Tuesday, October 15, 2019
My friends who have been studying the Russian Mob and Trump, since before Trump was a TV actor, traced out relations also documented in books. The Trump Family have been "alleged" money launderer and mob assets since before Donald Trump joined the family business. Books on this subject include:
- Craig Unger: House of Trump House of Putin
- Mike Isikoff/David Corn Russian Roulette
- H.B. Glushakow Mafia Don: Donald Trump's 40 years of Mob ties
- Seth Hettena Trump Russia
- There are more books and articles, including ones on Don's dad.
Ironically Andrew McCabe touches on the Russian Mob in his book The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump, touched on the origins of the Russian mob in his chapter on his experience with the Russian Mob near the beginning of his FBI career.
more to come...
Friday, October 11, 2019
I've been studying, talking to people and blogging about infrastructure for a number of years now. What is happening in California is a stark example of the inevitable result of our tradition of privateering with infrastructure. It's an old cycle:
Privateering in Infrastructure
- Promise something for nothing; "cheaper, better, faster."
- Take over ownership, control of a vital public commodity.
- Promise maintenance, refresh and updating of said infrastructure.
- Collect payments from consumers who have little choice but to pay or suffer.
- Pocket those payments instead of maintaining, refreshing, updating or protecting the public capital goods they now own.
- Neglect updates, maintenance, refesh of said infrastructure.
- Eventually the infrastructure degrades to the point of failure.
- Declare bankruptcy and make the state pay for refreshing public capital.
Back in the 19th century, the pioneer economist, Henry George divided the properties necessary for production into 3 categories:
- Natures Bounty, land and natural resources
- Capital Goods, “wealth in the course of production”
Capital is defined as that wealth that is used as input into making more wealth. In Henry George's world Capital is not the money itself, unless that money is spent on capital goods;
- Tools, Factories, Equipment
- Fuel, water, raw materials,
- But NOT bank accounts or land.
Privateering Versus Actual Investment
In Adam Smith's "Wealth of Nations" Capital Stock were things like Sheep or Goats kept to breed to produce more sheep and goats. With material goods one can tell a capital good from something more abstract because a capital good depreciates unless additional resources are put into maintaining, updating, refreshing it. Capital Goods cost money. We protect income from capital goods because it will be consumed by the use of those goods. In
Henry George did a good job of explaining all those things and his ideas informed the early stages of industrialization in the United States, with common sense definitions and clarity. See:
- *note, the website purports fealty to Henry George, but it focuses on the workaround to his ideas implemented on his death and land rents.
Borrowing the Virtue of Capital for Loot
Henry George was soon shoved aside by others, including some people who had initially been his disciples and who hijacked his movement. They wanted land property, natural resources, and simple wealth to be treated as capital and borrowing its virtues, taxed as if it were productive wealth. Actual capital, needs constant refresh. But corporations need guaranteed income. Investing in capital or wages is a cost. For a corporation profit is defined as wealth minus those costs. The course of investment in capital is a fine one, but the temptation to live on rents and coast is ever-present. At one time policy makers understood this. They exempted ONLY capital type expensing. But by lumping all wealth, including financial wealth and rents from property or hijacking wages, as "capital", wealthy people can make money by renting their wealth. They no longer have to invest their money in the constant refreshing and updating that is needed to keep a property up. They can live on depreciating investments and by even junking them, instead.
We've seen this with leveraged buyouts. A company is bought, loaded with debt, the debt is backed by depreciating assets, but purchased premised on the notion that it will be invested in capital goods. The people doing leveraged buyouts lend money, get their money back with interest, pay themselves godawful salaries and then junk or bankrupt the companies they purchased with investor money. This is not capitalism, this is privateering.
