Republican presidential frontrunner Donald sTrumpf outlined an “America first” foreign policy approach in what was billed as a major address at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C.
Here is a full transcript of the speech.
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“Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you, and thank you to the Center for National Interest for honoring me with this invitation. It truly is a great honor. I’d like to talk today about how to develop a new foreign policy direction for our country, one that replaces randomness with purpose, ideology with strategy, and chaos with peace.
It’s time to shake the rust off America’s foreign policy. It’s time to invite new voices and new visions into the fold, something we have to do. The direction I will outline today will also return us to a timeless principle. My foreign policy will always put the interests of the American people and American security above all else. It has to be first. Has to be.
That will be the foundation of every single decision that I will make. America…
America first will be the major and overriding theme of my administration. But to chart our path forward, we must first briefly take a look back. We have a lot to be proud of.
In the 1940s we saved the world. The greatest generation beat back the Nazis and Japanese imperialists. Then we saved the world again. This time, from totalitarianism and communism. The Cold War lasted for decades but, guess what, we won and we won big. Democrats and Republicans working together got Mr. Gorbachev to heed the words of President Reagan, our great president, when he said, tear down this wall.
History will not forget what he did. A very special man and president. Unfortunately, after the Cold War our foreign policy veered badly off course. We failed to develop a new vision for a new time. In fact, as time went on, our foreign policy began to make less and less sense. Logic was replaced with foolishness and arrogance, which led to one foreign policy disaster after another.
They just kept coming and coming. We went from mistakes in Iraq to Egypt to Libya, to President Obama’s line in the sand in Syria. Each of these actions have helped to throw the region into chaos and gave ISIS the space it needs to grow and prosper. Very bad. It all began with a dangerous idea that we could make western democracies out of countries that had no experience or interests in becoming a western democracy.
We tore up what institutions they had and then were surprised at what we unleashed. Civil war, religious fanaticism, thousands of Americans and just killed be lives, lives, lives wasted. Horribly wasted. Many trillions of dollars were lost as a result. The vacuum was created that ISIS would fill. Iran, too, would rush in and fill that void much to their really unjust enrichment.
They have benefited so much, so sadly, for us. Our foreign policy is a complete and total disaster. No vision. No purpose. No direction. No strategy. Today I want to identify five main weaknesses in our foreign policy.
First, our resources are totally over extended. President Obama has weakened our military by weakening our economy. He’s crippled us with wasteful spending, massive debt, low growth, a huge trade deficit and open borders. Our manufacturing trade deficit with the world is now approaching $1 trillion a year.
We’re rebuilding other countries while weakening our own. Ending the theft of American jobs will give us resources we need to rebuild our military, which has to happen and regain our financial independence and strength. I am the only person running for the presidency who understands this and this is a serious problem.
Note: There exists an over-whelming consensus by climate scientists around the World that climate change is a clear and present danger to life on this planet.
Deniers who do not either want to acknowledge the ramifications, or accept the policies which are necessary to address the issues, or are financially or politically rooted in denial frequently offer one or more of the following counter-arguments. Herein following are the most often presented arguments, with rebuttals.
In the late 1930s, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Rural Electrification Act, or REA, into law. The idea was simple — every farm, every ranch, every rural town and all the people in it should have access to reliable, affordable electricity. Electricity should be universal.
The REA lit up the country. It changed our economy not just in the installation, but in creating the opportunity for immense economic growth.
Expanding rural broadband is the REA of the 21st century.
You cannot participate in the economy without access to the Internet. Yet in the Hudson Valley, the Catskills, and areas nearby, there is little access to the Internet. Connections are slow, if they even exist.
It’s time we expand access to affordable, quality broadband to every farmer, every small business, and every resident that doesn’t have it. Like the REA, it could improve our economy and create the opportunity for economic growth.
The first step to get there is going to be the federal government establishing that, as a principle, EVERY farm, home, and business deserves high speed broadband. There are deep solutions to help make this a principle — and one stems for stopping monopolies in telecommunications companies, such as Verizon and Comcast.
Even in well-connected areas, there is little-to-no competition when it comes to Internet providers. Without competition, customers and workers have nowhere else to go — and no leverage to press companies for better service and contracts.
We need to work to fix the problem, not make it worse. We need to encourage local competition, and not allow mergers that will let Verizon and other telecommunication companies monopolize the market.
If we take these and other steps, and invest in expanding rural broadband infrastructure, we can expand broadband to every farm house and every rural small business.
Sunday, 17 April 2016 by Mark Karlin, on Truthout | Interview
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Corruption, systemic injustice and an obsession with growth and profit at all costs have put our planet in serious jeopardy. Drawing on decades of powerful journalism, in How Did We Get Into This Mess? George Monbiot explores the consequences if we continue down this path, and suggests solutions for building a better future. Get your copy by making a donation to Truthout today!
George Monbiot. (Photo: Verso Books)George Monbiot, author of How Did We Get Into This Mess?, discusses how Western neoliberal policies, colonialism and the privatization of the public commons have brought the environment and climate to a crisis point, and what people can do about it.
Mark Karlin: You’re compilation of essays is so compelling in offering insight on how we have come to such a crisis point in civilization. First, however, I wanted to ask you a cross-Atlantic question. To what extent have the US and UK neoliberal policies and their political alliance helped “get [us] into this mess”?
George Monbiot: It would be wrong to blame only neoliberalism (sometimes described in the US as market fundamentalism) for every element of the mess we’re in. It would be wrong to blame only capitalism. For example, a profound shift in the relationship between humans and the living world began with the widespread use of coal, particularly at the beginning of the English Industrial Revolution (which became the template for industrialization in many other countries). It permitted the continuous economic growth that eventually improved the living standards of many people, while simultaneously enabling the conquest and repression of others. But it also set in train an environmental conflagration — in both capitalist and communist nations — that continues to rage today. I see coal as a more important determinant of human history than either capitalism or communism.
