I joined in the March through downtown Ventura yesterday. Thinking about the passion of Christ that we will celebrate this Friday, I was inspired to carry two signs with me.
- Domestic Tranquility
- Common Defense
- General Welfare
- Blessings of Liberty
It’s not YOUR PRIVILEGE against MY PRIVILEGE. It’s OUR RIGHTS measured against the purposes served by their exercise.
Prior to 9/11, the most destructive terrorist attack in America was the bombing of the Murrah Building in 1995. One-third of the nine-story building was destroyed, and casualties were concentrated in the day-care center on the first floor.
The perpetrators of the attack, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, were motivated in part by the actions of the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms at Ruby Ridge, Idaho and Waco, Texas. Both incidents involved compounds led by apocalyptic leaders that believed the government was a tyrannical conspiracy. Disaster evolved when normal law-enforcement procedures were initiated against paranoiacs that resisted contact with the outside world. Their possession of gun arsenals was a particular problem.
Where most might have seen government missteps as indicating problems in practice in dealing with a new sub-culture predisposed to violence, the separatist militia movement saw things differently. Propagandized by Reagan’s “government has a boot on your neck” rhetoric and Gingrich’s anti-government messaging, the two incidents in jurisdictions a thousand miles apart were taken as proof of tyranny. Buoyed by this political rhetoric, McVeigh and Nichols saw themselves as freedom fighters, exercising their Second Amendment rights to strike a blow against the ATF agents housed in the Murrah Building.
Gingrich never recognized this connection, because his strategy had much narrower political motivations: attain Republican control of a Congress that had been dominated by Democrats since the New Deal. Rather than deal with specific issues, Gingrich attacked the government as a whole, indicting the Democrats by association. The reverence in which Gingrich is held by the movement reflects the continuing effectiveness of that political strategy: smearing government and blaming Democrats for all of its defects.
It’s the smearing government part that relates to mass murder in our public schools. To a young adult, a public school is the only governmental agency they interact with. When bureaucratic procedures fail to protect students from abuse (as in Columbine) or impose sanctions for paranoid aggression (Parkland), to justify mayhem the affected parties have only to make the same step made by McVeigh and Nichols.
What needs to be understood is that the National Rifle Association and Second Amendment zealots in the Republican Party advocate openly for that step. They characterize gun ownership as an essential element in maintaining a free society, a characterization that makes sense only if guns are actually used by individuals in resisting authority. It is this logic that requires the provision of military-style weaponry to the public, which when turned on unarmed civilians results in heartbreaking trauma.
So for Gov. Scott in Florida and others to assert that these incidents are reflections of “pure evil” should be seen as a self-indictment. These incidents reflect people doing what you tell them they should do, against a government that is incapable of controlling the dangers that your rhetoric incites.
In my last post, I took a long view of the process through which we as a nation have struggled against the forces of Mammon – the tendency to reduce all human relations to currency.
There are two positive paths forward from the crisis we are now in. The first is to trust in historical trends and human steadfastness. The second is to mature in our relationship with God.
History is on the Side of Justice
Hope is found in this simple historical fact: this pattern of oppression has been experienced again and again through human history. When wealth and production become decoupled (as we see with outsourcing from America since 1970), financiers eventually control politics because debtors must continue to pay interest on their obligations in order to maintain access to additional financing.
This is a fun game for the financiers until tangible goods begin to decay. This was first evident in the Rust Belt, but is now visible in America’s degraded infrastructure. Initially the cost of living rises as the population attempts to preserve its lifestyle, but in Detroit and Flint we see the end point: a dramatic decrease in the standard of living that drives down the value of property.
When there isn’t anything worth buying any more, what’s the value of money?
Ultimately this leads to the collapse of currency and the dissolution of nation states (such as during the American Revolution, driven primarily by taxation issues, and in current events as California and New York actively rebel against federal myopia on climate change, trade, human rights and taxation). In that liquidation, regulations are established to prevent recurrence.
Those regulations must cover the reach of the financial system, and so we see that government always expands in the aftermath of collapse. This happened not long after the Revolution of 1776 when the original Confederation of States was reorganized as a Federal system under the US Constitution. It occurred again after the Great Depression, when the bureaucracy was expanded to regulate interstate corporations. After World War II, the shell of global financial regulatory systems was set up in the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the European Union.
We should be encourage now that we are faced with the final stage of harmonization of financial regulation. Commerce is now global, and English is established as the language of business. All we have to do is organize the political will to establish that framework.
