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    January 3, 2021 // 2 Comments »

    I learned the facts of life from a drunk uncle. He was not an American, and worked in international construction in Asia, mostly Japan and Hong Kong. We were lost in cheap booze at a wedding and he started asking me about how things worked in America. I had just started working for the State Department and he specifically wanted to know how I handled being bribed. How much for a visa? To get someone an appointment at the embassy? I was naive. I wasn’t doing those things, wouldn’t know how.

    He explained his main job was to bribe people. He even had a joke to go with — my hands are dirtier than the guys who dig our foundations. Over the course of many tiny glasses of some awful clear Asian liquor I learned every yard of concrete poured required money to gangsters who controlled unions, politicians who controlled permits and inspections, cops who would or would not close down a street to speed things up, and to suppliers for better prices. It went on and on. A fact of life he said. You get used to it. You expect it.

    I asked him if, all jokes aside, he indeed felt dirty. It does change your way of looking at things, he said. Nothing is what it seems, you come to realize someone is pulling the strings behind everything and it usually isn’t you. Uncle never heard of George Carlin, who once said “it’s a big club but you’re not in it.” The odd official just doing his job for his salary is a rube, too stupid to bother with. You feel embarrassed for him. Even worse, the guy who says no for moral reasons. You’re just trying to put some extra money in his hands. You learn, uncle slurred, to trust nothing. Everything is available for a price. That politician on TV? The company just dropped off a nice check to his “charity.” Or maybe arranged for him to have some female company on a business trip. Everything was for sale. Play by the rules? Those were the rules. You’ll get used to it, I was assured.

    The first bribe I ever paid was to an Indonesian immigration officer, who noticed some small defect on my passport and was going to reject me. Of course, he said, it could be settled between us. With a fine. Off to the side. In cash. Have a nice day. It was all of US$20 to save my family vacation but I felt filthy, cheated, a chump. But I learned the rules. Living in New York, we rarely use the term bribe. We do use the term tip, and call it what you want it is as required to get through the day as oxygen. A table at a pre-Covid restaurant. A last minute anything. A friendlier handling by a doorman. Timely attention to fix-it requests. Servicepeople often won’t charge you sales tax if you pay in cash. My, um, friend, used to pay a lot of money for better hotel rooms until he learned $20 at check in with a friendly “anything you can do” to the clerk often got him the same thing at a third of the price. You get used to it. You get trained to accept it. What, you still paying retail, bro?

    I used to think it was all small stuff, like that, maybe with the odd mafia king bribing a judge with real money or something else movie-worthy. In America we were ultimately… fair, right? But things started to add up. We have our petty corruption like anywhere, but our souls are filthy on a much larger scale. America goes big or it goes home.

    Things like the Clinton Foundation accepting donations from the Saudis to help with women’s empowerment, an issue of course dear to the heart of the Kingdom. When it looked like his wife was going to be president Bill made six-figure speeches to businesses seeking influence within the U.S. government, earning $50 million during his wife’s term as secretary of pay-for-play state. The humbly named Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Global Foundation, now mostly out of business, was at its peak a two billion dollar financial dangle. It spent in 2013 the same amount of money on travel expenses for Bill and his family as it did on charitable grants. The media, big Clinton fans, told us we should be used to it, accept. Hey, Nixon was so much worse.

    Trump refused to be very specific about who his charity donates to. We know its off-shoot, the Eric Trump charity, donated to a wine industry association, a plastic surgeon gifting nose jobs to kids, and an artist who painted a portrait of Donald Trump. Trump-owned golf resorts received $880,000 for hosting Trump charity events. Reports show Trump donated money from his foundation to conservative influencers ahead of his presidential bid, effectively using funds intended for charity to support his own political ambitions. Anybody think his, or the Clintons’, donors didn’t know what they were buying?

    As vice president, with his wife Jill teaching at a community college, the couple reported a combined income of $396,000 in 2016. But since leaving the Obama White House, Joe and Jill made more than $15 million. In fact, as his prospects for election improved, Joe and his wife made nearly twice as much in one year as they did in the previous 19 years combined. Joe scored $10 million alone for a book no one read, Promise Me, Dad, roughly 10 times what his first book pulled in. Jill was paid more than $3 million for her book, Where the Light Enters, in 2018, by the same publisher. As soon as he left the Obama administration, Joe set up a tax dodge called an S Corporation that among other things donated money back to his own political PAC.

    For all the wrong reasons about half the nation got very twisted over Trump corruption and actively avoided notcing the Clintons and Bidens to the point of covering their ears and singing NYANYANAYNYA.

    But even all that money, measured in Epsteins (a unit of measure of influence buying I just made up) is petty cash now in America. The real corruption scales. The New York Times was startled to learn pre-COVID America’s 614 billionaires were worth a combined $2.95 trillion. As the Dow hit record highs this month, there are now 650 billionaires and their combined wealth is close to $4 trillion.

    In the COVID-driven economic crisis American billionaires’ wealth grew. Where’d all their new money come from? You, paying interest up to the Lord of Manor. For example, Dan Gilbert, chair of Quicken Loans, was worth $7 billion in March; he now has $43 billion. It takes a lot of poor people taking out expensive loans to sustain that amount of wealth at the top. Listen for the sucking sound as the cash moves.

