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Your retirement plan and Wall Street

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A new book is out that takes a look at how Wall Street siphons money from US retirement plans. Pam Martens reviews it in Wall Street on Parade:

The riveting writer, Michael Hudson, has read our collective minds and the simmering anger in our hearts. Millions of American have long suspected that their inability to get financially ahead is an intentional construct of Wall Street’s central planners. Now Hudson, in an elegant but lethal indictment of the system, confirms that your ongoing struggle to make ends meet is not a reflection of your lack of talent or drive but the only possible outcome of having a blood-sucking financial leech affixed to your body, your retirement plan, and your economic future.

In his new book, “Killing the Host,” Hudson hones an exquisitely gripping journey from Wall Street’s original role as capital allocator to its present-day parasitism that has replaced U.S. capitalism as an entrenched, politically-enforced economic model across America.

This book is a must-read for anyone hoping to escape the most corrupt era in American history with a shirt still on his parasite-riddled back.

Hudson writes from his most powerful perch in chapters describing how these financial parasites have tricked our society into accepting them as a normal, productive part of our economy. (Since we write about these thousands of diabolical tricks four days a week at Wall Street On Parade, poignant examples came springing to mind with every turn of the page in “Killing the Host.” From the well-placed articles in the Wall Street Journal to a front group’s pleas for more Wall Street handouts in a New York Times OpEd, to the dirty backroom manner in which corporate speech was placed on a par with human speech in the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, to Wall Street’s private justice system and the Koch brothers’ multi-million dollar machinations to instill Ayn Rand’s brand of “greed is good” in university economic departments across America — America has become a finely tuned kleptocracy with a sprawling, sophisticated public relations base.

How else to explain, other than kleptocracy, the fact that Wall Street’s richest mega banks collect the life insurance proceeds and tax benefits on the untimely deaths of their workers – all codified into law by the U.S. Congress – making death a profit center on Wall Street. Or, as Frontline revealed, that two-thirds of your 401(k) plan over a working lifetime is likely to be lost to financial fees.

Hudson writes: “A parasite’s toolkit includes behavior-modifying enzymes to make the host protect and nurture it. Financial intruders into a host economy use Junk Economics to rationalize rentier parasitism as if it makes a productive contribution, as if the tumor they create is part of the host’s own body, not an overgrowth living off the economy. A harmony of interests is depicted between finance and industry, Wall Street and Main Street, and even between creditors and debtors, monopolists and their customers.”

What has evolved, says Hudson, is that Wall Street banks have “become the economy’s central planners, and their plan is for industry and labor to serve finance, not the other way around.”

To gloss over the collapse of this depraved economic model in 2008, Hudson says these Wall Street central planners simply depict “any adverse ‘disturbance’ as being self-correcting, not a structural defect leading economies to fall further out of balance. Any given development crisis is said to be a natural product of market forces, so that there is no need to regulate and tax the rentiers.”

Similarly, when citizens rise up en masse to demand a realignment of their economy, as happened with the Occupy Wall Street movement, first the public relations masterminds dismiss them as an unhinged gathering of smelly hippies, followed by their violent eviction in the middle of the night, with military precision, by the Praetorian Guard of the kleptocracy. In Manhattan, the Praetorian Guard (NYPD) has a high-tech surveillance center mutually staffed by cops and Wall Street personnel – andmainstream media find nothing unusual about this.

Hudson correctly calls 2008 a “dress rehearsal,” writing that “Wall Street convinced Congress that the economy could not survive without bailing out bankers and bondholders, whose solvency was deemed a precondition for the ‘real’ economy to function. The banks were saved, not the economy.” Hudson adds that the “debt tumor” was left in place. (This is the nightmare we are presently watching unfold.)

The result of the systemic disabling of regulations on Wall Street has resulted in the following, says Hudson: “…the wealthiest One Percent have captured nearly all the growth in income since the 2008 crash. Holding the rest of society in debt to themselves, they have used their wealth and creditor claims to gain control of the election process and governments by supporting lawmakers who un-tax them, and judges or court systems that refrain from prosecuting them. Obliterating the logic that led society to regulate and tax rentiers in the first place, think tanks and business schools favor economists who portray rentier takings as a contribution to the economy rather than as a subtrahend from it.” (But, of course, those business schools are financially incentivized to think that way.)

The outgrowth of these tricks to make parasites appear to be a natural appendage to a well-functioning economy results in a “veritable Stockholm Syndrome.” Hudson explains:

“Popular morality blames victims for going into debt – not only individuals, but also national governments. The trick in this ideological war is to convince debtors to imagine that general prosperity depends on paying bankers and making bondholders rich – a veritable Stockholm Syndrome in which debtors identify with their financial captors.”

