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Monday, June 19, 2017

Let's Be Clear: Governing Does Involve Regulation

 U.S. Rep. Claudia L. Tenney (R-NY 22nd) is applauding House passage of the Financial Choice Act which, she claims, will free Wall Street from many of the constraints put in place after the 2008 financial crisis in the Dodd-Frank legislation. She claims loosening of regulations on Wall Street firms will help to grow the economy.  Last time (and every other time) we have loosened regulations for the Financial Business, the economy may have grown somewhat, but mainly for the rich and powerful who were the clear winners.  Let’s review a bit of recent history.
 
First, it was the lack of financial restraints under the Bush Administration that got us into the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.  A housing crisis taught us that mortgage lenders were not solvent enough to back-up their products and were using account monies to invest in near fraudulent stocks.  The complicity and scheming of too-big-to- fail banks and other financial firms led to bail-outs that further weakened the economy.  Because of lack of fiscal restraints, and sometimes despite existing laws and regulations, Wall Street, multi-national corporations and financial institutions wreaked havoc for the 99% of us living below the highest tax brackets.  The middle class was devastated.  The poorer members of society were caught in a whirlwind of economic assault. 
The Dodd-Frank bill was one way to put on the brakes and to restore some sanity to the economic system.  But Republicans, who believe firmly in trying the same old failed policies repeatedly -- theories and policies that do not work for democracy - became the Party of “NO.”  They obstructed every jobs bill, every infrastructure bill, every equal pay for women bill, and every bill that tried to give a boost to those living at poverty level, including the Affordable Care Act (derisively called “Obamacare”).  They succeeded in being the Party that slowed the recovery for the 99% of us while the 1% or less of the richest people in our nation prospered on the backs of all those who were suffering the consequences of Republican do-nothingness.
And now, Ms. Tenney wants us to swallow her line that “Americans have seen the worst economic recovery in 70 years.”  And she added: “Hardworking taxpayers have seen their paychecks stagnate, mortgages have grown increasingly expensive and small business owners are unable to access the capital they need to grow their businesses and to create jobs.”  But, whose fault is that?  She seems to imply that it is the fault of a past administration, and we all know which one she means. 
But, here’s the rub, when the Republicans took control of the House in 2010, and then of the Senate in 2014, they have done very little or nothing to advance the standing of blue collar or white collar workers.  On the contrary, they have spent all their time playing politics with recovery, blocking legislation that would have put unemployed people to work, or trying to get rid of every social program they term as a “hand-out” or “social welfare.”  In other words, Tenney’s own Party has been the major contributing factor to the decline and fall of the middle class, to the lack of healthcare access for every child in this nation and to that slow economic recovery.
Let me make one more point in this regard.  It has been the Republican Party that has tried to eliminate every organized entity that might lend-a-hand to consumers in general.  They started on Affordable Health Care (ACA) repeal early which has culm innated in their abominable legislation that will leave at least 20 million people uninsured. And within the ACA, they targeted the appeals panel that would have given consumers a voice and support when Big Pharm and large insurance companies tried to cheat them out of coverage or access to services.  Look carefully consumers: there has been a covert aggression by Republicans on Consumer-based advocacy units throughout government, and you will have little recourse left if you want to grieve any decision by these huge companies.  Let me simply list some of those consumer-oriented agencies and programs that have been weakened or eliminated by the legislative mouthpieces of the wealthy.
Head Start – it isn’t just day care; it was also designed to help parents advocate for their children
Universal Pre-k education:  not passed due to Republican opposition, even though early education has been shown to bolster the chance for good outcomes throughout later grades
Consumer Protection Agency -- Republicans are working on a new plan for weakening the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau by stripping the agency of its independence and severely limiting its ability to go after corporations. House Republicans intend to de-fang the consumer protection agency and make it more susceptible to political leverage by granting more control and oversight to the White House so the agency director can be fired by the President.  In addition to the leadership changes, the CHOICE bill would strip the agency of its power to enforce a law that bans companies from using “unfair” or “deceptive” practices. That would bar the CFPB from being able to take enforcement actions against some financial companies such as Wells Fargo.  A staff attorney for the National Consumer Law Center said the proposals would "kick the legs out from under the CFPB," which reported it had provided nearly $12 billion in relief and assistance to more than 29 million consumers from its 2011 opening through the end of February 2017.
Planned Parenthood – not just a center for abortion counseling and procedures, or access to contraceptives, but a clinic designed to support women’s health and to encourage women to advocate for themselves.  Republicans have always feared the advocacy of the underclasses because they know how often and how thoroughly they have robbed those classes of resources, dignity and money to enrich themselves.
Legal Services Corporation – has been gradually eroded by Republican budget cuts and is now marked for elimination in Trump’s Budget. 
Here are some other quasi-advocacy groups targeted for major cuts in the Trump Budget:  Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Community Action Agencies, Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigations Board, U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness.  It is possible that the Trump administration will not be satisfied until all forms of citizen advocacy and appeal are undermined.
