Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Restoring Democracy in the Democratic Party is Necessary to Save Our Republic

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

Not long ago, Deborah Wassermann Shultz and the DNC boasted that Democratic super delegates buffer the Democratic Party leadership from capricious grassroots influence. Make no mistake, this was a boast, not an admission. Behind it is a fear that popular movement activists might upset the balance between wealthy donors who fund the Party and the needs of middle-class Americans, which is the largest voting bloc. But representing the middle-class leaves a lot of worthy American's without political representation.

Consider this, the U.N. is investigating poverty and civil right violations in areas of the United States that are on par with what can be found seen in 3rd world nations. Extremely insensitive GOP policies and attitudes are among the root causes of extreme systemic poverty. No where are the consequences more dire than in some red states in the South dominated by extreme conservative politics. In one poor neighborhood in Alabama under investigation by the United Nations, for example, ringworm is epidemic from contaminated drinking water. The reason is that waste water is being carried away in above ground PVC pipes that empty into open sewerage pits and even fields where children play. The Republican leaders don't seem to care about sanitation for these folks. In the eyes of many conservative politicians the poor have only themselves to blame. Leaders there allocate no money to help those who have no money to fix their septic tanks. These are the unworthy poor.

It is the GOP that does most of the dirty work of stripping the social safety nets and public services of government funding. The money saved pays for tax cuts and sweetheart deals to wealthy corporations and their owners. These perks for business are rewarded with campaign donations and sometimes other, more corrupt, remunerations.

Democratic leaders are mostly silent about the poverty conditions in red states, and have been for years. These poor people aren't registered Democrats. They can't help Democrats get elected and can't donate to the Party. This is how Democratic leaders feel about the poor in general. Party leaders have become ever more focused on races where the Party has the best chances of winning, and corporate donations are all that is needed to secure a victory. But these corporate donations also come with strings attached. Business interests must be served. Regulations and consumer protections must be rescinded to boost corporate profits. Tax breaks for the wealthy must be provided in exchange for their support, and government services must be cut to make up for lost revenue.

This is an aspect of party over people. It is neoloberalism in action. Neoliberalism is devoid of any compassion or social justice for those who cannot compete in the market place. Neoliberals ascribe human rights to business entities and work to free corporations from restrictive government rules designed to protect and empower actual human beings. Neoliberal Democrats have given lip service to the needs of the middle-class for decades without ever mentioning the deteriorating conditions of the poor and the working class over the past 30 years. They run on prosperity platforms that emphasize job creation rather than wealth creation for middle-class families. They stress ways to boost business profits to create good paying jobs, but then don't hold businesses accountable when those jobs never materialize. They turn a blind eye when the wealthy hide their profits in off shore tax havens, and the list goes on. Neoliberals in both parties continue to promote failed policy ideas because they can't offend their business donors. So for all of us, silence is consent! Our hands are just as dirty if we aren't willing to speak out and advocate for ourselves and for those who have no voice in government.

Right now, the Republican Party is a lost cause while the Democratic Party is too focused on the tic tock of strategic planning to hear the cries of the needy. Both parties are badly in need of reform. The over representation of business interests (ownership class) over civil interests is at the core of the destructive neoliberal philosophy shared by leadership in both parties. I am a life-long Democrat. It is clear that the DNC and the State Democratic Parties must come to accept that populism IS what democracy looks like. If you do right by all the people you have nothing to fear from populist activism. Don't just cut the number of super-delegates, eliminate them and restore democracy.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Promise Makers of Wall Street

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

Not long ago a dollar was backed by the promise that it could be exchanged for gold or silver. To back up that promise the US gold reserve was established at Fort Knox in Tennessee, for example. The confidence of our people, and of the rest of the world, in our currency was far less certain than it is today.  The gold standard was perhaps a necessary step towards establishing the good faith of the US Government.

Look at a dollar bill and you will see that it is a Federal Reserve Note. Before the creation of the Federal Reserve Bank, many banks issued their own currency, or "bank notes".  The worthiness of those bank notes wasn't consistent. The Federal Reserve Bank standardized and stabilized our national currency. It's important to remember that the word "note" is another word for an I.O.U.  A bank note is a promise that a coin or a paper document  can be exchanged for a stated amount of tangible value.

The important point for this discussion is that all currency is a form of debt. A U.S. Dollar is a government backed loan. Our trust in its worthiness has become an intrinsic faith in our government's ability to guarantee its face value. (Which is why the Congressional Freedom Coalition's talk of not raising the national debt ceiling is so dangerous.)

