Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The mantra of the wealthy and powerful: "We ask forgiveness not permission"

As I write this, I'm thinking of that music video, The End of the Innocence, by Don Henley. I'm remembering the images of Oliver North, the Iran-Contra scandal and Reagan's Brain. I remember the sense I had back then that the men in power just wanted to "wash their hands of their sins". At the same time, I'm recalling a video of Clinton supporters talking about how to skirt the law, even break it, when it comes to soliciting voter registrations during the primaries this year. One of them said, "we ask forgiveness, not permission", as if the law didn't really matter to her.

Hillary Clinton supporters maintain that for more than 30 years, the Clintons have been investigated for many things and implicitly exonerated on every controversy they have been involved in. From Vince Foster's "suicide" to Whitewater to Hillary Clinton's email server, the Clintons have somehow eluded prosecution and conviction. Clinton supporters admonish anyone who speaks of these things and implore us to just leave them alone.

The Clintons have been investigated more than any other politicians in history and yet no one has ever been able to find any wrongdoing on their part. It just looks bad, right? By their logic if serial killers can elude the authorities for years, then the Clintons are good, too - at least until they are caught at something. The consistency of their participation in apparent scandals or even relations with people involved in such controversies and the complete lack of any convictions, suggests a deep and wide network of allies prepared to divert and/or sustain any political or legal attacks against them.

The Clintons have been implicitly exonerated by the same system that declined to prosecute a single too-big-to-fail bank CEO after the 2008 banking crisis. The same system that declined to prosecute anyone for war crimes under the Bush administration for two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is also the same system that failed to prosecute anyone in America after one of the largest financial scandals in history, the LIBOR scandal where interest rates were manipulated for profit. Yeah, that was bigger than the 2008 banking meltdown, but for some reason, hardly anyone heard about it in the news.

In fact, for much of modern history, it is very hard to find any scandal where the people at the top are held accountable. Not even in the recent Wells Fargo case, will anyone go to jail for fraud. Sure, there will be clawback for bonuses not earned, but no one will go to jail. That opulent lifestyle will remain. Yet, there are now two criminal investigations in play. Does anyone seriously believe that wealthy and very well connected John Stumpf will ever go to jail?

Given all of this, should it even be surprising that Hillary Clinton was not referred to the Department of Justice for prosecution for her email games?

To add insult to injury, we have a president who is not willing to answer for Hillary's crimes or even, her civil infidelities with how she handled official email. Why not? I say respondeat superior or, "let the master answer". President Obama has claimed innocence when he informed the public that he didn't know that Hillary was using a private email address so as to be "extremely careless" with confidential information, on a private domain, on a private email server in the basement of her residence. If Obama had no clue, surely someone in his extensive team of professional could have told him that Hillary was running afoul of the laws.

No they did not, but at least we know that those professionals only follow one basic principle: cover your ass. And while you're at it cover your boss's ass. There were many reasons why I liked Obama during his first term and his second. But this? I might still approve of some of the things he has done, but I seriously do not like how he is responding the email scandal. I don't like how he responded to charges of election fraud on the part of the Democratic Party, either. And I most certainly don't like how not a single mega-bank CEO has gone to jail for their roles in the financial crisis of 2008. Obama, like many of his predecessors, and like Hillary is poised to do, wants to keep the economy rigged.

The members of the professional class that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton deign to protect, are not really professionals if they will not be held accountable. Could they even be called professionals if they cannot do their jobs without flouting or even breaking the laws?

Trump has said that if he's elected, he'll appoint a special prosecutor to go after Clinton. Really? Trump would do that to one of his friends? The Clintons and the Trumps have been friends for decades. Trump says that he'll man polling stations to help prevent voter fraud. Is he going to pay them or stiff them? I think that the Clintons are so well connected that even if Trump won and got a special prosecutor on the job, they'd get about as far one special prosecutor did with Bill Clinton. Nowhere. I expect nothing more from Donald Trump, the entertainer.

I may forgive, but I will not permit, support or enable behavior that betrays the middle class. This is why I'm voting Green for president. Whatever you have to say about Jill Stein, your criticisms, your objections, they pale when held side by side with Obama, Clinton and Trump. Seriously, do you really want to see another 8 years of scandal without prosecution? I don't.

I'll vote for Jill Stein, every Green Party candidate and every Berniecrat I can find on the ballot, and I will do that with a clean conscience, for I want to be able to sleep at night.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Why would anyone want to cut spending on public education? Low information voters.

Part of the experience of social media is memes, pictures with some sort of message laid on top of the image. It's a powerful way to convey a message. The other day, I came across this one:

If this is true, then why do we feel less free now than say, 50, 40 or even 20 years ago? According to this chart and this chart, college enrollment and graduation has been steadily increasing over the last 50 years from about 3-5% to more than 30% of adult Americans. So we should be more free, right? There is one thing that makes people less free and that's debt. Student debt is now well over $1 trillion for all Americans who took out loans to go to college. Check out the eye-popping charts at MotherJones on college financing trends over the last few decades. Here's the one that got my attention:

Guess who owes what to whom? Seems like wealthy families have no interest in saddling their kids with student debt, but hey, it's cool if other kids are paying down debts instead of buying houses. The wealthy kids are collecting payments for college debts by proxy from the poor kids. Then there is Bernie Sanders:

Bernie Sanders and a fair number of other economists have taken note of a huge business in student loans, and most if not all student loans are backed by the federal government. Private lenders service the loans and make sure they are paid back. That debt service is where the money is. Just think of all the fees and penalties those loans must generate.