The latest example of this is Pacific Gas and Electric and their power outages. It has been easier for the owners of PG&E to use decades old infrastructure and put bandaids on it, than to refresh or modernize it. Their mandate is to make as much short term money as possible. Long term profit in the old sense, as a strong, modern, vital, robust system, was secondary to maximizing payments to top executives and stockholders. When that failure combined with climate change to disastrous consequences, they declared bankruptcy. Like the Turnpikes of old, revenues were diverted to pockets not maintenance because they see a monopoly situation
I would suggest that folks in California invest, big time, in solar, wind and stored water energy. We also need to stop pretending that privateering works. Although that is not the line pedaled by Cato and such. Champions of privateering will tell you that public and private partnerships "Work better" because they mix investor money with government money. The downside of that is that in cases where there is an underlying monopoly they also profiteer with tolls and fees. There is also no incentive to continue investing in refresh and update once the monopoly is established. The worst effect of privateering with public goods is that they become private goods available to an elite and excluding others. In the end that usually has led to alternative technologies coming along. But that doesn't make it an optimal solution.
And PG&E illustrates what happens when a public good is privatized. Just as Enron did. Just as we are seeing with internet platforms like facebook or twitter.
Cato article (which spins like a Tazmanian Devil):
- Gavin Newsom:
I'm in the process of disambiguating older posts. This is part of a series, I'll come back to it later.
Sunday, September 22, 2019
Impeachment Process is Oversight Process
I started this Post around June. I was listening to Representative Jerry Nadler, who heads the Judiciary Committee that would become an impeachment inquiry, and he was talking about "time constraints" and the difficulty of impeaching the President. It made me think, it really is difficult to impeach anyone. And that degrades the power of impeachment and attenuates its potential effectiveness. But:
- Is that a real problem or an example of bad process? In this era of gigantic government, where too much power is already delegated to the executive, aren't these matters of "bad constitution" rather than things we can't address? If so then they reflect antiquated process and that should be dealt with. In this post I include a few suggestions on how to modernize that process without a new constitutional amendment.
- What are the benefits if the House impeaches anyway?
What Would Impeachment Accomplish Now?
The benefits of the House impeaching the President anyway are:
- Doing so will Document Trump's crimes.
- This will provide input evidence for prosecutions once he's out of office.
- Doing this will hammer home to the general public the depth of Trump's perfidy.
- This will rebuke and may even shame the shameless Republicans in the House and Senate.
- This may help us defeat him electorally.
For this reason, impeachment articles are worth doing, even with the knowledge that they'll get to the Senate and be ignored or tabled. It is my belief that each Article should focus on one set of infractions, document the criminality and abuse of power and why they are reason for impeachment. The reason for separate articles is that they should result in separate prosecutions, changes in law and impeachment/prosecution of co-conspirators. I personally like the "Drip Drip of investigations" idea. There are at least 8 or 9 articles needed, by my count, and each of them embraces several to hundreds of counts. For more on this see:
Meanwhile this post addresses ideas for improving our antiquated process:
Saturday, September 14, 2019
Orange is the New Moron
Trumpism isn't even an ism
Trumpism, isn't even an ism. It is the completely arbitrary ravings of a demented old man with power he never trained for and ideas that never made sense. This latest thing, regulating light bulbs to protect incandescent technology, is case in point. The new technology is finally becoming relatively cheap to buy, and was already saving people money by being much more energy efficient than incandescent bulbs, and he puts out an executive order that nixes the effort. Why? Is it to please the light bulb manufacturers? No! it is because:
“I always look orange!”
This is the ravings of a mad man.
Tariffs can be useful when dealing with countries that are breaking the rules. The idea is to counter bad behavior with punishing behavior and reward good behavior. But Trump's take on tariffs has always been backward. Again the term is arbitrary. He rages against China, principally, it seems because he wants his companies and copy rights there, for himself and Ivanka. He manufactures in China, so I suspect he tries to exempt his products from the tariffs, and he puts them off until after the winter so they won't affect some of his constituents, but the Chinese have already retaliated. They decided to buy their soy beans in Brazil and cut off our farmers. So rather than bringing businesses home from China, he's mostly bankrupting small farmers. He subsidizes the big landlords so they aren't feeling the pain as much. They never really farmed much in the first place. They run the Government, house and Senate in farm states instead.
There are intelligent policies that could help bring back manufacturing. The first one would be to require manufacturers to pay their workers in China commensurate with what workers in the US are paid so that they didn't go their for the cheap labor. Trump goes there for the cheap labor himself. So he won't do that.