However, neoliberal ideology has greatly exacerbated the predicament of both people and planet. By ripping holes in the social safety net, shutting down organized labor, privatizing and degrading public services and deregulating predatory capitalism, it has reversed many of the gains in human welfare that took place between 1945 and the 1970s, spread precariousness and financial crises, and enriched the ultra-wealthy at the expense of the rest. One result is that inequality, which declined steeply in the mid- to late 20th century, has now risen so swiftly that in the US and UK it is heading toward the extreme levels of the 1920s.
At the same time, by insisting that corporations should regulate themselves and that governments should not intervene on behalf of the public interest, it has accelerated the environmental crisis and constrained the options for responding to it.
In terms of climate change, you argue that “everything is connected.” How so?
As we learn more, evidence appears that at least some elements of James Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis appear to be correct. At first, I was highly skeptical of his claims. But we are beginning to discover some of the extraordinary ways in which ecosystems and the species they contain help to regulate the earth’s systems. For example, by bringing up nutrients from their feeding zones in deep water and releasing them (through defecation) into the upper layers of sea (the photic zone), whales fertilize the growth of algae. The algae, in turn, absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through photosynthesis. Then, as they sink into the abyss, they remove that carbon from circulation, sequestering it for thousands of years.
One hypothesis contends that the Younger Dryas (a brief ice age that commenced 12,800 years ago and lasted for 1,300 years) could have been triggered by the mass extinction of large mammals in the Americas after the first humans arrived there, as the methane formerly produced by large herbivores such as mastodons, mammoths, ground sloths and giant bison no longer entered the atmosphere. Another contends that the Native American genocides — that were followed by mass reforestation across much of the Americas — drew sufficient carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to help trigger the Little Ice Age between the 1500s and 1800s. While these hypotheses are highly speculative, they do suggest that the gas fluxes caused by changes in animal and plant populations are sufficient to cause planetary-scale impacts.
Economists and business schools tell us that the successful exploitation of resources depends upon isolating and commodifying them. This ethos has crept into almost every aspect of our engagement with the natural world, especially with the spread of the natural capital agenda (which I see as disastrously misconceived). But the more we know about how ecosystems function, the clearer it becomes that they cannot be safely disaggregated.
Can you expand on “the process of dehumanization so necessary to the colonial project”?
Colonialism often claimed to be a civilizing mission, whose purpose was to teach the natives English, table manners and double-entry bookkeeping. In reality, it was robbery with violence: the state-sponsored theft of land, labor and transportable resources. Where local people resisted this piracy, they were killed, often in large numbers. For all this to happen, you must persuade yourself that the inhabitants of the places you are invading have no rights, that, unlike you, they are not entitled to remain in their homes and on their land, to decide how, where and for whom they will work, to own or control the resources their land contains. In other words, they have to be not like us. The colonial imperative explains the racism that still characterizes many of our relationships.
Once you have dehumanized those whose land and labor you wish to seize, anything is possible. The famines the British engineered in India, the concentration camps they built in Kenya, in which so many were tortured and beaten to death, these are almost inevitable outcomes of the dehumanization process. Particularly in the United Kingdom, such atrocities have been surgically excised from public awareness. Those we killed weren’t really people, so we need know nothing about them. We don’t do body counts. We never did. Continue reading Another voice on where we are heading
It’s not income inequality and it’s not left-leaning politicians. It’s a national draft.
Five years ago, the billionaire Warren Buffett highlighted the fact that although the top marginal tax rates were rising for the wealthiest Americans, his effective tax rate was lower than his secretary’s. Buffett was (and still is) in favor of increasing taxes for America’s wealthiest, and the White House subsequently named an initiative after him: Under the Buffett Rule, proposed by Obama in 2011, Americans who make more than a $1 million a year would be taxed at a minimum rate of 30 percent. The rule, though, was blocked by Senate Republicans the following year.
Tax season and election years inevitably raise questions of whether taxes should go up or down, why, and for whom. No presidential candidate has been more vocal on the need for taxes than Bernie Sanders, who promises he’ll raise taxeson everyone—especially the highest earners—in order to fund a number of initiatives that he believes will reduce inequality.
One thing that’s often missing from this debate: historical context. Relative to the past 200 years of U.S. history, how heavily are the rich being taxed today? Kenneth Scheve and David Stasavage, professors of political science at Stanford University and New York University respectively, looked into when countries have taxed their wealthiest citizens most heavily, and what societal conditions might have produced those tax rates. In a project that took five years, the two constructed databases of tax rates and policies in 20 countries over the last two centuries in order to answer those questions. They recently published this research in a book, Taxing the Rich: A History of Fiscal Fairness in the United States and Europe.
One of their motivations for starting the project was a disconnect they noticed between rising inequality and static tax rates. “With inequality rising over the last three or four decades, why have there not been public policies that seem to address that in an important and substantive way?” says Scheve. But while it would seem intuitive that taxes would increase at the times when inequality is highest, Scheve and Stasavage found that this relationship hasn’t held true over the course of history.
What they noticed, as they plotted the past 200 years of the average top marginal tax rates in wealthy countries, was that even when countries had adopted a modern, progressive tax system in the 19th century, rates remained pretty low—rarely exceeding 10 percent for the richest citizens. Over the course of the 20thcentury, though, they saw the top tax rates trace an inverted-U shape, with countries adopting very high rates in the 1950s. Since then, though, average tax rates for the rich have fallen to about 40 percent.
Average Top Marginal Tax Rates in 20 Wealthy Countries, 1800-2013
Which led Scheve and Stasavage to wonder: What in the middle of the 20th century caused tax rates to spike? They didn’t find much evidence that stretches of inequality overlapped with these high tax rates. And they considered that maybe tax rates went up when more-liberal politicians were in power, but tax rates went up only slightly during those times. Continue reading what does it take for a country to raise taxes on the rich?
Author: Michael Tonry, Oxford University Press – April 04, 2016
In America, all the things that can go wrong with criminal justice have done so.