What is important here is that neoliberals have created a disincentive for education. There is even a controversy about whether the financial benefits of going to college outweigh the expense of doing so. Kids who went to college still have trouble finding good jobs after the Great Recession. Still, if your parents are wealthy and connected, you got a job right out of college, right?

Now we are faced with two very unpopular candidates for president. Both of them represent tyranny to one group or another. Neither of them truly represents the American people because they are Democrats or Republican and 43% of the voters are registered independents.

Two other candidates and political parties were shut out of the debates, and thus, the election: Jill Stein and Gary Johnson. Johnson is with the Libertarian Party, and if you know anything about libertarians, they want to privatize everything down to the point where government does the bare minimum of services for the people. In their view, the federal government should do nothing but run the military and let private enterprise do the rest. Jill Stein is the opposite of Johnson. The two people who got on stage for three measly debates are pretending to be "center-right" or "centrist". There is no liberal option to choose from in the debates.

How did we get to the point where, historically speaking, two of the most unpopular presidents got on the debate stage and the alternatives were left out of it? We failed to educate the population and the mainstream media took advantage of it and ran off with the election. If you don't believe me, check out this article from a royally pissed off millennial. I gather from the article she's not voting for Trump or Clinton. She is also very informed about the issues, so don't tell me she's a low information voter.

An educated and free people will have little tolerance for the games played during this election. There would have been numerous prosecutions as a result of the fraud played in the primaries with an educated and informed electorate. Hillary would have been prosecuted for her email games. Trump wouldn't have made it through the first debate and he would have been exposed much earlier for the way he handles business. 200 mechanics liens on his properties? Pleeeease.

I watched the last debate and could understand what Hillary was saying, but could not believe a word that came out of her mouth. I watched Donald talk and every time he interjected "lie" while Hillary was talking, I could only think, "entertainer". I could only find myself further convinced that I will vote for Jill Stein. That's all the debate could do for me.

The only people who want to cut funding for education that I could find are wealthy conservatives who can afford to send their kids to that private school on the other side of town that has all the right connections, but that hardly anyone knows about. They're all over charter schools, too. Who cares about corruption in charter schools when you can use charter schools to suppress teacher salaries?

These are our kids, people! You go cheap on education and you get people like Trump and Clinton for president. You get people who don't know civics. You get people who don't know where Iraq is on a globe. You get people who can't get a job, buy a house or take care of their own kids without living in your basement. You get a nation of people who won't be able to compete against low wage third nations, much less Scandinavian kids who get high quality education for free.

Oh, yeah, those Scandinavians. With their education, they have the brains to show up and vote. Check out this survey of voter participation from Pew Research. Look who is at the top of the list. The top 20 are European countries and most of them have free or low cost education (the US placed 27th on that list). Some of those countries on the top of the list offer that same free education benefit to anyone in the world who comes to live there. They don't treat education like a commodity. They treat it like a utility. You know, like infrastructure. We used to do that. John F. Kennedy grew up in a country that treated education like a utility for everyone to use.

Here's a quote that I think really expresses the need for public education:
“Public education does not exist for the benefit of students or the benefit of their parents. It exists for the benefit of the social order.
We have discovered as a species that it is useful to have an educated population. You do not need to be a student or have a child who is a student to benefit from public education. Every second of every day of your life, you benefit from public education.
So let me explain why I like to pay taxes for schools, even though I don't personally have a kid in school: It's because I don't like living in a country with a bunch of stupid people.”

― John Green
Yet, there are people with a great deal of influence in public policy that want to cut funding for public education to cut costs and privatize it. Why? Because they need people to work for them who are willing to work for less to compete with the rest of the world. To pump the price of their stock. To fatten their bottom line. To buy their products on time so that they never get out of debt.

High quality, free education like they have in Scandinavia is what we could have here. But that would mean greater participation of the people in the political process. That doesn't work well with oligarchy. That doesn't work well with income inequality. That doesn't work well for the two dominant political parties running the United States.

It would seem that Clinton caved on the point of free education and she is promoting free education for everyone making less than $125,000 a year. The Washington Post says she wants to bring back Reagan-styled tax cuts to help pay for it? How neoliberal of her. She caved because she knows that her nomination will depress the vote in November. She knows that Congress will remain essentially the same next year as a result of depressed voter turnout. She knows that if Congress stays the same, she can be a neoliberal and say that she'll take what she can get from Congress rather than leading the country to greatness again. Just like Bill Clinton and his "Third Way" politics.

Can you see why millennials loved Bernie Sanders? Can you see why so many Sanders supporters will not vote for Clinton? This is why I'm voting for Jill Stein. The Green Party platform supports free public education. That same platform supports raising a tax base to support free public education for all.

