated by other sources.

The establishment has reacted to Trump’s substantive arguments with fear-mongering and near hysteria, misdirecting attention to his remarks on the possibility of nations such as Japan acquiring nuclear weapons.

Those remarks were, of course, the opening gambit in a negotiation with our allies over future defense budgets and whether the world — and the American people — might be better served with several local police forces, instead of one global American police force. Trump’s many critics were unanimous in their derision. Why?

If you have traveled Europe for decades as I have, you notice something. By and large, the average European now lives better than the average American.

Compared to average Americans, Europeans have universal health care and their prescription drugs cost a lot less. Many have a shorter work week, far longer paid vacations and parental leave for newborns. European children have been increasingly better educated and at far less cost per pupil than American children. Young Europeans are not saddled with massive debt for a college education. Europeans retire earlier and generally have more time for family, friends and recreation.

Not surprisingly, as the World Health Organization and others report, life expectancy has steadily increased in Europe and declined in the U.S., while infant mortality has declined in Europe and increased in the U.S.

It begs the question: how do European governments pay for all that? The answer is NATO. For more than 70 years, the American people have paid for the defense of Europe, allowing European governments to focus spending on the health, education, well being and prosperity of their citizens.

It has been a massive subsidy. The U.S. elites want it to continue. They like running the world, and buying off the support of European leaders seems a small price to pay. Because they don’t pay it.

This subsidy has cost the American people a fortune that could have been used to preserve U.S. living standards and American prosperity; or can be used to pay down the national debt and balance the federal budget.

Donald Trump has taken aim directly at both the neo-conservative foreign policy establishment and the neo-liberal economic establishment, because it is the same team. And they have a plan to go on paying the European and Asian defense tab, so they can go on running the world.

Their plan is called “entitlement reform” or “fiscal discipline,” both of which mean the money to go on paying for the defense of Europe — and South Korea, Japan, and Israel and Saudi Arabia (both!) — will come from the money needed to rebuild American prosperity, preserve Social Security and raise the living standards of the American middle class, which have been in decline for decades.

A failed establishment is hammering Trump, trying desperately to slot in Kasich, Paul Ryan — even Cruz, who they detest, any “team player” to take on Hillary, the ultimate insider — and keep them in power, in a “heads we win, tails you lose” general election.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Desperate to Stop Trump

Wall Street vs Main Street

Bucks County Courier Times
April 6, 2016

If Hillary Clinton is not the Democratic nominee for president — brought down by either Bernie Sanders or the FBI — Wall Street’s control of the White House is in jeopardy. This explains why the establishment is desperate to stop Donald Trump and install a Wall Street-friendly GOP candidate.

Obama seems to be leaning toward saving Hillary from an indictment. He was in Milwaukee days before the Wisconsin primary election to sing the praises of Obamacare and make sure Hillary does also.

Two weeks before, Obama stunned our British and French NATO allies by laying blame for the fiasco in Libya on their “failure” to do enough as allies in that campaign to destroy Kaddafi and the Libyan government.

The message? “Don’t blame Hillary. We had it all figured out and Libya would have worked out great, except for our unreliable allies.”

This followed a March 7 press conference in which the president reassured the nation that all our Wall Street woes are behind us, again giving Wall Street’s Democratic candidate, Hillary more cover and pushing back on Bernie Sanders and Wall Street critics.

Flanked by the Wall Street flunkies that dominate his administration, the president told the nation, “Irresponsible, risky bets [the derivatives] with inadequate safeguards and that reward executives who take those risks, can cause enormous damage to our economy overall.”

No kidding? Really?

The president continued, “Wall Street reform, Dodd-Frank, the laws that we passed have worked.”

This claim is demonstrably not true. The reality is that the danger of another Wall Street crash is greater than ever. The Too-Big-To-Fail banks (that failed) now control an even larger slice of the U.S. financial pie. The derivatives market has ballooned to a $700 trillion exposure, ripe for another domino-like collapse, just like 2008.

