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In 1986, big gubmint tax and spending slasher Ronald Reagan unveiled a tax “reform” plan that continued the massive transfer of wealth from the poor and working classes upwards to the very wealthy. Reagan’s plan eliminated essential deductions for consumer loans (auto, credit card, personal) and overhauled the deduction for medical expenses, so that they had to have amounted to 10% of an individual or married couple’s income.
Donald Trump, as always dominated by the disastrous neocon thinking of Republican leaders like Paul Ryan, has released a new tax “reform” plan. The plan is huge- nearly 500 pages long- and thus, like most important recent legislation, will almost certainly not be read in depth by those voting on it or the mainstream “journalists” tasked to report on it. What we do know so far about the plan hardly inspires confidence or optimism.
Perhaps the most inexplicable aspect of this plan is its attack- and there is no other word to describe it- on home ownership. As a long time licensed realtor myself, I can attest to how stagnant the real estate industry is, especially for first-time home buyers, upon whom the industry has always relied. It is already difficult to find buyers who can afford starter homes, but this plan will make it even harder.
Homeowners will no longer be able to deduct the property taxes they pay on their home under this plan. Mortgage interest deduction, while salvaged, has been slashed so that only mortgages up to $500,000 can be deducted. That may seem like a lot, but the cost of housing in many areas of America is such that many upper middle-class homeowners will lose a valued tax benefit. It is also unclear if this $500,000 cap applies to each mortgage a person or couple receive, or if it is a total amount for that individual or couple, in which case real estate investors would lose most of their incentive to invest.
National Association of Realtors President William Brown stated, “We are currently reviewing the details of the tax proposal released today, but at first glance it appears to confirm many of our biggest concerns about the Unified Framework. Eliminating or nullifying the tax incentives for home ownership puts home values and middle-class homeowners at risk, and from a cursory examination this legislation appears to do just that.” Jerry Howard, CEO of the National Association of Homebuilders, agreed, declaring, “The details that are coming out show that the House Republicans are picking large corporations and wealthy Americans over small businesses and middle-class American homeowners.”
This attack on the real estate industry and the attractiveness of home ownership in general makes no sense from any perspective. No one appears to gain from it. Trump is a real estate magnate- what is he thinking here? Why would big business like it? If realtors can’t point out the tax advantages of home ownership, and if indeed investors can’t benefit from them, it takes away one of the largest selling points of home ownership, and a primary reason for real estate investment.
The Republican tax plan also eliminates some of the remaining deductions that poor and working class Americans still benefit from. Student loans will no longer be deductible. The medical expense deduction that Reagan slashed dramatically will be eliminated. There will no longer be deductions for alimony expenses or moving expenses. As perhaps the most laughable aspect of the entire plan, it leaves the dreaded Obamacare mandate intact, which means Americans can still be penalized for not having health insurance.
Trump will benefit directly to an enormous degree from the elimination of the Alternative Minimum Tax, which served to force the very wealthy with numerous loopholes and deductions to at least pay some tax. And the centerpiece of the plan is a huge cut in the corporate tax rate, from 35% to 20%. Making a mockery of Trump’s rhetoric about forcing companies to move their industry back home, the plan permits companies to keep their profits offshore. The estate tax is also being eliminated, a benefit which will only apply to the absolute One Percent.
There will only be three tax brackets under the new plan. On the surface, it looks as if some lower-wage earners will get a tax break, but this must be juxtaposed against the elimination of most of the deductions they once benefited from. For most of us, there will be a minimal difference, if any at all. Any slight lowering of the tax rate will at least be countered by the loss of deductions. The only real winner here is corporate America.
The last thing a real populist would be concerned about, in a country where the bottom half of the population has less than 1% of the collective wealth, is slashing the corporate tax rate and eliminating the estate tax. The Stupid Party mantra regarding the lower corporate tax rate is that this will “create jobs” and an incentive to give pay raises to employees. While most employees desperately need a pay raise, it takes something beyond simple naivete to expect business leaders to pass anything meaningful along to those at the bottom, instead of further lining their overflowing pockets as usual.