The Green Party is working for the middle class, Something that elite Democrats have forgotten how to do. Remember the Berniecrats? They work for the middle class and there are still 327 Berniecrats on the ballot to vote for. To get free public education (or any other change for the greater good), we must have greater voter participation. Clinton and Trump are counting on low voter turnout to win. Let's disappoint them.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

What could happen If the Green Party gets just 5% of the popular vote in 2016?

Day in and day out, I see the shaming by Clinton supporters in social media. They want anyone and everyone who would even think of voting for Jill Stein to swallow their pride and their anger and vote for Hillary Clinton.

These same Clinton supporters don't seem to have any empathy for the Sanders supporters who were cheated out of a nomination. They appear to lack empathy for Sanders supporters who are voting for Jill Stein in the face of clear and convincing evidence of bias against Bernie Sanders by the top brass at the DNC. As Jill Stein has put it Clinton supporters don't care about the people who support Jill Stein, they only care about their votes:

I think there is a subtext to the idea that we should vote for Hillary rather than Jill. Clinton's team and supporters wouldn't want to see a third party, much less the Green Party, get 5% of the vote or better. Why is it so important to get 5% of the vote for Jill Stein? The Independent Voter Network (IVN) has asked that question and in this article, they point to the Federal Election Commission to provide at least one answer:
The presidential nominee of each major party may become eligible for a public grant of $20,000,000 plus COLA (over 1974). For 2012, the grant was approximately $91,241,400 for each major party nominee. However, the two major party presidential nominees in 2012 opted out of the public financing program in the general election. Candidates themselves may not raise any other funds to be used for campaigning during the general election period. The general election limit for publicly funded candidates for 2016 is $96,140,600.
Public grants of $18,248,300 went to each of the major parties for their conventions in 2012. On April 3, 2014, President Barack Obama signed legislation to end the public funding of presidential nomination conventions.
Since no third-party candidate received 5% of the vote in the 2008 presidential election, only the Republican and Democratic parties were eligible for 2012 convention grants, and only their nominees were eligible to receive grants for the general election once they were nominated. Third-party candidates could qualify for public funds retroactively if they received 5% or more of the vote in the general election.
Getting that 5% of the popular vote is a big step to becoming a major party in the United States and would free up millions in grants and matching funds for the Green Party, retroactively. The IVN estimates that Jill Stein and Gary Johnson each would have to garner 15 million votes to get to 5%. If even one third party nails it, that could have major implications for the 2020 presidential election.

There are some who say that the Greens and the Libertarians simply haven't reached critical mass, that they don't really have enough people in state or federal office to support a run for president. If we see them at all in office, we see them in a few city councils and education boards (that's why I try to remind people that there are hundreds of Berniecrats running for office, still).

For generations, third party candidates and the independents like Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, have faced enormous opposition from a mainstream media culture that is evidently hostile to third parties and independents. The mainstream media is loathe to mention third parties at all, but only do so lately to appear "fair and balanced". Bernie Sanders changed party affiliation from independent to Democrat to run for president because he is acutely aware of media hostility to anyone other than Democrats or Republicans.

I've seen the emails between HRC, the DNC and the media. It's clear that they were all colluding to make sure that nothing would stand in the way of a Clinton victory in November. I will grant that in this election, they have the upper hand. But getting that 5% of the vote, now that looks like some of the low hanging fruit of change I've discussed on this blog before. It wouldn't cost that much to get it and it would yield enormous dividends if the Green Party achieved at least that much.

If you're in a swing state, a state where it's difficult to tell if Clinton or Trump would win, you might avoid months of ostracism by not voting for a third party (or just not letting anyone know how you voted). To be fair, voting is supposed to be anonymous and it really shouldn't matter to anyone else who you voted for. But it is your choice to share how you voted with whomever you like.

If you're not in a swing state, you can vote for Jill Stein and let your friends and family know it without fear of reprisal.  Your vote "won't matter" if you live in a state that has overwhelming support in favor of either Trump or Clinton. But it's that popular vote count that matters to the Green Party to get those grants and matching funds.

5% of the popular vote is much easier to reach than even a few electoral voters because in the place called Lesterland, where big money rules, the winner takes all. In other words, in any given state, if one candidate wins the majority of the votes, all of the electoral votes in that state goes to that candidate. Take note that electors can still vote for whomever they want no matter the popular vote, but usually, they vote with their state majority vote just to be nice. I would love to get rid of the electoral college, but this is what we have now.

So go forth and go Green - and don't forget about the Berniecrats.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

I don't expect to see clean hands at the next presidential debate

During his last debate with Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump announced that three women that have accused Bill Clinton of harassment and sexual assault were in the audience in the front row. For good measure, he also included one woman who was raped by a man Hillary Clinton defended as an attorney. According to Time Magazine:
Donald Trump came to the second presidential debate with what many of his supporters consider the most powerful weapon against Hillary Clinton: the women who accuse her husband of harassment and sexual assault.
After holding a brief press conference with them beforehand, Trump invited Paula Jones, Kathleen Willey, Juanita Broaddrick and Kathy Shelton to be his guests at the second presidential debate, where they sat as literal reminders of the troubling sexual allegations against Hillary Clinton’s husband, former President Bill Clinton. (Shelton, who was raped at 12 by a man that Hillary Clinton later defended, was the only [one] of the four not linked to Bill’s sexual misconduct.)
This is Donald Trump's response to the release of recordings of his "locker room talk" and exposing his perceived conquest of women? You can find all the gory details at Slate and many other sites carrying the story.

