Don’t Kid Yourself: We Lose in this Election

 

I’m sure there’s some historical or Biblical reference to the events we’re seeing unfold in contemporary American politics. I’ll leave that to those who can actually make a reasonable connection; I’m more interested in how it’s capture-20160809-191531affecting our daily lives. Horrible, faded and greedy – all apt descriptions of candidates across the political realm. Others may toss in a few more descriptive adjectives: murderous, selfish, evil: all points I wouldn’t argue.

For years, we, as average Americans, may have been passive in our willingness to demand accountability. In many ways, politicians were like celebrities. These glamorous movie stars occupied the left coast while the arrogance that defines the elite politicians occupied the right coast. Somewhere in the middle, the rest of us created our spaces. Lately, they’ve begun invading our space and time and thoughts – and with each intrusion, the celebrities and the politicians feel even more entitled to claim what they never owned to start with: our loyalty.

If loyalty’s not an option, then feel free to never again darken their Facebook or Twitter pages:

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Facebook

But we always could rely on our politicians to exercise their loyalty to their own parties, right? Really, who demands something they refuse to show in their own actions? Elected leaders, that’s who makes those kinds of demands:

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Senator Susan Collins, after initially saying she would support the Republican nominee, rescinded that comment and now says she does not support Donald Trump. “If I were giving him advice, I would tell him he should own up to making mistakes…and he should stop insulting people.” What’s worse is that she’s considering voting for Clinton.

My favorite display of disloyalty comes not from a politician, per se, but a former John McCain aide, Mark Salter. He’s clearly missed the irony in his statement, “Are we in such dire straits that we must dispense with civility, kindness, tolerance and normal decency to put a mean-spirited, lying jerk in the White House?” What’s interesting is his tweet of “I’m With Her”, which is the rallying cry for Clinton supporters, answers his own question.

While there’s some evidence of Democratic politicians crossing over to support Trump, they’re certainly not advertising it, which makes them smarter on that point alone. After all, they’ve seen the implosion of the Republican Party now that it’s coming apart at the seams.

Is this really what our society has become in terms of leadership, power, strength and everything else that used to define this country? Our own government is suing itself, for God’s sake.

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And what should the residents of Louisiana do now that their governor has sued their employers? Big oil is as controversial as it gets and for good reason, but usually, politicians promise to increase jobs and clear the path for companies to do business in their respective states. The last thing a governor does is jeopardize the future of the nation’s second largest oil producing state. Unless you’re Governor John Bel Edwards. The industry that employs 300,000 people and accounts for more than $70 billion in revenue each year is now in his crosshairs.

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In all fairness, he’s right about the coast being in a major crisis, but haven’t we learned by now that Big Oil just doesn’t care for what the governor is hoping will be an “amicable solution”? Read the story here.

If there’s been anything at all that could remotely be construed as a silver lining, it’s that there have been many truths exposed to the American people. Problem is, the exposure on both sides is so irretrievably broken that we’ve come to the realization that this election no longer has any semblance of a dignified, informed and ethical process. The worst thing for Americans to do is to allow these poor choices to divide us. Ulterior political motives have already caused a division of races, a national debt that is so surreal that there’s no use pretending it could actually be repaid and a massive global stage in which the rest of the world is watching, alternating between shock, disbelief and humor.

Congress shows up when it serves a purpose. They would have us believe they’re battling their contemporaries to secure funding for whatever cause constituents are demanding, but they’re fooling no one. They’re always ready to jump out of their chairs the moment their extravagant vacations begin.

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Meanwhile, the campaigning continues, each new day bringing a new and ridiculous “media created, politician approved” scandal. Just consider the ones from last week – we’ve heard nothing else since these breaking news stories made the rounds and instead, the media has steered our attention to today’s crisis, whatever it might be.

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And now, we’re expected to be prepared later this year to cast our votes for one of the two most disturbing candidates to ever attempt to lead the world’s greatest nation. That old saying that making a real change at the polls is irrelevant: no matter what voters do at the polls, we will most certainly lose.

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Multi-Millionaire Congressmen Subject to IRS GHWI?

Last week, we learned that most members of Congress are multi-millionaires. While it’s not surprising, it’s definitely frustrating. There’s a new twist, though, and if this plays out like many are hoping, things could get a bit sticky for many of those wealthy career politicians.

As you read this, remember one very important fact: Only 11% of bills made it past a congressional committee and only about 3% of new laws across the board were enacted between 2011 and 2013. This will be important a bit later.

Congress by the Numbers

The Center for Responsive Politics announced last week that it had analyzed the personal finances of the 534 current members of Congress. It found for the first time the average net worth of those resting easy in their ivory towers is just more than $1 million.