Huey Long’s Share the Wealth tax plan would have exempted the first million dollars of income from taxation. Remember, this was in the mid-1930s, which would be close to $18 million today. His tax plan was populism exemplified- the entire burden would be placed on the most upper tier of the One Percent, and everyone else would benefit to at least some degree. Those at the bottom would enjoy the greatest benefits.
As I have stated many times before, every American could receive at least a 33% tax cut by simply eliminating the massive waste, fraud and abuse in government. The Grace Commission came up with those figures during a 1980 investigation, but predictably Reagan and the Stupid Party completely ignored their conclusions.
True tax reform would start with auditing and abolishing the Federal Reserve, and adopting an honest money system that isn’t based on fractional lending, or more bluntly counterfeiting. “Our” debt belongs to the bankers, and isn’t our responsibility. It should be repudiated. Our spending should reflect American interests, as candidate Trump stressed repeatedly, but President Trump has ignored. Rebuild the infrastructure. Bring all the troops home and stop starting pointless wars. Guard the borders and deport illegal immigrants. End the foreign visa work programs. America First and all that.
This tax plan will negatively impact a struggling real estate market, offer little if any tax relief to anyone except corporations, and eliminate the remaining deductions that the poor and middle-class most benefit from. It isn’t populist, won’t help the economy, and it certainly won’t make things any better for the majority of citizens.
I’ve been reading an excellent book, Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty, by Charles Leerhsen. As a child, I was fascinated by the exploits of long vanished baseball players, especially the greatest of them all, Ty Cobb. His career numbers were burned into my young, developing mind, and were the stuff of legend.
It was no accident that when I wrote my 2007 novel The Unreals, I included not only a fantasy sequence set in a bar populated exclusively by one-year wonder baseball players from an ancient era, but also featured Ty Cobb as a panelist on a political talk show, ranting and raving against the inadequacies of modern baseball. The characters in The Unreals despised disco, as I did as a young man, and in my mind Ty Cobb represented the quintessential non-discoer.
In his new biography on Cobb, author Leerhsen has boldly and convincingly set the record straight on this unfairly maligned figure. As Leerhsen reveals, through an actual examination of the best evidence, Cobb was not the racist he is now routinely depicted to have been, and was not the epitome of a dirty ballplayer, flinging himself at frightened fielders with glistening, finely sharpened spikes aimed more at his opponents than the bases.
As someone who has written extensively about the distortions of the mainstream media and court historians, this book really impressed me. Leerhsen is certainly an establishment journalist- his work has appeared in all the best and brightest places, and he’s published by Simon & Schuster. I admire Leerhsen for setting the record straight on one of the game’s greatest players. For too long, Ty Cobb has been misrepresented and slandered by journalists who were too lazy to perform the simple research Leerhsen did.
Why is this important? The lies and misconceptions about Ty Cobb demonstrate that our establishment press and conventional historians can’t even accurately represent the record of a prominent sports figure. Is it any wonder, then, that they fail time and time again to honestly report on important current and historical events?
Ty Cobb is certainly not the first sports figure to be so unfairly depicted in the press. Sportswriters have always tended towards a mob mentality, and to push agendas that often bear little relation to the truth. Athletes like Joe Namath were celebrated far beyond any real accomplishments on the field (just look at Namath’s actual statistics sometime and weigh them against his Hall of Fame status), while Denny McClain’s monumental achievement of 31 wins in 1968 is rarely noted by anyone, despite the fact it represents the only 30 win season by a Major League pitcher since 1934. It will also be the last, as even 20 win seasons have become rare with modern five man pitching rotations.
