Wednesday, January 29, 2014


Two new blogs from The Lion:

Despite what the President says in the official State of the Union speech, most Americans know the state of the union sucks.  (unless you are in the 1%.  A recent study claims 85 people have more wealth the entire populations of India and China and the developing world.)  It is considered bad form not to be optimistic around the state of the union.  (we are supposed to act like its opening day of baseball season where every team in every town has the same chance to go to the World Series...yeah right, go Cubs)

     The President himself acknowledges some of this reality.  The gap between the rich and everyone else is growing exponentially.  It hasn't been this wide since the Gilded Age of Morgan, Harrriman and Rockefeller.  The Horatio Alger pull- yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps myth is officially dead.  Both the Democrats and Republicans admit hard work will not guarantee economic success.  (just ask farm workers if you don't believe me)  College is no longer the universal antidote especially when young people graduate owing tens of thousands of dollars with the only jobs available ones for which there is no need for a college degree and they spend their time being baristas or drones in an Amazon warehouse.  The nation's roads and bridges are one good shake away from collapse.  The electrical grid more and more resembles those in Iraq or Egypt rather than one in the richest and most technologically advanced nation on earth.  We have no idea what to do about illegal immigration or what to do with the long-term unemployed.  As the world boils and brews, we have no national consensus of what the U.S. role should be in foreign affairs and Edward Snowden has revealed an intrusive, spying, government apparatus which strips Americans of any shred of privacy they might have still been clinging to.  (N.B.C. reports, based on documents from Snowden, that U.S. intelligence agencies are piggybacking on British intelligence agency’s actions, not bothered by the pesky 4th amendment, where they are hacking into anyone's Facebook account to spy on friends, likes and all manner of personal information.)  Topping it all, the 2016 presidential campaign has started with Sen. Rand Paul, he of the high and mighty libertarian morality, implying no one should vote for HIllary Clinton because of the actions of Bill when he was in office.  So much for the tenor of this debate.

     Before you have someone remove all sharp objects from easy reach, allow me to offer some ways to make the state of the union less sucky.  (few of these suggestions are original with me)  The President should propose, and Congress pass, an infrastructure bank.  The government would put in millions matched with private investment.  The bank would then be used to fund the repair or replacement of the thousands of roads and bridges that are falling apart in this country.  (of note is the president of Brazil in Davos, Switzerland last week begging for private investment to build more roads saying they are the key to future economic growth in her nation.)  Rebuilding infrastructure creates good paying jobs as well as helping the American economy to grow and reducing costs of goods and services.

     There needs to be a tax imposed on all utility companies with the additional revenue earmarked for a new digital, high-tech electrical grid.  (yes, I realize they will pass the cost on to us)  They should also be required to bury all electrical lines so that future super storms don't knock out power to the entire East Coast costing the nation's economy billions of dollars.  Once again, not only is this necessary for economic growth, as access to bandwidth becomes crucial to economic success, but is also a matter of national security and the ability to compete internationally for business.  It too will create allot of jobs.

     Instead of posturing with an eye on the midterm elections, or 2016, we should demand Congress address the need for greater college access.  Community colleges need more funding.  States have to increase contributions to state college systems.  (California cannot continue to afford to spend more on the prison system than on the U.C. system)  Instead of fighting about abortion, same sex marriage or guns, Congress should be focusing on what will grow the middle class.  Abolish the corporate income tax, but tax every dollar corporations continue to hide offshore.  Require Americans to pay into Social Security no matter what their income level.  (currently payments stop around $100,000)  Allow Medicare to do what the Veteran's Administration does and use its buying power to force pharmaceutical companies to reduce the price of drugs.  Create health care bonuses where each year an American stays healthy, however you wish to define that, they get a reduction in their income tax burden.

     The state of the union sucks...I know there is a fancier way to express this but sucks sounds just perfect... but it doesn't have to stay that way.  We need to elect people who talk about nothing but jobs and growth and support policies which give everyone an opportunity to succeed.  These are not red or blue issues.

     Are there other issues to concern us?  Yes.  They are for another day when we have the luxury to address them.  Unless we grow the middle class...unless Americans agree everyone has the chance to do better than their parents...unless we have good roads and bridges and constant supply of electricity...the other issues won't matter as we will cannibalize each other from within and accomplish what our enemies can only dream about without ever lifting a finger.