The Trump and Clinton campaigns have devolved the civil discourse about who is a better candidate for president into a slugfest to show who is the "lesser evil". Gosh, who should I choose? Hillary Clinton who has enabled and defended someone who has used his power and status as an excuse for unwelcome sexual advances or, Donald Trump who has exhibited similar behavior?

The media is playing right along, too. It's almost as if the media want us to forget about the issues, that the public should look at this like a personality contest rather than a contest in civil discourse.

Whether or not Bill Clinton and Donald Trump still engage in behavior that demeans and objectifies women, we don't know for sure and I'm not sure I want to hazard a guess (I'm leaning towards the affirmative answer here). But their public records make it clear that at one time or another, they have not been so kind to women and girls.

These men may not yet know that an abusive exercise of power power is evidence of a lack of interpersonal skills, skills that a presidents needs to keep the world and the nation at peace. Hillary might not have figured that out yet, either. Her condescending attitude towards Sanders' supporters might be evidence of a lack of political if not interpersonal skills. Her legendary rage, her thirst for war and her attitude about her husband's encounters with other women seem to confirm that she lacks the skills and compassion needed to understand the plight of the victims at the hands of her husband. She lacks compassion for the countries we have bombed and droned.

I don't want any of them, Bill, Hillary or Donald, in the White House. I would much prefer to see Jill Stein as president. Stein is doing what Bernie Sanders would have done. She is keeping the discussion on the issues, public policy, and the work of the people. God knows I would love to see Bernie as the Democratic nominee so I can write an entirely different article today, but it is what it is.

Besides, I trust Jill more than Donald or Hillary. Unlike the other woman running for president, Jill doesn't have a history of protecting or enabling a man who has a problem keeping his hands to himself, and Jill won't have to defend her personal history the way Hillary and Donald must. Unlike the others, Jill can focus on getting the will of the people done without having to play defense all the time. As far as I'm concerned, Jill won't even have to be at the next debate to win it.

For this final debate, we can replace Fox News anchor Chris Wallace with Howard Stern as moderator. At the moment, I can't think of a more appropriate person for the job.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Millennial support for Bernie Sanders explained

"Hillary Clinton's millennial problem runs deep", is the breathless headline at The Hill. Their article runs at length to explain the angst among millennials about Hillary Clinton. Millennials have faced terrible economic prospects resulting from the bubble economy created by economic policies implemented over the last 4 decades. Those same economic policies were followed by Republicans and Democrats alike. The Hill also notes overwhelming millennial support for Bernie Sanders when he was running for president. Millennial support for Bernie Sanders corresponds well to their prospects.

The millennials are now the largest voting demographic and boast some 80 million voters strong. They are facing very difficult prospects as a result of the "I, me, mine" generation that voted in Ronald Reagan twice (I voted for him once as a young man). That same generation voted in Clinton twice, and three times for two Bushes. This is the age of Neoliberal Economics.

The news and opinion pages are replete with articles about how Hillary Clinton has been unable to to even get a spark, much less light a fire with the Millennials. Try the following search on Google, "the hill hillary millennials" and we see Clinton making almost weekly pitches to the millennials as documented by The Hill. A recent leak of audio of a speech given by Hillary only adds salt to the wounds sustained by the millennials. Here's a gem from that audio brought to you by The Intercept:
CLINTON: Some are new to politics completely. They’re children of the Great Recession. And they are living in their parents’ basement. They feel they got their education and the jobs that are available to them are not at all what they envisioned for themselves. And they don’t see much of a future. I met with a group of young black millennials today and you know one of the young women said, “You know, none of us feel that we have the job that we should have gotten out of college. And we don’t believe the job market is going to give us much of a chance.” So that is a mindset that is really affecting their politics. And so if you’re feeling like you’re consigned to, you know, being a barista, or you know, some other job that doesn’t pay a lot, and doesn’t have some other ladder of opportunity attached to it, then the idea that maybe, just maybe, you could be part of a political revolution is pretty appealing. So I think we should all be really understanding of that and should try to do the best we can not to be, you know, a wet blanket on idealism. We want people to be idealistic. We want them to set big goals. But to take what we can achieve now and try to present them as bigger goals.
The implication of Clinton's remarks are clear. The millennials are unhappy with the cards dealt to them and they want something for free. So they want to join a political revolution that will pry all that free stuff out of the hands of the generations that came before them. Consider the words above and now consider her audience when she said them, according to The Intercept:
Clinton was speaking at a Virginia fundraiser hosted by Beatrice Welters, the former U.S. ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago, and her husband Anthony Welters, the executive chairman of an investment consulting firm founded by former Clinton aide Cheryl Mills.
This looks like a nice, comfortable circle of friends who want to see Clinton as president someday. I'm not so sure it's a fundraiser as much as it is a job fair for positions in the cabinet should Clinton prevail (are all Clinton fundraisers "job fairs"?). That speech was hosted by an investment firm founded by Cheryl Mills, a former aide to Clinton and an Obama appointee, Beatrice Welter, a former US ambassador. That's cute. Is this what senior "liberal Democrats" really think of the millennials? Do they really have to be so condescending?