Rural folks and Red State Folks support Trump because most of them don't have 50 years of experience with Trump's Cons. He was a New York Grifter before he was a Florida Grifter. And eventually we all will pay for his completely moronic policies. Some hope they will work as promised, but Trump never makes promises he actually keeps so that is a fools errand. The real victim of Trump are the folks who think the Moron will make America Great Again.
And all so he can get laughs at rallies.
- Grover says my meme is inaccurate
- I corrected the meme to make it accurate (it was accurate as a paraphrase):
- "We don't need someone to think it up or design it."
Friday, September 13, 2019
There is a lane for social goods and there is a lane for private goods. Henry George made the distinction based on whether the goods can be sensibly sold in markets.
Excludable and Rivalrous
Modern theorists insist that the distinction between market capitalism and socialism is in whether the goods involved are "rivalrous" or "excludable." That definition involves the behavior of consumers and sellers and power.
Excludable refers to governing powers
Excludable means that someone with power, a governor, can say "you can't enter here." It refers to the ability of people with power, government, to put gates on a resource, service or product. The natural commons is non-excludable. Yet historically westerners have seized, marked boundaries, claimed and fenced land and tried to do the same with oceans and even clouds. Rivalrous means that the good is limited in availability.
Vital Goods, food, medicine, shelter, are by definition rivalrous, but rationing them via markets is barbarous. If a good is vital and someone can exclude people from using it, then by George's version that is a natural monopoly. Excluding goods from markets is a means to make them more "rivalrous". His definition of monopoly is based on the moral effects, the natural rights of those who "should" have access to them. The Rivalrous and Excludable argument has more to do with power.
Purpose of Capital is to make Goods less rivalrous
The purpose of capital, historically, has been to make the formerly unavailable more available. Our ancestors found their health and life-spans limited by access to resources. Capital is about marshaling resources for both public and private benefit. There is little to share socially without the use of capital to make production, goods and services more efficient and/or better quality.
To Henry George and other early modern writers, capital was something very specific, it was wealth reused "in the course of production." Such wealth, like;
- Seed Corn,
- Tools of production like tractors, factory equipment, hammers and drills,
- Ingredients of production such as livestock, nails, raw materials pulled out of the ground,
- Those are “capital
Capital is the wealth, tools and equipment that go into production.
the Governance of Capital
The governorship of capital is either in the hands of the folks using those tools themselves, or in the hands of managers. Those managers can work for a government, or work for some private owner. Private owners call themselves "capitalists" but they really are property owners who are renting and managing capital. Capitalism is simply a term for a system where the ownership and governorship of capital is in private hands. Capitalists employ people and manage them. Private government versus public government. Is private government necessarily better? That is problematic.
Certainly not Collective Versus Free Enterprise
A Collective is a "group of people acting as a group." By that definition the only time one is not dealing with a collective is when a single person is running an owner operator business where he/she does everything him/herself. Therefore there is no "collectivism versus capitalism." The battle is between private governorship of collectives or some kind of republican and democratic forms. There is a range of involvement from pure democracy where nothing gets done unless everyone agrees, to some kind of hierarchy.
Republican and Democratic principles versus Tyranny
Businesses work best when they pay attention to republican and democratic principles. It is probably right to disparage purely collective decision making because that only works on a very very small scale. When scaling up to a Republic or some kind of federation you need a certain amount of hierarchy. But in any case large organizations are collective organization. This is definitional
A collective organization is can be governed democratically, oligarchically, or as a tyranny. We get sold "individual" enterprise as free enterprise. But unless Zuckerberg is the only run involved in facebook, he's managing a collective. An enterprise solely owned it is solely owned by a single person backed by a hierarchy is "monarchy" or "tyranny," by definition. If someone has a hundred or 100,000 employees, it doesn't matter. Ownership is government, enabled by legal documents registered with a court. If government turns into simple arbitrary ownership, that is usually bad government. Dictators make themselves extremely wealthy. In some cases they own their country and make themselves monarchs. "Capitalism" is often a problematical term that confuses the organization of productive property with some kind of governing system.