Tenney’s parting shot is pure political gibberish: “It will require financial institutions to be strongly capitalized to lay the groundwork for a stable resilient financial system that can support a robust economy.”  Translation:  What the Financial CHOICE Act will do is to strip away restraints upon commercial activity so that capitalist oligarchs can proceed to enrich themselves once again at the expense of all those who work hard just to live from paycheck to paycheck. 
Let me be quite clear here:  The ‘Free Market’ does not exist except in the fantasy world of conservative ideologists who want you to believe that freedom is that with which markets and marketeers concern themselves.  Don’t be bamboozled by their devaluing of the word ‘Free.”  Capitalists are only concerned with what advances profits.  That is their greed creed.  They could care less about freedom, equality, justice, or any other values of a Democracy.  Those are not their core values unless they can be used to sell you something! 
Let me be crystal-clear:  the values, aims and hoped-for outcomes of Capitalism – Big Business – Financiers – Banks – and for-profit industries are very rarely compatible with the values, aims, and hoped-for outcomes of a Democracy.  They are indeed, at most times, incompatible with one another. (see my posting of April 15, 2017)
So, let us be even clearer:  the role of democratic government is not to accommodate, inculcate, or boost the aims, values and purposes of Capitalism (except when doing so can bring greater freedom, opportunity, justice and equality to all its citizens).  The role of a democratic government in relation to capitalism and business enterprises is not to do their bidding, but to uphold, as its primary responsibility, the constitutional verities on which this nation and its government was and is founded. 
One of the major faults of Capitalism and business enterprises is that they have an unfortunate tendency to want to control government, to use government, and to weaken the power of government to direct their enterprises and their outcomes.  What they forget and often ignore is that they are creations of the State with certain responsibilities spelled-out in their charters and documents of incorporation.  They are not ‘persons’ or ’individuals’ or ‘citizens’ with inalienable rights and freedoms, despite the egregious error of the SCOTUS in declaring them to be such in relation to free speech in the “Citizens United” decision.  There is absolutely nothing in the Constitution which would support that conclusion.
Therefore, it must be made abundantly clear that IT IS THE RESPONSIBILITY OF OUR DEMOCRATIC GOVERNMENT to restrict, regulate, direct and call to account all business enterprises in order to place upon them the duty and obligation of acting as creatures of this democratic form of Government.   The values, truths, freedoms and the responsibilities of this Democracy come first; the operation of business enterprises must be brought into accord with those democratic principles. 
Congresswoman Tenney has another assertion in her statement that cannot go unchallenged.  She said, “In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, Washington Liberals passed the Dodd-Frank Act with the promise that this sweeping legislation would provide a stronger, healthier economy.  Instead Americans have seen the worst economic recovery in 70 years.”
Having already dealt with the last part of that quote, let us concentrate on the first part.  Evidently, Tenney fails to comprehend that the Dodd-Frank legislation was primarily designed, not to build a stronger economy (except as a by-product) but to curtail and prevent financiers, bankers, industries and corporations from continuing practices that, in the final analysis, seriously harmed and hurt millions of fellow-citizens of our nation.  Dodd-Frank took on the anti-democratic values and behaviors of unscrupulous practitioners of unprincipled profit-taking and profit-making, and offered a message that must be heeded:  capitalism must work within the confines of democratic and constitutional principles and values.  Neither Capitalism nor other entities (such as Religions and Educational institutions) can be given a green light to make up rules that circumvent the law – this is a government of laws, not of men or of business enterprises, and Capitalism must be restrained when it chooses to circumvent its democratic responsibilities.
I have submitted to you my criticisms of Congresswoman Tenney’s statement.  Perhaps Congresswoman Tenney doesn’t know her history, doesn’t understand the intent of the Constitution (it’s in the Preamble), or doesn’t have the capacity to deal with the demands of her oath of office.  Or, maybe she is just parroting a Party line or an abusive right-wing ideology that is, at its core, anti-democratic.  She seems to believe strongly that her role, and the role of our government, is to bolster the economy and to strengthen Business of all sizes by removing restraints, restrictions and regulations (or whole laws as in the case of the ACA) that were intended to prevent businesses from exploiting citizens, laws, courts, tax codes and legislation for their own aggrandizement.  Perhaps too, she has little understanding of the radical Far Right cohort that has more than once reared its ugly head in the form of big business oligarchs who despise democracy.  Furthermore, it seems to me she may harbor a limited view of just what her oath of office means:  uphold the Constitution and its principles as your primary responsibility instead of acting as though the business of governing consists mainly in supporting oligarchs and plutocrats like Donald Trump and his multi-millionaire/billionaire Cabinet.
There is this simple fact to consider: there are no references in the Constitution to protecting, boosting, or even supporting Capitalism and Big Business interests, although there are a few references to regulating Commerce with other nations and restricting commerce between the states, and there is also mention of protection for inventions, property and copyright.  In contrast, there are many references to supporting the welfare and freedoms of the People, as citizens and voters.  So, here’s a bit of advice for Congressional representatives:  
First, do no harm to the People;
Second, look after the welfare of your at-home constituency above that of your group of "sponsors" 
Third, put business interests in proper perspective and guard against their takeover of government, and replacement of democratic values;
Fourth, make your oath of office real by putting liberty and justice for the 99% of us above the protection of the wealthiest and most privileged <1 among="" span="" style="mso-spacerun: yes;" us.=""> 
If you can’t get on-board with these fundamentals, then I suggest retiring from elected office!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