J.P. Morgan Chase and Co.'s board unanimously voted to raise the pay of C.E.O. James Dimon by 74%.  Dimon will receive a salary of $20 million for 2013.  Dimon's raise comes after his company paid more than $20 billion in legal payouts for scandals ranging from fraud to malfeasance.  In 2013,the Dimon led Chase admitted to criminal culpability in a number of instances.  This, according to the board of directors, is a resume which warrants a huge reward.

     The list of ways in which J.P. Morgan Chase lied, cheated, finagled and acted like a criminal enterprise is extraordinary in length.  The company paid fines for cheating or lying to investors about the quality of sub-prime mortgages it sold.  The case of the "London Whale" had Chase ponying up fines for ignoring flagrant abuses of trading rules and taking illegal risks with bank money.  Chase was involved in the LIBOR scandal (London interbank offering rate) affecting over $3 trillion in transactions worldwide.  Chase was even fined for aiding and abetting Bernie Madoff to pull off his Ponzi scheme.  It goes without saying, even as Mr. Dimon reaped his rewards, no one, not a single person, at J.P. Morgan Chase has ever been indicted, let alone tried and convicted of any criminal wrong doing.

     We are told one of the central tenets for why taxpayers spend $8-10 billion a year on a federal prison system is for its deterrence value.  Prison, or at least the threat of prison, keeps people in line...keeps them from committing them second thoughts about the wisdom of their actions.  It turns out this is a lie...falsehood...prevarication foisted on us by those who get economic benefits from the prison/industrial complex.  Prison is meant to deter "us" but not "them".  Mr. Dimon, and his ilk, are some of "them".  He presided over a criminal enterprise with its oily hands in every financial con and flimflam possible and he has been "deterred" by a 74% raise.

     Perhaps a better way to think of this is the $20 billion paid out in fines and penalties is just a cost of doing successful business in this country.  When the mob runs an operation, they factor in all the bribes and kickbacks they have to pay to judges, cops, lawyers, and politicians and subtract those costs when figuring out their profit.  Dimon has been given millions in a raise because the stock price for his company increased by 33% in 2013.  In other words, they ignored the $20 billion payout as simply part of doing business...they rewarded him for not having to pay out more...he got a raise because as the company was cheating and stealing from average Americans, stockholders were doing very well thank you.

     No lesser a godlike figure in business than Warren Buffett, the oracle of Omaha, sings Dimon's praises.  "If I owned J.P. Morgan, Chase, he would be running it."  Buffett says he would hire Dimon to run Berkshire Hathaway in a minute if he could.  Adding insult to injury, the board praised Dimon for how well he handled all the "regulatory" problems the company faced in 2013.  This won for the board the annual Euphemism Award given by the Bonanno/Gambino foundation for American enterprise in New York.

     Proving he is a hands-on manager who revels in the small details which separate great companies from also-rans, when asked by the U.S. Attorney why certain people who were involved in failure in oversight and management were still with the company, Dimon says the company only fires people for incompetence which wasn't the case in these instances.  They still work for Chase because they weren't incompetent.  They did exactly what they were told to do by Mr. Dimon.

     Dimon's raise puts the lie to the Obama Justice Department's claim that the fines were enough to change this culture of criminality and moral hazard and prevent future abuses.  It exposes to sunlight the dirty little secret that the really rich and powerful have a different set of rules to live by.  The raise sends a message to all Chase employees about what they need to do to get ahead.  (what do you think Dimon would have done to an employee who blew the whistle on company crimes?)

     Dimon, in 2013, is responsible for a company, by no means the only one on Wall Street, which admitted to behavior which would make a "made-man" blush, and he is rewarded with millions of dollars and the thanks of a grateful board and satisfied stock holders.  Now that is a bedtime story every little American should hear and warm the cockles of their tiny Christian hearts.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014


  Two more blogs from the Lion:

The last couple of weeks have been spent reading wrap-ups on 2013 and looks forward at 2014.  Economists are taking polls about how much the economy will grow...stocks will rise...what bond prices and commodity futures will look like.  Pundits are commenting on the civil war in Syria, Iran's nuclear program and whether there can be a peace treaty between the Israelis and the Palestinians.  China appears to be flexing its muscles and there is a call for a reassessment of America's role in the Middle East and foreign policy in general.  Crystal balls are being polished and rubbed as cognoscenti opine on how many cars will be sold, and homes purchased, and big oil companies are pushing to lift the restrictions which prohibit them from exporting domestic oil.  (more on that later)  We are told Congress has to deal with extending long-term unemployment benefits and food stamps, the military budget and all the appropriation bills.  No where, in all the reading I have done, does anyone talk about the elephant in the room...we needs jobs.