The following is an excerpt from the new bookSentencing Fragmentsby Michael Tonry (Oxford University Press, 2016):
Mass incarceration needs to be unwound and prevented from recurring. This can happen only if fundamental changes are made in sentencing laws, institutions, policies, and practices. At rhetorical levels at least, there appears to be broad agreement that mass incarceration was a huge mistake. It has been much less effective at preventing crime than many people envisioned; it does huge damage to offenders, their families, and their communities; it wastes vast amounts of money. And, not unimportantly, it gives and has long given America bad press throughout the world.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the American criminal justice system was a model for the countries of Europe as they rebuilt their legal systems after World War II and to the leaders of newly independent countries emerging from colonialism in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. American advisors and ideals played major roles in the development of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the European Convention on Human Rights (1950), and aspirational documents around the globe. The same impulses were manifested within the United States in the Model Penal Code (1962), the Model Sentencing Act (1963), and the reports of the national crime commissions of the 1960s and early 1970s.
In recent decades, the United States has served as an object lesson of all the things that can go wrong when criminal justice systems become deeply enmeshed in partisan politics, ideological conflict, and public emotion. They should be reconstructed in ways that make them once again sources of pride, beacons for all the world to admire and emulate.
Institutions and processes need to be rebuilt so that they reflect and live up to fundamental Western ideas about justice and fairness. The moral responsibility, human dignity, interests, and needs of defendants and offenders should be restored to their place at the center of the criminal justice system. People’s freedom, property, reputations, and lives are at stake. Everything the criminal justice system does should acknowledge that. That does not mean, of course, that victims’ interests or state interests in security and crime prevention should be ignored. They are important, but there is no zero-sum game. Treating offenders unjustly does not honor victims, affirm moral values, or make a safer society.
Sentencing systems must be redesigned to allow individualized consideration not only of offenses but also of offenders’ personal characteristics and circumstances. Policy initiatives of the 1980s and 1990s made that impossible. They need to be repealed and replaced with new laws and institutions that allow judges and corrections officials to respond, justly and appropriately, to wrongdoing, as most have always wanted to do. Continue reading Criminology American style needs massive structural change
Selective memory leads grown-ups to try to re-create a past that never existed.
The following is an adapted excerpt from the updated edition ofThe Way We Never Wereby Stephanie Coontz (Basic Books, 2016):
There is a tendency for many Americans to view present-day family and gender relations through the foggy lens of nostalgia for a mostly mythical past.
Nostalgia is a very human trait. When school children returning from summer vacation are asked to name good and bad things about their summer, the lists tend to be equally long. As the year goes on, however, if the exercise is repeated, the good list grows longer and the bad list gets shorter, until by the end of the year the children are describing not their actual vacations but their idealized image of “vacation.”
So it is with our collective “memory” of family life. As time passes, the actual complexity of our history—even of our own personal experience—gets buried under the weight of the ideal image.
Selective memory is not a bad thing when it leads children to forget the arguments in the back seat of the car and to look forward to their next vacation. But it’s a serious problem when it leads grown-ups to try to re-create a past that either never existed at all or whose seemingly attractive features were inextricably linked to injustices and restrictions on liberty that few Americans would tolerate today.
One example of how discussions of family life are still distorted by myths about the past is the question of how marriage has evolved historically. Both sides in the Supreme Court decision extending marriage rights to same-sex couples demonstrated confusion on this issue. In his dissent from the majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, “For all . . . millennia, across all . . . civilizations, ‘marriage’ referred to only one relationship: the union of a man and a woman.” Its primordial purpose, Roberts asserted, was to make sure that all children would be raised “in the stable conditions of a lifelong relationship.”
These assertions are simply not true. The most culturally preferred form of marriage in the historical record—indeed, the type of marriage referred to most often in the first five books of the Old Testament—was actually of one man to several women. Some societies also practiced polyandry, where one woman married several men, and some even sanctioned ghost marriages, where parents married off a son or daughter to the deceased child of another family with whom they wished to establish closer connections. Continue reading Nostalgia & Marriage
2009’s 2012’s most influential author (especially if you are Paul Ryan) is a mirthless Russian-American who loves money, hates God, and swings a gigantic dick. She died in 1982, but her spawn soldier on. And the Great Recession is all their fault.
The experience of being 19 years old and reading Ayn Rand! The crystal-shivering-at-the-breaking-pitch intensity of it! Not just for that 19-year-old, but for everybody unfortunate enough to be caught in his psychic blast radius. Is “experience” even the right word for The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged? Ayn Rand’s idolization of Mickey Spillane and cigarettes and capitalism—an experience?
Her tentacular contempt for Shakespeare and Beethoven and Karl Marx and facial hair and government and “subnormal” children and the poor and the Baby Jesus and the U.N. and homosexuals and “simpering” social workers and French Impressionism and a thousand other things the flesh is heir to: experience? Does a 19-year-old “experience” the likes of “She looked at the lone straight shaft of the Taggart Building rising in the distance—and…understood: these people hated Jim because they envied him”? (The lone straight shaft—get it?) Please.
Ayn Rand is an imbuing. A transfiguring, even. A weirdly specific thing happens with the books of Ayn Rand. It’s not just the what of the books, but when a reader discovers them—almost always during the first or second year of college. Rand grabs a reader at a time of maximum vulnerability and malleability, when he’s getting his first accurate sense of how he measures up in the world in terms of intellect and talent. The longing to regard oneself as misunderstood and underrated can be powerful; the temptation to project oneself as such, irresistible. But how? How to stand above and apart?
Enter Howard Roark, the heroic and misunderstood architect, square of jaw and Asperger-ish of mien, who at the end of The Fountainhead blows up his own masterpiece after a bunch of sniveling “parasites” and “second-handers” tinker with the blueprints.
Then enter Atlas Shrugged’s John Galt, the heroic and misunderstood engineer, square of jaw and Asperger-ish of mien, who, after persuading “men of talent” to retreat to his Colorado aerie while the country goes to seed (in order to show the “mediocrities” left behind what life is like without their betters), delivers a 35,000-word speech decrying bureaucrats and regulators. SIXTY PAGES, BITCHES!