Leerhsen’s book also reminded me again of the plight of noted Cobb fan and the all-time Major League hits leader, Pete Rose. Rose broke Cobb’s legendary lifetime record of 4192 hits, and wound up having more hits, more at bats and more games played than any player in Major League history. And yet he remains outside the Hall of Fame, due to a betting scandal that happened after his playing days were over, when he was a big league manager. Leerhsen recounted how common such betting on Major League games was in those days, and how even Cobb became embroiled in such a controversy.
Much as no sportswriter prior to Leerhsen has ever tried to argue against the venomous portrayal of a wild-eyed, perpetually violent and irrational Ty Cobb, no one has strongly questioned why Pete Rose isn’t in the Hall of Fame. But consider that Shoeless Joe Jackson, who compiled the third highest lifetime batting average in Major League history, remains outside the Hall as well, despite the reality that while he took money for “throwing” the 1919 World Series, he obviously didn’t lay down in those games, as he batted .375. His 12 hits were a World Series record until 1964, when Bobby Richardson broke it.
Much as there is a standard historical take on politics- where “good” and “bad” Presidents are uniformly accepted, and cardboard heroes and villains reign supreme, there is a historical take on sports, from which no mainstream reporter ever veers. These are the journalists who used to claim pro golfers were not athletes, until Tiger Woods came along. They then had no problem christening him the greatest athlete of all time.
Thus, Tim Tebow, arguably the greatest college football player the world has ever seen, was attacked relentlessly for being an “inaccurate” passer, when in fact he was handicapped by a prehistoric offensive game plan and superiors who wanted him to fail, and had in fact high completion percentages all four years at Florida, culminating in a senior mark of 67.8 percent. Tebow has been blacklisted from the NFL, and will go down as one of two QBs in NFL history to win a playoff game and then never start again in the league. Literally no sportswriter defended Tebow, even as he led the Broncos to a thrilling series of improbable victories in 2011.
Johnny Manziel, who is perhaps Tebow’s strongest rival in terms of college football’s all-time greatest player, was treated just as harshly by every sportswriter and broadcaster in the business. Despite never even being charged with any crime, Manziel became the poster child for off field character issues, in a league filled with players (see Pacman Jones, for example) that have been arrested and accused of multiple violent offenses. Manziel will probably never play again in the NFL, and was given all of five starts to prove himself. Incidentally, in one of those five games, Manziel threw for 372 yards. In contrast, Tyrod Taylor, who is in his third season as an NFL starter, has just one 300 yard game in his career (329). Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw had all of seven 300 yard games in his career, and never matched Johnny Football’s 372 yard one game total.
No sportswriter questioned the curious coaching career of Norv Turner. This guy was given the reigns time and time again in the NFL, as both a head coach and an offensive coordinator. Despite a horrendous record everywhere he went, he kept getting rehired. I can’t tell you how many times I heard various announcers gushing about Norv’s fantastic play-calling. Marvin Lewis has been the Bengals coach for fifteen seasons, and has yet to win a playoff game. Yet he is never mentioned in any of those annual lists of coaches on the “hot seat.” Meanwhile, Bill Callahan took the Raiders to the Super Bowl in 2002, his first season there, and was fired after the following season. He has not been an NFL head coach since.
Rocky Marciano was the only undefeated heavyweight champion in history, yet he is never mentioned in the same breath with Muhammad Ali, Jack Dempsey or several others. Arnold Palmer won fewer golf majors in his relatively short career than Gary Player, Walter Hagen, Ben Hogan, and Tom Watson, yet he has always been considered “greater” than any of them.
Sports journalists, like non-sports journalists, seem to peddle far more disinformation and misinformation than honest information. And they engage in group think at least as much as the court historians do. Thus, when someone like Charles Leerhsen shatters a cherished myth that has no foundation in fact, it is cause for all reasonable people to celebrate.
I applaud Leerhsen for doing what Robert F. Kennedy once urged us to do. In one of his finest speeches, RFK said, “Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
Thank you, Charles Leerhsen, for a tiny ripple of hope.