     There are not enough jobs and the jobs that are available do not pay enough.  The Dow Jones Industrial Average and the Standard and Poor's 500 hit record highs in 2013 and are projected to continue to rise in 2014.  Corporate profits are through the roof.  Initial public offerings, like Twitter, are skyrocketing and merger and acquisition activity is more intense than it has been for years.  The top 1% of earners have seen their wealth increase year over year as the gap between them and everyone else continues to grow.  Yet, where are the jobs?  Where are the wages?  Where are the benefits for the average, gum-chewing working American?

     The new mayor of New York ran on a platform about a tale of two cities.  John Edwards tried to do the same thing on a national scale.  The mayor succeeded but Edwards failed.  Why?  Perhaps Edwards was ahead of his time.  New polls suggest Americans are finally waking up to the fact some people are doing very well at the expense of everyone else.

     Have you read a single piece on what Congress will do to increase jobs?  Not one of the agenda items for the 2014 session, as of now, focuses on job creation.  President Obama says he will spend the rest of his second term focusing on combating income inequality, but offers no specifics.  We are told this whole congressional session will be concentrating on positioning both parties for the mid-term elections in November.  Screw the mid-term elections.  The party that creates jobs should get everyone's vote and the other suffers the loss of political power.

     Anytime in the next 6-8 months you hear a politician speak on a subject, ask yourself what it has to do with creating jobs.  Immigration reform?  What jobs will it create other than those for border and prison guards?  Raising the debt ceiling?  How does this create jobs?  Reduce the deficit?  Show me the jobs it creates.  Taxes?  If taxes go up on the rich how will this create new jobs?  No one should get away with a public appearance without being asked about jobs.

     Jobs, as a topic, by necessity also raise questions about wages, benefits, medical coverage, housing costs, day-care access and more.  If the Affordable Care Act accomplishes its goal, medical coverage will not be able to held hostage any more for employees.  Workers won't have to choose between a raise or an increase in their health insurance premium.  If...
IF there is no clear connection, other than trickle-down theories, between deficit reduction and jobs, ignore it.  If you get a chance to go to a town hall meeting, or decide to write or tweet or email your representative, the topic should be jobs, what they are doing to create them and why are they wasting their time on anything else?

     There are things which could be done right now if we are so inclined.  First, create the 2014 versions of the W.P.A. (Works Progress Administration) and the C.C.C. (Civilian Conservation Corps).  State and federal governments should announce a hiring call.  Anyone who wants a job will be hired.  (with proper vetting, of course, as we don't want felons and former criminals to be working)  This is counterintuitive, but listen.  Hire everyone.  See how many people you have.  Pay them a living wage.  (can you imagine the impact on young people if they knew there was a job for them right now?)  Give them free passes on mass transit where possible...or give them a bike or scooter.  Now start finding things for them to do.  Everything from filling in potholes, (which most cities cannot afford to do these days) to cleaning parks or building new ones.  No more talk of " shovel ready" projects.  Hire and then come up with jobs for them to do.  Is there anyone reading this who couldn't come up with 100 needs which could be filled by this workforce?  Second, require testing and skills assessment of anyone hired and if remedial education is required then add funding to community colleges for literacy, math skills, writing and anything else considered a priority.  Of course, you would need to hire more teachers...oops more jobs.  Third, work out a deal with the trade unions.  Pay them to expand apprenticeship programs for anyone under 30.  Plumbing, electrical, carpentry and other unions could train, and pay while being trained, a whole generation of skilled trade people...(oh btw it is predicted the nation is going to have a huge shortage of such workers over the next 20 years) Pass legislation giving union workers first dibs on new construction and other jobs if their union participates in this idea.  Finally, make college free.  (at least at state institutions)  Offer admissions to anyone who qualifies.  Wave their tuition if they enter majors which will add jobs or which will be necessary for future jobs.

     This list does not even begin to exhaust all the possibilities.  Its purpose is to stimulate more thoughts and perhaps you can come up with more examples of ways to create more jobs.  (please !)

     The gap between the rich and poor is not what we should worry about.  The shrinking middle class should care the hell out of everyone in this nation.  We need working Americans.  It is the most important national security issue we face (thank you National Security Agency).  A strong America can never be defeated by terrorism or international adversaries.  America can only be destroyed from within.  (something Osama bin Laden realized and proved after September 11th.)  If your public leaders are not talking about jobs, they are more traitorous than Edward Snowden and willing to create more fear and hatred than any terrorist.