If Hillary truly wants the vote of the millennials, I think she might do well to denounce the "Third Way" espoused and promoted by her husband Bill, during his presidency. She needs to stop the practice of colluding with Republicans as this video of Bill Clinton and Paul Ryan show them to be doing. She needs to go all they way and embrace the platform of Bernie Sanders: expanding Social Security, free public college, rebuilding our infrastructure, and expanding medicare for all. But Hillary really wants the Republican votes and she doesn't want to betray her very wealthy benefactors, so she'll never go all the way. She may never express compassion for the millennials and here's why. She might not want to admit that the economic policies of Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton were wrong.

Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism has provided some insight into why there is so much angst among the millennials in her post, The Quiet Desperation of Millennials. She explains that for the generations before the Great Recession, working in low paying jobs was a transition period from school to an established middle class job or better. Unfortunately, for most people in millennial generation, working in low paying jobs has become a permanent way of life, even with a college degree:
By contrast, this study shows that quiet desperation is a state of life for most Millennials. While the shock of the financial crisis did enormous damage to many people in all age groups, as anyone who lost their home to foreclosure will attest, Millennials faced a job market that left even normally-always employable new college grads out of work or employed at well below their potential as baristas, temps, or in low-level retail jobs. This has a huge impact on their lifetime earnings, not only by depressing income in their early years, but even when they find better-paid work, even then putting them on a lower income track than those that landed higher-quality roles straight out of school.
What study is Yves talking about? This study, The Millennial EconomyFindings from a new Earnst and Young; EIG National Survey of Millennials. Check out some of the takeaways:
Millennials are often painted as lazy and entitled, but the stereotype doesn’t hold up upon closer scrutiny. Millennials value education and hard work, and they’re willing to make sacrifices to get ahead. The Great Recession shaped this generation—18% faced unemployment in 2010, two-­thirds have at least one source of long­-term debt, and their wages have fallen over the past five years—and these after effects still reverberate strongly throughout Millennial life. Millennials may perceive their lot as unfair not out of entitlement, but because they feel like they did their part but haven’t seen the expected benefits.
Our survey found:
  • Millennials invested in human capital and are willing to work hard to get ahead
    • 88 percent of Millennials recognize that hard work is an important factor to get ahead in life.
    • 64 percent would move to a different part of the country for a better job or access to better opportunities.
    • 63 percent would add an hour to their commute for a better job.
  • Coming of age during a historic economic downturn has severely impacted Millennial life.
    • 30 percent of respondents live with their parents, which rises to 40 percent for single respondents.
    • Nearly one­-third believe their local community is still in a recession.
  • Stress levels run high for Millennials
    • 78 percent of Millennials are worried about having good-­paying job opportunities.
    • 74 percent are worried they won’t be able to pay their healthcare bills if they get sick.
    • 79 percent are worried they will not have enough money to live on when they retire.
While this shows that millennials have good reason to feel so glum, there is something else, something missing from the entire discussion. I see this as kind of a generational struggle, but not in the way you might think.

In recent weeks, I've taken note of some incredible work done by Ross W. Greene, Ph.D. According to Wikipedia, Greene is an American clinical child psychologist and the author of the books The Explosive Child and Lost at School, and the recently released books Lost and Found, and Raising Human Beings. Dr. Greene is the developer of the research-based method now called Collaborative and Proactive Solutions.

I'm reading Dr. Greene's book, The Explosive Child now. I know, you're wondering where this is going, right? The basic thrust of Dr. Greene's research and work is this: if kids could do better, they would. That is, if they have the skills to do better, they would. Now look at the takeaways from the study above. You'll find that the millennials are motivated to work. But they're also worried that their environment will not provide enough economic support for them. They are admitting that their forebears have not taught them the skills they need to cope with the changes in the economy.

I believe that if people could do better, they would. Not just kids, but everyone. Most Americans 40 or older enjoyed free or low cost education. Not so for millennials. Student debt now amounts to more than $1 trillion nationwide. Someone is earning interest on that money and they're getting a weekly or monthly check in the mail as payback for a student loan taken out by the millennials. That someone is likely to be a 1%'er or better and is not willing to see free college disrupt his business model. He is not willing to see Jill Stein wipe out his guaranteed income from student debt. That someone is probably a Clinton supporter.

The generations previous to the millennials got theirs, especially the baby boomers. Now they're against free college for everyone else. Older generations tend to be more conservative, and perhaps unaware of what has been left for the millennials. Wealthy people pay for college for their kids. Did anyone ever notice that? Wealthy people don't see the sense in putting their own kids in debt for a good education. But putting everyone else in debt for schooling is OK, right?

