Just weeks before Blackwater guards fatally shot 17 civilians at Baghdad’s Nisour Square in 2007, the State Department began investigating the security contractor’s operations in Iraq. But the inquiry was abandoned after Blackwater’s top manager there issued a threat: “that he could kill” the government’s chief investigator and “no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq,” according to department reports.
American Embassy officials in Baghdad sided with Blackwater rather than the State Department investigators as a dispute over the probe escalated in August 2007, the previously undisclosed documents show. The officials told the investigators that they had disrupted the embassy’s relationship with the security contractor and ordered them to leave the country, according to the reports.
After returning to Washington, the chief investigator wrote a scathing report to State Department officials documenting misconduct by Blackwater employees and warning that lax oversight of the company, which had a contract worth more than $1 billion to protect American diplomats, had created “an environment full of liability and negligence.”
Whatever happened to the American dream? Did it ever exist in reality?
We baby boomers can look back to the post-WWII years, when the economy was humming along and the GI Bill made it easier for our dads to get college degrees, find good jobs, buy houses for their families.
In those days, one salary was enough to support a couple and several kids. My dad did it on a college professor’s salary. It was a struggle early on, but those government programs for veterans gave us a push into the professional class.
Eisenhower was President then–a Republican who wouldn’t even recognize his fellow Republican today. Later on, after John Kennedy was murdered and Lyndon Johnson was brought down by the Vietnam War, Richard Nixon presided over the end of the good times. After about 1973, it was over; and since then, wages have essentially remained stagnant.
That was when we entered a new America, in which it took two salaries to support a family. Women went to work, not just because they wanted to, but to keep their families afloat. Children went to day care. So many thing changed. What happened to the American dream? Were those post-war years just an outlier, a brief period of prosperity that meant nothing in the greater scheme of things?
Yesterday, I read a piece by Joseph Stiglitz–in Politico of all places–that addressed some of these questions: The Myth of America’s Golden Age: What growing up in Gary, Indiana taught me about inequality. Stiglitz was born in 1943. Growing up in the industrial “company town” of Gary, he was able to observe the underside of the “golden age” of capitalism–“discrimination, poverty, and bouts of high unemployment.” The big steel companies deliberate brought in desperately poor African Americans from the south in order to keep wages low–to divide and control the work force. Stiglitz writes that he never bought into the notion of the free market as the answer to all ills.
Nearly half a century later, the problem of inequality has reached crisis proportions. John F. Kennedy, in the spirit of optimism that prevailed at the time I was a college student, once declared that a rising tide lifts all boats. It turns out today that almost all of us now are in the same boat—the one that holds the bottom 99 percent. It is a far different boat, one marked by more poverty at the bottom and a hollowing out of the middle class, than the one occupied by the top 1 percent.
Most disturbing is the realization that the American dream–the notion that we are living in the land of opportunity–is a myth. The life chance of a young American today are more dependent on the income and education of his parents than in many other advanced countries, including “old Europe.”
Stiglitz points to Thomas Picketty’s research as evidence. Picketty’s work shows that capitalism leads inevitably to inequality. The post-war era of my childhood and early adulthood was an “aberration.”
Today, inequality is growing dramatically again, and the past three decades or so have proved conclusively that one of the major culprits is trickle-down economics—the idea that the government can just step back and if the rich get richer and use their talents and resources to create jobs, everyone will benefit. It just doesn’t work; the historical data now prove that. [….]
Ironically enough, the final proof debunking this very Republican idea of trickle-down economics has come from a Democratic administration. President Barack Obama’s banks-first approach to saving the nation from another Great Depression held that by giving money to the banks (rather than to homeowners who had been preyed upon by the banks), the economy would be saved. The administration poured billions into the banks that had brought the country to the brink of ruin, without setting conditions in return. When the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank engage in a rescue, they virtually always impose requirements to ensure the money is used in the way intended. But here, the government merely expressed the hope that the banks would keep credit, the lifeblood of the economy, flowing. And so the banks shrank lending, and paid their executives megabonuses, even though they had almost destroyed their businesses. Even then, we knew that much of the banks’ profits had been earned not by increasing the efficiency of the economy but by exploitation—through predatory lending, abusive credit-card practices and monopolistic pricing. The full extent of their misdeeds—for instance, the illegal manipulation of key interest rates and foreign exchange, affecting derivatives and mortgages in the amount of hundreds of trillions of dollars—was only just beginning to be fathomed.