I recently saw "Junk" on Broadway. It is a play partially based on the story of Wall Street financier Michael Milken.  It is a cautionary tale of money and corruption. Milken's new approach to finance made him a billion dollars over just four years in the 1980's. He was like a god on Wall Street and all the normal rules didn't seem to apply to him, until he got caught breaking the laws he ignored.

More than that, Junk is the story of the paradigm shift Milken pioneered in how modern bankers and business leaders have come to understand wealth and power.  It is a view of wealth that can be summed up by the slogan, "debt is an asset".  Specifically, any financial instrument that reliably conveys the promise of value to another person or entity can be used as a form of currency.

Government regulated Federal Reserve Notes are no longer central to the exchange of wealth. Nor is any physical collateral or real estate necessary. It seems almost any promise of payment for money owed is sufficient to make financial transactions on Wall Street. These creative financial instruments often have cleaver names and deceptive structures. They are increasingly complex and difficult to understand or regulate. But they all have one thing in common, they are all based on debt. They all create wealth on a promise.

In  Milken's case, he began with generating cash by selling very  high risk, but high yield bonds and then using those bonds as collateral to finance corporate takeovers. These "junk bonds" (as they are still called) were used like currency to finance "leveraged buyouts" of other businesses. Whole divisions within companies purchased in these buyouts often had to be chopped up and sold off to pay back these high interest bonds.

The charges brought against Milken were ordinary financial crimes, such as insider trading. But his creative financing lead to a whole new banking culture that upended how business was conducted around the world. It has lead to an economic environment where new methods for wealth extraction competes against more conventional methods of wealth creation on a global scale.

The growing methods and culture of wealth extraction transfers wealth but doesn't create new wealth. It doesn't grow or manufacture anything. It only creates more opportunities for the wealthy to grow richer while disadvantaging mid-sized businesses and manufacturers. It is one of the drivers leading us into the next gilded age, but it hard to see just where it is taking us. It is harder still to know what we can do make our economy work for everyone again.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Uranium One Hype a Big "Nothing Burger"

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

President Trump and some Republicans in Congress want the Department of Justice to investigate Trumps political opponent, Hillary Clinton. Specifically they want a Special Counsel appointed to investigate her ties to the sale of US uranium to Russia. Attorney General Jeff Sessions squirmed under pressure to act from a GOP congressmen at a hearing on November 14, 2017.

A President calling for criminal investigations of his political opponents is abhorrent in any modern democracy. In this particular case a second Special Counsel investigation would also give Trump political leverage to further obstruct the efforts of Robert Mueller's investigation of Trump's ties to Russia. But I suspect the biggest reason Jeff Sessions squirmed when pressed to appoint a Special Counsel was because there is simply no basis to investigate anything connecting Hillary to Uranium One sales. Here are the essential facts in a timeline format.

2005 - Bill Clinton and Frank Giustra, a Canadian mining financier with an interest in the UrAsia Mining Company, visit Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan is an independent country that was once under the control of the former Soviet Union. Not long after the Guistra visit, UrAsia Mining receives a lucrative mining contract in Kazakhstan.

2006 - Frank Giustra donates $31.3 million to the Clinton Foundation.
2007 - UrAsia Mining Company merges with South Africa Mining Company to become the Uranium One Company. Frank Giustra sells his financial interests in the company.
2008-2010 - During this period several active investors with an interest in Uranium One Company and a former investor (Giustra ) donate more than $8 million to the Clinton Foundation. Donation from just the active investors totaled just over $4 million. The Clinton Foundation omitted these active donors' names in a US Government filing document, later admitting that information was omitted by mistake.
2009 - Hillary Clinton becomes Secretary of State. Later that same year, Rosetom, a Russian mining company, begins buying a stake in Uranium One.

2009-2013 - During this time Rosetom completes three separate transactions to gain a controlling interest in Uranium One. Announcement of plans to take over Uranium One invokes the need for the Uranium One sale to be approved by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). (Note: This sale of Uranium One only involved product mined in the US and sold only to private nuclear power generation companies within the US. CFIUS is an advisory committee. Only the President of the United States can stop the sale of this company to a foreign business entity.)
2010 - The CFIUS committee, comprised of the Secretary of the US Treasury Department and department heads at the Justice Department, Homeland Security, Consumer Affairs, the Defense Department, The State Department, the Energy Department, The office of US Trade Representatives and the Science and Technology Policy group, approve the sale a controlling interest in the Uranium One Company to the Rosetom company. At the time of the approval, the State Department's CFIUS representative was the Assistant Secretary of State, Jose Fernando (not Hillary Clinton). Had any one of these agency heads objected to the sale the matter would have gone to the President to decide. The purchase of a controlling interest in Uranium One by Rosetom did not involve or allow the export of uranium to Russia.
2017 - President Donald Trump and Republican members of Congress call for a criminal Investigation of Hillary Clinton's connections to this uranium sale that took place seven years prior. 