FOLLOW THE MONEY

Comey testifies and indicates the number of times he told Trump that he was not under investigation.  Trump thinks he’s out from under a ‘cloud.’  There’s just one problem.  There is a special counsel about to carry out an investigation into the whole matter of Russian involvement in the election of 2016.  This presumably will include a look at any possible collusion between Trump staff and the Russians, and certainly into any indication of Trump involvement in the matter of covering up that collusion.  Indeed, the Senate Intelligence Committee will be continuing its investigation, and it is highly likely – even without Comey at the helm – the FBI will continue its investigation unless the new FBI Director pledges a total loyalty to Trump (which in itself may provoke charges of cover-up from many in authority).    
So, in spite of Trump’s personal lawyer and his fawning congressional die-hard protectionists (like Claudia Tenney of congressional district 22 in New York), Donald Trump is in no way out from under a cloud of suspicion and inquiry into his and his staff’s involvement in Russian interference in our elections.  Given the ‘nature of the man’ to which Comey referred, there is bound to be more to investigate. After all, there is still the matter of the two Russian diplomats visiting Trump in the White House and what kind of intelligence may have been passed on to them during such time the American press was neither present nor invited.
And then, there is that thread that so far has been under-played, under-reported, and under-researched (except for Rachel Maddow, of course!).  Isn’t there a famous phrase that is often uttered in circumstances involving multiple threads or leads or circumstances that have been difficult to decipher, understand or relate to one another?  Yes, there is, and it should be quite familiar to you – FOLLOW THE MONEY!!  Let’s take the rest of this space to explore some elements that were not even mentioned in Comey's hearing, but which must be of some interest to the FBI, to the members of the Senate investigating committees and certainly to the newly-named Special Counsel.
1)  Laundering of money from Russia.  Rachel Maddow and others have focused on this, particularly in regard to certain banks that have been handling transfers of funds that may have made their way to Trump Enterprises. One of those commentators is the U.S. edition of The Guardian, another is MotherJones, the Washington Post and The Hill.com.  They have researched some of the reports of money-laundering by the Russians through Frankfort, Germany’s Deutsche Bank.  Here are a few quotes that give some of the flavor of this laundry campaign.

“The German bank that loaned $300m (£260m) to Donald Trump played a prominent role in a money laundering scandal run by Russian criminals with ties to the Kremlin, the Guardian can reveal.  Deutsche Bank is one of dozens of western financial institutions that processed at least $20bn – and possibly more – in money of “criminal origin” from Russia.
The scheme, dubbed “the Global Laundromat”, ran from 2010 to 2014. Law enforcement agencies are investigating how a group of politically well-connected Russians were able to use UK-registered companies to launder billions of dollars in cash.  
Deutsche’s Private Bank – the division that lends to Trump – appears in the Global Laundromat scheme. Sources suggest that many of its clients are rich Russians, typically with personal assets of $50m-plus. According to Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung, Deutsche processed more than $24m of Laundromat cash in 209 transactions.”(The Guardian) 
Although the news didn’t make much of a splash during the 2016 campaign, Trump paid a $10 million fine to the U.S. Treasury in 2015 for his bankrupt Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City because it failed to meet anti-money-laundering requirements. According to the Wall Street Journal, ‘Regulators said the casino failed to establish and implement an effective anti-money-laundering program, failed to implement an adequate system of internal controls, and failed to properly file currency transaction reports or keep other required records.’
It is already a matter of public record that several Trump-affiliated businesses and associates are connected to alleged Russian money-laundering operations. The Washington Post has described Trump’s 30-year history of business dealings with Russian oligarchs and government officials, which began when there was still a Soviet Union. “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” Trump’s son, Donald Jr., told a real estate conference in 2008, according to an account posted on the website of eTurboNews, a trade publication. “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”
According to an investigation by USA Today, wealthy Russians and oligarchs from former Soviet republics invested extensively in Trump’s real estate developments over the years. Court cases and other legal documents show President Trump and his companies have been linked to at least 10 wealthy former Soviet businessmen with alleged ties to criminal organizations or money laundering.”  (Mother Jones)
YES!  FOLLOW The MONEY!