But don’t let that tiny “1” ahead of the word “million” fool you: the reason that average is not higher is due to several of those in Congress who have no concept of budgeting their money. Many are in the red, including Rep. David Valadao (R-Calif.), who has an average net worth of negative $12.1 million. It’s said that the reasons are due to the many loans his family’s dairy farm owes.

Meanwhile, Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight Committee, made millions in the automobile industry. He’s the wealthiest with a net worth of a whopping $464 million. Many Congress members have similar net worth amounts.

Stay with me – this all links together…

GHWI

In 2009, the IRS formed what it refers to as the Global High Wealth Industry, or GHWI. Its sole purpose was to increase the focus on those considered “high income earners”. The Commissioner of Internal Revenue was clear and his line drawn in the sand was definitive at that time, “Many high wealth individuals make use of sophisticated financial, business, and investment arrangements with complicated legal structures and tax consequences. Many of these arrangements are above board. Others mask aggressive tax strategies.”

According to Pricewaterhouse Coopers:

The focus of this group is primarily the IRS targeting hedge funds, private equity firms, real estate funds and venture capital funds (collectively, “Managed Funds”).

One guess as to what the investment of choice is for most of our elected officials. Turns out, the politicians are dropping big money back into the stock market. Their focus is mutual funds and managed portfolios, according to The Center for Responsive Politics.

Here’s the kicker – remember all of those banking scandals that dominated the news in recent years? We’ve not heard much about them or their unethical CEOs and other financial leaders for one reason: the president’s healthcare reform was the priority. As such, that’s what the media focused on. You can be sure none of those scandals have been resolved; they’re quietly simmering in the background. Or maybe not. Take a look at this chart (which you can see in its entirety here):

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As you can see, the three biggest banks in the nation, Wells Fargo, Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase, all make the top ten most popular assets for those in Congress.

It’s not illegal, but it’s troublesome, especially when you consider:

JPMorgan Chase

Has there been a single week in the past few years that didn’t include news of yet another lawsuit against JPM? There are civil and criminal investigations that continue in the London Whale scandal. There’s another investigation into illegal energy trading in California, still another one in China over bribery accusations and, of course, the huge mortgage scandal that continues.

Don’t forget the harm done directly to its credit card customers. The bank was ordered to refund close to $310 million to those customers along with having to pay $80 million in fines due to identity theft protection that its card customers did not want. Just last week, the bank was ordered to pay a whopping $2 billion in its role with the Bernie Madoff scandal. These examples are the ones off the top of my head; you can be sure there are many more. See my infograph on JPMorgan and Jamie Dimon here.

Bank of America

Not to be outdone by its competitor, BoA has its own list. It includes big fines for minority discrimination. This was ordered when it was proven the bank charged higher fees and forced minorities into subprime loans when they might have qualified for better rates.

In 2009, it was fined nearly $3 million for overbilling its credit card customers. It then attempted to mislead an investigation into its contracting processes and was fined $137 million. Again, this is just a few of the recent scandals for BoA.

Wells Fargo

WF was hit with its own $85 million fine for “pushing subprime loans” to minorities. It was also fined for “selling complex investments without disclosing the risks”.  The judge in another suit ruled “Wells Fargo engaged in reprehensible systemic accounting abuses in its mortgage division”. And let’s not forget the money laundering scandal with Mexico’s drug cartel (this investigation continues).

Knowing all of this, you can’t help but wonder how much focus the GHWI is placing on these multi-millionaires. The short answer: very little. The IRS won’t disclose specifics, but what it does say is that there have been a grand total of 36 audits since its inception in 2009. Many of those audits turned up no wrongdoing, though the agency won’t provide hard data on those specifics, either. Still – 36 audits since its inception? What are the odds that even one member of Congress is part of that total?

Bringing it full circle, reconsider: Only 11% of bills made it past a congressional committee and only about 3% of new laws across the board were enacted between 2011 and 2013.

We have multi-millionaires, who are consistently adding to their wealth in jobs that their performance is significantly lacking and who are not held accountable – on personal or professional levels. Meanwhile, tax dollars continue to fund an arm of the IRS that refuses to release hard numbers on the job its doing.

What’s next? Who knows. Priorities are a mess and worsening, the media is busy redefining the role of journalism and the rest of us are in this constant state of frustration because we’re the ones shouldering the massive burdens – someone has to pay for the millions of dollars in fines, salaries and bailouts, after all.