That's it. If there was a quid pro quo arrangement between Hillary Clinton and Uranium One or Rosetom it isn't apparent from the facts, as least not to me. There are other facts that advocates of a Hillary prosecution toss into the mix (speakers fees, etc.), but they have little apparent relationship to the essential accusation the Republicans are making. If Hillary Clinton could no, and did not, contribute anything of value to the parties involved in the sale of financial interests in Uranium One, then there was no quid pro quo, no bribery to investigate.

Even FoxNews' Sheppard Smith called out his own company and the President on this one. https://youtu.be/f8wuFDs7xSA

CORRECTION: The prior version of this post mistakenly stated that it was the sale of uranium that was approved by CIFUS when it was the sale of a financial interest in the company, Uranium One, by Rosetom that was reviewed and approved by CIFUS. Changes have been made to correct this error.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Let's Talk!

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

I don't mean to offend anyone who enjoys sports, but professional sports have become a primary distraction keeping us from our due diligence to be well informed and actively engaged in the level of civil discourse our democracy requires.(This doesn't apply to everyone who likes sports). So when folks are upset that politics is infringing on sports, they affirm the role of sport as a means to avoid uncomfortable conversations.
Most Americans have developed a superficial relationship to politics (Including many in the media who cover it like a sport). Politics as sport is all process and insider intrigue. It is devoid of real substance or depth behind the reported facts. We lose sight of the real world consequences that bad policy decisions have on our lives.
Current events are forcing us to confront politics as we haven't done in years. It's a good development, but it will take time to get use to talking about politics with our neighbors again. It will take time to gather the essential facts we should have, facts that have been missing or withheld from us for years. And it will test our patience and tolerance as we begin to bridge the gaps that have come to divided us. So let's hang in there and keep talking.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Taking Offense to NFL Counter Protests

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

[Below is a letter to the editor I sent to my hometown newspaper. Feel free to use it as a template for your own letter if you wish and feel the same way I do on the issues.]

In 2015, when police homicides in America first gained national attention, there were 59 civilians shot dead in the first 24 days of that year.  By contrast, in England and Wales there were a total of 55 civilians killed in police shootings during  the prior 24 YEARS.  Accounting for population differences we might expect  12 civilians killed by police here per year, not ten time that number.

We have too many police homicides and the problem is compounded when a disproportionate number killed are African-Americans. It may just be rogue cops and a few tainted police department behind most shootings, yet little is being done to correct the problem.

So when I see an NFL player kneeling at the National Anthem, I'm reminded we have to work harder  to overcome racial bias and improve our national policing. 

When fans, and especially Legionnaires burn NFL jerseys to protest the players calling our attention to this problem, I feel a disconnect. Don't they know they're dehumanizing the dead and trivializing the trauma of their loved ones?  Which is the greater offence, kneeling at the anthem or ignoring these needless killings? 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

A War of Perceptions

We are at war, but it isn't a kinetic war where things explode. It's a perceptual war that uses our advanced social medium platforms and weaponized psycho-social messaging against us. It radically "emotionalizes" every issue or belief system that naturally exists in our socially diverse, pluralistic society. Every difference is ripped open into an emotional divide until we can't discuss it without rancor. Friends and relatives whose company we once enjoyed we now avoid because conversations with them have become so contentious on the facts and crippled with emotions. 

We are in a global information war against democratic societies. It attacks our trust in self-government. It undermines our faith in civil institutions and the free press. It divides us, polarizes us, confuses us and eventually turns us against our neighbors. It eats away at the values, morals and principles that unit people. It fills us with mistrust, greed, envy and hate. We are led to see the world in stark contrast and black or white thinking.

When we are disunited and weak, when we are unable to govern ourselves and events spiral out of control, we will welcome the social order that the wealthy and powerful tyrants of our day want to impose. 

I know this sounds bleak and a little crazy, even to me, but we have entered into an age were the powerful elites who own or control the means of mass communications can modify and manipulate mass perceptions if we let them. 