The president insists that the Dodd-Frank reforms have moved these derivative bets between Wall Street banks and counterparties out of so called “dark pools” and other impenetrable trading platforms, to trading in the open at what are called “clearinghouses.”

Said Obama, “We are moving in the derivatives sector; a huge amount of oversight and regulation, and now you [investors and depositors] have clearinghouses that account for the vast majority of trades taking place so that we know if and when somebody is doing something that they shouldn’t be doing; if they’re over-leveraged in ways that could pose larger dangers to the financial system.”

Very reassuring,  if it were true. But it isn’t. Days ago, the Office of the Controller of the Currency (OCC) reported the facts.

“In the first quarter of 2015, banks began reporting their volumes of cleared and non-cleared derivatives transactions, as well as risk weights for counterparties in each of these categories. In the fourth quarter of 2015, 36.9 percent of the derivatives market was centrally cleared.”

Do the math. The “vast majority,” 63.1 percent of derivatives are still traded in the dark, and as Wall Street watch dog Pam Martens observed, “According to the latest OCC report, only 16.8 percent of credit derivatives are being centrally cleared.”

These are the most dangerous derivatives. The kind that blew up the global insurer, AIG in 2008 and can set off the next crash.

Just five of the biggest banks — Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, and Morgan Stanley — hold $231 trillion of derivatives. There isn’t enough money on the planet to cover a run on this interconnected risk.

Martens warns, “The Wall Street banks are counterparties to each other on these bets, and/or there is another insurance company, global bank or sucker corporation out there somewhere that is sitting naked with no money to pay off these bets.”

Wall Street knows the danger of another crash is real and is desperate to maintain control of the White House, the Treasury and Justice Department especially, to insure that when the crash comes, the American people will again be left holding the bag and, once again, none of the banksters will go to jail.

The “bail in” will replace the “bail out.” Depositors’ funds (individual and municipal) will be confiscated to save the once again failing banks. The FDIC will go bankrupt in a day as depositors run for the door, forcing Congress and the taxpayers to save what is left of depositors’ money.

Individual depositors, that is. The deposits of cities, counties and states enjoy no protection whatsoever.

Something to consider as you decide who the next president of the United States will represent: Wall Street or Main Street?

Monday, March 28, 2016

American Justice

Running out the clock for Wall Street

Bucks County Courier Times
June 6, 2015

Although it is increasingly popular in the United States, where “soccer moms” – and dads – have become an election demographic, most Americans pay slight attention to the sport we call soccer, and the rest of the world calls football. But it is the world’s most popular sport, and followed globally with a passion that many Americans reserve for sex, cars and guns.

That being so, many Americans may not have paid a lot of attention to the enormous scandal that has rocked the sport for almost two weeks, and seems likely to continue. Not so the rest of the world.

The global media and audiences around the world have obsessed over the indictments brought by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) against senior members of the sport’s global, governing body, FIFA.

Which may be one reason why many Americans can’t get that excited about soccer. FIFA? Sounds like a name for a silly dog, maybe a Belgian Airhead.

The indictments read like the kind of charges normally leveled against mafia dons, and came on the eve of the quadrennial congress that was set to re-elect FIFA’s long standing leader. They were announced with great fanfare by the U.S. Attorney General (AG) and followed dawn raids that dragged those indicted FIFA leaders out of their luxury Swiss hotel, where they had gathered for the congress.

If that wasn’t enough drama, there were at least three subtexts to engage fans and talking heads alike.

One is that FIFA is BIG business; revenues in the billions (television broadcast rights, sponsors, etc). The second is the antagonism between the wealthy European groups of soccer clubs (called “confederations”) that dominate the sport, and the many more confederations of the poor and developing world, which dominate FIFA. The third is an allegation that the decision on where to hold the World Cup has long been decided by bribes or some kind of illegal inducement, including the decision to host the 2018 games in Russia.

Is the U.S. DOJ taking a shot at Vladimir Putin? Many wonder.