4 Things That Need to Happen Before the Year’s Up (But Won’t)

There’s a lot going on in both the financial and political circles. First, we have tonight’s presidential debates, which, I’m afraid are going to be little more than a few “breaking news” stories to hit our in-boxes every time one of the candidates say something with any degree of wisdom.

While everyone’s gearing up for that – whatever it ultimately becomes, there are a lot of other things flying under the radar – and honestly, it almost seems as though it’s intentionally planned this way. Either way, there are a few things that really need to happen before the end of the year, but certainly won’t.

The state of New York filed a lawsuit against JPMorgan Chase on Monday. This is just another minor blip for Dimon & Co, who have glided through the entire financial brouhaha with not so much as hurt feelings. Still, you can’t help but wonder when it’s going to catch up not only with the “big banks”, but specifically Jamie Dimon. You can be sure of one thing – this lawsuit? This is not the “catch up” so many are waiting for. In fact, when the news broke, one might have expected it to affect the banking giant’s shares to fall – it barely registered at all. Do the words “too big to fail” sound appropriate here?

Here’s the problem though – New York’s attorney general said this isn’t about forcing anyone to take responsibility via criminal avenues – the lawsuit is being filed from a civil perspective. I get the sense that AG Schneiderman would have things take a different path if he had his way. He’s already vented his frustration that “more has not been done to hold accountable the Wall Street banks” and that the irresponsible and at least unethical choices behind “the mortgage-backed bonds that imploded” and all but “brought down the U.S. economy”. So where is the FBI? Where is the SEC? I don’t know either – but take a look at what the FBI says:

“With losses totaling approximately $40 billion per year, combating Securities and Commodities Fraud remains a priority for the FBI. The FBI is investigating 1655 cases of Securities and Commodities Fraud and has 157 agents dedicated to the problem.”

These are criminal cases the FBI is referring to. More than 1,600 cases with less than 200 agents to handle them? How did the problem get so big to start with?

There has to come a point in time when those responsible are held criminally responsible. This civil nonsense? Think it’s a big deal? Two questions: did you know another lawsuit was filed Friday against Bank of America from the state of New York? Most people didn’t. Have you seen Jamie Dimon plastered all over the airwaves, showing concern that his bank is facing yet one more lawsuit? This is like, I don’t know, the third or fourth lawsuit this year alone. He’s not worried about this.

The best we can hope for is that the state will use the Martin Act in these suits. This will allow Schneiderman to present evidence without having to prove intent. As we know, folks love hiding behind the difficulties associated with proving intent when they’re facing a lawsuit. The banks hopefully won’t have that advantage.

A solution – a real solution (and in my opinion that includes criminal charges) needs to be found this year. We don’t want to drag this into a new year.

OK – second thing that needs to happen actually has a lot to do with tomorrow’s debate.

It’s short and sweet – these two candidates need to show passion in their arguments. Here’s where they’re going to fail miserably – first, they confuse passion for near-hatred they feel towards each other. More importantly though, they (meaning Obama and Romney) get so frustrated with one another that they forget it’s the taxpayers/consumers/American citizens they need to focus on. So yeah – they need to show bit of passion towards what really matters to the ones who will be casting their votes. Show a bit of maturity and respect and skip the stupidity.

Third thing – Congress needs to show a bit of maturity, as well. If the fiscal cliff comes full circle, and it appears it might (although some economists say it won’t), you and me and your boss and your worst enemy will immediately be hit with a staggering $3,500 tax increase. Don’t even kid yourself that the tax brackets will play any role in this, either. We’re all going to be paying it in some way or another. They need to be cornered or shamed or pushed – whatever it takes – into doing the right thing and finding a solution to the Bush tax cuts that will expire at midnight on December 31.

Fourth thing – We all know the media is bias. There are selfish motives, money, egos and a host of other unattractive reasons that drive the collective American media. If all of us took an interest in uncovering our own truth, the media would have no choice but to return to the more passive role it’s supposed to serve. There’s an old saying, “Be the only thinker in your own mind”. I used to tell my son that when he was a little one. I wanted him to grow up defining his own stance, his own beliefs and his own moral code. Seems like so many have allowed the media to do their thinking for them. Question everything. Make no mistake: these journalists that are landing in our living rooms every day? They too are human – they have their own opinions and beliefs and political parties. It’s time we all take responsibility for making up our own minds.

Just When I Thought I Was Finished

I admit – the political goings-on over the past year had grown tiresome even to me. I’d decided that the upcoming election would bear no winners with the exception of the actual candidates. We – as in the American taxpayer – have nothing to celebrate in terms of the outcome. I swear, I think both parties are counting on folks to just throw up their hands and say, “Do what you’re going to do – you’re going to anyway.” Remember how, as a kid, you’d end up getting your way sometimes simply by exhausting your mom? She’d throw up her hands and give in, but you’d always hear her say, “OK – now get outta here and let me catch my breath.”