Finally, enter Objectivism, the name Rand gave to her moral defense of “reason,” individualism, and unfettered capitalism.
The days during which that 19-year-old has Rand’s worldview vectored into his cerebral cortex are feverish and sleepless. Days of beautiful affliction during which the intransigence of others—roommates, a coed the patient has been hitting on, professors, parents, everyone—are shown to be the product of their shortcomings, their idiocy and sublimated envy of the patient’s intelligence and talent. Days during which the infected comes to see himself and Roark/Galt as avatars of one another: superheroically mirthless protagonists in a drama of historical import. It’s the damnedest thing. One day you’ve got a bright young kid dutifully connecting the dots of his liberal-arts education; the next, he’s got Roark and Galt in the marrow and has become…an insufferable asshole.
None of this matters, right? We’re talking about a phase, no different from purple hair and lip rings, right? Well, yes, it’s true that in most cases, the fever breaks. That kid stands up, walks outside, and reflects on the 727 pages of Fountainhead and 1,168 of Atlas he’s just wolfed down. And realizes: That was nearly 2,000 pages (more, really, given that Rand’s loathing of collectivist parasites is matched only by her loathing of paragraph indents) without a single instance of irony or humor. Or subtlety. Or grace. Nearly 2,000 hectoring, brook-no-ambiguity, you’re-either-a-lion-or-a-leech pages of breathtaking psychological obtuseness.In time, he begins to understand that his ordeal consists of two phases. There is the reading itself, which is one thing. And then there is the digesting, which is quite another.
Overall, the experience eerily replicates that of devouring a family-size bag of Cheetos in a single sitting. 1 During: irresistible, bracing, the thing at hand imparting vitality, fertility, potency. After: bleccchh. Make it go away, he thinks. The metallurgist protagonists. The operatic rapes heralded by whips and rock drills. The pirates with cat-coughing-up-hairball names like Ragnar Danneskjöld. Please, God. He may even feel his “recovery” marks him as a savvy and well-adjusted individual, yes?
No. He is a stupid and insolent boy. No one gets done with Ayn (rhymes with “mine”) Rand. It is not in one’s power to do so. That boy (or you, or I) can dismiss the books as a “phase” and attempt to busy ourselves with the kind of degenerate “stylists” Rand scorned (Faulkner, Nabokov). But none of us can escape the shadow of the lone straight shaft of the Taggart Building tumescing in the distance. An association bolstered by Howard Roark’s flaming orange hair.
This is because there are boys and girls among us who have never overcome the Randian infection. The Galt speech continues to ring in their ears for years like a maddening tinnitus, turning each of them into what next year’s Physicians’ Desk Reference will (undoubtedly) term an Ayn Rand __Asshole (ARA). They constitute a relatively small percentage of Rand readers, these ARAs. But they make their reading count. Thanks to them, the Rand Experience is no longer limited to those who have read the books. It’s metastasized. You, me, all of us, we’re living it.
Because it’s the ARA Army of antigovernment-antiregulation puritans who have spent the past three decades gleefully pulling the cooling rods out of the American economy. For a while, it got very big and very hot. Then it popped. And now the rest of us have to spend the next decade scaling the slippery slopes of the huge suppurative crater that was left behind. Feeling fisted by the Invisible Hand of the Market lo these past fifteen months? Lost a job lately? Or half the value of your 401(k)? Or a home? All three? Been wondering whence the too-long-ascendant political and economic ideas and forces behind Greenspanism, John Thainism, blind Wall Street plunder, bankruptcy, credit-default swaps, Bernie Madoff, and the ensuing Cannibalism in the Streets? Then you, sir, need to give thanks to Ayn Rand Assholes everywhere—as well as the steely loins from which they sprang. Continue reading “The Bitch is Back” or Rosa Klebb & Ayn Rand: together at last
Israel has militarily occupied the West Bank for decades (it’s also still functionally occupying Gaza, as this two-minute video proves). The West Bank “occupation is illegal under international law and the United Nations has repeatedly told the country’s government to vacate Palestinian territory.” Even ardent defenders of Israel admit that “the West Bank is under a legal regime of belligerent occupation” and “Israel’s settlement enterprise is, and has always been, grossly illegal under international law.” Despite this world consensus, Israeli settlements continue to grow rapidly. Israel is not engaged in any meaningful efforts to negotiate an agreement to end the occupation, and leading Israeli ministers now openly oppose such efforts.
For those (such as myself) who have long contended that the term “terrorism” now has little meaning beyond “violence by Muslims against the West and its allies,” and no purpose other than to delegitimize violence by one side while legitimizing the other side’s, can there be any better proof than this?
There have been Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians of course (while far more Palestinian civilians have died at the hands of the Israeli army), but in these specific cases, these Palestinians are attacking purely military targets, not civilians. Those military targets are soldiers deployed to their soil as part of an illegal occupying army. In what conceivable sense can that be “terrorism”? If fighting an occupying army is now “terrorism” simply because the army belongs to Israel and the attackers are Palestinian, is it not incredibly obvious how this term is exploited? Continue reading A matter of semantics or …
Nobel-prize winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman does not understand the 2008 financial crisis. How this occurred is a mystery, given Krugman clearly has access to all the available information and analysis that has led many observers to correctly comprehend what happened.
In a recent column primarily concerned with perceived deficiencies of presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sander’s campaign messaging, Krugman offered a thoroughly incorrect analysis of the 2008 financial crisis:
The easy slogan here is “Break up the big banks.” It’s obvious why this slogan is appealing from a political point of view: Wall Street supplies an excellent cast of villains. But were big banks really at the heart of the financial crisis, and would breaking them up protect us from future crises?
Many analysts concluded years ago that the answers to both questions were no. Predatory lending was largely carried out by smaller, non-Wall Street institutions like Countrywide Financial; the crisis itself was centered not on big banks but on “shadow banks” like Lehman Brothers that weren’t necessarily that big. And the financial reform that President Obama signed in 2010 made a real effort to address these problems. It could and should be made stronger, but pounding the table about big banks misses the point.
