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?