And, despite resistance, the financiers have always been unable to prevent that step – largely because they eventually discover that there’s nothing left to cheat out of the impoverished masses, and turn on each other. The financial game is no longer worth playing, and those that want to make money return to the problem of trying to create value.
Maturation in God
When asked about the age that we are in now, Jesus made vague remarks about “wars, and rumors of wars,” foul weather and disease. When I first read that material, I thought “Well, when has this ever NOT been true.”
But there was a reason, for Jesus had already told them the answer. The age ends when we learn to love God and our neighbor.
When I make this point to people, I follow it up with the observation that “there’s a conspicuous omission there.” Most of them recognize that it’s “myself.”
Loving unconditionally, as God loves us, has the problem that the beloved can abuse our trust. We see this arising again and again in the Old Testament. The Fall, the Flood, the silence in Egypt, the punishments for the Golden Calf, the rules regarding access to the Holy of Holies, and the Fall of Jerusalem are all motivated by the pain suffered by the Most High due to the infidelity of the Chosen People.
So love is metered out to us in the measure that we are trusted to use it. If we don’t respect God, we lose his love.
That shouldn’t surprise us.
In recasting faith as a process for regulating the flow of power from the Most High to our neighbors, Jesus was offering this wisdom: we are the instruments that God has placed on this earth to regulate the flow of power to others. God seeks to empower us, and when we empower others, their witness is a testament to our worthiness to receive power.
On the road to Jerusalem, the Apostles argued over the rights of each in the realm to come. Jesus rebuked them with the parable of the talents. Two beneficial paths are identified: if you have skills that will allow you to help others, God will give you power when you exercise them. If you do not have skills but invest your strength in support of those that do, God will give you power to facilitate that work.
But if you hide your power because you fear to lose it, you will be lost, because to enter the kingdom of heaven requires far more power than you can hold in your self. You can only enter in relationship with others that hold you in loving regard, preserving your spirit from the enormous forces that swirl around the Most High as he seeks to fulfill his compact with us.
How does this work against criminality in business? Because when we hold someone in our loving regard, we know when they are endangered. We can feel it even from a distance, and that knowledge forms a cyst around those that would do ill to us and others.
Of course, in that knowledge, we have two choices: we can choose to do unto the criminal as they did to us, or we can ignore them and focus on constructing functional relationships. When we get wrapped around the axle by management wrangling at work, this is what I tell my peers: “Forget them. We are here for each other, and every day that I am here I will do my best to help you succeed.”
This is what Jesus meant we he said “pick up your cross and carry it.” When we devote ourselves to that task, there is no weakness to exploit in the bonds of good will.
Conversely, we do create a culture that justifies financial fraud in that passive investments are merely an attempt to profit from the labor of others. If we are seeking to get more than we deserve, why shouldn’t our financial advisers do the same?
So this is the bottom line: stop worrying about yourself, and focus on caring for others. And as you do, remember this: there is a billion times as much energy leaving the sun than warms the earth. That’s enough energy for every eight people to have a planet of their own. There is nothing that we can’t do once we have earned the right to it, and nothing that we need fear from those that have.
Because we will rest secure in the knowledge that, as God, they exist only to love us.
The breadth of the GOP conspiracy in the 2016 election was illustrated yesterday when, in response to a demand from House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes that the FBI produce all documents related to the Steele dossier, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray scheduled a surprise visit with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.
Nunes, a member of the Trump transition team, is obviously a conflicted choice for chair of a committee so essential to unraveling the Russian investment in Donald Trump. The free press has been steadily amassing evidence that Trump is a Manchurian candidate whose political ambitions were stimulated and financed by Russia, and whose fragility and incompetence alone make it inevitable that American will be humiliated by the two criminal super-powers, Russia and China.
My guess is that Rosenstein and Wray presented evidence that Nunes has been interfering actively in the Russian investigation, probably by funneling information through to the Trump Administration, thereby confronting Ryan with criminal complicity if he did not act to protect the investigation.
But the American public should be tired of this charade. In hearing after hearing, Republican lawmakers have strutted and huffed and humiliated the most dedicated members of American law enforcement. Those individuals have been unable to defend themselves against slurs and innuendo because it would compromise the active criminal investigation led by Mueller.
So I hope that part of what Rosenstein and Wray conveyed to Ryan is:
Go ahead, punk: make our day.
If the investigation is shut down, all these figures will quit, and in defense of our democracy will air publicly everything that they know, exposing GOP criminality to domestic and international condemnation.