Absolutely wrong. The Too Big To Fail banks were undeniably at the heart of the financial crisis. While it is true that mortgage origination firms like Countrywide played a major role, they alone could not have created financial crisis without working hand-in-hand with the “big banks.”
The big banks were, after all, who Countrywide and others were ultimately selling those bad loans to. But more than that. The big banks took the mortgage-backed securities (MBS) and sold them throughout the world, laying down ordnance that would explode in 2008 and rock the markets to their cores.
And, to make the point even clearer, the big banks not only seeded time bombs throughout the global financial system, but knew they were doing so. That claim, which began as speculation early-on in the crisis and has been conclusively proven over the last eight years, led to record-setting multi-billion dollar settlements by the big banks.
To give one smoking gun example, former JPMorgan compliance officer Alayne Fleischmann provided eye witness testimony to the Department of Justice that, while working in the compliance department of JPMorgan, she saw JPMorgan executives engage in securities fraud by relabeling and mislabeling MBS products that were then sold to unwitting clients. Not long after, those securities blew up in those clients faces.
Partly as a result of Fleischmann’s expert eye-witness testimony, JPMorgan Chase & Co. agreed to pay a record $13 billion settlement to “resolve federal and state civil claims arising out of the packaging, marketing, sale and issuance of residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS).” The settlement included an admission that JPMorgan made “serious misrepresentations to the public – including the investing public – about numerous RMBS transactions.”
OK, so just one of the “big banks?” No. Every one of the big banks paid massive fines for their involvement in triggering the 2008 financial crisis. In some cases, those settlements included crimes committed by mortgage originators such as Countrywide (Bank of America), but a reading of the settlement documents makes it undeniably plain that the originators were just one part of the larger chain of fraud that led to the 2008 meltdown.
Goldman Sachs paid $5.1 billion to resolve investigations “relating to the firm’s securitization, underwriting and sale of residential mortgage-backed securities from 2005 to 2007.”
Citigroup paid $7 billion for its role in the 2008 crisis, which included an admission that “Citigroup acknowledged it made serious misrepresentations to the public – including the investing public – about the mortgage loans it securitized in RMBS.”
Bank of America paid $16.65 billion to “settle several of the department’s ongoing civil investigations related to the packaging, marketing, sale, arrangement, structuring and issuance of RMBS, collateralized debt obligations (CDOs), and the bank’s practices concerning the underwriting and origination of mortgage loans.” That settlement included Countrywide and Merrill Lynch.
‘Excuse us, Sir – Do you need any help with that chocolate pudding?’
The ‘helpfulness’ of corporations con…
by Richard @ Bizmarts – Apr. 2016
The appeals come wrapped in notions of utility and helpfulness. “We are here to help you make better use of your time”, or “we know you are busy and this will help you”; or in the guise of avoiding some unpleasantry: “we know you don’t want to be bothered with”, or “this will save you time, money, and aggravation”; but what is not said is the true basis for the appeal – which is to benefit those making the appeals, while in many cases working against the best interests of the customer.
Whether the true purpose is to upsell customers some new swizzle-stick, decrease a provider’s risk exposure, enhance and expedite a financial benefit, or just issue some “warm fuzzies” to counteract negative PR, corporations at one time expended some effort to keep in touch with their customers. However, except in very limited, and generally high-end markets, modern corporations simply do not want open-ended interactions with customers. Many actively construct mechanisms to avoid such interactions, from creating purposefully obtuse websites, to hour-long phone queues, to implementing offshore support centers which will caress and cajole but be unable to provide meaningful assistance to customers or cost the corporation more than a pittance.
This is not accidental, nor unexpected. A company with several million customers knows that almost every contact after the sale is complete will cost them time, money, or effort. When the customer, or more accurately: the mark, is being counted on for repeat sales, or is a result of a high-end purchase which has a large profit margin, some effort may be expended to provide what was once called: “customer service”. Otherwise a typical customer gets the “bum’s rush”.
Introduction and note for TomDispatch Readers:Here’s a special offer for you today. A TD favorite, bestselling author Andrew Bacevich, has just published America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History, a stunning new book on Washington’s roiling set of conflicts in the Middle East from 1980 to late last night. I’ve been following the subject at TD for years and I still was repeatedly surprised by what he covers and makes sense of. For a limited period, in return for a $100 contribution ($125 if you live outside the United States), you can get a signed, personalized copy of the book and believe me, if you want to understand our screwed-up world, it’s one you’ll want to read. Check our donation page for the details. Tom]
It was a large banner and its message was clear. It read: “Mission Accomplished,” and no, I don’t mean the classic “mission accomplished” banner on the USS Abraham Lincoln under which, on May 1, 2003, President George W. Bush proudly proclaimed (to the derision of critics ever since) that “major combat operations in Iraq have ended.” I’m actually referring to a September 1982 banner with those same two words (and an added “farewell” below them) displayed on a landing craft picking up the last Marines sent ashore in Beirut, Lebanon, to be, as President Ronald Reagan put it when they arrived the previous August, “what Marines have been for more than 200 years — peace-makers.” Of course, when Bush co-piloted an S-3B Viking sub reconnaissance Naval jet onto the deck of the Abraham Lincoln and made his now-classic statement, major combat had barely begun in Iraq (and it has yet to end) — nor was it peace that came to Beirut in September 1982: infamously, the following year 241 Marines would die there in a single day, thanks to a suicide bomber.
