The System is Rigged with Political Leadership kowtowing to Big Business/Big Donors…So it’s the workers & the middle class who lack a voice/influence in DC.  And President Donald Trump is playing right into this corporatist/crony-capitalist system.  The articles below pulled from the newsfeeds this week largely reveal how the system is rigged, becoming the government of the powerful people, by the powerful people, for the powerful people.  If Americans really want to make real all those echo-buzzwords we hear from Trumpeters, like MAGA, drain the swamp & fight the deep state, the change must come from politicians representing the American people over special interests.  Jumping into the articles, these excerpts from most-americans-arent-wealthier-donald-trump-became-president-survey-finds show most Americans aren’t feeling the economic miracle Trump keeps referring to:

While President Donald Trump frequently claims credit for the country’s strong economy, a majority of Americans say their personal finances have not improved since he was elected. Asked whether their financial situation was better, worse or about the same as two years ago, 45 percent of respondents in a Bankrate 2018 midterm election survey released Wednesday said their finances were about the same, and 17 percent said they were worse. Only 38 percent of respondents said they were better off. “Wages are taking a slight uptick, but people in general are not seeing huge bumps in their salaries or wages that would make them say, ‘Oh wow, things are really getting good,’” Margaret Simms, an economist and nonresident fellow at the Urban Institute, told Bankrate. “People may feel more secure and not worried about losing ground, but they feel they have not gained a lot of ground.”

 

As with many issues, people’s economic outlook depended on where they fell on the political spectrum. Republican survey respondents were more likely to attribute their improved financial situation to Donald Trump (60 percent of Republican respondents said they were better off, 9 percent said their financial situation was worse and 31 percent said their finances were about the same). Meanwhile, 29 percent of Democrats said they were better off, 23 percent said they were worse off and 48 percent said their finances were about the same. Among those who said their financial situation had improved, 24 percent attributed the improvement to Trump, 3 percent attributed it to Republicans in Congress and 15 percent said both were responsible, while a notable 55 percent said neither were responsible.

 

Again, Republicans were more likely to attribute improved finances to Trump, at 39 percent. Five percent of Republicans attributed the improvements to the GOP, and 27 percent attributed improvements to both the president and the Republican Party, according to the survey. By contrast, only 7 percent of Democrats said their finances had improved because of Trump, Republicans in Congress, or both. Early this month Trump tweeted that the stock market had “reached an All-Time High during my Administration for the 102nd Time, a presidential record, by far, for less than two years.” He also tweeted, “So much potential as Trade and Military Deals are completed.” Economists warn, however, that a major fallout could result from the tariffs Trump has imposed on Chinese imports and other foreign goods.

The Wealthy hold the Power in DC & find it hard to Relate

Another underhanded way the system is rigged against workers is found in non-compete-clause-low-wage-workers-lawsuits-rights.  If we wonder why we do have such a crony capitalist system that is indeed rigged in favor of the wealthy, a big reason is explained in these excerpts patched together from working-class-income-inequality-randy-bryce-alexandria-ocasio-cortez.  Workers don’t have a strong voice in large part since the barriers to them holding elective office are major obstacles:

The president is the billionaire head of a global business empire, and his mostly millionaire Cabinet may be the richest in American history. His opponent in the 2016 election was a millionaire. Most Supreme Court Justices are millionaires. Most members of Congress are millionaires (and probably have been for several years). On the other end of the economic spectrum, most working people are employed in manual labor, service industry, and clerical jobs. Those Americans, however, almost never get a seat at the table in our political institutions. Why not? In a country where virtually any citizen is eligible to serve in public office, why are our elected representatives almost all drawn from such an unrepresentative slice of the economy? This year, it might be tempting to think that working-class Americans don’t have it so bad in politics, especially in light of recent candidates like Randy Bryce, the Wisconsin ironworker running for the US House seat Paul Ryan is vacating, or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the former restaurant server whose primary election win over Democratic heavyweight Joe Crowley may go down as the single biggest election upset in 2018. In reality, however, they are stark exceptions to a longstanding rule in American politics: Working-class people almost never become politicians. Ocasio-Cortez and Bryce make headlines in part because their economic backgrounds are so unusual (for politicians, that is). Their wins are stunning in part because their campaigns upset a sort of natural order in American politics.