    But it is wrong to think about money in dollars. That’s how small-timer grifters like doormen, waiters, and the Clintons, Trumps, and Bidens think. The real rich understand wealth as power. Basically, the power to shape and control society and government to ensure they make and keep more money for more power until someday they Have. It. All. The 400 richest Americans already own 64 percent of the country’s wealth. You dream of an upgrade to Business class, they own the jet.

    Now to talk about conspiracy theories is to imply something “different” happened, that the system did not work as usual and as intended; for example, instead of an election the president was assassinated to change of who was in charge. The term conspiracy has kind of a bad feel to it. So let’s not call whatever happened this autumn to elect Joe Biden a conspiracy. But here is what happened, see if you have a better word.

    The corporate media owned by that .01% spent four years attacking Trump. Working as a single organism fused to the Democratic party as its host, they tried to bundle Trump into a SuperMax as a literal Russian agent. When that failed they ginned up an impeachment with more holes in it than a bad joke about Stormy Daniels. The same media then pivoted to defense when it mattered most, sending information about Hunter Biden that would have changed the election down the memory hole, and policing social media to Joe’s advantage. Corporate pharma, also owned by the same people, held back announcement of Covid vaccines until just after the election. Once again the intel community, tightly bound with big tech, did its part leaking and concealing information as needed; for example, they worked to discredit the Hunter Biden story by calling it Russian disinfo. Donations are handy, but money that actually controls information is gold.

    Earlier in the contest “something” happened (it was just a coincidence two promising candidates, Buttigieg and Kohlbacher, dropped out nearly simultaneously just ahead of the South Carolina vote Biden desperately needed to end Bernie) again in Democratic primaries that started with some of the most progressive candidates since Henry Wallace to instead push a politician known as the Senator from Mastercard into the White House. Biden of course promptly returned the favors by filling his Cabinet with the same old thinkers corporate America liked from the Obama years. A highlight is Janet Yellen at Treasury, who helped run the massive corporate bailout that created the .01 percent out of the one percent after the Great Recession. No wonder Biden told donors “nothing would fundamentally change” for the wealthy when he’s in charge.

    If you are only figuring this out now you are way too far behind to really matter. A tiny percentage of Americans own, control, and benefit from most everything; call it one percent but a large number of the one percent are just slugs and remoras (hedge fund managers, corporate lawyers, etc.) who feed off the crumbs left by the .01 percent You know a handful of the real rich names — Bezos, Gates, Buffet — but only because they own public facing companies. Most of the others prefer less public lives while they control the public. And silly you, you worried that it was the Russians who stole the election. Here’s 20 bucks, go be quiet somewhere now.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in #99Percent, Biden, Economy

    A Tale of Three Foundations: Carter, Clinton and Trump

    November 7, 2016 // 18 Comments »

    carter

    Seen the latest front-page Jimmy Carter Center scandal? Hear about the six figure fees speaking former president Jimmy Carter pulls in from shady companies and foreign governments? An oil painting of himself he bought with charity money? Maybe not.


    Take a moment to Google Jimmy Carter. Now do the same for Bill Clinton. The search results tell the tale of two former presidents, one determined to use his status honorably, the other seeking exploitation for personal benefit. And then throw in Donald Trump, who of course wants to someday be a former president. Each man has his own charitable foundation. Let’s compare them.

    Three charitable organizations enter, only one emerges with honor. Let’s do this!



    Carter

    Carter’s presidency carries an uneven legacy. Yet his prescient but unwelcome 1979 warning that the country suffered a crisis of confidence, preventing Americans from uniting to solve tough problems, anticipated the faux bravado of Reagan’s “Morning in America.”

    Many feel Carter has been a better ex-president than he was a president. His Carter Center focuses on impactful but unglamorous issues such as Guinea worm disease. When Carter left office, the disease afflicted 3.5 million people, mostly in Africa. Now it’s expected to be only the second disease, after smallpox, to ever be eradicated worldwide.

    Carter, 90, still donates a week of his time each year to Habitat for Humanity. Not a photo-op, Carter goes out without the media in tow and hammers nails. Carter also tirelessly monitors elections in nascent democracies, lending his stature as a statesman to that work over 100 times already. Summing up his own term in office, Carter said “We never dropped a bomb. We never fired a bullet. We never went to war.”

    He is the last president since 1977 who can make that claim.



    Clinton

    Bill Clinton pushed the NAFTA agreement through, seen now by many as a mistake that cost American jobs. He pointlessly bombed Iraq and sent troops into Somalia (see Blackhawk Down.) Clinton’s legacy most of all is his having an oral affair with an intern, then fibbing about it, and then ending up one of only two American presidents ever impeached as a result.

    As a former president, Clinton is nothing if not true to his unstatesman-like form. Bill makes six-figure speeches to businesses seeking influence within the U.S. government, earning as much as $50 million during his wife’s term as secretary of state alone. He used a shell company to hide some of the income.