“Not for the last time,” writes Andrew Bacevich in his monumental new work, America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History, “the claim proved to be illusory.” Indeed, one of the grim and eerie wonders of his book is the way in which just about every wrongheaded thing Washington did in that region in the 14-plus years since 9/11 had its surprising precursor in the two decades of American war there before the World Trade Center towers came down. U.S. military trainers and advisers, for example, failed (as they later would in Iraq and Afghanistan) to successfully build armies, starting with the Lebanese one; Bush’s “preventive war” had its predecessor in a Reagan directive called (ominously enough given what was to come) “combating terrorism”; Washington’s obsessive belief of recent years that problems in the region could be solved by what Andrew Cockburn has called the “kingpin strategy” — the urge to dismantle terror organizations by taking out their leadership via drones or special operations raids — had its precursor in “decapitation” operations against Muammar Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein, and Somali warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid with similar resulting mayhem. The belief that “an additional increment of combat power might turn around a failing endeavor” — call it a “surge,” if you will — had its Iraq and Afghan pretrial run in Somalia in 1993. And above all, of course, there was Washington’s unquenchable post-1980 urge to intervene, military first, in a decisive way throughout the region, which, as Bacevich writes, only “produced conditions conducive to further violence and further disorder,” and if that isn’t the repetitive history of America’s failed post-2001 wars in a nutshell, what is?
Summary: An analysis of last week’s Microsoft media frenzy, which despite Microsoft’s persistence with and insistence on proprietary software (not to mention its perpetual war on GNU/Linux using software patents) truly succeeded and it looks a great deal like the media strategy championed by Donald Trump
HAVING studied Microsoft and its extensive network of external PR agencies for well over a decade, and having studied the latest PR charm offensive for a whole week (while patiently taking notes along the way), I now feel prepared (on a Sunday when it’s all said and done) to provide my explanation of what happened. In short, it’s a PR campaign. It’s not a new PR campaign; it’s continuation of an existing PR campaign, whose banner is typically “Microsoft loves Linux” (that’s the misleading motto). Those who have followed non-disclosure agreements probably know that Microsoft is still attacking Linux. It’s a demonstration of hatred, not love. The genius of this PR campaign is that it logically reverses what’s true. It’s like BP stating that it loves wind power, the Koch Brothers stating that they love Senator Sanders, and Clinton stating that she loves self-determination.
“The genius of this PR campaign is that it logically reverses what’s true.”At the moment, judging by the reaction of people to this PR campaign, I can see roughly three groups. There are those who are still distrusting Microsoft. There are those who are increasingly confused by what Microsoft is doing, not sure what they’re really up to. The third group is either people who are in the Microsoft camp (profiting from it) or those gullible enough to believe what Microsoft is saying, sometimes even repeating the “Microsoft loves Linux” lie.
In this article we shall break down last week’s ‘news’ into roughly three categories or strands. We are going to show the reality behind all this PR, which was emitted in big quantities (with help from lousy media) and in quick succession. Little time and space were left to respond to the PR.
by Gabriel Zucman, translated from the French by Teresa Lavender Fagan, with a foreword by Thomas Piketty
University of Chicago Press, 129 pp., $20.00
The Price We Pay
a film directed by Harold Crooks, inspired by Brigitte Alepin’s 2010 book La Crise fiscale qui vient (The Coming Fiscal Crisis)
In some circles, “redistribution” of wealth has become a dirty word, and recent efforts to make the tax system more progressive have run into serious political resistance, above all from Republicans. But whatever your political party, you are unlikely to approve of the illegal use of tax havens. As it turns out, a lot of wealthy people in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere have been hiding money in foreign countries—above all, Switzerland, Luxembourg, and the Virgin Islands. As a result, they have been able to avoid paying taxes in their home countries. Until recently, however, officials have not known the magnitude of that problem.
But people are paying increasing attention to it. A vivid new documentary, The Price We Pay, connects tax havens, inequality, and insufficient regulation of financial transactions. The film makes a provocative argument that a new economic elite—wealthy managers and holders of capital—is now able to operate on a global scale, outside the constraints of any legal framework. In a particularly chilling moment, it shows one of the beneficiaries of the system cheerfully announcing on camera: “I don’t feel any remorse about not paying taxes. I think it’s a marvelous way in life.”
Gabriel Zucman, who teaches at the University of California at Berkeley, has two goals in his new book, The Hidden Wealth of Nations: to specify the costs of tax havens, and to figure out how to reduce those costs. While much of his analysis is technical, he writes with moral passion, even outrage; he sees tax havens as a “scourge.” His figures are arresting. About 8 percent of the world’s wealth, or $7.6 trillion, is held in tax havens. In 2015, Switzerland alone held $2.3 trillion in foreign wealth. As a result of fraud from unreported foreign accounts, governments around the world lose about $200 billion in tax revenue each year. Most of this amount comes from the evasion of taxes on investment income, but a significant chunk comes from fraud on inheritances. In the United States, the annual tax loss is $35 billion; in Europe, it is $78 billion. In African nations, it is $14 billion.
The fractions of wealth held abroad are highly variable. In Europe, it is about 10 percent. In African and Latin countries, it is much higher—between 20 percent and 30 percent. In Russia, it is a whopping 52 percent. It follows that while tax havens hit wealthy nations hardest in absolute terms, they can have especially destructive effects on poorer or developing countries, because such a high percentage of their money is offshore. Zucman does not explain why this is so, but it is possible to speculate that one reason is rampant corruption within both the public and private sectors. The extraordinarily high figure for Russia might be best understood as involving money corruptly acquired or invested, which suggests an important point: all uses of tax havens are not the same. Sometimes government officials are the ones who are evading taxes, and they do not want to stop that evasion.
In the aftermath of the financial crisis, you might expect that there would be an international crackdown on the use of tax havens, and as we shall see, international attention is indeed growing. But the numbers demonstrate that no crackdown has occurred. In Luxembourg, offshore wealth actually increased from 2008 to 2012 (by 20 percent). In Switzerland, the increase has been comparable; foreign holdings are now close to an all-time high. Disturbingly, the new wealth is coming mostly from developing countries, which poses a serious problem in light of the severe strains on their limited budgets. Continue reading Tax avoidance international
In The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot, Naomi Wolf takes a historical look at the rise of fascism, outlining 10 steps necessary for a fascist group (or government) to destroy the democratic character of a nation-state and subvert the social/political liberty previously exercised by its citizens:
The aftermath of the Great Recession has posed serious challenges for policy makers especially in the area of job creation, income growth, and income polarization. While the number of jobs has rebounded, the quality of jobs has not–leading to a great deal of anxiety about the future of the middle class in the face of prolonged income stagnation.