Privateering Versus Capitalism
For those reasons I no longer refer to predatory "capitalism" as capitalism. I call it privateering. Privateering is the conversion of government into private hands. Profiteering, legal piracy, Private warfare, modern corporate raiders, grifting and grafting, are all modern forms of privateering. Thus the issue is not capitalism versus democracy or socialism, but pirates versus common good, using propaganda and legal tricks to make their thefts perfectly legal. Privateers seek private separate power and advantage. That is tyranny, not a virtue.
What Capital is not
Not all wealth is capital.
- Loot is not capital. It was stolen from someone and not produced by the person who stole it.
- Coal, oil, gas, while still in the ground, is not yet capital. It is nature's bounty. The product of long dead trees and plants, and belongs to God, or nature. Claims on it are more like to loot than to capital.
- Solar panels are capital. The tunnels dug or pipes put in the ground to get at coal or gas are capital.
- Money invested in capital is working. Money to purchase property is derivative of capital.
The “Proper Social Function” Lane
When we are talking about nature's bounty or of goods and services that don't fit into a market mold, we are talking about goods and services that don't fit a pure capital mode. We call such goods “social Goods” because they are a “proper social function,” this is a social lane. In modern times it gets labeled socialism, but they are social goods whether or not they are controlled by the people as a whole or governed by rich people.
Public and Private Goods
When public goods, like parks, farms, and similar are handed over to private hands they are usually turned into gated club goods. A formerly non-rival good, by excluding people from using it becomes a gated good. Those with the resources to trade for the good get access to it, others are excluded. This creates market failure. Markets only work when the goods sold are non-rival (nobody hurt by purchase, plenty of hamburgers or cookies for example) and non-exclusive (meaning anyone can buy and sell in the market). Monopoly puts vital goods in the hands one one or a small number more people, who then can extract tolls from their access.
Public versus Private good
Vital social goods; food, medicine, health care, communications, transport, can be distributed through markets, but unless the markets enforce access, transparent information and resourcing for all actors, monopolists will turn them into gated goods, forcing artificial rivalries and excluding access arbitrarily. A free market is a creation not an accident. Some markets are never free. Hospitals, emergency services, and infrastructure, either belong to all the people or they risk being artificially gated or rivalrous goods where competition is life or death and resources extracted in the exchange. Example is when companies can buy drug patents and then raise prices to insane levels. Those are not free markets.
The “Capitalism” Lane
The capitalism lane is what can be bought or sold in a market, justly. A good is in the lane of markets if:
- The buyer and seller can refuse individual sales [no coercion]
- There are real alternative buyers and sellers
- There aren't significant barriers to others entering the market as buyers and sellers
Things that have those three attributes are in the capitalist lane. The social goods lane can also have capitalists involved and use markets, but if they do:
- The presence of coercion means that either buyer or seller is denied a fair price for their goods or even unjustly denied access.
- The presence of monopoly (complete or partial) means power of coercion due to lack of alternative buyers and sellers.
- Barriers to becoming buyers or sellers means that the market is failing to reach or serve all persons in a society or collection of societies.
The kinds of goods described in Henry George's comments in 1890 were very profitable, because they could be governed by monopolists and denied to those not willing or able to pay an obviously inflated price, or in the case of monopsony, not sellers denied sales unless they pay an artificially low price. HG was describing market failure and social goods. It is not socialism when social goods are under governorship or at least control of the people as a whole through their representatives. It is monopoly capitalism, and privateering.
Thursday, September 12, 2019
The key to improving democratic systems world wide is the realization that elections are such a vital function in any democracy with parliamentary, republican and democratic features; that the following republican principles need to be applied:
- Separation of Powers
- Fair Judicial process requires separate Judge, Jury and executive functions
- These functions are needed to ensure fairness
- Neutral Judges
If there is one thing that current events show is that there is severe risk in vesting control over justice in the Political Executive. Donald Trump is not the first executive to abuse his powers with the judiciary. On a process level no person should ever have judicial, executive or legislative powers over their own case. It is appropriate that officials have "informal" adjudication powers, but not when it is a case that concerns themselves. It is never appropriate that formal adjudication should ever effectively involve interested parties except as defendants or plaintiffs. Some of these principles were written into law, though we are seeing the laws involved are inadequate.