Big news. World wide. And the verdict was unanimous. Apparently, soccer fans world wide have known for years how corrupt FIFA had become. There was global appreciation and respect for the U.S. DOJ for stepping in to do something about it.

Watching the global newscasts, I heard lots of approving comment, like, “In the U.S., they throw away the key for white collar crime,” “God bless America” (from foreigners!)  and, “No American corporation would stand for this kind of behavior from senior executives” -  meaning the lack of transparency, accountability and enforcement of ethical behavior.

And I thought, if Americans know little of global soccer, the world knows little of American justice.

FIFA looks like Wall Street: an insider’s paradise, opulent headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland, where the real estate is every bit as pricey as Manhattan, and the restaurants where FIFA execs wine and dine every bit as expensive as the swell places the Wall Street banksters frequent.

The executive suite of America’s biggest industry – banking and finance – has proved to be as rife with the same appalling fraud and obsession with personal enrichment as it is alleged of FIFA, and carried out on the same global scale.

But the corruption and avarice at FIFA has apparently done little harm to actual people, while Wall Street’s serial fraud collapsed the global economy, cost millions of Americans their homes, jobs and futures, and drove many millions into poverty.

So, why no early morning raids to haul the CEO of JP Morgan Chase or Citicorp from their mansions to face criminal charges? The DOJ indicted real people among FIFA’s executives. But for Wall Street, the DOJ indicts and fines the banks, leaving unmolested the banksters who wear what must be the dirtiest white collars on the planet.

In American justice, the rich and guilty have a better chance than the poor and innocent.
The DOJ will never throw the red penalty card for the banksters, as they did with executives at FIFA. The DOJ game plan for Wall Street is right out of the playbook of American football: run out the clock on the statute of limitations, so the next AG can say how really, really sorry he or she is that it’s just too late to bring charges against the banksters.

American Elections

Too much money, too few voters

Bucks County Courier Times
May 26, 2015

The people of the United Kingdom recently held what was by most accounts their most important election in more than a generation.

Big issues were at play. Yet the entire campaign for the six hundred plus seats in the Parliament and to determine the next Prime Minister and the future of the nation took all of sixteen weeks, in which active campaigning was limited to six weeks.

In the United States, the 2016 election campaign for president and members of Congress is well underway and will continue for another year and a half, almost eighty weeks.

The U.S. is of course a big country and it takes time to listen to the people and get a message out. But, eighty weeks and more, in the age of internet, mass media, never ending polling and a five hour flight coast to coast?

American elections to federal office cost a fortune in large part because they take too long. The longer they drag on, the more they cost, driving candidates into a demeaning and corrupting search for the money.

Shortening the campaigns is an important step in rescuing the White House and Congress from the clutches of self serving plutocrats, banksters and corporate rule, and putting the American people back in charge of their government.

Candidates for Congress, their campaign committees and the PACS and super PACS can be prohibited by law from soliciting, accepting and spending funds to influence elections any earlier than perhaps four months before the primary elections.

And it can be required that all unspent funds of candidate committees and PACS must be donated to the federal treasury, after all debts have been paid, no later than three months after the general elections of any calendar year.

Incumbents will hate this. No roll over of funds to stack the deck against potential challengers in the next elections.

Similar restrictions can be placed on the time in which it is legal to solicit, accept and spend funds to influence elections for president.

Another vital step in rescuing our democracy is getting more people to the polls.
According to Pew research, the U.S. ranks thirty-first out of the thirty-four so-called developed nations in voter turn-out. In the 2014 elections, only  33.6 percent of voters nation-wide turned out to vote. Figures for municipal elections are even more abysmal.
Getting people to vote is something to which many politicians give lip service, but which they do not support with action. Some politicians, especially in the GOP, work very hard to insure that large numbers of Americans can’t vote . Voters can be so – unpredictable.

There are two kinds of remedies. One is to register more people; the other is to make it easier for them to vote.