    His own charity, humbly known as the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Global Foundation, is a two billion dollar financial tangle. It spent in 2013 the same amount of money on travel expenses for Bill and his family as it did on charitable grants. Instead of volunteering for Habitat for Humanity, Bill takes his big donors on executive safaris to Africa. Many of those same donors also give generously to the Hillary Clinton campaign and its constellation of PACs.



    Trump

    Trump refuses to be very specific about who his charity donates to. We know its off-shoot, the Eric Trump charity, donated to a wine industry association, a plastic surgeon gifting nose jobs to kids and an artist who painted a portrait of Donald Trump. Trump-owned golf resorts received $880,000 for hosting Trump charity events.

    Reports show Trump donated money from his foundation to conservative influencers ahead of his presidential bid, effectively using funds intended for charity to support his own political ambitions. The New York Attorney General ordered Donald Trump’s charity to immediately halt fundraising in the state, following reports that it had not submitted to routine audits.



    Voters should judge a candidate not just on examples of past competency, but with an eye toward the core things that really matter: character, values, honesty, humility and selflessness. Perhaps this tale of two presidents and a wanna be has a lesson in it for 2016.




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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in #99Percent, Biden, Economy

    Why It All Matters for Hillary

    October 27, 2016 // 53 Comments »

    hillary and putin.resized

    With the new information about the new emails that may involve Hillary Clinton, found via Clinton aide Huma Abedin’s spouse Anthony Weiner’s sexting with an underage girl (jeez, what a sentence…), let’s resolve this tonight. The emails appear to be between Hillary and Huma, which means both of them have the messages. We know Weiner did. So Huma and/or Hillary can release everything tonight and America can see for itself. No delays, no filters, just get those messages out. I offer to host them here on my blog if that helps.

    Or, if Hillary and/or Huma or Weiner wants to issue a statement that 100% of the emails have nothing to do with her business, and have no classified whatsoever in them, then that’ll be fine also. Close the door on this before bed time.

    Occam’s Razor, simplest answer is best. And if that does not happen, why not?


    The arguments of “everybody does it” and “well, it wasn’t illegal” in regards to the email server, the Clinton Foundation, pay-for-play, donor access, dirty tricks against Sanders, the many well-timed coincidences of Trump revelations, and more, are strawman logic.

    Leaving aside the idea that people usually say “everybody does it” and “well, it wasn’t illegal” only when their own candidate gets caught doing something, what was done matters.

    It really does.



    Everyone in the world knew from the day she dropped out in 2008 with Secretary of State as a consolation prize that Hillary Clinton was running for president in 2016. Simply because she played coy is a very weak place to make a stand that her’s and Bill’s actions up to the official announcement of her candidacy didn’t matter from that day forward.

    The reason this all matters is that Hillary will be president, and Bill will be arguably the second most powerful person in the United States (please don’t try and argue that a popular ex-President back in the White House will just be arm candy.) That there exists even the appearance that the president of the United States and Bill are for sale is to the detriment of the United States. Many of the world’s governments are corrupt, and people seeing the same in America puts us in league with Nigeria or Pakistan, not other First World democracies.

    We can hide behind the semantics that donations to a self-named foundation, and excessive fees for speeches, are not bribes. We can pretend that nations like Saudi Arabia, which thrive on some of the worst records for women’s rights and treatment of LGBTQ people, donate millions of dollars to an organization like the Clinton Foundation which promotes women’s rights and better treatment of LGBTQ people, simply because it’s the right thing to do.

    Sure.


    To expose to the world even the appearance of such impropriety is a disgrace. The president has as one of her roles setting the example for the federal workforce. Is the example that as long as it skirts the edge of legality it is fine behavior? If I was a contracts officer in the Social Security Administration and allowed a vendor to donate crazy amounts of money to my spouse’s non-profit as I was considering a contract award, would that too be OK?

    What about if I was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to make a speech to that organization? What if I would not let anyone know what I said? All OK? Does everyone really do that?


    We can imagine Bill Clinton having a private meeting with the Attorney General just days before her agency exonerates Hillary Clinton is OK. We can pretend the State Department slow-walking the release of Clinton emails is keeping within the spirit of the Freedom of Information Act. We can pretend Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, a longtime ally of Bill and Hillary Clinton, gave nearly $500,000 to the election campaign of the wife of an FBI official who later became involved in the investigation into Clinton’s email use because he simply supported her candidacy.

    It is also OK for the federal government to prosecute one U.S. Army private for documents found on Wikileaks while claiming there is no evidence that the documents about Hillary Clinton now on Wikileaks are authentic or unaltered. We can pretend the Russian intelligence services hacked John Podesta’s email to rig the election while saying those same services did not touch Hillary Clinton email server?

    And do you really, really believe this is all a right-wing conspiracy, and that it has been, continuously, since the Clinton’s entered public life decades ago? That is an ingenious plot by Putin? That it is all driven by misogyny?

    It all matters. It matters who we put into the White House because if you think all of this will cease just because Inauguration Day comes around, you really are a foolish. Hell, you’ll believe anything.



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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in #99Percent, Biden, Economy