We must hold fast to our love for humanity. We must trust in our shared values, heal our divisions, restore civility, take back control of our public discourse and re-balance public actions to better serve the greater good for all. Where we are estranged from friend and family over political or social issues, we must overcome our divisions so we can face the enemies that seek to divide us. 

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Oct. 7, 2016 - The Day We Learned and Forgot Russia Was Attacking Us

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

James Clapper of the CIA and U.S. intelligence agencies announce that Russia is taking active measures to interfere with our Presidential elections.


It was Friday, October 7, 2016. There was a rapid series of news dumps that day that changed the course of our Presidential Election, and our country.

If corporate (for profit) news outlets based reporting on the gravity of events rather than a story's public appeal, the top story that day would have been that US intelligence agencies announced that Russia was actively messing with our election. Media manipulations by powerful people behind the scenes took place in the hours that followed the announcement, burying the biggest news story in a decade. Who was behind the release of that shocking Access Hollywood tape that stole our attention?

The video was located by an Access Hollywood producer and turned over to NBC, who held onto it for a period of time. Somehow it was subsequently leaked to the Washington Post who published it. NBC published it minutes later. But how it got released isn't important, other to say that it wasn't released to NBC by the Hillary campaign. The public reaction to Donald Trumps debasing comments about woman was loud and immediate.*

Then, an hour after it was published, the first of the Podesta emails were released These emails that had been stolen by Russian based hackers and the content was used to strategically selected emails for release that maximize damage to the Hillary campaign. The Podesta email release blunted the impact of the Access Hollywood tapes. Both stories dominated the news for days. The two stories combined completely eclipsed the Russia story. And so the biggest story in a decade, That our democracy was currently under attack by Russia, got buried and erased from our collective conscious until after the election.

(Editors Note: Paragraph three above was re-written. It originally implied that no one knows who released the tape. The edited version above clarifies that the unidentified leak was to the Washington Post. Access Hollywood did give the information to  NBC prior to the Washington Post getting a confidential or anonymous copy. 1:35pm 10/10/17) 

Thursday, October 5, 2017

The Hypocrisy Risk for Social Conservatives

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

Whenever hypocrisy strikes a Republican politician, the immediate argument on the right is that Democratic politicians are not morally superior to Republicans. This is may be true, but it is also misleading. The most recent GOP hypocrisy scandal is an example.

Representative Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania became the latest GOP social conservative to manifest hypocrisy. Murphy is married, has an adult child, is a staunch right-to-life proponent and a member of the Congressional House Pro-Life Caucus. This January he voted for the latest Pro-Life bill that passed in Congress. He proudly highlighted his support for the bill in a press release that reads in part:

"Passage of H.R. 7 in the wake of the President’s executive action yesterday gives me great hope that moving forward, we will once again be a nation committed to honoring life from the moment of conception onward and ensuring American taxpayer dollars are never spent to end a life before it even begins.” [Murphy, January 24, 2017]

The scandal is that he had just suggested to a woman who became pregnant as a result of their extra-marital affair that she should have an abortion. The woman, Shannon Edwards, was offended by the hypocrisy of Murphy's public and private attitudes on abortion and told him so in a text message:

"And you have zero issue posting your pro-life stance all over the place when you had no issue asking me to abort our unborn child just last week when we thought that was one of the options." [Edwards, January 2017]

Ms. Edward's texts went public and Tim Murphy has since announced he will not run for re-election next year.  The very polarized social media debates are well underway.

[ UPDATE: Tim Murphy announced he will be resigning at the end of October ]

From this brief account the hypocrisy is clear and the consequences are sad for those involved, especially his wife and child. Frustration on the right is also understandable as this keeps happening on the GOP side. It may seem like the media are selectively reporting on GOP moral gaffs, hence comes the counter-argument that Democratic politicians are just as likely to engage in immoral behaviors, but circumstances make this misleading.

On the Republican side, family values focuses on moral issues, such as those in this case. On the Democratic side family values focuses more on policy issues, such as universal health care, fair wages, school lunch programs, etc. It is less likely politicians will fall victim to hypocrisy if the family values they promote are policy related rather than morality based.

As long as Republicans exploit social conservative issues and insist on legislating morality, the GOP will continue to provide glaring examples that we all fall short of living perfect lives. Conceding that Democrats are just as likely to engage in immorality may be true, but it doesn't change the fact that they are still less likely to sound like hypocrites when they do.