Voters can be registered automatically, as some nations already do. Oregon  now automatically registers voters when they apply for a drivers license. And PA State Senator Vincent Hughes has introduced SB 806, which will automatically register voters when they interact with a state agency, including applying for admission to a state related college or university.

Again, the GOP won’t like this. College students voting? And state agencies deal with the unemployed, people who have lost their homes and the poor. God forbid they might vote.

There is at least one obvious measure to be taken to increase voter turn-out: repeal the 1845 law that set federal elections on  “the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November,” and set the day as the first Saturday in November.

Well, maybe the second, to avoid the occasional Halloween overlap. There is already enough mischief in our elections as it is.

A few states have made election day a civic holiday and California mandates that employers give employees two hours off to vote. We might go one step farther, and declare election day a national holiday, celebrate our civic duty and require all employers to give their employees time off to vote.

Campaigns for federal office in the U.S. have become like a fire that just keeps on burning;  burning  up lawmakers time, time better applied to the needs of the people, and burning up public trust as we watch candidates suck up to the mega donors. And spend months saying nothing.

Fires need oxygen to burn. Money is the oxygen of American political campaigns. Choke off the money and the fire dies down.

But get more people out to vote, and we might just light some fires under our political elites.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Coming Crash

Trapped between the Fed and Congress

By Mike Krauss

Despite the never ending assurances of the Federal Reserve that happy days are almost here again — the same tune the Fed has sung for nearly seven long years — there is mounting evidence that the U.S. is headed for another economic crash. It will be more terrible than the last.

The Washington Post headlined, “U.S. economic growth slows to 0.2 percent, grinding nearly to a halt.”

Fox News reported the real story of unemployment: the official, good news government figure of 5.4 percent is a fiction, achieved by not counting the millions who have given up looking for work, and those who can find only part-time work.

Fox was playing catch-up. That story has been out there for years, but ignored by the corporate media and clueless politicians.

Tyler Durden reports in his blog, Zero Hedge, that year-on-year sales at the big retailers have taken a precipitous drop. Most Americans have no disposable income to dispose of, after they pay the food bill, mortgage, rent and utilities.

Wholesale trade has fallen like a stone, dropping more than $100 billion over four months. Wholesalers provide the goods that retailers sell. If retail demand is off, wholesale trade is off. The last time it dropped like that was in 2008-2009. Post crash. Then it took seven months to go from the high to the low; now, only four.

New manufacturing orders indicate the future. Not good. In only one of the last seven months has there been growth in new orders. Things were not that bad during the 18-month-long credit crunch of late 2008 through 2009.

Poverty in the U.S. is off the charts. The number of children living in poverty is nothing less than shocking.

For almost seven years, seniors have seen their savings and pensions eaten alive.

Public and private debt are at record levels.

Durden reports that the median net worth of the American people is down 40 percent from where it was before the last collapse.

Tens of millions of Americans who are far worse off today than they were seven years ago will be brought to their knees in the next crash, while the wealthy will rest easy on an even greater cushion of wealth.

The people who know are running scared.

Former Fed Chairman Ben Bernake — now cashing in as an adviser to a couple of hedge funds — has sounded the alarm which he failed so spectacularly to sound before the last crash. Apparently, Fed chairs may speak the truth only after they have done their bit for Wall Street and the 1 percent.

The root cause of this terrible distress is the failure of Congress to do what everyone in Washington promised to do, talks endlessly about doing, but never gets around to actually doing: creating good paying jobs in the obvious place — infrastructure.

The need was obvious in 2008. It was obvious in 2012. It is obvious today. Jobs at a good wage are everything and infrastructure is the obvious place to start.

This is what the suddenly alert Bernake now urges: “…a well-structured program of public infrastructure development, which would support growth in the near term by creating jobs and in the longer term by making our economy more productive.”

But it is not going to happen. The Fed, which pumped upwards of $20 trillion into Wall Street after the last crash, has steadfastly refused to make even a fraction of that available to state and municipal governments — a move that could have stopped the “Great Recession” in its tracks seven long years ago.