When it comes to ways out of the current dilemma, conventional economics have been tested and found wanting. Into this quandary comes valuable work by Daniel Alpert, who argues that the reason conventional economics offers such poor alternatives to policy makers is that insufficient attention has been paid to what he refers to as “oversupply” in the labor market. “The suddenness and extent of the integration of over 3 billion people into a global capitalist market, that really only hitherto consisted of about 800 million in the advanced economies, produced not only the imbalances and glut conditions that have been written about extensively since the Great Recession, but have echoed in the many crises since then.”
Oversupply, he argues, is a global phenomenon that triggers a host of other economic ills, from “… declining productivity and falling labor force participation, inflation in real estate and stock markets, the value of the U.S. dollar, and even stock buybacks, swollen executive compensation, and increasing income and wealth polarization since the recession, to say nothing of the global financial crisis itself. “
This time, Alpert argues, is really different. The phenomenon of the global oversupply of labor is not easily remedied by the private sector alone. Instead of creating the kinds of jobs that used to fuel the middle class, the private sector today is making short-term commitments and hiring more people as needed. Government, argues Alpert, needs to “step into the breach now unfilled by the private sector.”
Alpert’s paper, “GLUT: The U.S. Economy and the American Worker in the Age of Oversupply” is the latest in a series of ahead-of-the-curve, groundbreaking pieces published through Third Way’s NEXT initiative. NEXT is made up of in-depth, commissioned academic research papers that look at trends that will shape policy over the coming decades. In particular, we are aiming to unpack some of the prevailing assumptions that routinely define, and often constrain, Democratic and progressive economic and social policy debates.
In this series we seek to answer the central domestic policy challenge of the 21st century: how to ensure American middle class prosperity and individual success in an era of ever-intensifying globalization and technological upheaval. It’s the defining question of our time, and one that as a country we’re far from answering.
Each paper dives into one aspect of middle class prosperity—such as education, retirement, achievement, or the safety net. Our aim is to challenge, and ultimately change, some of the prevailing assumptions that routinely define, and often constrain, Democratic and progressive economic and social policy debates. And by doing that, we’ll be able to help push the conversation toward a new, more modern understanding of America’s middle class challenges—and spur fresh ideas for a new era.
Jonathan Cowan President, Third Way
Dr. Elaine C. Kamarck Resident Scholar, Third Way
* * *
“It is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something. The millions who are in want will not stand by silently forever while the things to satisfy their needs are within easy reach. We need enthusiasm, imagination and the ability to face facts, even unpleasant ones, bravely. We need to correct, by drastic means if necessary, the faults in our economic system from which we now suffer.”
Franklin Delano Roosevelt May 22, 1932
Since the Great Recession there has been a tendency in economic policy circles to evaluate post-recession data and trends in light of prior understandings. Both economists and policy makers have been desperately attempting to “put the genie back in the bottle” and proceed with business as usual notwithstanding how inapplicable some of the received economic policy wisdom is to present-day realities. The foregoing tendency is reflected and magnified in one of the most politically dysfunctional periods in the history of American governance—a clash of market-oriented orthodoxy with the necessary role of the collective agent of government, and an amplification of the federalist-versus-decentralist arguments that have plagued our nation since its founding.
Just as troubling is the level of dissonance within the halls of macroeconomic academia. No longer merely a rift between the freshwater (University of Chicago and others) and the saltwater (MIT, Harvard, and others) views of the world, but a brackish sewer of dissent that not only yields little in the way of consensus, but confounds the political class and blocks effective policymaking rather than serving up pragmatic solutions. Balkanized legislatures, exacerbated by a generation of gerrymandering, are divided—whether by philosophy or self-fulfilling opinion polling—to the point of paralysis. And many of these divisions have been exported throughout much of the developed world over recent decades.
The United States is, without question, a stronger and more affluent nation that that which FDR rose to lead during the depths of the Great Depression. Yes, we have tens of Roosevelt’s “millions who are in want,” but thankfully nowhere near the level of destitution that the country saw in 1932. Today, however, we have tens, arguably tens of tens, of millions of who are in shock, stunned by the glaring uncertainties in their futures: middle-aged and middle class, even upper middle class, workers with few provisions for retirement and little hope of ever being able to save for same; job market entrants without career-building employment opportunities, facing life in a euphemistically-christened “gig economy” with its attendant instability and impermanence; college students or recent graduates facing a mountain of debt that stands between them and the ability to form a family, buy a home, and enjoy the relative comforts that an advanced education is supposed to afford.
As 2016 dawned and both the U.S. and global economies showed signs of slowing anew, we found ourselves confronted by the ineffectiveness of the more incremental solutions so far attempted to ameliorate the above-listed shocks. The problem rests, I believe, with our insufficient appreciation for how the modern U.S. economy interacts with that of the rest of the world.
It is easy to be distracted from these broader undercurrents. After all, our people live in the world of the internet, possessing smart phones and many of the smaller accoutrements of affluence our forbearers, had they been able to imagine them, would have thought to be the products of a strong and powerful people—even as economic stability, and often the pursuit of happiness itself, have been wrested from them. Such is an outcome which no earlier generation could have conceived of, brought about by the failure of many in the present generation of leaders to appreciate the titanic changes to the domestic and global economies, which require the U.S. to correct, “by drastic means, if necessary, the faults in our economic system from which we now suffer.”