It was probably pretty naive to ever suspect that a billionaire reality television star could actually be any kind of populist. Before his 2016 presidential campaign, I felt the same way about Donald Trump that I feel about every billionaire, and was repelled by his sleazy, arrogant public persona.
But candidate Trump said some things that no other presidential candidate ever has. He criticized the embarrassing state of our crumbling infrastructure. He called out the media for its blatant dishonesty, and made the term “fake news” a national sensation. He was the first politician since before World War II to declare that we should take care of America’s many problems first. He lambasted a foreign policy bent on nation building and lamented the waste of trillions of dollars on senseless wars.
Trump became the first presidential candidate in any party, major or minor, to make illegal immigration one of the centerpieces of his platform. He spoke out on behalf of families who’d lost loved ones to illegal immigrant criminals that were somehow permitted to remain in this country despite a slew of violent crimes. He promised to end the diabolical H 1-B Visa worker program. Creating a masterful symbol for crowds to rally around, Trump promised to build a wall, and that Mexico would pay for it.
Trump brought up the clear and obvious connections between vaccines and autism, and stories broke early into his administration that he was forming a special commission to investigate these connections, chaired by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. He even promised to audit the Federal Reserve, and apparently mentioned the collapse of Building 7, which was a primary signal to those in the know that he harbored at least some “truther” sentiments.
What really appealed to me, and many others, was Trump’s willingness to boldly call out corrupt public officials for what they are. His references to “crooked Hillary” resulted in loud cries of “lock her up” wherever he spoke. And perhaps the central theme of Trump’s campaign was his promise to “drain the swamp.”
Now, some ten months after his shocking election, President Trump appears to be a pathetic shell of the man he was. His waffling on every issue finally forced his supporters to recently begin burning their “Make America Great” hats in protest of his seeming consideration of amnesty for Obama’s unconstitutional DACA program, designed to protect the “dreamer” children of illegal immigrants.
I certainly was skeptical about Trump even after he said some of the most radical things any major presidential candidate has said in my lifetime. This was because, in the next breath, he’d talk about instituting national “stop and frisk” procedures, and continued to stress how we needed to build up our already gargantuan, bloated military. When he picked a typical mainstream neocon, Mike Pence, as his vice president, many of us could still rationalize that he was trying to shore up a wing of his party, much as John F. Kennedy had tried to do by choosing Lyndon Johnson.
When Trump gave a rousing, truly historical inaugural address, many of us remained hopeful that perhaps finally someone was going to drain this odious, corrupt swamp. But then he disappointed all those supporters still shouting “lock her up” by calling Hillary Clinton a “good person,” and actually quieting those who continued to chant this mantra with “we don’t need that now.” Not long after that, the man who’d derided “globalism” over and over again, claimed that he was now both a nationalist and a globalist.
From there, things just kept unraveling. Trump, who’d blasted NATO, now claimed that it was a good thing. The candidate who’d dared to point out the bogus nature of official unemployment figures, began to brag about them and claimed they revealed that his administration was creating a multitude of new jobs. His appointments were putrid, neocon types that would have fit perfectly into a Jeb Bush cabinet, except for General Mike Flynn, who was unceremoniously and unfairly forced out before he could do anything, because his son was a high profile “conspiracy theorist.”
Trump opened the door for his justice department to prosecute Julian Assange, the courageous whistleblower in exile, whose leaks had played an instrumental part in getting him elected. He defended Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ antiquated and politically stupid emphasis on cracking down on marijuana users, and supported his campaign to actually strengthen law enforcement’s criminal abuse of asset forfeiture laws. Later, he would characteristically begin publicly criticizing Sessions, as if he himself hadn’t approved of all his actions and non-actions.