And the GOP Congress will do nothing that might make President Obama and the Democrats look good before the next elections — like improve the lives of more than 300 million Americans by putting the nation back to work..

The American people are trapped between a Fed that works for Wall Street and a GOP Congress that can’t decide who it works for: Wall Street, the American people or itself.

The Trans Pacific Partnership

Another dagger to the heart of democracy

By Mike Krauss
Bucks County Courier Times

Thirty years ago I had my first experience of marketing for a corporation. I learned that the most often used word in marketing and advertising is “free.”  I recall this lesson as I follow the debate on the “Trans Pacific Partnership” (TPP), which is being sold as a “free” trade agreement. “Free” sells.

What exactly is being sold in the TPP ? To answer that question, you need to read the fine print. But you can’t.  TPP has been negotiated in almost total secrecy by a team of about 600 lawyers, working for the major trans-national corporations.

The text of the treaty has been classified as “Secret” by U.S. negotiators. Even members of Congress are not permitted access. The deal will be presented to Congress on a “fast track” – no opportunity for Congress to modify the details. One vote, yes or no on the entire  treaty as presented – a done deal.

But thanks to one or two alert member of Congress and WikiLeaks, which think that information about the deal should also be free to the people of the nations who will be bound by the treaty’s terms, there is some news.

What is being sold is not the duty free importation of goods and services across national boundaries; but instead, how the movement of these goods and services, and most especially finance and capital is managed, and by who.

It should surprise no one that a treaty negotiated by lawyers working for the major trans-national corporations stipulates that international commerce should be managed (regulated) by lawyers representing the trans-national corporations.

The purpose is not “free” trade; but rather, to protect and increase the profits of trans-national corporations. How does that work? Like this.

An industry wants to set up shop in your community. But you decide, based on your local zoning, where they can and cannot operate. Or you decide that their product or service is harmful to your health and welfare, and want to limit adverse impacts; or that female workers deserve some paid time off during pregnancy.

Whatever the issue, you want a say in what happens in your community. Democracy.

The public interest clashes with the private interest and costs the corporation money. So the private interest turns to the international tribunals set up to manage these disputes that get in the way of “free” trade. These tribunals are staffed by representatives from the corporations, because they are “experts.”

Guess who they rule for?

Outrageous, you say? Undemocratic? Yes and yes. But it doesn’t matter what you say, because your Congress has voted for our nation to abide by the “free” trade pact.

It’s already happening.

In an attempt to limit smoking and the related deaths and health care costs smoking causes its people, little Uruguay decided to increase the size and visibility of the anti-smoking messages on packs of cigarettes and in other public health advertising.

Under the terms of a “free” trade deal negotiated between Uruguay and Switzerland, where Phillip Morris moved its corporate office from the U.S., the tobacco company is suing Uruguay to be paid the anticipated profits it may lose because of lower sales.

As reported in the U.K. newspaper The Independent, “The litigation is allowed to be done in tribunals known as international-state dispute settlements (ISDS), ruled upon by lawyers under the auspices of the World Trade Organization.”

In a similar case, Bolivia (also little) is being sued by the giant international corporation Bechtel because Bolivia cancelled a contract with Bechtel for a privatized water system, when rates skyrocketed far above those that Bechtel had advertised, forcing already poor people to pay even more for their water.
Bechtel is suing Bolivia in the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), another tribunal that is part of the World Bank. The ICSID holds all of its meetings in secret. Neither the media nor the people affected may even witness the proceedings.

As CorpWatch reported, “The company filed the case with ICSID under a bilateral investment treaty between the Netherlands and Bolivia. Although Bechtel is a U.S. corporation, its subsidiary [which did the Bolivian water deal] recently established a presence in the Netherlands in order to make use of the treaty.”

Corporations can shop for places to do business and move money easily around the world for the best deal. People, on the other hand, find it more difficult, often impossible and sometimes life threatening to change countries.

There is a price tag for “free” trade agreements like the TPP: democratic government and the right of people to govern themselves in their own communities is sold out.