 

Even in the information age, working-class jobs — defined as manual labor, service industry, and clerical jobs — still make up a little more than half of our economy. But workers make up less than 3 percent of the average state legislature. The average member of Congress spent less than 2 percent of his or her entire pre-congressional career doing the kinds of jobs most Americans go to every day. No one from the working class has gotten into politics and gone on to become a governor, or a Supreme Court justice, or the president. And that probably won’t change anytime soon. The left half of the figure below plots data on the share of working-class people in state legislatures (which tend to foreshadow demographic changes in higher offices) and the percentage of members of Congress who were employed in working-class jobs when they first got into politics. This ongoing exclusion of working-class Americans from our political institutions has enormous consequences for public policy. Just as ordinary citizens from different classes tend to have different views about the major economic issues of the day (with workers understandably being more pro-worker and professionals being less so), politicians from different social classes tend to have different views too.

 

So why do so few workers run for office? I’ve been researching this question for the past decade, and I think the answer is right under our noses: campaigns. It is the thought of losing income or taking time off work that uniquely screens out working-class Americans long before Election Day. When the price of competing is giving up your day job (or a chunk of it), usually only the very well-off will be able to throw their hats into the ring. We’ve heard the same story for decades: If we could reform lobbying and campaign finance and get a handle on the flow of money in politics, the rich wouldn’t have as much of a say in government. If we could promote broader political participation, enlighten the public, and revitalize the labor movement, the poor would have more of a say. The key to combating political inequality, in this view, is finding ways to make sure that everyone’s voices can be heard — and the idea of giving workers influence inside government has never been a part of the mainstream reform conversation. That may change someday, and I hope it will — especially considering the practical and political roadblocks facing other reforms like increasing voter turnout and reforming the campaign finance system. Campaigns have a built-in bias against working-class candidates. Call it an unintended consequence, a glitch in an otherwise admirable system, a side effect. Whatever it is, it isn’t a necessary evil, or an inevitability. Politicians work for you. If you don’t like what the millionaires have done with your government, fire them. 

Listen to a Wise Old Fed Chairman

A former Fed chair is also chiming in on our plutocratic system of governing, tarnished by the corrosive influence of big money seen in excerpts from volcker-warns-of-us-descent-into-plutocracy:

Volcker discussed his upcoming memoir, “Keeping At It: The Quest for Sound Money and Good Government,” which will be released Oct. 30. The book’s publisher moved up its release date by a month after Volcker fell ill, and the Times said the legendary economist has been sick “for several months.” Volcker warns in his memoir, “There is no force on earth that can stand up effectively, year after year, against the thousands of individuals and hundreds of millions of dollars in the Washington swamp aimed at influencing the legislative and electoral process.” He told the Times that the U.S. has “an enormous number of enormously rich people that have convinced themselves that they’re rich because they’re smart and constructive.” “And they don’t like government, and they don’t like to pay taxes,” Volcker said. “I grew up in a world in which good government was a good term.” Volcker, who served as Fed chairman from 1979 to 1987, told the Times that Washington has lost the American people’s respect and pays insufficient attention to bridging that divide. He blamed the influx of money into politics and a lack of attention on effective governance from elite public affairs colleges and think tanks.

Workers not the only ones getting the shaft

Along with stagnant wage growth & most of the working class not benefiting from economic growth, the other overriding problem is in the decline & lack of competitiveness with small business & start-ups.  The system is rigged against them too!  In most industries, the little guys are being consumed &/or dominated by the big boys, which a concerted effort needs made to reverse that: small-businesses-struggle-compete-larger-firms-raise-pay.  Another key issue that once defined America is exposed in the decline of entrepreneurship, the concerns being expressed in this beginning to the-us-has-lost-its-entrepreneurial-advantage.  If we ever hope to make the acronym MAGA a true reality, a way must be found to encourage & help finance viable business start-ups:

Globalization strikes again. The latest target is entrepreneurship. For decades, promoting start-up firms through venture capital and other methods of business investment seemed a peculiarly American strength. It has nurtured countless tech firms, including titans such as Facebook, Google and Apple. Americans have been duly proud. It reinforced a sense of national exceptionalism, because other countries couldn’t easily duplicate it, if at all. No more. A new study shows that the United States’ capacity to foster high-tech firms is increasingly emulated abroad. The U.S. monopoly on entrepreneurship has been broken and almost certainly can’t be restored. American venture capitalists are investing in foreign start-ups, and foreign investors are pouring money into U.S. start-ups. This adds a new layer to globalization. The know-how of creating new companies is spreading abroad. Earlier, manufacturing was globalized, as firms adopted worldwide supply chains. Portfolio investment — the buying and selling of stocks and bonds — was also globalized, as instant communication and new laws made it possible to shift funds rapidly between domestic and foreign stocks and bonds.

Only give credit where credit is due

With so many assuming Trump deserves the credit for this purportedly strong economy, this conclusion to Rubin’s as-goes-china-so-goes-the-u-s-economy indicates Trump is more of a hindrance & risk to the economy, not the panacea:

In sum, Trump inherited a strong economy, solid job growth and low unemployment. Rather than use the opportunity to make wise investments in the economy and/or pay down our debt, he delivered a huge tax cut primarily to the wealthy, grew the debt, started trade wars and added to international instability by picking fights with our allies as well as China. The economy might weather all of that, but there is an increasing chance (50-50, according to JPMorgan Chase economists) that we’ll see a downturn in the next couple of years. If so, our options will be limited, in large part because of the policy choices the administration is making.

More Signs the System is Rigged

And Trump isn’t helping much.  A more accurate assessment of the current economy comes out of this article taken from republicans-look-out-of-touch-touting-the-economy-ahead-of-the:

Democratic pollster Nancy Zdunkewicz said in an interview that aired Tuesday on “What America’s Thinking” that Republicans look out of touch touting the economy ahead of November’s midterm elections. “If you’re in the real economy, people have not seen this benefit,” Zdunkewicz, managing editor of Democracy Corps, told Hill.TV’s Joe Concha. “They have not benefitted from this tax cut. They have not seen rising wages. This is every single day a struggle for them,” she continued. “Republicans meanwhile are talking about how this is the best economy in history, that these are great jobs, and they look so out of touch,” she said. While Republican candidates have largely stayed away from touting the economy on the campaign trail, Trump has repeatedly praised economic growth while stumping for candidates in competitive races. He recently started invoking a new campaign slogan, “Jobs not Mobs,” as a means of promoting lower unemployment, as well as a way to attack liberal protesters. Despite lower unemployment and economic growth, voters in various regions of the U.S. are still insecure about their own financial situations. A recent poll from NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that local economies and the opioid crisis topped rural Americans’ list of concerns. 

A Smarter Tax Bill

If we really wanted to fix this mess where the system is rigged, below is the opening to trumps-imaginary-middle-class-tax-cut-is-just-that-suppose-policy-makers-really-wanted-help-working-families offering cogent solutions.  The middle/low-income people should have directly gotten much more of the tax cuts from the Trump tax bill to really do as the legislation intended.  I’ve been saying for years trickle down no longer works, which the Trump tax cuts have become the perfect case study.  They claimed it would raise wages, when mostly all it did was raise stock buybacks & take-home pay for the 1%.  And for Trump’s new middle class tax cut proposal to become viable without spiking deficits even higher, we’d first need to correct the initial tax bill (& also see poll in most-prefer-rolling-back-tax-cuts-to-reduce-deficit-poll):