More to the point, millennials are suffering now because as a nation, we have refused to just give these young people the skills they need to cope with a very adverse economy, one that we have all helped in some way to create. Millennials have the motivation to endure these conditions, they just don't have the skills to cope with it. So they stay at home with their parents, and live in the basement. They don't get the jobs they need because they don't have the skills to get them. They don't get the jobs they need because older wealthy people have written rules that removed the demand that would create those jobs here. Where did that demand go? A good long look at the trade deficit will tell us what we need to know.

I supported Bernie Sanders (and still do) because I believed that his policy positions offered a better solution than all of the others. When the DNC rigged an election to take away Bernie Sanders as an option, I looked around and saw Jill Stein running for president. The more I investigated, the more I saw that there was a great deal of agreement between the Green Party platform and the policies proposed by Bernie Sanders.

I have seen the condescension being heaped upon the millennials. I see that they do not have the same opportunities that I or my parents had. The economy has changed and we have to admit that for the first time, the standard of living will not be better than previous generations for the millennials and later.

Our job as parents is not to inflict pain upon our kids for failing to meet our expectations. Our job is to give them the skills they need to meet our expectations and build the life they want to live. That's why I won't vote for Trump. That's also why I won't vote for Clinton. I'm going Green and voting for Jill Stein. I'm also voting for every Berniecrat that I see on my ballot come November. I'm voting for more compassion in American government and economics.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

A rare moment when Congress actually does the will of the people

It doesn't happen often, but it happened a few days ago. Congress, with great reluctance, acted on the will of the people for the people. It was a small minority of people they had in mind, but curiously, the people Congress did act for were a small group of people who do not have very much money. They are the survivors of the victims who died in the 9/11 attacks. What happened?

Both houses of Congress overrode President Obama's veto of a bill that would allow victims of 9/11 to sue the government of Saudi Arabia for their role in the attacks. It is astonishing not just that Congress overrode the veto, but that they did so by resounding majorities. From the New York Times:
Democrats in large numbers joined with Republicans to deliver a remarkable rebuke to the president. The 97-to-1 vote in the Senate and the 348-to-77 vote in the House displayed the enduring power of the Sept. 11 families in Washington and the diminishing influence here of the Saudi government.
Before the 9/11 attacks, the families of the people who died in the attacks were just ordinary people like you and me. But the 9/11 attacks conferred a special power and status upon them, one that has survived for 15 years and prevailed in an election year, no less.

The 9/11 attacks were once used as a rallying point to prop up support for an unpopular president who was often seen as an illegitimate winner in a contentious election. The press regularly mocked him before the attacks and after the attacks, the press shut up and followed the official narrative. Could the same kind of thing be allowed to happen again if Clinton were to win the election?

What is important here is that Congress has actually done something that the people want. It is rare to see such an event considering that it is easily proved that the United States is an oligarchy. The political pressure to pass this bill was so intense that nearly 30 members of Congress signed a letter to note their apprehensions about the bill.

There is something else that is important here. A small minority of people brought to bear on the entire Congress their will, without any money. They prevailed against one of the most powerful interests in this country, a foreign country that is the largest source of oil that we use to power our cars and trucks. They were not billionaires or millionaires. They were people who lost loved ones in the attacks. They were people who had to endure the loss of their businesses when the towers collapsed. They were people who had to breathe the air so fouled by the dust from the collapse of the buildings.

The Saudis have mounted strident legal defenses to prove that they were not involved in the attacks. But the people who would like to sue, and those already in the courts, will finally have their say. I must admit that discovery is going to get very interesting in these lawsuits. The Saudis may have to sing like canaries to prove their innocence.

A vocal minority can still have a lot of power in a democracy. The passing of this bill might finally show a way of wresting the power from the oligarchs and restoring that power to the people. There is a way to influence Congress without money for something that the people really want. Bernie Sanders called that, "getting involved in politics". The families of the 9/11 victims are very organized and they are very involved in politics for their cause.

Happily, someone has noticed that if citizens prevailed in a lawsuit against the government of Saudi Arabia, the Saudis would have to sell an enormous amount of US securities because their assets would be frozen as security for any judgement against them. Estimates suggest that the Saudis would have to sell about $750 Billion in securities, potentially crashing the dollar and making it much weaker than it is now.

This is only a concern if you like American trade deficits. Economist Dean Baker has studiously documented how economic policy has been used to create a trade deficit, sucking $500-600 billion from our economy every year. This is demand that could be used to create jobs here, but the loss of that demand is creating jobs everywhere else. The oligarchs are not willing to spend that kind of money to create the demand necessary to overcome the trade deficit because they profit from that trade deficit.

The oligarchs are not willing to allow the government to spend the money needed to close the gap in demand created by trade deficit, either. But when Congress overrode the veto, they unwittingly created a condition that could upend the cart for the very wealthy. If Congress knows what they are doing, they have found a way to close the trade deficit under cover of helping the victims of 9/11. If not, well, good for them.