I can’t quote any more, but I hope I’ve whetted your appetite enough that you’ll go read the whole thing. While you’re at that link, you might also take a look at this article by “zillionaire” Nick Hanauer, The Pitchforks are Coming for Us Plutocrats. Here’s just a small taste–it’s a long read.
The most ironic thing about rising inequality is how completely unnecessary and self-defeating it is. If we do something about it, if we adjust our policies in the way that, say, Franklin D. Roosevelt did during the Great Depression—so that we help the 99 percent and preempt the revolutionaries and crazies, the ones with the pitchforks—that will be the best thing possible for us rich folks, too. It’s not just that we’ll escape with our lives; it’s that we’ll most certainly get even richer.
The model for us rich guys here should be Henry Ford, who realized that all his autoworkers in Michigan weren’t only cheap labor to be exploited; they were consumers, too. Ford figured that if he raised their wages, to a then-exorbitant $5 a day, they’d be able to afford his Model Ts.
What a great idea. My suggestion to you is: Let’s do it all over again. We’ve got to try something. These idiotic trickle-down policies are destroying my customer base. And yours too.
It’s when I realized this that I decided I had to leave my insulated world of the super-rich and get involved in politics. Not directly, by running for office or becoming one of the big-money billionaires who back candidates in an election. Instead, I wanted to try to change the conversation with ideas—by advancing what my co-author, Eric Liu, and I call “middle-out” economics. It’s the long-overdue rebuttal to the trickle-down economics worldview that has become economic orthodoxy across party lines—and has so screwed the American middle class and our economy generally. Middle-out economics rejects the old misconception that an economy is a perfectly efficient, mechanistic system and embraces the much more accurate idea of an economy as a complex ecosystem made up of real people who are dependent on one another.Which is why the fundamental law of capitalism must be: If workers have more money, businesses have more customers. Which makes middle-class consumers, not rich businesspeople like us, the true job creators.
Is it possible that because these articles appear in conservative Politico, even a few powerful people in Washington might read them and stop for a moment to think about what what is really happening to America?
Also in the news today:
This is a six-month report card time, and it’s failing grades for all of Washington. President Obama’s approval rating stands at 41% in our recent NBC/WSJ poll, his fav/unfav is upside down (at 41%-45%), and a majority of Americans (54%) no longer think he’s able to lead the country and get the job done. Republicans and Congress are in even worse shape. The GOP’s fav/unfav in the NBC/WSJ poll is 29%-45% (versus the Democratic Party’s 38%-40% score). Just 7% of the country has confidence in Congress (compared with 29% for the presidency and 30% for the Supreme Court, per Gallup. And when it comes to congressional productivity, the 113th Congress (2013-2014) has passed just 121 bills into law — fewer than at this same point in the historically unproductive 112th Congress (140 bills into law). Maybe it doesn’t FEEL worse, because there hasn’t been an epic showdown or confrontation like the government shutdown. But the numbers tell a different story — it has gotten worse.
From James Risen at the NYT, scary revelations about the murder of 17 civilians by Blackwater thugs in Iraq in 2007: Before Shooting in Iraq, a Warning on Blackwater.
“The management structures in place to manage and monitor our contracts in Iraq have become subservient to the contractors themselves,” the investigator, Jean C. Richter, wrote in an Aug. 31, 2007, memo to State Department officials. “Blackwater contractors saw themselves as above the law,” he said, adding that the “hands off” management resulted in a situation in which “the contractors, instead of Department officials, are in command and in control.”
I have a few more links, but I’m going to put them in comments; because I’m having terrible issues with WordPress today. I hope you’ll also post your thoughts and links in the thread below.
One of the things that really peeves me about a certain kind of ‘businessman’ is how they spin the tale of their success and forget that they were born having already passed go several thousand times while in utero with the help of their father’s success. There are two men that come to mind right now that act like they made it on their own like some kind of Mary Tyler Moore figure. One of them is Donald Trump. He likes to dance around lower Manhattan tossing his badly done hair up in the air. He didn’t have to make it after all. He had it made from the moment he gasped his first breath.