In these challenging, chaotic times, in which each day our president and his allies introduce more-divisive falsehoods into our national political debate, one must take solace where one finds it. I find it in the fact that the GOP tax cut has proved to be a huge dud for Republicans on the campaign trail. Essentially, they promised that their tax cut wasn’t just a boon for the rich, that it would raise middle-class wages, juice business investment and pay for itself. Most people now recognize that none of these promises has come to pass, so Republican candidates on the stump tend to avoid raising the issue. As further evidence that the tax cut isn’t selling, President Trump introduced a new tactic: promising yet another tax cut, one that this time is really going to reach the middle class. In a telling bit of candor about the target of last year’s cut, he said about the imaginary new cut: “This is not for business. This is for middle.” No one, including congressional Republicans, believes a word of it. As one Republican operative put it, “Nobody is taking [this proposal] seriously, but we’d rather have him talking about tax cuts than some of the crazy stuff he usually talks about.” Figuring out how any of this plays in the midterms is above my pay grade, but if there’s any lemonade to be squeezed from this lemon, it is this: Suppose you actually wanted to use the tax code, along with other policies, to help middle- and low-income people, many of whom have been left behind even as the U.S. economy closes in on full employment in Year Nine of the current expansion. Which policies would you pursue? I’ll focus on three: expand refundable tax credits, raise the minimum wage and maintain full employment. But before I get into the details, here’s a critical design point about economic policies intended to help lower-income people: If we want to be sure they work, they must be direct. No bank shots allowed.

The Sick Society

Yes, we are a very divided country: www.apnews.com/571f60848e0745678304b721303cdca0.  As a very divisive nation who arguably could soon engage in civil war, we are sick economically, morally, socially & culturally.  Until we find some way to reasonably unite & find leadership promoting our shared values, nothing is going to change.  Our predicament is brought out in excerpts from pulitzer-winner-chris-hedges-donald-trump-is-the-product-of-a-failed-democracy:

The United States, by many measures, appears to be a sick society. It has one of the highest rates of wealth and income inequality in the world. Despite being one of the richest countries on the planet it has some of the highest rates of infant mortality. Poverty among the elderly is also increasing. As a whole, the country’s health care system is inadequate; life expectancy is declining. The United States has the highest rate of mass murder by gun in the world and the highest rate of incarceration. American infrastructure is failing. There is a deep crisis of faith in the country’s political and social institutions. The environment is being despoiled by large corporations who increasingly act with impunity. Loneliness and suicide are at epidemic levels. Consumerism has supplanted democracy and meaningful engaged citizenship. White hate groups and other right-wing domestic terrorist organizations have killed and injured hundreds of people during the last few decades. America’s elites are wholly out of touch with the people and largely indifferent to their demands. Donald Trump is the president of a broken country, but he did not create this cultural sickness and pathology. While Donald Trump embodies almost all of America’s problems in human form, in reality he is a symptom of our illness, not the cause.

Click for Sound 

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges spent several years embedding himself in different communities across the United States investigating our social and cultural disease. In his new “America: The Farewell Tour,” Hedges explores what went so wrong with American society over the last few decades that an authoritarian like Trump would be voted into office by tens of millions of the country’s citizens. Can America be salvaged? Is the American experiment in democracy over? How did an unholy union of Christian fascism and unchecked corporate power combine to destroy the American dream and gut the commons? Are the American people fighting back to reclaim democracy and a healthier society? (For now) the situation is worse. Donald Trump was always a pretty frightening and repugnant figure. But even I wouldn’t have predicted that he was this bad. He and this situation are completely unhinged. By virtue of every benchmark of a functioning democracy — including the debasing of the political discourse in the United States — Donald Trump has really accelerated the decay. 

Artificially propped up by Deficits, is this a Strong Economy?

I’ll give you one guess which party has their fingerprints all over this yuge deficit: 779-billion-deficit-has-republican-party-stamped-all-over-editorials-debates.  Americans don’t want to hear this & politicians don’t want to deal with this, but everyone should read this full article from as-both-parties-play-the-blame-game-our-fiscal-future-hangs-in-the-balance.  As we keep hearing how great this economy is, no strong economy should ever keep perpetuating stagnant wages relative to inflation, with roughly half the population living paycheck-to-paycheck & escalating income inequality not being addressed despite enormous deficit spending.  Until we see corrections in these structural problems, I say the economy stinks, especially as we’re now mortgaging our future:

This is fiscal insanity. The federal deficit grew 17 percent to $779 billion in the fiscal year just ended, but that’s not the worst of the problem. By the administration’s own estimate, the deficit will increase almost 40 percent to nearly $1.1 trillion in the current fiscal year. With few policymakers batting an eye, this disturbing trend has no end in sight. The question now is whether the United States will see its economic future gradually damaged through the erosion of investments, jobs and growth, or whether there will be a financial jolt that results in abrupt, and likely painful, fiscal adjustments. Both parties have lost their moorings when it comes to fiscal policy. Through a lack of leadership, our nation’s public debt — effectively the sum of our annual budget defitcis — has ballooned to $15.5 trillion, more than three-quarters of the entire U.S. economy. Policymakers have sacrificed long-term economic health for short-term political gain by putting tax cuts and spending increases on the national credit card. As we saw recently with the bankruptcies of Sears and Toys-R-Us, there is a limit to how much debt an entity can sustain. While the United States is not about to default and go into bankruptcy, sovereign countries are not immune from market and economic consequences. 

The fastest-growing component of federal spending last year was also the least beneficial. It was not Social Security or Medicare or food stamps. In fact, spending on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — formerly known as food stamps — actually declined, signaling a growing economy that should result in reduced federal deficits. Rather, it was interest payments on our national debt that grew at an alarming 20 percent — to nearly $380 billion. The Congressional Budget Office projects they will surpass all U.S. defense spending by 2023. These hundreds of billions of dollars provide no direct benefit to the American taxpayer, and they squeeze out purposeful spending, whether for national security, domestic social programs or other priorities. Some spending needs can arise unexpectedly. Federal disaster relief remains essential to regions recovering from recent hurricanes — and shouldn’t be hindered by an unmanageable debt burden. Similarly, when the next recession inevitably hits, the government may have fewer options to respond. And in the unthinkable event of a large-scale military emergency, choosing between paying debts and defending the nation is the last thing we’d want to face.

The growing debt has serious ramifications for our country and its economy. An out-of-control national debt can directly affect the household finances of millions of Americans by pushing up the interest rates they pay on mortgages, student loans and business debt. This would make getting an education or buying a home more expensive, and businesses would have a harder time expanding. By taking on more and more debt, the federal government is sacrificing economic growth and jobs for future generations. Instead of offering constructive plans to address the problem, each side blames the other. Some Democratic legislators tout “Medicare for all” and free college, with no realistic plan to pay for them; some Republicans push for extending the fiscally irresponsible tax cuts, which have yet again proved they do not pay for themselves. While raising taxes on the rich or making cuts to federal agencies (as the president proposed just last week) could be a small part of the solution, proponents of such moves mostly offer them as lip service to the deficit issue. Part of the blame surely falls on us, the pain-intolerant public, who quickly vote against lawmakers who dare to reduce our benefits or raise taxes.

It’s time for both parties to face facts. Dithering only makes the necessary fixes look worse. President Kennedy famously quipped that the time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining. Yet in the tenth straight year of an expanding economy, we are instead partying like there’s no tomorrow, running large and growing deficits. For every year that Congress and the president wait to act, we roll the dice again on the possibility of a major recession or other disaster tipping America’s fiscal situation into deeply damaging territory. So far, luck has been on our side, but we cannot, and should not, count on that. There are many serious policy proposals from across the political spectrum that could contribute meaningfully to a solution, including Social Security reform, health care delivery system reform, curbing tax expenditures, and adding a carbon tax. Unfortunately, the latest round of fiscal warnings seems to have largely fallen on deaf ears in Washington. The consequences may not be here tomorrow, but they are coming. In the meantime, here’s to hoping our luck holds.

The Trump GOP twisting the Optics for the Midterms

Troops on the border, negotiating lower drug prices, 10% middle class tax cut, Kavanaugh, preserving coverage for preexisting conditions & basically lying about their healthcare messaging, that’s a very flimsy foundation to run on.  I’m not saying these are necessarily bad things in some of the links below (although we can never trust Trump to do the right thing), & especially basing drug pricing more in line with what other countries pay intrigues me. But the real purpose is so transparently obvious, that Trump is posturing for the midterms by throwing out candy to his Trumpeter kiddies. This looks like a welcome drop at just the right time: trumps-job-approval-rating-dips.  Below are live links & very enlightening, so check them out:

https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2018/10/23/1806592/-After-GOP-savaged-middle-class-Americans-Trump-suddenly-champions-Democratic-policies

https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2018/10/23/1806636/-GOP-heads-into-midterms-with-zero-policy-goals-other-than-targeting-Pelosi-refugees-and-media

https://slate.com/business/2018/10/the-white-house-wants-congress-to-vote-on-trumps-made-up-tax-cut.html?via=homepage_section_features

https://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/413168-trump-unveils-most-aggressive-action-yet-to-target-drug-prices