Hudson has much to say on the perversity of corporations buying back their own stock. In one chapter, Hudson writes:

“In nature, parasites tend to kill hosts that are dying, using their substance as food for the intruder’s own progeny. The economic analogy takes hold when financial managers use depreciation allowances for stock buybacks or to pay out as dividends instead of replenishing and updating their plant and equipment. Tangible capital investment, research and development and employment are cut back to provide purely financial returns.”

On the timely debate over wealth and income inequality, Hudson writes that “Asset-price inflation is the primary dynamic explaining today’s polarization of wealth and income. Yet most newscasts applaud daily rises in the stock averages as if the wealth of the One Percent, who own the great bulk of stocks and other financial assets, is a proxy for how well the economy is doing. What actually occurs is that financing corporate buyouts on credit factors interest payments and fees into the prices that companies must charge for their products.”

Where this leads, says Hudson, is that “Paying these financial charges leaves less available to invest or hire more labor. Likewise for the overall economy, the effect of a debt-leveraged real estate bubble and asset-price inflation is that interest payments and fees to bankers and bondholders leave less available to spend on goods and services. The financial overhead rises, squeezing the ‘real’ economy and slowing new investment and hiring.”

Hudson is clearly on to something. The U.S. seems to be crashing like clockwork every 8 years with the crashes gaining in intensity. The 2000 dot.com crash wiped $4 trillion out of investment accounts while, 8 years later, the 2008 crash brought down the whole financial system, the U.S. and global economy, and it’s still producing a dead weight on economic growth. Next year will mark the eighth year since the 2008 crash and if last week’s market convulsions were any indication, we’re in for some very rough sledding.

Chapter 8 of “Killing the Host” begins with this quotation from John Maynard Keynes: “When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done.” Hudson expands further: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 August 2015 at 12:53 pm

Canada provides a good example of government authoritarianism in how it treats government scientists

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In Motherboard Stephen Buranyi describes the struggle to enable Canada’s government scientists to communicate with the public:

As a scientist employed by the Canadian government, every question Janet receives from a journalist or member of the public must be screened by a media officer. These officers decide what questions reach her, and have the final say on what answers come back.

“They have a list of ‘hot-button’ issues that can’t be mentioned, like climate change, or the oil sands. They say ‘Don’t use that phrase’ or ‘Don’t connect it to industry X,’” said Janet, an Environment Canada researcher who agreed to speak about her experience on the condition we use a pseudonym. She fears she may lose her job for speaking openly about policies that she feels have led to her scientific work being repeatedly censored and misrepresented.

“They’ve told me: ‘Say you don’t know the answer to that question,’ even if I do,” she said. “They make me look like an idiot.”

While it is certainly not unusual for government departments to have a media office, the way the Canadian government has systematically used them to restrict the public’s access to researchers and their data has sparked outrage from scientists around the world.

The media officers usually request that questions be sent to scientists by email. Phone and in-person interviews are rarely granted, and it’s not always clear to journalists which questions will be answered, or even who is doing the answering. Instead, the media office may remove the original scientist’s name and return answers attributed to an unnamed group.

From the inside, the system is equally faceless. Janet said that correspondence is carried out through a single departmental email address. She said there are clearly multiple people using the account, but they never identify themselves. They just filter and edit and tinker with the information, in total anonymity.

Canadian journalists were the first to raise the alarm about the practice, what is now known as “muzzling,” around 2008. It was then they realized that the rules had changed, and media officers were preventing them from talking to scientists they previously had no trouble contacting. Since 2012 there have also been significant cuts to scientific programs, with thousands of jobs lost at government research departments. The cuts are projected to continue, and research centered on the hot buttons—climate, energy, and environment—will be taking the biggest hits.

Despite regular media coverage, none of it kind, little about the situation has changed. Like many Canadian scientists, Janet feels that her work is being disrespected and devalued by a government that cares more about message control than the research she was hired to do.

“From here, it really does seem like they hate science,” Janet said.

This has put Canadian scientists in a very uncomfortable place. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 August 2015 at 8:57 am

Posted in Government, Media, Science

Comparing countries: Number of homicides by firearms per million people

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Australia is particularly interesting. They had little gun control until there were several mass shootings, whereupon they (quite sensibly) enforced rigorous gun control, though people can still own and use rifles, shotguns, and handguns—but they are controlled. More info in this post, including descriptions of the events that triggered the change, the key event being the Port Arthur massacre:

Gun laws in Australia became a political issue in the 1980s. Low levels of violent crime through much of the 20th century kept levels of public concern about firearms low. In the last two decades of the century, following several high profile multiple murders and a media campaign, the Australian government coordinated more restrictive firearms legislation with all state governments.

A common misconception is that firearms are illegal in Australia and that no individual may possess them. Although it is true that Australia has restrictive firearms laws, rifles and shotguns (both of which include semi-automatics), as well as handguns, are all legal within a narrow set of criteria. . .