2)  Real Estate – what is the story with the property sold by Trump to a Russian oligarch for a huge profit beyond its worth? 
“Recent revelations that Trump bought a certain house in Florida in 2004 for 40 million dollars became notable lately — the subsequent sale of that home having netted him a substantial profit. This is the property that he sold to a certain Russian Oligarch for 95 million, more than doubling his money.
Why would someone pay a price deemed to be way over market value? That’s the question. This kind of sale is not unknown; these kind of arrangements are a common tactic by which people sink their money into countries like the US, paying way above actual value to do it. How does over-paying for a property make business sense for the buyer? There are two reasons. Number one, the money may need to be laundered because it is not legit. The second reason has regard to the first. The person selling the property agrees to kick back the buyer some of that excessive profit after the sale.” (hereandsphere.com)
“Based on Trump’s legal-but-questionable money-laundering of property purchased from him by Russian oligarchs in the United States, transactions which seem to cast a growing shadow over now-President Trump, is it possible these transactions indicate a wider financial deal, one that set something in motion that even Trump himself at the time did not grasp, but thought nothing of beyond a healthy sale to a generous foreign national?  Something he thought, at the time, he could distance himself from and control ?
Something he never imagined was as widespread and profitable that it might motivate cyber-terrorist efforts to meddle in an election of the President of the United States. Now that he’s President, these financial deals he has ties to he not only has been trying to hide but literally now has to hide. Because they indicate something way beyond conflict of interest. Did Russia work to make him president even if he himself never expected to be? If so, this would indicate something remarkable: there is a Russian gun to his head. The gun may be an international entanglement beyond our wildest imagination. The true art of the deal is just that- art. And Russian money. Money they’re parking in America.  Now he’s president, not only is he literally hoping this all just goes away (it won’t), but he has to run this country and he doesn’t know how to govern much less run a country.” (hereandsphere.com)
3) More broadly, what “emoluments” is the President, or his family business, receiving from foreign powers?  Fortunately, Attorneys General of certain states like Maryland  are suing Trump in court, claiming that this President, because he has not fully placed his businesses and assets in a Blind Trust, is accepting emoluments from foreign countries whenever he uses his real estate or name brand to charge foreign dignitaries a fee. 
According to experts, President Donald Trump’s continued ownership interest in the Trump Organization means that he is in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, which prohibits the president from personally benefiting from actions taken by foreign governments and their agents. Will media hold Trump accountable for this impeachable offense or will they normalize his flagrant violation of the supreme law of the land”(mediamatters.org)
Legal Ethics Experts: “The Best Reading of the Clause Covers Even Ordinary, Fair Market Value Transactions That Result In Any Economic Profit Or Benefit To The Federal Officeholder.” The clause does not just cover “sweetheart deal[s]” because “emoluments are properly defined as including ‘profit’ from any employment, as well as ‘salary,” meaning “it is clear that even remuneration fairly earned in commerce can qualify,” according to an analysis published by the Brookings Institution. It was authored by legal ethics experts Norman Eisen, a former Obama administration ethics attorney and current chair of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington; Richard Painter, a former Bush administration ethics attorney and current vice chair of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington; and Laurence Tribe, a leading expert on constitutional law and professor at Harvard University Law School. [Brookings Institution, 12/16/16]

These are a few examples of Trump’s use of the Presidency to line his own pockets.  There are more, but space does not permit the detailed explanation of all of them.  It is time to realize that this man’s “art of the deal” is at the core of his value system and his approach to life.  He can no more stop acting as he acts than he can stop his breathing to a point of no return.  This is a man hooked on the thrill  of all that goes into deal-making, and the resultant defeat of opponents.  I have no doubt that he has committed impeachable offenses, and I believe the money trail will be the path to that ultimate action goal. So, let our fact-finding, our investigations, hearings and research all be aimed at FOLLOWING the MONEY, for that is where Trump’s misdeeds have always taken root.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Is Government Now a Tool?

It is, as they say, past time to speak plainly about what must be done to rescue this country from an errant path.  It is past time to admit that money and privilege, and the power that accompanies them, are keys integral to many of our societal problems and our inability to effect necessary changes in our systems of economics and governing. 
It’s been said that “Money is the Root of all Evil.”  That axiom is not totally true: it is not money per se that causes problems and chaotic outcomes: it is the love of money.  Moreover, it is the abuse of wealth or riches that causes difficulties for others and for the institutions that enable us to function as an ordered and benevolent society and government. 