You probably need about one guess to figure who else I’m speaking about. The Donald inherited a lot of money and managed to screw things up badly. Government largess bailed out Donald Trump’s mismanagement of his vast inheritance. He’s about as self made as an iPad. Dubya Bush has a similar story. The Trump story is just one of many documented in a new book called “The Self-Made Myth: The Truth About How Government Helps Individuals and Businesses Succeed”.
Despite what Trump may espouse, his success would have been in no way possible without his father, the general public, and the US government. Unfortunately, Trump decided to forget or selectively ignore these truths while forming his political philosophy, a sentiment made particularly clear during his brief bid for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.
Trump was born in New York City in 1946, the son of real estate tycoon Fred Trump. Fred Trump’s business success not only provided Donald Trump with a posh youth of private schools and economic security but eventually blessed him with an inheritance worth an estimated $40 million to $200 million. It is critical to note, however, that his father’s success, which granted Donald Trump such a great advantage, was enabled and buffered by governmental financing programs. In 1934, while struggling during the Great Depression, financing from the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) allowed Fred Trump to revive his business and begin building a multitude of homes in Brooklyn, selling at $6,000 apiece. Furthermore, throughout World War II, Fred Trump constructed FHA-backed housing for US naval personnel near major shipyards along the East Coast.
In 1974 Donald Trump became president of his father’s organization. During the 15 years following his ascension, he expanded and innovated the corporation, buying and branding buildings, golf courses, hotels, casinos, and other recreational facilities. In 1980 he established The Trump Organization to oversee all of his real estate operations.
Trump eventually found himself in serious financial trouble. In 1990, due to excessive leveraging, The Trump Organization revealed that it was $5 billion in debt ($8.8 billion by some estimates), with $1 billion personally guaranteed by Trump himself. The survival of the company was made possible only by a bailout pact agreed upon in August of that same year by some 70 banks, allowing Trump to defer on nearly $1 billion in debt, as well as to take out second and third mortgages on almost all of his properties. If it were not for the collective effort of all banks and parties involved in that 1990 deal, Trump’s business would have gone bankrupt and failed.
This is just one more example of an extremely wealthy person that basically caught all the breaks in the world–including being spit out of the right VAGINA–that wants every one to believe he did it all on his own and that he owes nothing to any on else. It’s as much of a lie as the current twisting of the “you didn’t do that” speech by Obama. Just like ecosystems, a country’s economy is a grand experiment in obligate mutualism. Romney’s vast wealth is as much of an interplay between his job and our warped tax system and his father’s millions than just about anything else. He had access to tax shelters and tax rates that not even his father–as the CEO of a major car company–would’ve received. Yet, he insists he did it all on his own. Legacy be damned, I’m a self-made man!
Steve Rattner–an Obama surrogate and Private Equity Lord of the Universe himself–was on GPS on Sunday talking about the kind of tax dodges available to this business that are unavailable to every one else. Tax Dodging isn’t exactly one of those pull-yourself-up-by-your bootstraps kind of effort. Our two species in this country are definitely the uberrich and every one else. The uberrich financier is a subspecies all to himself. Hang with me on my mutualism metaphor because I’m about to introduce the idea of the parasite into our economic system.
“If you say to your tax people, as he seems to have done, ‘I want every trick in the book. I want to push this to the edge,'” Rattner said during an appearance on “Fareed Zakaria GPS” on CNN. “I will tell you that as a private equity guy, I’m familiar with many of the things that he did. And I know many people who have done many of the things that he did. I do not know anyone who did everything that he did.”
“Some of what he did, like the IRA, I have asked fellow private equity guys,” Rattner said, referencing the account in which Romney has stored up to $100 million tax-free. “None of us had even known this was a possible trick, if you will. He has pushed the envelope all the way to the edge, to his benefit, and I think that Americans would find that pretty distasteful.”
Romney has declined to release multiple years’ worth of tax returns, disclosing only those from 2010 and estimates from 2011. Rattner called Romney overly secretive Sunday, speculating that he was attempting to hide more instances of using innovative and questionable accounting tricks.