The DNC, as we all know, is wrapping up today – and not a moment too soon – and believe me, I say that because BOTH conventions are over with.

This week could not have been a more nightmarish week for the Obama Administration. It was day after day of bad news on top of more bad news. Here are a few of my ledes from this week:

  • As the Democratic National Convention roars on, news broke that a record 46.7 million Americans — or roughly one in five adults — used food stamps during the month of June.
  • It just wouldn’t be a holiday weekend if gas prices didn’t jump higher. This time, though, a new record’s been set. Gas prices, up by 9.4% in August, are higher than they’ve ever been in U.S. history, beating the record set in 2008.
  • On Thursday, economists were expecting 150,000 new jobs to be added to the employment rolls. Admitting it wouldn’t really affect the unemployment rate, those economists were hopeful that at least the number wouldn’t be any lower. On Friday, we’re wondering what the economists are saying with the paltry 96,000 jobs that were added in August.
  • The national debt hit the $16 trillion mark today. When Obama took office four years ago, it was $10 trillion and Congress continues to spend as though nothing is at stake. Unfortunately, each American’s share of the federal debt now rests at $37,437 – there’s definitely a lot at stake.

The worse part of all of this is knowing Obama has still managed to keep pace with Romney – the polls still show them at an even split. The only thing thing that makes sense to me is that everyone is voting for their candidate not because they necessarily support him but rather, they dislike the other candidate even more. Somehow, that just doesn’t sit right. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Our nation wasn’t built on the premise of choosing presidents based who we dislike less. And yet – there it is. Which leads me to…

There has been a shift, I’ve noticed, on all of the social networking sites. Folks threatening to “shut down” their Facebook pages and close their Twitter accounts. They say they’re tired of the political rhetoric. I get that – I got burned out too before this week got me fired up again. Here’s the thing, though – for the first time in our history, Americans are able to come together in an unprecedented and rather casual way. Even the last presidential race didn’t include as many Facebook and Twitter users. I don’t even think I had even considered any kind of social networking presence four years ago. At any rate, some of the nonsense is just that – nonsense. I’ve had a lot of “tags” of ridiculous photos and images that trash talked one candidate or another. I eventually had to change my settings so that I could control what was being posted to my wall (I’ll do my own trash talking, thank you very much). My point is it would be a shame that anyone would choose something like politics as the reason for bowing out. Every now and then, something comes along that absolutely goes against everything we believe – and then we actually take a minute to consider it and it’s in those moments change happens. It’s rare – but weeding through the nonsense becomes worth it when it does happen.

The Hokey OpGlobalBlackout

Doesn’t this whole Anonymous drive seem sort of…George Orwell-ish? If you’re not familiar with Anonymous, this is the group that’s taking matters into its own hands – however many hands that might be. It’s a group that, unlike the Occupy movement, isn’t walking up to the line, pointing it out and saying, “Keep on…I’ll cross it. I swear I will”, but instead, isn’t even bothering with the fair warnings; not really. It’s chosen the internet as its vehicle and its threats are being backed up with action. The crazy thing is most folks are egging it on.

Last week, a new message was delivered, courtesy of its typical vehicle of choice, YouTube. The video is titled “Anonymous Message to Congress” and in it, the group warns U.S. Congress that it shouldn’t have shutdown MegaUpload, the controversial file sharing site. As a result, Anonymous’ largest coordinated attack was put into place. 5,000 people took down more than ten federal and and other industry sites last week. And isn’t it interesting this hasn’t hit mainstream media?

Here’s the thing. Anonymous agreed that much of the content on the MegaUpload site is copyrighted, but says the government’s decision had nothing to do with copyrighted material. It’s now demanding the site be reinstated. Immediately. Or else.

Anonymous insists it has penetrated servers of some impressive organizations, including the United Nations, US Bank, Capital One, Twitter and Facebook (and others). If the site isn’t reinstated, it says it’ll take these – and other – servers down.

So now what? Is this what’s it’s come down to? The government, the group and the information highway? Yes, indeed. And with the support Anonymous is gaining, the smart money’s on the group. Check out the video below. By the way – how inadequate are we all going to feel if Anonymous is a group of 12 year olds somewhere in Minnesota whose collective IQs hover around 180?