When wealthy men and women, corporations and retail giants, as well as for-profit service enterprises believe that they have no particular responsibility for the un-wealthy or the unhealthy, the uneducated, or for those with challenges brought on from beyond ordinary human control, there has occurred a disconnect of profound consequences.  When the wealthy no longer see themselves as defenders of those who are poor, widowed, orphaned; sick, infirm, or who happen to be different in class or status from them, there has occurred a wrenching twist of democratic and humanistic values.  This is a crisis of major proportions; for when the rich see no obligation or responsibility for persons in need, or for a society that has enriched their fortunes, they have abandoned a moral compass that binds societies together, especially those societies that have a basis in democratic values of human rights, dignity, opportunity and mutual responsibility for each other. 
 The present situation in which we find ourselves is not simply one of inequality and disconnect.  It is rather a situation akin to highway robbery and criminal neglect. By eschewing the responsibility of caring for people who lack what they possess, or by taking from the poorer and middle classes a goodly portion of their wages, rights and opportunities, certain wealthy individuals and businesses and corporations have gained ever broader wealth, privilege and power but we do not.  They advance on the backs of the rest of us by their well- planned (perhaps nefarious) schemes and scams designed to rob the 99% while fulfilling or enhancing the status and power of the 1%.  What is terribly sad is the lack of understanding by too many of the 99% that the rich and the powerful tend to want to control our society. (See the list of questions posted on 4/5/2017 to illustrate just this point).
We will not have true service of the People again by citizen representatives committed to their constituents until we break the stranglehold that the Elite 1% now exert at so many points in our economic and governing systems.  Let’s take a brief look at some of the manipulations they perform as a part of “doing business” in three common areas of our lives.   
A)    Insurance – taking advantage of life’s exigencies: we have been thoroughly bamboozled and ripped-off by private insurance companies and yet we continue to believe in them and even protect them from “government encroachment or takeover.”  The word “socialism” applied to government operation and oversight of health care apparently still frightens many to the core of their being.  Other key words and phrases continue to extend one of the largest scams in the history of economic propaganda.  We are quick to react when we hear that government-run plans will take away choice of ‘doctor’, or cause ‘waiting lines’ for treatment and surgery, or ‘take away’ our freedom to choose a plan that suits a person’s or family’s particular needs. Yet, we fail to recognize that private health insurance companies are the very ones who perpetrate all of these restrictions and penalties.  If "Trumpcare" becomes law, we shall soon enough experience all the penalties, limitations and restrictions that they will be free to impose once again. 
What other rip-offs and scams do the insurance giants foist upon the public.  We have enough time to mention a few out of many:
·         They use the language of insurance policies to confuse the consumer.  So, before we ever use our insurance or file a claim, we are mesmerized by the language of the policy to the extent that we finally give-up and trust in what the agent tells us is in there.
·         Have you ever in your life been given a thorough explanation of how your premiums are calculated, and to what purposes they are assigned?  Have you ever understood how your premium increases are figured or what exactly the increases cover?  Have you ever been appraised of what portion of your premiums goes to administrative overhead and how much is applied to your benefits?  Do you have any idea whatsoever how much your insurance company spends on overhead like staff, buildings, advertising, equipment and supplies and upkeep, and how that affects your premiums and your benefits and the restrictions placed on your policy?  Of course not.... 
·         To carry this just a bit further, do you happen to know that the CEOs of the major health insurance and drug companies receive outrageous salary packages that influence how premiums are figured and how claims are processed?  Ever considered why it sometimes takes forever to process large insurance claims while premiums must be paid on-time or you risk losing coverage? No?  well maybe the following list of salary packages paid to CEO’s in healthcare insurance and drug companies will help you put this in some perspective.
Leonard S. Schleifer Regeneron Pharmaceuticals (REGN)        $28,337,520                          
Michael F. Neidorff Centene (CNC)                                          $21,968,983  
Christopher A. Holden Envision Healthcare (EVHC)             $21,726,391  
Daniel P. Amos Aflac (AFL)                                                        $20,412,010                                       
Alan B. Miller Universal Health Services (UHS)                        $19,823,149   
Walter W. Bettinger II Charles Schwab (SCHW)                      $19,547,649    
Yes, we are talking here of compensation packages in the millions per year, and some reports include other types of income not included here.
B) New Car Purchases – the system is rigged and you are the victim.  “MSRP” (‘Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price’) is the beginning of several steps designed to develop as much profit as possible for the dealer.  MSRP – nothing more than a mark-up on what it actually costs to manufacture the car. Find actual costs of car parts and accessories on websites like www.edmunds.com or www.carbuyingtips.com.
By the way, in how many cases when you are buying something, must you sit down and negotiate a final price?  Except for those who make negotiation a way of life, ordinary consumers usually pay a fixed or advertised or sale price for merchandise or services, except perhaps for a big-ticket item like a house or a car.  And why is that negotiation so important?  Because it gives the advantage to the seller who is the only party present who knows the actual value or worth of the product.  The consumer is generally in-the-dark, unless, of course, he or she does some extensive preparation by trolling web sites for ‘wholesale prices’ or ‘stock prices’ ‘dealer cost’ or ‘average selling price in your area.’  How many consumers actually prepare in that manner?  Who knows? – a small fraction most likely. 

So, what else goes on that is likely to leave you, not only bamboozled, but less solvent than when you started down this road to a new vehicle?
·     Extra Fees – beware the dealer’s ‘prep. fee’, a ‘destination fee’ that manufacturers supposedly charge the dealer, and a ‘doc. fee’ to cover all the documents that have to be filled out.  

·    Extras you Don’t Need—beware the “sit-down” with the “financial advisor” or the “business manager” who wants to wrap up the deal but who first wants to make sure you know about items that may be crucial for you and the life of your new car, like: under-carriage protective coating or over-all rust protection or an extended warranty or a lifetime service contract, or some other useless gimmick that increases your final cost but mainly adds to the dealer’s profit.
·    Added Accessories – the salesman by a certain point has probably sized-up your characteristics as a consumer, and will inevitably attempt to draw your attention to some of the quality accessories not regularly available on the model you have chosen.  They will range from specialty tires to extra protection for the finish of the car like mudguards, side panels, rear bumper guards, etc.  How about an enhancement of the computer system or of the GPS or of the sound system, or maybe of the alarm system?  Or, perhaps you might like the special they have this month on a one-time-only basis.  It could be just about anything, and you might jump at its exclusivity.  Don’t! You can probably buy it cheaper at some auto supply store.
·    Financing—these dealers are good customers of banks; they have an inside track but you do not.  They can up the dealer’s profit by selling you a dealer interest rate on which they are earning a profit.  Best practice if you can: have financing all worked out before you even enter the dealership.  Or, if you can’t do that, at least have knowledge of the various rates available at local and nation-wide lenders, so that you know what rate is acceptable and not exorbitant.