The Age of Oversupply
Since 2005, when former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke first made reference to a Global Savings Glut,1 his hypothesis has undergone both supportive and critical analysis, for the most part concurring that, yes, something odd was going on. A substantial amount of global capital was remaining unutilized or underutilized and not recycled into investment or used for consumption. By 2008, I had concluded that—if anything—Bernanke had understated the import and dimensions of his observations, and that the global economy was experiencing something that centuries of academic discourse would have thought impossible. There was, and remains, a global oversupply of labor, productive capacity, production, and capital, all (except, at times, labor) being things that were classically thought to be ever-scarce relative to the demand therefor.2 Something, indeed, had happened, and it was, I concluded, substantially related to the rather sudden emergence of the post-socialist, or semi-socialist nations (China, Russia, Brazil, India and others), into full-blown economic competition with the developed nations. As I wrote in the introduction to my 2013 book:
“In the time it takes to raise a child and pack her off to college, the world order that existed in the early 1990s has disappeared. Some three billion people who once lived in sleepy or sclerotic statist economies are now part of the global economy. Many compete directly with workers in the United States, Europe, and Japan in a world bound together by lightning-fast communications. Countries that were once poor now find themselves with huge surpluses of wealth. And the rich countries of the world, while still rich, struggle with monumental levels of debt—both private and public—and unsettling questions about whether they can compete globally.”3
The suddenness and extent of the integration of over 3 billion people into a global capitalist market, that really only hitherto consisted of about 800 million in the advanced economies, produced not only the imbalances and glut conditions that have been written about extensively since the Great Recession, but have echoed in the many crises since then. We continue to experience a low interest rate and disinflationary environment and a slew of other economic phenomena that might not typically be thought of as being associated with—but are actually triggered by— the oversupply itself. These include, among other things, declining productivity and falling labor force participation; inflation in real estate and stock markets, the value of the U.S. dollar, and even stock buybacks; swollen executive compensation; and increasing income and wealth polarization since the recession, to say nothing of the global financial crisis itself. More about all that later. Continue reading GLUT: The U.S. Economy and the American Worker in the Age of Oversupply
Construction workers work on a railway in Kenya. (EPA/DANIEL IRUNGU)
Maybe everyone is overcomplicating America’s economic challenges today. Maybe there are no deep mysteries behind the slow growth, the stagnating incomes and the widespread economic anxieties that have given rise to populist movements on the left and the right.
Maybe the problem is simple: too many workers.
That is the argument made in a new paper released by the centrist Democratic think tank Third Way, which theorizes that the world economy is suffering from an oversupply of labor and too little demand for the goods and services those workers produce.
But the solution, they say, also is simple, though politically unpopular: roads and bridges, and a lot of them.
Penned by investment banker Daniel Alpert, the paper, builds on his 2013 book “The Age of Oversupply,” and it’s Third Way’s latest effort to shape the liberal policy conversation in the 2016 presidential primaries. It does so in decidedly un-centrist fashion — by embracing a larger infrastructure spending program than Bernie Sanders does.
It starts with the fact that the emergence of China, India and other developing nations has added billions of hands to the global workforce over the past quarter-century.
In the paper, Alpert laments the “suddenness and extent of the integration of over 3 billion people into a global capitalist market, that really only hitherto consisted of about 800 million in the advanced economies.”
He argues that worker influx has triggered a wave of low-wage job creation in America. He notes that nearly half of the jobs created in the current recovery have come in traditionally low-wage sectors such as retail services and leisure/hospitality; annual incomes in those sectors average about $25,600 a year. Only about an eighth of the jobs created in the recovery have come in the higher-wage sectors of mining, manufacturing and construction, where annual incomes average $55,200 a year.
In an era of expanding trade, those new workers from emerging economies compete with Americans (and workers in other wealthy countries) for jobs and push down their wages. But the new workers often save a large amount of their earnings, Alpert argues, and thus do not spend enough on American goods and services to create a classically virtuous cycle of trade raising everyone’s living standards.
As a result, Alpert says, the United States is suffering from weak economic growth and the fact that workers are enjoying a smaller share of that growth compared to previous generations. Companies, he contends, aren’t creating enough high-value, high-paying jobs in America: Surveying several recent years of data, he concludes that U.S. companies are increasingly focusing their investments in sectors that don’t employ a ton of Americans, such as software. Continue reading Another perspective on stagnation, low wages, and “The Third Way”
Carne William Ross, Former British diplomat; Exec director of Independent Diplomat; writer
Astonishing question. But just to set the record straight (again). I was the UK’s WMD and Iraq specialist for the UK mission to the UN from 1998-2002. I was steeped in the intelligence on WMD. I read a thick folder of intelligence reports every day. I was the diplomat primarily responsible for setting up the UN weapons inspection body, UNMOVIC. I took part in every UK-US bilateral meeting on Iraq during this period, and was part of the small team of officials who reviewed so called JIC (Joint Intelligence Committee) summaries of all available intelligence about Iraq’s WMD before they were submitted to the UK cabinet. I have now testified to the two official inquiries in the UK into the war, the so-called Butler and Chilcot Inquiries. I resigned from the British diplomatic service after giving evidence (then secret) to the Butler Inquiry. If you want the details, please read my testimonies. You can find them on my website here:
But if you don’t want the detail let me state it in a sentence. The UK and US believed that Iraq may have had some residual stocks of WMD (in particular BW or CW, but not nuclear) but at no point from 1998-2002, during the years I worked on the issue, did we believe that there was anything like sufficient to constitute a threat to Iraq’s neighbors, let alone to the UK or US. The claim, repeated ad nauseam to this day, that Bush and Blair were “misled” by intelligence that there was a threat is not true.
College accreditors have come under scrutiny recently for allowing for-profit schools to collect billions in federal aid despite low graduation and high default rates.
Accreditors are supposed to be watchdogs for college quality. They are not government agencies but colleges need an accreditor’s seal of approval so students can qualify for federal loans.
The agency that has received the most heat is the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools. ACICS allowed Corinthian Colleges Inc. to keep on operating right up until the for-profit college chain collapsed after evidence emerged that the schools had lured thousands of poor students into predatory loans. The accreditor placed a Corinthian campus on its “honor roll” just months before the Education Department forced the school to shut down.