The Port Arthur massacre in 1996 transformed gun control legislation in Australia. 35 people were killed and 23 wounded when a man with a history of violent and erratic behaviour beginning in early childhood[19] opened fire on shop owners and tourists with two semi-automatic rifles. Six weeks after the Dunblane massacre in Scotland,[14] this mass killing at the notorious former convict prison at Port Arthur horrified the Australian public and had powerful political consequences.

The Port Arthur perpetrator said he bought his firearms from a gun dealer without holding the required firearms licence.[20]

Prime Minister John Howard immediately took the gun law proposals developed from the report of the 1988 National Committee on Violence[21] and forced the states to adopt them under a National Firearms Agreement. This was necessary because the Australian Constitution does not give the Commonwealth power to enact gun laws. The proposals included a ban on all semi-automatic rifles and all semi-automatic and pump-action shotguns, and a tightly restrictive system of licensing and ownership controls.

More at the link. And, as you can see below, the measures worked.

gun homicides per capita

Written by LeisureGuy

26 August 2015 at 12:54 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government, Guns

The Wisconsin water-fight reminds me of all those treaties we made with Indians “as long as grass shall grow and water run” and then broke

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When the going gets tough, the tough ignore what they had agreed to. Monica Davey has a very interesting report in the NY Times of an opening salvo in the war for fresh water.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 August 2015 at 3:34 pm

Interesting reflections on the Ashley-Madison hack

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By Spocko at Hullabaloo:

Hey, did you read that Josh Duggar was on the Ashley Madison list? And it wasn’t a fake email address either! He confirmed it!

I know that some people get a feeling of joy or pleasure seeing Duggar suffer more misfortune. That’s nice for them. But with all the genuine suffering that this exposure will be causing innocents, can we at least get something good out of it?

The media are already using it for their headlines, therapists and divorce lawyers will be using it to get new clients. But can we get more out of this hack than media hits and billable hours?

We know that some people use disasters to profit, others to push an agenda. “We are going to turn Iraq into a free market paradise using these Heritage Foundation interns!”

I propose we have a couple of items to push on our agenda.

First, increase the importance of privacy in both private governments and corporations. Second, use this data to show the problem with passing judgement on the private lives of ordinary people.

As Glenn Greenwald pointed out in his piece, The Puritanical Glee Over the Ashley Madison Hack,

[None of us should cheer when the private lives of ordinary people are indiscriminately invaded, no matter how much voyeuristic arousal or feelings of moral superiority it provides. We love to think of ourselves as so progressive and advanced, yet so often leap at the opportunity to intervene and wallow around in, and sternly pass judgment on, the private sexual choices of other adults.

But, what are the concrete things we can change beyond trying to change attitudes? [Emphasis added, since this is key: What to do, specifically? – LG] How about a focus on . . .

Continue reading.

It is in fact a well-thought-out list of specific, concrete steps. Well worth reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 August 2015 at 2:50 pm

The Black Lives Matter policy agenda is practical, thoughtful — and urgent

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Very interesting, and it has the potential to make a big difference. Radley Balko reports in the Washington Post:

Last week, the leaders of Black Lives Matter* released a series of policy solutions to address police killings, excessive force, profiling and racial discrimination, and other problems in law enforcement, called “Campaign Zero.” Critics and police organizations have portrayed Black Lives Matter as radical, anti-police, and anti-white. But the policies Campaign Zero is pushing are none of those things. Instead, they’re practical, well-thought out, and in most cases, achievable. Most will also directly benefit everyone — not just black people.

In most cases, the policies Campaign Zero is suggesting are already in place in one or more police departments across the country, and Campaign Zero points this out. That’s smart, and I suspect that it will prove to be effective. It makes it more difficult for police groups to portray those proposals as “anti-cop.” But it also makes it easier to pitch those ideas to policymakers and the public. They’ve already been field-tested. As a set, these policies are more a list of “best practices” than revolutionary reform. A few of the proposals will be a tougher sell, but even those are far short of world-shaking. There are no calls to disarm the police. No calls to abolish law enforcement agencies. No demands that police unions be prohibited. This isn’t a fervid manifesto. It’s a serious effort to solve a problem. (Its practicality is undoubtedly born of urgency. There’s no time for wild-eyed ideology when people are dying.)

This isn’t criticism, but praise. These are proposals that will almost certainly have an impact, even if only some of them are implemented. The ideas here are well-researched, supported with real-world evidence and ought to be seriously considered by policymakers at all levels of government.

Here’s a quick rundown: . . .

Continue reading.

A step taken with hope, and a good hope: something that will help us all. And, as Balko points out, these are not mere aspirations, these are things actually being done in some police departments. It’s totally possible.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 August 2015 at 1:23 pm

Heinz Ketchup today is “tomato seasoning,” not “ketchup”

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Heinz Ketchup contains 21% tomato concentrate. Israel requires ketchup to have 41% tomato concentrate. So in Israel, it’s Heinz Tomato Seasoning.

Story here.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 August 2015 at 12:59 pm

Posted in Business, Food, Government

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