We could go on forever about auto dealer and manufacturer scams, but instead, let’s see what is happening with the retail treatment of death and sorrow.  It’s not pretty.



C) Funeral Business—built on the human inevitabilities of death and sorrow, the funeral industry encompasses a wide-range of products and services that ultimately depend upon deeply ingrained emotions, myths and beliefs.  Profit-mongers tend to take advantage of such built-in feelings and biases in every business because of the ability to manipulate and influence the people caught in their strong hold upon the psyche. The funeral business is apt to use acceptable forms of manipulation such as sympathy, empathy and personal attention and support as their tools in well-hidden attempts at squeezing out the most profit imaginable from caskets, flowers, burial fees, preparation of the physical corpse for viewing, or even of the action of cremation. 

Of course, the ‘advance planning’ of funerals is now in much favor because although made in advance without the deep emotions attendant upon a current death, there is a tendency to play upon feelings of what is appropriate and meaningful and thoughtful and acceptable within society’s norms and standards.  So, there is still a manipulative set of emotions, myths and beliefs upon which to feed. Let me mention just a few of the ‘tools’ used to boost profit.
·         The Lists:  “at initial contact, federal law requires that funeral homes provide you with three pricing lists: one for all goods and services offered, another for caskets and a third for grave liners or "outer burial containers. This so-called Funeral Rule also forbids funeral homes from requiring services that must be optional by law (such as embalming), or insisting that caskets and other items be directly purchased from them as a condition of providing memorial services. Nor can you be charged extra for services if you choose to buy the casket elsewhere, a common way to save money.  The Federal Trade Commission (which oversees the Funeral Rule) conducts undercover visits to test compliance. In recent years, roughly 1 in 4 funeral homes surveyed by this method was in violation in some way, most often for failing to provide pricing lists.” (AARP)
·         Pre-Paying: another AARP caution relates to pre-payment for funeral services during advanced planning.   “A recent FBI bust of a prepaid funeral scheme (found) some 97,000 people in 16 states lost more than $450 million in funeral goods and services that were paid for in advance but never provided. Even with well-established, legitimate funeral homes... you need to consider: ‘If you retire out of state, will your prepaid funds be honored? State laws vary on whether prepaid funds are transferable — or by how much. Will that home still be in business when you die’?”
  • Protective Gasket Scam – according to www.scambusters.org, “
    “The protective casket has been called the biggest rip-off in the funeral industry. The gasket costs $12 to $20, yet funeral homes typically charge $700 more for models with gaskets than for those without.  The Funeral Help Program says the gasket can actually have exactly the opposite effect. The Funeral Rule forbids claims that “protective” features like the gasket help preserve the remains indefinitely, because they don’t. They just add to the cost of the casket.”

Again, let me be clear:  Not all businessmen and women are involved in schemes and scams that bilk the public in order to boost profit.  On the other hand, the profit motive is very much ensconced in all business operations and in those who operate them.  And for those who seek to reach a high degree of success and wealth, it is the prime motivation.  For everyone in business, it is at least a part of their modus operandi and of their guiding purpose and principle. 
Let me also be clear in saying that I have chosen three examples of businesses that indicate that the profit motive is very real, and, because it is present in all of business-for-profit, there is no one who is free from the temptation to boost profits by the use of some form of consumer manipulation or by actual fraud.  In fact, some manipulative measures are so accepted or ingrained that neither the consumer nor the seller realize they have taken part in a rigged system or a rigged transaction.

In conclusion, I venture to offer the following thoughts for your consideration:
1.   We cannot continue to allow business and the wealthy to dictate the outcomes and directions for this country; to dictate public policy, or to direct public functions like elections and voting, the military, education, etc. 
2.   We cannot continue to believe and act as though government is best run according to business principles or values because the pursuit of profit or monetary power is a hindrance to equality, liberty and the public’s interest. In addition, there is no such thing as “free markets” or “laissez-faire” capitalism; there are only advantages/disadvantages; buyers/sellers; winners/losers; boosters/detractors, power/lack of power.  In essence, we might want to take seriously the proposition that business principles and free market and trickle-down ideology are basically anti-democratic.
3.   We must resist all attempts to de-regulate business and industry, including the financial industry.   Well-reasoned regulation in the public interest is a necessity or our democratic form of government will be put at risk.  It is already at risk under the de-regulatory orders issued by authoritarian Trump, and it will be in final jeopardy if Congress is not provided with the necessity and incentive to reverse course.
4.   Capitalism and Democracy can co-exist, can cooperate for the good of the private citizen, and can work together to achieve great things for society, with one caveat.  Big Business or Capitalism cannot be allowed to capture and direct government, as it now does through highly- paid lobbyists, large unaccountable third-party PACs, and complete access to sponsored and bought politicians.  In order to protect and defend our constitution and its democratic principles, government must always be the regulator of industry and business, not the other way around (as has been made clear in just a few months under the Trump regime!)  