Indeed, all you have to do is look at the incredible amounts of money hidden from the taxing bodies of governments in the offshore banking centers of the world to realize the amount of lost possibilities and futures. No amount of books bought for the BYU library can offset the lost multiplying impact of buying power spinning through a domestic economy that hides, instead, in a bank in some offshore haven. It is the modern version of the plague in every economy of the world. It’s destructive.
A global super-rich elite has exploited gaps in cross-border tax rules to hide an extraordinary £13 trillion ($21tn) of wealth offshore – as much as the American and Japanese GDPs put together – according to research commissioned by the campaign group Tax Justice Network.
James Henry, former chief economist at consultancy McKinsey and an expert on tax havens, has compiled the most detailed estimates yet of the size of the offshore economy in a new report, The Price of Offshore Revisited, released exclusively to the Observer.
He shows that at least £13tn – perhaps up to £20tn – has leaked out of scores of countries into secretive jurisdictions such as Switzerland and the Cayman Islands with the help of private banks, which vie to attract the assets of so-called high net-worth individuals. Their wealth is, as Henry puts it, “protected by a highly paid, industrious bevy of professional enablers in the private banking, legal, accounting and investment industries taking advantage of the increasingly borderless, frictionless global economy“. According to Henry’s research, the top 10 private banks, which include UBS and Credit Suisse in Switzerland, as well as the US investment bank Goldman Sachs, managed more than £4tn in 2010, a sharp rise from £1.5tn five years earlier.
The detailed analysis in the report, compiled using data from a range of sources, including the Bank of International Settlements and the International Monetary Fund, suggests that for many developing countries the cumulative value of the capital that has flowed out of their economies since the 1970s would be more than enough to pay off their debts to the rest of the world.
Oil-rich states with an internationally mobile elite have been especially prone to watching their wealth disappear into offshore bank accounts instead of being invested at home, the research suggests. Once the returns on investing the hidden assets is included, almost £500bn has left Russia since the early 1990s when its economy was opened up. Saudi Arabia has seen £197bn flood out since the mid-1970s, and Nigeria £196bn.
“The problem here is that the assets of these countries are held by a small number of wealthy individuals while the debts are shouldered by the ordinary people of these countries through their governments,” the report says.
The sheer size of the cash pile sitting out of reach of tax authorities is so great that it suggests standard measures of inequality radically underestimate the true gap between rich and poor. According to Henry’s calculations, £6.3tn of assets is owned by only 92,000 people, or 0.001% of the world’s population – a tiny class of the mega-rich who have more in common with each other than those at the bottom of the income scale in their own societies.
“These estimates reveal a staggering failure: inequality is much, much worse than official statistics show, but politicians are still relying on trickle-down to transfer wealth to poorer people,” said John Christensen of the Tax Justice Network. “People on the street have no illusions about how unfair the situation has become.”
The fathers of Mitt Romney and Donald Trump did not have the ability to drain funds from the government while simultaneously hiding their personal fortunes on foreign shores all the while using obscene tax loopholes to dodge the responsibilities that each of us has to fund basic public goods in this country. Basic goods that every one uses. Looting vast amounts of economic welfare leads to concentration of wealth towards those who can game the system. Meanwhile, more and more of the country’s people no longer experience the benefit of the multiplying effect of having that wealth and money circulate through the domestic economy and, of course, provide tax revenues to fix roads, pay for defense and public safety, and provide for basic things like public education and public health services. It’s a major drain on an economy. It leaves every one worse off.
The ranks of America’s poor are on track to climb to levels unseen in nearly half a century, erasing gains from the war on poverty in the 1960s amid a weak economy and fraying government safety net.
Census figures for 2011 will be released this fall in the weeks ahead of the November elections.