Here is how it would work. Let's say that the plaintiffs in the biggest lawsuit prevail against the Saudi government. They win a settlement in the hundreds of billions and the court orders a freeze on Saudi assets. The Saudis would be ahead of this game and they would sell their assets in the US before any lawsuit could get to that point. After the sale of Saudi assets, the dollar takes a hit of 20% for a decade or more. That will raise the price of oil and every other import that the United States buys. You can bet that China is watching this very, very closely. They own more than a trillion in US debt to prop up our dollar, too.

From there, consumers will buy fewer imports. Multinational businesses will lose their edge with foreign manufacturing and bring their operations home to reduce their costs. They may even find it necessary to repatriate $2 trillion stashed offshore. If the Saudis actually sold all of their US assets, that would create demand economic better than anything else we could hope for from Congress.

If the trade deficit were wiped out, 5-6 million jobs would be created in our economy. There would be real pressure on wages to rise due to demand for workers. And no, there wouldn't be enough time to put robots on the line, that takes years to do. The change would be immediate and the MBAs who looked so smart moving our manufacturing base offshore would be looking for work somewhere else. Preferably in another country.

I know, this seems idealistic. But it's important to remember that the trade deficit is the biggest hole in the economy right now. It's something that very few in political discourse are talking about. As we have seen in the last few decades, tax cuts will not fill this hole in demand. No one in power is willing to create a jobs program big enough to fill the hole in demand. People in power are willing to let our infrastructure crumble in order to maintain things as they are. When we see Obama and his pals wringing their hands over that embarrassing vote to override his veto, they are not thinking of us. They are thinking of what will happen if the Saudis sell their assets.

Bernie Sanders was right. Positive change comes from the bottom up, and it's good to remember that it may not always come in the way that we want it when we want it. When Congress overrode Obama's veto for the families of the victims of 9/11, they could not anticipate all of the contingencies created by their act. Let's hope that the Saudis do have to sell their assets so that we can see some real pressure on the dollar, and eventually, close the trade deficit.

This change, this vote against Obama, came from the bottom up. That's often the only way change is going to happen.

Saturday, October 01, 2016

Basic income guaranteed just might be the antidote to small time fraud

If you read the news at all, you might find it hard to miss the story of how more than 5,300 Wells Fargo employees were fired for creating two million fake accounts for their customers at their bank. Customer were given no notice of what happened. TechDirt has the story in full, and they have a very interesting list of what was done:
  • Opening deposit accounts and transferring funds without authorization: According to the bank’s own analysis, employees opened roughly 1.5 million deposit accounts that may not have been authorized by consumers. Employees then transferred funds from consumers’ authorized accounts to temporarily fund the new, unauthorized accounts. This widespread practice gave the employees credit for opening the new accounts, allowing them to earn additional compensation and to meet the bank’s sales goals. Consumers, in turn, were sometimes harmed because the bank charged them for insufficient funds or overdraft fees because the money was not in their original accounts.
  • Applying for credit card accounts without authorization: According to the bank’s own analysis, Wells Fargo employees applied for roughly 565,000 credit card accounts that may not have been authorized by consumers. On those unauthorized credit cards, many consumers incurred annual fees, as well as associated finance or interest charges and other fees.
  • Issuing and activating debit cards without authorization: Wells Fargo employees requested and issued debit cards without consumers’ knowledge or consent, going so far as to create PINs without telling consumers.
  • Creating phony email addresses to enroll consumers in online-banking services: Wells Fargo employees created phony email addresses not belonging to consumers to enroll them in online-banking services without their knowledge or consent.
It's important to note here that all of this activity generated fees that were charged to their customers. The fees were small, but generated substantial sums of money for the bank and the accounts looked great in the financial reports.

If an ordinary thief had managed to do any one of the above just one time and was caught and convicted, he'd be looking at doing hard time in prison for fraud. But this is Wells Fargo Bank, and 5,300 of their employees. Instead of going to jail, these employees were let go.

Some of you might be thinking, well, who authorized this? Judging by the winds in Congress, the CEO John Stumpf was taken to task for letting this happen under his watch. The following principle comes to mind: respondeat superior, or, "let the master answer". He has since resigned his seat on a Federal Reserve advisory board and has had to forfeit $41 million in stock options. That's it? No prison? Not even community service? Well, he's a member of the anointed class. He'll never see a jail cell wall or sit on a toilet in prison. This is how lax America has become with corporate governance.

Another question that comes to mind is what could possess all those people to commit such acts at the urging of their supervisors? How could more than 5,000 people be persuaded to commit crimes against their customers? Money, or lack of it. Could it be that Wells Fargo paid its employees so little that they could be persuaded to do the unthinkable for more money? Wouldn't their actions light up the fraud division like a Christmas tree?

Some of those same employees are suing the bank over aggressive sales quotas and for being punished for trying and failing to meet them. If a CEO could use fraud to pump and dump his stock, then low level front line employees could open fake bank and credit card accounts to earn more money. Notice also that this isn't just Wells Fargo. They just happened to be the first to be noticed.

Would those same employees face termination if they refused to participate in the fake account program? Probably, for "low performance". What would have happened if those same employees could rely upon a basic income guaranteed? Very wealthy people, we can call them "the rentier class", typically earn 74% or more of their income through rents, dividends, and royalties. In many cases, it's an absurdly high income just from rent seeking. John Stumpf is just one notable example, yet I find myself wondering why he would stoop to such measures.