 The historian, John Hope Franklin, chaired a commission on race during the Clinton Administration.  He concluded America could never get to the root of its racial problems until it admits for over 300 years; this nation has been based on the philosophy of white supremacy.  Despite what you may think of Duck Dynasty's Phil Robertson, and his comments on homosexuality, proof of Franklin's conclusion is contained in the deafening silence which accompanied his comments on race and African Americans.'

     Imagine what the reaction would have been if Robertson had denied the Holocaust.  He would have been condemned as ignorant, deluded, bigoted and wrong.  Robertson made no comments on Jews, I'm guessing it's only because he wasn't asked, but his observations about "black" people show just how engrained racial prejudice is in our culture and how it doesn't even cause the winds of criticism to stir.

     "...I never heard one black person say, 'I'll tell you what; these doggone white people...Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy?  They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues."

     It's difficult to know exactly where to start to deconstruct this screed, but we can start by acknowledging these comments did not cause any outrage...A&E did not suspend him over was as if they had been said in apartheid South Africa by the screaming silence which followed their utterance.

     "I never heard a black person say...those doggone white people."  In the Jim Crow south how could it have been any different?  What good would it do to complain?  If you did it loud enough you could end up dead.  To whom would they complain?  Robertson never heard them complain, therefore things had to have been hunky dory for black people in Louisiana in the 40's and 50's.  There was no need for a civil rights movement... no need for a Martin Luther need for Medger need for marches in Selma and Montgomery and no need for freedom riders because black people were happy.  To be sure, the laws and discrimination in the north were not any better than Jim Crow, but in Robertson's home it was vertically integrated into every facet of life.

     "...Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare...were they happy?...  they were happy; no one was singing the blues."  Really?
     The very nature of the blues came out of the black experience in this white supremecist nation.  It was white performers covering blues written by African Americans, not the other way around.  Pre-entitlement?  Robertson believes the granting of civil rights to African Americans was giving them an entitlement...a privilege...something they didn't need...a favor?  Being able to vote, own a home, marry whomever you wish, live wherever you desire, be free from lynchings and church bombings, being able to drink out of any water fountain you wished...these expectations, according to Robertson, are entitlements?

     Pre-welfare?  Does Robertson understand more white people are beneficiaries of welfare benefits than African Americans?  Is he suggesting poverty programs only are aimed at the black community?  When Lyndon Johnson declared a war on poverty, is Robertson saying he conscientiously objected because blacks would benefit disproportionately?

     "They were happy;” I recently watched Gone With the Wind for the fourth or fifth time, and Robertson's comments and observations about "black" people could have come out of the mouths of any of the southern men in the cast and would not have been anachronistic in the slightest.

     Why is it Robertson's gay pronouncements caused so much of an uproar?  He believes homosexuality is's's a's against nature...a vagina makes more sense than an anus...what's next bestiality?  His opinions are repeated by national religious leaders, national politicians, celebrities and common folk.  His views are mainstream, fundamentalist Christianity.  Perhaps they might have been more diplomatic, but Billy Graham and Pope Benedict XVI would not disagree with Robertson.  Yet, A&E suspended him for the bias and bigotry the remarks represent without even a single comment on anything else he had to say.

     When he denies over 100 years of Jim Crow...when he whitewashes the struggle and prejudice and bigotry African Americans faced and still face in this nation...when he denies how oppressive and back breaking the southern culture, and its institutions, was for African Americans...when he cavalierly states in Louisiana, in the 40's and 50's, blacks were happy and he never met a black who acknowledged the 24 hour, 365 days a year of second class citizenship they were forced to endure...nothing happens.  No one gets upset.  A&E ignores it, as do their advertisers.

     14 million Americans reportedly watch Duck Dynasty each week.  They watch a family which publically supports all the positions their patriarch espouses, including those that are racist and homophobic, without a second thought and the Robertson's are taking this apathy, and their 19th century claptrap, to the bank because they are funny, seem to get along with each other, are quirky...eccentric...don't shave, and we need something to entertain and divert us.  Would those same 14 million continue to watch if the Robertsons occasionally put on sheets with eyeholes cut out?  What's the difference and what does it say to John Hope Franklin's point when Robertson denies 300 years of systematic oppression and discrimination...300 years of racial bigotry, and instead of paying a price...prospers?