 

Contradictions in Black and White

President Obama is expected to speak a bit later this morning. This, after a weekend of speculation about what lies ahead for the nation, is sure to ignite controversy and drive approval ratings even further down. So, with that in mind, I wanted to take a look at the speech he made on the 8th of this month and compare it to what will be announced later today. If you want to re-familiarize yourself with that speech from earlier this month, the text in its entirety can be found here.

Oh -but before I get knee-deep in this mess, did anyone pay attention to the Occupy Wall Street demonstration this weekend? What? Is it news to you too? That figures. The media in its entirety and for whatever reason, declined to cover it. This is definitely a major storm that’s on the horizon and one I’m sure will grow more desperate before any solutions are found. Use the hashtag #overhaulwallstreet if you want to follow it on Twitter because as of now, you won’t find media coverage. OK…so back to the Obama mess.

Here’s how I’ll do it – the president’s words from his 9/8 speech, verbatim, will be put in bold print followed by the Associated Press piece that’s currently running and includes the low-down on today’s speech. These, of course, are just a few of the contradictions, though there are many.

I am sending this Congress a plan that you should pass right away. It’s called the American Jobs Act. There should be nothing controversial about this piece of legislation. Everything in here is the kind of proposal that’s been supported by both Democrats and Republicans

Today: President Barack Obama’s proposal to reduce long-term deficits with $1.5 trillion in new taxes will be announced today. The plan stands little chance of passing Congress.

(Yeah – nothing controversial with that, right?)

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In addition to the trillion dollars of spending cuts I’ve already signed into law, it’s a balanced plan that would reduce the deficit by making additional spending cuts; by making modest adjustments to health care programs like Medicare and Medicaid

Today: $580 billion in cuts in mandatory benefit programs, including $248 billion in Medicare and $72 billion in Medicaid and other health programs. Other mandatory benefit programs include farm subsidies.

(I’m thinking “modest” should be used loosely in this instance…seriously…$580 billion?)

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But what we can’t do – what I won’t do – is let this economic crisis be used as an excuse to wipe out the basic protections that Americans have counted on for decades. I reject the idea that we need to ask people to choose between their jobs and their safety.

Today: And if Congress fails to adopt the deficit-reduction recommendations of a bipartisan joint Congressional committee this fall, the Defense Department will be required under debt ceiling legislation passed in August to find about $900 billion in savings over the coming decade. Cuts that deep will almost certainly entail reducing personnel benefits for active and retired troops, Pentagon officials and analysts say.

(Maybe I’m confused about what “basic protections” are? Cuts in benefits for our military?)

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Of course, so much of the brouhaha in Washington is subjective. What one says can be construed in a dozen ways, but it’s difficult to slow dance around much of what was said and what’s sure to be said today. One thing’s for sure: we’ll hear it from the president himself in a couple of hours.

From 25 Days to 25 Seconds – Now That’s Progress!

Courtesy of Library of Congress

This week, in 1858, the Overland Mail Company completed its first mail service between the east and west coasts of the U.S.   Congress had already passed an act in early 1857 that authorized an “overland mail delivery service” to reliably transport mail.  The first one that could make it happen would be the one who received the $60,000 subsidy.  Overland Mail Company was successful on September 15, 1858.  Part of the need for this type of mail delivery was due to the 1849 Gold Rush in California.  Americans, always known for our need to know and quick, couldn’t wait for information to flow between families that were located on both coasts.  At that time, “quick communication” took 25 days – the time it took to travel, by horse and carriage, from one coast to another.

Interestingly, one of the directors on the Overland Board was none other than William Fargo, of the Wells-Fargo conglomerate.  He and the board used the first $60,000 it received to place “building way stations” every ten to fifteen miles along the route the mail traveled.  Using horses, custom created coaches began the back and forth 2,800+ mile journey that delivered mail and people (up to nine per coach) anywhere along the route.  Imagine sharing a relatively small space with bundles of mail, several other people, no protection from the elements –including rain, heat and dust and along a very bumpy route for days at a time.

Of course, it wasn’t long before the Pony Express and what was then named “Wells, Fargo and Company” became the preferred carrier and it remained that way until 1869, when railroads were constructed and mail and passengers began using this much faster method of transport.

And now, we can easily send email, text messages and make phone calls within seconds – anywhere in the world. If we’re on the east coast and wondering what’s going on in that crazy state of California, it’s simply a matter of finding street cams in whatever city we’re interested in or better still, Skyping our friend who’s vacationing there and asking them to turn their computers to face the ocean – and instantly, it’s like we’re there.  Well, maybe not exactly “there”, but rest assured, with minds like Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs, you know it’s just a matter of time.

So next time your “send/receive” button isn’t working fast enough, remember, an extra two seconds is nothing compared to 25 days.