The only question left in the balance is whether the Republican base is sufficiently indoctrinated that they will swallow whatever Fox News broadcasts regarding the “Deep State.” Fox News claims that in order to protect the federal civil service jobs targeted by budget cutters in Congress, the right-wing leadership of the FBI is manufacturing evidence that the GOP is a criminal enterprise. That claim is ludicrous on its face, but if the base remains firm, the GOP may indeed be able to hang on to power in the mid-term elections, largely because they have gerrymandered the electoral map to disenfranchise Democratic voters.
But given recent special election results, the odds are long against it.
A Republican friend at work, in the immediate aftermath of the Trump victory, mournfully predicted the death of his party.
I fear that the other alternative is destruction of our democracy as it is transformed according to the Iranian, Chinese and Russian model: pro-forma elections among candidates hand-picked by kleptocrats dedicated to ensuring that the federal bureaucracy no longer intervenes in their rape of the middle class.
The GOP caucus in the Senate has indicated that it is unwilling to defend Special Counsel Mueller from attacks by the Trump Administration.
Why? Why stand up for the most unpopular president in the modern era?
Because the Russians didn’t just hack the DNC. They also hacked the RNC. And I’m certain that when those e-mails are released, we’ll discover that Priebus and Giuliani and the rest were engaged in selling out the American public to the global community of elite money-launderers. How do we know this? Because it isn’t an isolated incident. The Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision, authorizing unlimited campaign spending by corporations under the ruse that they were “persons” with protected free speech rights, was a narrowly partisan decision (Republican appointees over-riding Democratic appointees). And it covered for the fact that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce had been funneling illegal foreign money (primarily Chinese) into GOP coffers for years.
I’m certain that Mueller, in possession of thousands of Trump Transition e-mails, is already pursuing those links. We’ll see probably not only collusion with Russia and other foreign interests, but also collusion with the GOP Congressional Caucus in criminal misuse of government funds for political purposes in the Benghazi and Clinton e-mail server investigations.
The Congressional delegation isn’t fighting for Trump. They’re fighting for their Party. They’re fighting for their jobs. Jobs financed by foreign corporations whose only interest in American politics is that they gain a profit from their investments.
Stranger bed-fellows we have never seen. There’s no point calling them “low-life.” Their life expectancy is too low.
Maybe, in fact, they’re already dead, in the sense that they’ve sold their souls for power.
Maybe this is what the Zombie Apocalypse actually looks like. Not the undead wandering around mumbling “Brains…brains…” but “Rubles…yuan…”
Under Ryan and McConnel’s proposed tax plan, tax breaks for corporations will drive up stock markets, creating the impression that they are a more secure haven for retirement funds than Social Security. The Republicans will advance legislation to transfer Social Security obligations to private investment funds.
Remember that during the corporate restructuring of the ’90s, companies with well-funded pension plans were bought out, raided, and the folded up, leaving pensioners destitute. The new Social Security fund managers will reap windfall profits, and then default on Social Security commitments.
The New Deal recognized a fundamental fact that Republicans don’t wish to honor: “innovation” in financial services generates profits by churning wealth and increasing risk. That’s fine for those with money to play with, but the middle class needs a safe haven for its wealth. Those havens have been steadily decimated.
Prior to deregulation of the Savings and Loan industry, the middle class loaned money out to each other and earned interest on savings at a 1% differential. Today the differential is closer to 8%, and the profits go to Wall Street.
Prior to the regulations of the Affordable Care Act, which stabilized health insurance markets, the middle class paid for insurance and was denied coverage by corporation that hired huge teams whose sole purpose was to find technical errors in their applications for coverage. It was fraud.
And now we confront the desire to privatize our retirement planning. The financial industry drools over the huge pool of Social Security funds, but it is a temporary opportunity. Social Security comes directly off of our paychecks, and so reduces disposable income. Once that direct deduction is removed, people will be faced with a choice between putting money into a retirement fund and buying a fancier car or replacing a broken water heater,. Most of them will choose to spend the money, and the cost of living will rise to absorb all of their disposable income, eventually leaving nothing for retirement savings. This is what happened in the era before Social Security, and our country’s elderly were the poorest segment of society.
So, yes, Ryan and McConnell, burn down the house that Roosevelt built. Your friends on Wall Street, understanding the demographic realities, will siphon off the money to finance mansions on the pristine federal parkland that I am certain you will sell off to them. And you will be remembered as the facilitators of the greatest con ever run against the American people.
Here’s the prescription:
- Progressive corporate tax to punish monopolies and foster small business formation.
- Value-added tax to soften the transition to automation of work.
What follows motivates the prescription.
