Friday, March 31, 2017

The Business of America—Making Billionaires

The word on the street—and the street I’m referring to is Pennsylvania Avenue—is that the next big undertaking in the city that never wakes up to reality but always knows how to put a good spin on a bad message will be rewriting the tax code.

This isn’t the only talk in the city where talk couldn’t be cheaper. Russian involvement in last year’s election is another hot topic making the rounds. Topping off the discussions is Putin but more and more, interactions between Russian oligarchs and Trump subordinates are making their way into the conversation.

Oligarchs, and the word itself seems to suggest the sort of evil ogres found hiding in the swamps and dark forests of children’s fairy tales, are those billionaire bullies siphoning off the Russian wealth and depositing it in their personal bank accounts around the world. They are allowed to do this because they support Putin, who has stashed his own wealth in crooked banks around the world.

The banks often serve as nothing more than money laundering facilities. On the surface, it would seem that every Trump associate has at least one, and usually several, Russian billionaire bully friends (BBF’s). On the surface it is an embarrassment of riches because everyone involved are rich and they all should be embarrassed.

Most of this is not new information. It simply wasn’t well-known information until Trump ran for president. What I do find surprising about Russian oligarchs is how well known they are in Russia. Everyone seems to know these corrupt, bullying, billionaires situated at the seat of power in a corrupt, bullying government that thrives on stealing its nation’s wealth. There is no effort on their part to disguise their identities or hide what they do.

I guess that’s the beauty of Communism. It’s bad, everyone knows it’s bad and no one cares that it’s bad.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

It’s always one of us, it’s never them

Nationalism is once again being promoted as a sane policy. We are asked to subscribe to the theory that we are not six billion people sharing one earth but rather a handful of nations who can only succeed if other nations are held in check.

Making America great again is not a policy, but rather a slogan that centers on blaming everyone else for our problems. It began by blaming foreigners. Once people bought into that premise, it was a short leap for groups of Americans to start blaming other groups of Americans.

Robber barons became millionaires a century ago by promoting strive between workers or classes of workers to distract them from who was really robbing them blind. Today’s billionaires are happy to see the same distractions keeping the heat off them.

In 1980, the top one percent possessed 36% of the nation’s wealth, the next nine percent owned 33% and the bottom ninety percent had access to 30% of the wealth. The rich saw this as an intolerable situation. Something had to be done. Something was done. The wealthiest in the country received tax breaks that allowed them to get even wealthier.

By 2010, the top one percent possessed 54% of the wealth, the next nine percent owned 23% and the bottom ninety percent saw their share decrease to 23 percent. There should be no confusion as to why there are so many losers in today’s economy.

There are so many losers because there are so few winners taking home so much of the spoils.
Yet we continue to pit one loser group against another.
Blaming other nations is not new. Blaming fellow Americans is not new.

It should never be about blaming in the first place, but at the very least, the richest nation in the world shouldn't be blaming its poorest citizens for its problems. They work for crummy wages doing the crummiest jobs and all they hear is, why don’t they pick themselves up and start taking better care of themselves.

Here’s a novel idea. Why don’t their employers start taking better care of them instead of taking such good care of themselves?
Both the long-awaited plan to replace Obamacare and the recent budget proposal come down to picking winners and losers. Every problem comes down to winners and losers. The job of every politician comes down to pitting losers against winners—the old against the young, the sick against the healthy, the educated against the uneducated, rural against urban, men against women, and religion against religion, arts against bullets, clean water against bullets, assistance for the poor against bullets. In budget battles, bullets usually come out ahead although you wouldn’t always know that from listening to the Defense Department.

Only one group consistently comes out on top.

The top one percent have been on a roll since the beginning of the Industrial Age but never more so than in the last half-century. Their share of the American pie has grown while those whose labor creates that wealth have fallen by the wayside. The rich win if the economy collapses. They win if the seas rise. They win if water becomes undrinkable, the air unbreathable and safety nets unsustainable.

Having fifty-four percent of the wealth isn’t just a number. It’s the definition of a problem. It’s a sign that everything is great for a very small number of people.

Big money has always influenced governments but never more than it does today. The current administration is top-heavy with billionaires and millionaires. It should come as no surprise that their solutions to every problem, including the healthcare bill, revolve around cutting regulations that restrict wealth and reducing taxes that might take that wealth away.

Fitzgerald once wrote, “The rich are different from you and me.”

In a way, they aren’t. They have the same wants and desires we all do.

But when it comes to money, there is no comparison. America possesses 42 percent of global wealth and one percent of Americans possess half of that. The rich are as different from the rest of us as night and day.

Yet, when it comes to taxes, we currently treat the rich as if they were just one more guy trying to make a buck. We tax their earned profits like wages and their capital gains better than wages. If we continue this trend, they will suck the life right out of this planet until there is nothing left for anyone else.

Shifting twenty percent of the wealth back and forth among ninety percent of the people is getting us nowhere. What would really make America great again is having the unrealized wealth of millions of Americans back in their pockets instead of the pockets of a few hundred billionaires.

I am not talking about small businesses, which are one of the groups that the super rich use to cover their own greed. Small businesses are like every other group being pitted against each other. They too are being used by the super wealthy.

The government isn’t the enemy. Social programs aren’t the enemy. The government is taking care of Americans because their bosses have not. The wealthy can either pay their workers—with better wages and benefits—or they can pay their fair share in taxes so the government wouldn’t be going broke trying to take care of them.

Somehow, we have to get America’s wealth back into the hands of the people whose labors created it.  


Sunday, March 5, 2017

I'm writing this because I can—and that's a good thing

I’ve been reading a book, Free Press, Free People: The Best Cause by John Hohenberg. The author explains the role of the press, its shortcomings, highlights, and most importantly, its impact on society and the many attempts to suppress and oppress it.      

In 1862, Prussian premier Otto von Bismarck’s goal wasn’t to destroy the already weak press so much as to bend it to his will. He bribed, threatened and saturated Prussian newspapers with false and misleading news articles favorable to him and his government. The press bowed to his demands so willingly that he referred to them as the “reptile press” crawling on its belly. 

The most powerful man in Europe at the time even admitted that “Decent people don’t write for me.”

What was he afraid of?

A half century earlier, Napoleon—another powerful yet insecure leader bragged, “They [the press] say only what I wish.” He was stating a fact because those that didn’t wound up in prison.

What was he afraid of?