Juries ARE Democracy
Judges are an elite role. The reason US elections require juries, is that without them, judges are tempted to make themselves nobility, behave in a self interested fashion. Juries are there to ensure non-partisan, justice. They have the power to resist venal, partisan or corrupt judges.
Judicial judges aren't always non-partisan or just. They can apply the law using sophistry or worse, if they are getting outside income or are part of a faction by wealth or interest. When that happens Justice remains the subject but the product is injustice. Juries are genuine democracy. Ordinary people are drafted to step up and speak for the people of the community. They can check such judges.
Even Worse with Election Judges
On those principles, it is absurdly bad process, not to mention corrupt, that election judges should ever be the election judge while they are in the running for office. It is like the town Sheriff being also the town judge and being also the only defense lawyer. It is a travesty of justice, unjust, for election officials to represent a political party as election judge, run for office while working as election judge, or seeking any elected post other than election judge while or after serving as election judge in the same jurisdiction. This is such an obvious bit of corruption that the remedy should have been in law long ago.
And like with jury trials, all the factions in the election should have a say in picking the members of the Election Jury.
But there is an even Deeper Level
In elections, we rely on investigative reporters and the partisan system to vett candidates. This rarely works as intended. Candidates don't always tell the truth. Candidates can use money and influence to hide information from the electorate, or to push out false information that blocks people from voting for their opponents. When any one party has a monopoly over the election, the temptation to cheat is going to be there. Changing the officers doesn't change the temptations. Making elections a Judicial function opens elections to checks and balances that a purely bureaucratic or partisan process can't supply.
The usual remedies for that involve transparency, competition, open access to both the ruling party and the loyal opposition as vehicles for getting out information. During elections debates, town halls, etc... allow some proper vetting. But they don't always work. With a formal process both parties have a voice, a judge is expected to enforce "truth and nothing but the truth" and a Jury, made up of neutral people from all factions, can keep an eye on reporters, activists, Judge and other officials!
Election Judging requires Judge, Jury, prosecutor and defense
When I discovered the ancient principles of Euthenia and Dokimasia (vetting and scrutiny) were used by the Athenians, I saw they were using a judicial process. The exact methods they used, don't apply in our day. But the principles do. We need two structures to protect our system. It turns out that we need precisely a judicial process to manage elections.
- End of Term Accounting
- Election Vetting
End of Term Accounting Scrutiny
Every Elected Officer should face an end of term accounting Scrutiny. If a private person works for a private company, the owners do a performance review, periodically. We the people should do an end of term accounting review of every officer. This should be mandatory, not voluntary, and run in a quasi Judicial manner. A Kind of Jury should be assembled, more like a Grand Jury than a trial Jury. Professional investigators, preferably a mix of police type investigators and journalists should have the right to pour through their records under the supervision of an election judge, who is more a Judge than simply running an election. The results would get presented to a panel selected from the jury pool. Representatives of the person would defend or direct prosecution of the information. All would be sworn to secrecy, but the result of the investigation would be a public report of the relevant facts, not an indictment. The panel would be able to take testimony under oath and if it were found that the people testifying lied they could be referred to a grand jury. The results would be available to the public. The officer would be judged based on his/her job description, promises made and promises kept.
Election Vetting Scrutiny
Similar panels would be convened for elections. Again the panels would have ordinary citizens, journalists and investigators, led by a Judge and representatives of the candidates. Accounting Vetting material would be available to them. This time they would manage debates, ask questions, get candidates on the record, and oversee the election. The panel in this case would have the duty to make sure voters are informed, are enabled to vote and that their votes are cast and counted. They would have a duty to be as neutral and factual as possible.
Power of the People
Scrutiny is important. Too many people think their power in their office is only tangentally derived from the people who elect them. Making Elections governed by people forced to act like they are on a jury would fulfil the promise of why we call election official "election judges."
Empowering and Resourcing the Press
The interface between elections and the people should be a press, with cameras (including video), recordings and on hand listening and participating in the vetting and scrutiny. Establishing a process such as that should provide jobs for reporters and ensure that local government has a free press.