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/trump-tweet-pre-existing-conditions-gop_us_5bd0a4f9e4b0a8f17ef35bab

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/voters-must-catch-on-to-republicans-con-on-health-care/2018/10/23/30d88248-d625-11e8-aeb7-ddcad4a0a54e_story.html?utm_term=.16a6f52568d6

https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2018/10/gop-mid-term-campaign-all-identity-politics/573991/

The Caravan Messaging

Trump is trying desperately to focus the nation’s attention on the migrant caravan instead of the mail bombs, since that immigration issue is the perfect narrative to fire up his voting base.  Trump even hyped up the caravan as a “national emergy”: donald-trump-war-honduras-migrant-caravan.  Sending troops to the border is done more for the optics than actually stopping immigrants, especially since his wall isn’t being built.  This next link speculates it may be more a Wag the Dog strategy: trumps-midterm-strategy-is-essentially-the-wag-the-dog-political-playbook.  See inside trumps-own-teams-know-his-caravan-claims-arent-true-dont-particularly-care & also these excerpts from caravan-where-size-border-trump-troops indicating the caravan threat is likely way overblown (although the overriding issue of border security still needs resolved):

President Donald Trump is sending 800 troops to the US-Mexico border in anticipation of a caravan of Central American migrants that is still a matter of weeks from arriving — and that could be a pretty small group of people by the time it arrives. It’s already shrinking. The UN estimated the caravan at 7,322 migrants Monday, after thousands crossed from Guatemala into Mexico (evading Mexican authorities by swimming or ferrying across the Suchiate River). That estimate — the first, and so far only, by an intergovernmental body — has become the touchstone. It reflected the caravan’s growth as it proceeded through Honduras and Guatemala since its departure as a group of 160 or so migrants on October 12. But a few days after the crossing into Mexico, it looks like the growth trend has reversed. The Mexican government stated Wednesday night that it believed 3,630 people were still heading north. On Thursday morning, the AP’s Mark Stevenson estimated the number at “4,000 to 5,000” and said it was shrinking, due to exhaustion and worry about the dangers of the journey.

In needing to constrain the number of outbound links from our blog, here are titles of other good articles on the caravan if you’d like to look them up:

thedailybeast/caravan-of-lies-intensifies-as-trump-and-the-gop-round-third

washingtonpost/president-trump-has-found-his-reichstag-fire

washingtonpost/trumps-latest-exercise-in-fear-mongering-is-the-most-shameless-yet

washingtonpost/all-the-reasons-the-migrant-caravan-is-totally-a-national-emergency

msn/trump-has-whipped-up-a-frenzy-on-the-migrant-caravan-here-are-the-facts

usatoday/dont-believe-donald-trump-migrant-caravan-not-terrorist-threat

theatlantic/solution-caravan-crisis-honduras

motherjones/a-wave-of-misinformation-about-the-migrant-caravan-is-spreading-on-social-media

esquire/caravan-coverage-media-fail-donald-trump-republicans

mediamatters/secret-democratic-plots-isis-voter-fraud-worst-fox-news-conspiracy-theories-and-fearmongering-about

dailykos/-Trump-Crying-Wolf-Over-Latest-Migrant-Caravan

2 Oldies but Goodies

The mail bomb caper has dominated headlines the past couple days & thank God it looks like they caught the guy.  Also thank God nobody got hurt.  Trying to find songs that fit the news headlines, I don’t know of any with lyrics talking about mail bombs or pipe bombs or postal terrorism.  But here are 2 hits from the early 1960’s sung by the most popular musical acts in history, courtesy of TheVORACS music director, talking about sending letters through the mail:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mnfe-XB3W04

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zI7XGyqLXWM