The Associated Press surveyed more than a dozen economists, think tanks and academics, both nonpartisan and those with known liberal or conservative leanings, and found a broad consensus: The official poverty rate will rise from 15.1 percent in 2010, climbing as high as 15.7 percent. Several predicted a more modest gain, but even a 0.1 percentage point increase would put poverty at the highest since 1965.Poverty is spreading at record levels across many groups, from underemployed workers and suburban families to the poorest poor. More discouraged workers are giving up on the job market, leaving them vulnerable as unemployment aid begins to run out. Suburbs are seeing increases in poverty, including in such political battlegrounds as Colorado, Florida and Nevada, where voters are coping with a new norm of living hand to mouth.
What all of this should do is cause us to question the last 30 years of governance. What is it that causes the government we have now to continue to provide vast amounts of benefits and subsidies to people that really don’t need it? Every study shows the same impact. Entire economies are worse off. Yet, these people feel entitled and sneer at any mention of actually making money based on something other than preferential tax treatment and inheritance. Legacy admittance to good schools and jobs is just the first step in our country’s funding of men that inherit money and go on to drain more of it from the public coffers.
“Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me.” So wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald — and he didn’t just mean that they have more money. What he meant instead, at least in part, was that many of the very rich expect a level of deference that the rest of us never experience and are deeply distressed when they don’t get the special treatment they consider their birthright; their wealth “makes them soft where we are hard.”
And because money talks, this softness — call it the pathos of the plutocrats — has become a major factor in America’s political life.
It’s no secret that, at this point, many of America’s richest men — including some former Obama supporters — hate, just hate, President Obama. Why? Well, according to them, it’s because he “demonizes” business — or as Mitt Romney put it earlier this week, he “attacks success.” Listening to them, you’d think that the president was the second coming of Huey Long, preaching class hatred and the need to soak the rich.
Needless to say, this is crazy. In fact, Mr. Obama always bends over backward to declare his support for free enterprise and his belief that getting rich is perfectly fine. All that he has done is to suggest that sometimes businesses behave badly, and that this is one reason we need things like financial regulation. No matter: even this hint that sometimes the rich aren’t completely praiseworthy has been enough to drive plutocrats wild. For two years or more, Wall Street in particular has been crying: “Ma! He’s looking at me funny!”
Wait, there’s more. Not only do many of the superrich feel deeply aggrieved at the notion that anyone in their class might face criticism, they also insist that their perception that Mr. Obama doesn’t like them is at the root of our economic problems. Businesses aren’t investing, they say, because business leaders don’t feel valued. Mr. Romney repeated this line, too, arguing that because the president attacks success “we have less success.”
This, too, is crazy (and it’s disturbing that Mr. Romney appears to share this delusional view about what ails our economy).
What is really disturbing to me is the number of people that should really recognize all of this for what it is; complex privateering. There are a variety of species in an ecosystem with unique roles to fill. In economic systems, there also exists many institutions and people with unique roles. The one thing they both share besides that is their interdependence. Our economic system is a symbiotic system. Remember, there are three types of symbiotic relationships within both systems.
Mutualism-Both organisms benefit
Commensalism-One organism benefits, and the other is not affected in any manner.
Parasitism-One organism benefits, and the other is harmed.
Learn to recognize the parasites. Every time complex financiers rise to the top of the heap, the real economy suffers. They are not job creators.
In closing, here are a few thoughts from Teddy Roosevelt to give you a few hints. The last quote was written after the Panic of 1907. We’ve learned this lesson quite a few times in US history. Both times we had a Roosevelt who yanked us from the abyss. Funny that.
” Too much cannot be said against the men of wealth who sacrifice everything to getting wealth. There is not inthe world a more ignoble character than the mere money-getting American, insensible to every duty, regardless of every principle, bent only on amassing a fortune, and putting his fortune only to the basest uses —whether these uses be to speculate in stocks and wreck railroads himself, or to allow his son to lead a life of foolish and expensive idleness and gross debauchery, or to purchase some scoundrel of high social position, foreign or native, for his daughter. Such a man is only the more dangerous if he occasionally does some deed like founding a college or endowing a church, which makes those good people who are also foolish forget his real iniquity. These men are equally careless of the working men, whom they oppress, and of the State, whose existence they imperil. There are not very many of them, but there is a very great number of men who approach more or less closely to the type, and, just in so far as they do so approach, they are curses to the country. (Forum, February 1895.)