I think there is a big difference between the typical banking CEO and the front line worker. The front line worker has a conscience and a stomach. The typical CEO of a multinational bank has a stomach, but we're not so sure about him having a conscience. That's because the CEO is insulated from the day to day perils of life. He doesn't live paycheck to paycheck. He doesn't have to worry about losing his job as long as his friends on the board of directors still approve of him. He has friends in high enough places that can ensure he will never see a jail cell.

The front line worker got his job in an adversarial process called a job interview. His pay is determined in an adversarial process called an annual review. He must compete with C-class professionals for his pay. The front line worker has no attorneys to represent him or review his contracts. The front line employee has no compensation consultant to ensure that he will be paid the maximum that the market will bear. The front line worker doesn't have his compensation package determined by his friends, like the CEO of the company he works for.

While the CEO has time to think about what he wants after work, the front line employee may have another job to go to. He may not have time for his family. While the CEO can lobby Congress to stall on raising the minimum wage, the front line employee has no such advocate working for him in the halls of power.

A basic income guaranteed would raise the floor to meet the employee, just like the CEO has raised the floor to support himself with passive income from rents. Knowing that there is say, $1000 a month coming to him every month, whether he works or not, allows the breathing room that many Americans do not now have.

But more to the point, a basic income guaranteed insures that all Americans derive something from increases in productivity from technology. Yes, this would be paid for with taxes, and there would still be wealthy people. People who are greedy will always find a way to make money, and that's fine. What is not fine is when greedy people take the money and use it to influence government to get more at the expense of everyone else. A basic income guaranteed means that there is a limit on how much business can shift their costs onto employees and customers.

A basic income guaranteed means that the rentier class must share the gains in productivity due to technological advance with the 99%. Consider that wages have been stagnating for 30-40 years depending on the economist you talk to. At the same time, the compensation for the one percent, usually in the form of stock options, dividends, rents and royalties, has taken off like a rocket relative to the 99%. In this context, we need not think of the basic income guaranteed as free money for everyone else. Instead, we should think of basic income guaranteed as a dividend for the gains from technology.

A basic income guaranteed would allow employees a way to exercise their conscience. They could decide whether or not take that job that asks them to work against their own interests and do something else. They could decide to use that extra money to get the education and skills they need to make more money. They could arrange their lives on that money to start their own businesses. Or they could hike the Appalachians and come back to work, rested and ready to contribute to society again.

Americans are tired of being played by the wealthy and powerful. They would like some say in their collective fate with other Americans. As we have seen with the way the Democratic primaries were handled, even the "party of the people" has turned a deaf ear to the rest of us. Republicans want nothing to do with this idea for obvious reasons, yet some libertarians have expressed some interest in it, as a basic income guaranteed would abolish much of the welfare state bureaucracy.

The only American political party that even comes close to giving serious consideration to the idea of basic income guaranteed is the Green Party. Here it is from their party platform:
Universal Social Security: Taxable Basic Income Grants for all, structured into the progressive income tax, that guarantee an adequate income sufficient to maintain a modest standard of living. Start at $500/week ($26,000/year) for a family of four, with $62.50/week ($3,250/year) adjustments for more or fewer household members in 2000 and index to the cost of living.
You'll notice that there isn't much talk about this plank in the Green Party platform in public discourse by any major candidate. Most people are unaware of how awful the social safety net has become. In many states, the safety nets are fraught with hoops to jump through, laden with shame and are designed to benefit some while abandoning others. Here is Scott Santens on the subject of basic income vs the current safety net we have now:
In the United States today, on average, just about one in four families living underneath the federal poverty line receives what most call welfare, which is actually known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF. It gets worse. Because states are actually just written checks to give out as they please in the form of “block grants,” there are states where far fewer than one in four impoverished families receive cash assistance.
In Oklahoma, seven out of 100 families living in poverty receives TANF. In Wyoming, merely one in 100 of those living in poverty receives TANF. Where does the money go instead? It goes to educate the children of those earning over six figures. It goes to programs trying to convince women to get married. And it goes directly to state government treasuries so they can cut taxes on the rich. The fact is that cash welfare, as it exists today, is not given to the overwhelming majority of those living in poverty who need it.
Santens has found that money that should be going to the poor is being diverted to anything other than the poor whenever possible. It is provided on a racially discriminatory basis. It is being used to enforce social norms that arise from religion. It is very much under the thumb of the wealthy who have the most influence in legislation. Is it any wonder that the Green Party would like to reform campaign finance laws to limit the influence of the very wealthy?

The Green Party is the only political party with a presidential candidate and a provision in their platform for basic income guaranteed. This is income that is derived from the gains in productivity from technological advance that should accrue to everyone, but it kept mostly at the top. It is a dividend that should flow to everyone, not just the 1%.

I believe that if basic income were guaranteed, that would help to stem the tide of small time fraud and give Americans the space they need to avoid being pressured into working against their interests. Remember, 5,300 front line employees at Wells Fargo Bank were fired. John Stumpf still has his job.