As a Christian, it is hard for me to focus on money. It’s not that I don’t understand economic and financial theory, it’s just that money isn’t important to the ends that I pursue. I seek, through this blog and other work, to heal the confusion that poisons our relationship with the Most High. That’s a difficult problem, demanding the fullest commitment of my energies.
As I told my sons in their formative years: “Money is a way of storing power. For those that commit all of their power to solving difficult problems, there is nothing left to store.”
Jesus warned us that “You cannot serve two masters…No man can love both God and money.” Therefore, in seeking to transform our relationship with the Most High, we do need to understand money, because it is a principle source of resistance to the rule of love. People that desire money desire it because the are selfish, and as I have explained out at Love Returns, selfishness is the opposite of love.
We have two looming disasters in our economy. The first is the destruction of the middle class by the richest members of our society, people such as Rupert Murdock and Peter Thiel that have no compunction about using their wealth to fund propaganda machines that demonize government. The second is the loss of blue-collar jobs, accessible to those with high-school diplomas, to automation.
The exploitation of resources has always been a foundational principle of American politics. Elected our first president, George Washington complained that he spent all of his time as a promoter of business opportunities in the nation’s undeveloped lands. That practice is enshrined in most of our state constitutions, where the first priority in land use policy is economic. At the federal level, conservation policy has limited the most brutal forms of resource exploitation.
Contract law provides a legal framework for exploitation of the last great resource: human potential. In the “Land of the Free,” the ability to enter into economic contracts is one of our most honored acts, though paradoxically it places us under the heavy hand of law enforcement when we have disputes. It is this that is decried in Revelation 13:18:
so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark – the name of the beast or the number of its name.
Murdock, Thiel, and their ilk know that they have attained wealth only through exploitation of investments made by others – investments accrued over millions of man years of public education and government-funded research, and trillions of dollars of infrastructure investment. Their attempts to limit their obligation to “pay it forward” are driven by greed.
Not being limited any longer by prudence or compassion, this class seeks economic dominance in their various industries. Concentration of industrial power is visible in all industries. It was decried as monopoly in the late 1800’s, and defense against it was established through the Sherman Act, the Clayton Act and the Federal Trade Commission. Those tools have become blunted in the last twenty years because trade has become multinational. Facebook and Google, the information service monopolies of our era, are not disciplined because they are American monopolists. The European Commission sees them as adversaries, of course, and Google, for one, is facing some large fines for monopoly conduct. But it’s not limited to high-tech: concentration is growing in telecommunications and financial services.
Fortunately, monopoly has one clear indicator: huge profits. In the personal tax code, we recognize that those making the most money also benefit most from public services, and tax them accordingly. We should do the same in corporate taxation. While large corporations use their market position to reap huge profits, it is small businesses that generate new opportunities and new jobs. We should reward them for their efforts. We need a progressive corporate tax code.
The middle class is not only being squeezed by monopoly pricing, it is being gutted by automation. Jobs are disappearing, and fast. On the immediate horizon is the loss of almost two million blue-collar jobs as shipping moves to self-driving trucks. But we see this throughout America: even as wages rise overseas, making local production competitive again, the factories that we are building use a fraction of the employees needed by their predecessors. All the material manipulation and most of the assembly is done by machines.
The factor that drives this investment is payroll reduction. A robot is a fixed-cost investment, does not ask for higher wages, and is subsidized by capital equipment tax write-offs. They are also far more precise in their work, yielding higher-quality goods that are preferred by consumers.
The replacement of taxed payroll expenses with tax-free capital equipment investment also hobbles government by restricting tax revenues. Clearly, our workforce needs new skills. Our youth are provided those skills for free by pubic education, but those skills no longer guarantee lifetime employment. People need to learn throughout their lives.
Employers, of course, don’t want to pay for that investment, because it creates opportunities for their best people to take positions elsewhere. So – as predicted by Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations – the tendency of corporations is to exploit workers until they can be replaced by machinery, and then to cast them aside.
Smith defined the theory of capitalism, and his prescription was simple: governments must tax businesses to provide workers opportunities to retrain when they are replaced by equipment. Governments starved of tax revenues by automation can’t provide that service, which means that America’s human capital is now going to waste.
The solution comes to us from policy-makers confronting outsourcing of jobs: in Europe, companies were caught out selling products “Made in England” that were assembled from parts produced overseas in low-wage markets. To limit that incentive, a “value-added tax” was created. VAT charges a tax on companies reflecting the increase in their wealth as materials move through a system to create a finished product.