“It may well be that the determination of the government (in which, gentlemen,it will not waver) to punish certain malefactors of great wealth, has been responsible for something of the trouble; at least to the extent of having caused these men to combine to bring about as much financial stress as possible, in order to discredit the policy of the government and thereby secure a reversal of that policy, so that they may enjoy unmolested the fruits of their own evil-doing. . . . I regard this contest as one to determine who shall rule this free country—the people through their governmental agents, or a few ruthless and domineering men whose wealth makes them peculiarly formidable because they hide behind the breastworks of corporate organization.” (At Pilgrim Memorial Monument, Provincetown, Mass., August 20, 1907.)
Well, I ran a little long today and I didn’t even get to start in on Jamie Diamon and JPM. Oh, well what’s on your reading and blogging list?
I don’t wonder how these folks get their money or their positions. However, I do wonder if any one even listens to them. Oh, wait. One of them is running for president and the other is taken seriously in the media.
Where’s a guillotine when you need one?
Dianne Bauer opened up her cafe to Mitt Romney and his campaign for a small round table discussion Friday morning before his speech at Bayliss Park.
This isn’t the first politician that has asked Bauer to use the Main Street Cafe in downtown Council Bluffs.
“With Rick Perry he made a point of stopping in the kitchen before he ever went to the other side to address the public and the media to thank us and introduce himself to us,” said Bauer. “That’s what I thought we would get here, just normal. This was all out, like you’d think Obama was here.”
Bauer’s issues with the campaigns staffers started the night before when they started staging the cafe for the event.
She described many of their demeanors as “arrogant”.
She says her cafe was not treated with the respect it deserved.
“Stuff got broke. My table cloths they just got ripped off, wadded up and thrown in the back room,”
She says the boom truck she allowed the campaign to borrow to gain access to the roof now has an 8-inch gauge in it that she’ll have to take the time to repair.
The campaign told her to send them an itemized list of anything that was broken, and they would pay for it, but Bauer says that won’t fix everything.
“My dad’s picture, an emblem my dad gave me, it got broke. Those aren’t things you can replace,”
Bauer says she never even got to meet the candidate she closed half of her restaurant down for.
“Every time we tried to go out or look, secret service was right there,” she said.
She was complaining about the event to a friend when reporters overheard her and posted about it online.
That’s when Romney called Bauer himself. She says he explained that it was just a misunderstanding that she did not get to meet him, but the phone call didn’t smooth things over for her.
“He responded ‘well, I’m sorry your table cloths got ripped off, wadded up and thrown in the back room’ and I took it as mocking,” she said. “We’re the ones he’s wanting to get the votes from, you’d think we would have been treated better.”
She says the whole experience left her wondering.
“With how he treated me, is that how he’s going to treat others? You know, if he gets in office is he going to be that way to us little people?”
The always guillotine-worthy David Brooks proves to his again exactly why he is a public menace. He whines that there just aren’t any good ‘followers’ out there any more. I guess he’s in search of a new generation of true believers. I’m going to let you read Dean Baker who rips him a new one.
Nope, I’m not kidding. His column today is devoted to “the follower problem.” He is upset that people are cynical and don’t seem to trust the elites. Brooks tells us:
“I don’t know if America has a leadership problem; it certainly has a followership problem. Vast majorities of Americans don’t trust their institutions. That’s not mostly because our institutions perform much worse than they did in 1925 and 1955, when they were widely trusted.”
Let’s leave aside 1925 since it was a very different world. In 1955 the economy was growing at a healthy pace with workers up and down the income ladder sharing in the prosperity. They were seeing rapidly rising living standards and it was a virtual certainty that children would enjoy much better standards of living than their parents.
Brooks may have missed it, but the economy collapsed in 2008. This was not due to any external event like a massive drought or asteroid strike, it was due to fact that the people who design economic policy were too brain-dead to see the largest financial bubble in the history of the world.
The result of this failure is that tens of millions of people are unemployed, underemployed, or out of the workforce altogether. Millions more are facing the loss of their homes. And a huge cohort of baby boomers, many of whom spent their lives working at decent paying jobs, are approaching retirement with nothing to support them but their Social Security.
It’s enough to make me take up knitting.
OOPS wrong musical …