5.  The basic principles of Capitalism and Democracy are not the same (see the chart in my last post), and business will always use and manipulate governmental entities to its own ends.  In case you haven’t realized the danger before, remember--to all who live by profit as their primary motive, Government is a tool to be used for profit-making, not a democratic structure meant to preserve human rights, individual equality, freedom for all, equal justice, or the pursuit of happiness through equality of opportunity.
6.   It is my opinion that Donald Trump epitomizes this.  He is clearly using every governmental tool under his command to enhance his fortune – why else do Ivanka and Jared get to attend meetings with (and apparently negotiate with) government officials from other countries in which Trump either already has projects operating, or countries in which he wants to build, develop or sell to the advantage of Trump Enterprises?  And what is the Russian connection all about? I believe fervently it is about money being laundered and funneled to Trump Enterprises in expectation of Trump support for a “new relationship” with Russia. Wait and watch...and always “follow the money.”
What can we do as private citizens?  Hit where it hurts the most – at profits.  If companies that support Trump (and support all or some of his “de-construction” of democratic values and government) begin to feel the pinch of monetary boycotts, they will in the determinate pursuit of profits, begin to reverse their support of Trump.  So you might begin where a group called CPD (Center for Popular Democracy) has already started: by contacting certain CEOs whose companies (CPD claims) are “Backers of Hate” and should be boycotted.  Check this out at: http://www.backersofhate.org/en/?source=cpda

 NEWS ALERTTonight on NBC, 'Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly' began broadcasting, and one of the stories included an account from a whistleblower.  The targeted business was known for a drug product that is very restricted as to its use.  It is a toxic drug and is capable of injuring people; even capable of causing death and has already done so. The story of the company's complicity in manipulating people (including doctors) and of unrestricted sales to increase profits was the theme as it is in this Blog post. How long will it take to understand the toxic consequences for all of us when the business sector's obsession with profit is placed above the prime importance of human lives?

    

 

  

 

                                                                  

                                                                  

 

Monday, May 15, 2017

MOTHER KNOWS BEST!

It is Mother’s Day 2017, as I sit down to write this posting.  It is, to say the least, a confusing time.  The confusion stems not from the fact that it is Mother’s Day, but from a much more obvious, much more complicated, source.

The confusion emanates from a brand of governing that is uncommon to our nation as a whole, and to our people as individuals.  In spite of all that mothers in general try to teach and display in their mothering and in their living, there is a demonic spirit on display that somehow has managed to grab onto power in all parts of our governmental systems, and to place in jeopardy all that we have learned, generally speaking, from our mothers (and fathers as well).   
If your mother is anything like my mother – God rest her soul – you probably learned, or were given, some of the following attributes and axioms:

·         A sense of right and wrong
·         But, no matter how wrong you might have been at times, she still loved you and cherished you just because you were her child
·         A sense of responsibility: of caring about yourself, your family, your neighbors, your school, your teachers, your friends, your community; yes, and even about your world. 
·         And along with that sense of responsibility came a sense of accountability – that it mattered how you behaved, how you talked, how you interacted with others; it mattered enough that if you failed to measure up, there could be a punishment or penalty or confession, or a personal apology or some sort of recompense that somehow was meant to set you on a proper course again.  In some circles, that accountability was expressed as penance or atonement or perhaps as punishment.
 Turns out, it was more like character-building – an inner sense and understanding that you, as an individual, had a responsibility to conduct yourself in a manner that came from within, that showed what kind of person you were, and what mattered in the scheme of things.  It came down to accepting responsibility for your beliefs and your actions, as well as being willing to somehow make amends when you did not measure up to your ideals or to the standards or norms of the various communities within which you functioned. 
·         Oh, of course, sometimes Mom threw in a little bit of “guilt-sense” as well, and used that to help you understand that “feeling guilty” for something said or done is not always a bad approach.  It can be a means of building character; or used too often, can also erode one’s sense of self-worth.    
·         But, I suspect, in general, that Moms are the quintessential source for gaining that sense of self-worth.  They tell us how great we are, how well we did, how proud they are, how touched they were by our thoughts, our gifts, our actions, our talents – you name it – Moms generally have a way of expressing that one thing that all sons and daughters need: that sense of knowing that you make a difference; that you are important to somebody; that you are unique in some way that matters to someone; that you can accomplish things that you didn’t know you could; that you have something about you that can contribute to others; that you are special.
 I weep for those who did not gain this from either parent or from a significant parental figure because of unusual circumstances.  And, although this won’t sit well with those who belittle the mutual responsibility we have toward the welfare of others, I can’t help but believe that one of the duties of society – of government and of private sector enterprise – is the oft-neglected mentoring of the young, the provision of new opportunities for developing a sense of self-worth and engagement in community-building and service that leads to a sense of responsibility and accomplishment.
·        And finally, there is that ingredient that cannot be overlooked or down-played.  Moms simply try to love you no matter what.  That is their greatest gift, of course.  Not only does it appear to be a gift they possess, but it is a gift that they give to their children in every way they possibly can.  Some have failed to do so; we cannot expect perfection.  But most mothers simply lavish love upon their children and grandchildren, and that is why we celebrate Mother’s Day.
So where does this sense of confusion come from that I mentioned at the beginning?  It comes very simply from a loss of some of these values that mothers possess and demonstrate.  It comes from a new brand of governing that excludes some of our most cherished norms and standards.  It comes from a cohort of voters who seem to believe that it is all right to turn our ideals upside down so that we say one thing but do another.  It comes from a philosophy and belief system built not upon responsibility, accountability and opportunity, but upon a principle of might-makes-right; separation from certain people defined as inferior or maladjusted.  It comes from a belief that being great or being first or being the winner means denigrating others.  It comes from a sense that one cannot trust the words or statements of leaders whom we have elected or appointed to important offices of government or of large corporations.  The confusion comes when debate and discussion and research; analysis and targeted problem-solving are all abandoned in favor of distorted opinions, lies, made-up problems, and the orders of one-man-in-charge.  In such a situation, confusion is inevitable and chaos reigns.
 