While this didn’t prevent jobs from going overseas, it did ensure that government revenues were maintained to support retraining and job placement services. If applied to goods shipped into our lucrative consumer market, it is also a reasonable way to limit the social costs of overseas production by countries that choose to exploit both labor and the environment. If a car made in South Korea for $2000 and sold in South Korea for $6000 enters the American market to be sold for $20,000, well the South Korean manufacturer should pay a VAT when that product is unloaded at Los Angeles.
I know that my less liberal friends are put off by my campaign against fiscal conservatism.
But it’s brought us to this:
To say that I am ashamed is an understatement.
“In God We Trust.” “One Nation Under God.”
Right. Go ahead. Wrap yourselves in the flag, and brandish the cross while you shed tears over profits lost.
How long must we suffer this faithless perversity?
In watching the Republican Tax Deform bill works its way through the institutional process, I can’t help but see trolling in play.
Online, a “troll” has been determined to be a person that understands human psychology, and uses it to disrupt functioning social systems. They have all the tools necessary for compassionate engagement, but choose to use them to cause fear and pain.
You see this in the tax bill crafted by Ryan and McConnell. After accounting for the additional $1.5 trillion in debt that will accrue to the public during the lifetime of the program, only the rich will benefit from the bill.
Every successful troll claims a beneficial intent, and we see this advancing in the Republican policy program. Ryan and McConnell want to create a fiscal crisis so that they have a remit to cut middle-class entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare. This is a program that has been pursued by the Republican Party since the Reagan era. America’s $20 trillion public debt was amassed due to tax cuts for the rich advanced during eras of Republican control. They created the public debt, and now claim it as the reason to cut benefits established and paid for by the middle class.
To understand why these trolls are not exposed, we have to understand who benefits from their strategy. It is the financial system. Large money-center banks suck at the teat of government debt. They profit every time a government bond is sold and redeemed – and long-term deficits means that those redeemed must be replaced by new. They profit from fiscal irresponsibility in Congress. The same is true of our trade deficit: every time an American buys a Chinese product, dollars must be converted to yuan, which flow overseas and then come back to America as dollars that buy our government debt. Every step in that process makes money for the financial industry.
What should be alarming is that profits enjoyed by the financial industry accrue from the exchange of dollars that does not add value to our economy. The value of the dollars does not change – they simply move from place to place.
Wall Street is effectively a tax on Main Street.
What is painful is to realize how deeply this psychology has migrated downward into our economy. Payday lenders make short-term loans against future earnings, sometimes charging as much as 1/3 of the loan value for bridge financing that lasts only a week. In Kansas, the most successful franchise (raking in billions of dollars in profits) was started by three brothers that claimed Native American sovereignty to get around state regulations that prohibited predatory practices. Eventually, the FBI stepped in to tear down their empire. But as the empire collapsed, the remaining brother took the protected financial data and created a list of fake debt claims that were then sold on to the debt collection industry.
Yes, many debt collectors are no longer paid by claimants. They actually pay for debt listings, and do little to verify the validity of the claims. The Tucker family made millions by selling the fake debt claims to multiple debt collectors. Those debt collectors had mouths to feed and mortgages to pay, and the only way to make good on their investment was to get money out of the people whose private financial information they had acquired. The FBI is now investigating the abusive practices of the collectors working against those false claims.
The abusive behaviors of the financial system, libertarian politicians and online trolls are linked by another factor: their behaviors harm people that they don’t know personally. Safely at a distance, trolls reach out through our communications infrastructure to wreak havoc in the lives of their victims. The don’t have to confront the mounting desperation of individuals and communities ground down by their hunger for money or power. They simply acquire wealth that they use to finance the careers of politicians that oppose regulation of their industry.
This is what makes men like Paul Ryan so pitiful. They believe that they must be doing something good because people tell them that they are taking on a problem that poses an existential threat to our country: the federal debt. But the people that applaud his determination are those that engineered the creation of that debt, and that benefit most from its existence. The true motivations for their investment in politicians such as Ryan is to ensure that their wealth is protected when the system collapses.
Trembling underneath this juggernaut of debt, there are those in American commerce that still believe in producing goods for consumption, and that compete to create value for their customers. Working in the automation industry, I am conscious that the work that I do displaces workers, creating distress from a distance much as does the financial industry. But being involved with the creation of goods and services, I do feel the pulse of that part of the economy.
The mantra that is evolving is hopeful. On the surface, that is hard to see: robots are displacing blue-collar workers, and artificial intelligence is threatening knowledge workers. What remains for people to do, then, is to ensure that customers are happy and successful, building a base for repeat business.
In other words, while the masters of the universe troll society, on the ground people are focused on learning to care for each other.