But now, as of this moment, we have moved to another level of confusion and chaos, for we have moved to a level where the leader (Fuhrer?) has begun to tear down the very fabric of our government.  We must understand that when a president begins to obstruct the lawful mechanisms of governing is when the entire structure begins to be eroded.  The firing of James Comey as Director of the FBI, based, not on cause, but on the leader’s opinion that Comey was “not doing a good job.” This marks the turning of political disagreement into illegal activity that reminds one clearly of the Nixon era when the same-type obstruction occurred.  Our representatives in Congress acted then as they should have.  The current representatives, in the Republican Party at least, are hiding from their responsibilities, and attempting to let such actions “blow over” just long enough so they can gain re-election.  They are themselves tearing at the fabric of our checks and balances system of governing by their neglect of the constitutional responsibility of their co-equal branch of government.
Confusion is too weak a word in this circumstance.  We are besieged by a lack of character, of courage and of accountability.  We are in danger of ignoring the threat to our democratic ideals.  We are too accommodating and we are too kind-hearted, and we too often lean toward waiting to see what will happen, hoping that everything is going to work out well.  But in the case of lethal attacks upon our way of governing and upon our truths, ideals, principles and virtues, we cannot wait for an outcome that will never occur.  We cannot take the chance that too many countries have taken by ignoring and under-estimating those who intend to “deconstruct” or to destroy what has been built by forbearers and folk heroes and ordinary citizens. 
We must hold office-holders accountable for their misdeeds and their misbehaviors and even their misspoken words.  Moms know what psychiatrists have studied and absorbed:  that malfeasance must be acknowledged, pointed out and punished as close to the wrong-doing as is possible.  Otherwise the importance of accountability for wrongdoing is diminished.  So far, Mr. Trump has been given too many passes and allowed too many excuses for his behavior.  It is time to stop the charade and to let everyone know that this emperor has no clothes.
Using government for one’s own profit is not appropriate, so let us continually remind all who will listen that Trump has inappropriately allowed his daughter and son-in-law to use his picture and his office to enhance profitability; to attend political and/or governmental meetings at which his daughter had no other business than the family business with the foreign dignitaries present.  And then there is Trump Towers as well as many more Trump properties.  They are monetarily cleaning up with payments for accommodations, meetings, conferences, gatherings and meet and greets for all manner of people with connections to other governments, or to national enterprises that can be either exploitive or exploited for financial gain.
But, all that may pale in comparison to the debacle of recent days, as the leader has not missed a chance to be impetuous, imbecilic, impulsive, bumbling, caught in untruths, and making up items (tapes of Comey) that probably do not exist.  However, should a Nixon-style taping system exist in the Oval Office, there must be repercussions of major proportions.
Moreover, the optics of a leader of this country meeting in the Oval Office with two apparatchiks of Russia, and now accused of sharing highly classified information with them - while excluding American journalists from the meeting; instead allowing TASS to publish the story of the meeting - amounts to a picture that cannot be endured.  All of this while most likely under investigation for improper connections to the Russian leader and Russian oligarchs and to their hacking and interference with our 2016 elections.  And that’s not all – here is the former candidate who belittled, attacked and denigrated Hillary Clinton for possible exposure of classified information in her emails on a private server, whom he called a criminal who should be locked up.  If Trump is shown to have given highly classified information to the Russians while meeting with them in the Oval Office, he has gone beyond misbehavior to traitor.  Time to deliver a suitable recompense for this entirely unacceptable behavior.  Talk about high crimes and misdemeanors – if he keeps it up, the list of impeachable offenses will go on for pages! 
It is past time for an independent investigator/prosecutor to take charge of this whole Trump debacle!