Because of the undeniable fact that Trump surrounded himself with not only those who hadn’t supported him, but actually a large number of vocal “Never Trumpers,” his promise to “drain the swamp” became truly laughable. Trump never even tried to get a single outsider nominated to any position in his cabinet. Instead, he remained glued to his keyboard, as the tweeter-in-chief, producing one 140 character or less tweet after another, often in an astonishingly juvenile manner.
But the greatest disappointment came when Trump bombed Syria for absolutely no reason at all. He then bombed Afghanistan for good measure, again for no logical reason. Spurred on by his Never Trump United Nations Ambassador, the loud war monger Nikki Haley, he began an unprecedented bit of frightening saber rattling with North Korea. Never before had an American president directly threatened to nuke another nation. Predictably, when Trump bombed Syria, he received the first positive press of his presidency. Everyone in the swamp loves war.
Trump has unfortunately proven to be exactly what his detractors claimed he was; immature, egotistical, unprincipled, vain, elitist. This certainly doesn’t make most of his critics any less offensive than they are. Indeed, that is the lone redeeming value of Trump’s administration; he continues to have all the right enemies. The threats of violence, even assassination, from every pillar of the establishment almost make one want to continue to defend him. Almost.
At this point, the only question I have left in my mind is whether or not Trump ever had any sincerity, or whether he ever meant anything he said during his campaign. I think it’s virtually a certainty that we will never see that vaccine-autism commission, an audit of the fed, a massive infrastructure rebuild, an end to DACA or any other aspect of our mindless immigration policy, an end to our reckless foreign adventurism, or a draining of even the shallowest part of the swamp.
The saddest part of the Trump phenomenon is that it may very well make it impossible for any major candidate to ever raise the important issues of immigration, dishonest media, putting America first, or official corruption ever again. In fact, when some candidate even alludes to some of Trump’s populist themes, he or she is likely to be met with derisive comparisons to the failed and disgraced President Donald Trump.
If Trump was ever sincere, his election has proven that one person simply cannot fight this corrupt system, this horrid swamp. Trump the reformer, the unlikeliest of knights in shining armor, is gone. The renegade billionaire striking fear into the heart of the establishment lasted a brief shining moment, like Camelot.
Readers don’t need me to tell them that this country is hopelessly divided. While the division breaks down nominally on a traditional Left-Right basis, there are other factors which are rarely considered.
Those who have read my book Hidden History know that I am fond of discussing (and dismantling) what I call official narratives. But beyond the official fairy tales sold to the public to explain the JFK assassination, 9/11, and virtually every other significant historical event, there is one huge, generic Official Narrative.
This Official Narrative is sold to the public, as are the others, by the ridiculous lapdog mainstream media. This large Narrative has several elements, and I’ll try to address them. The important point to ponder is that the seeming societal breakdown falls along either side of this particular Narrative. At least half the country accepts without question this Official Narrative, even if they may doubt, for instance, that Oswald killed JFK. Almost all of those who refuse to accept this Narrative are “conspiracy theorists” in some shape or form.
Those who accept this all important Official Narrative believe that teachers are sacrosanct and altruistic, that we should all thank our military for their “service,” that police officers are almost all good guys who have a thankless job, that mainstream science has answered all the questions about our existence and deserves absolute respect, that “racism” is still a tremendous problem and that today’s white people should feel guilty about it, that feminism has been a positive force in all our lives, that the opinions of celebrities matter, that rich and successful people earned their place in society through inordinate abilities and hard work, that it’s actually compassionate to “pull the plug” on the terminally ill, that “free speech” has its limits and countless other disastrous notions.
The most overriding concept of this Official Narrative, the First Commandment, if you will, is that we are tiny, meaningless molecules on a spinning ball in an infinite universe, alive only through random happenstance. This affinity for randomness extends, of course, into many other areas, including politics. It also explains the disdain on the part of the true believers in the Official Narrative to consider any “conspiracy theories,” because conspiracies aren’t random.
The devout Official Narrativists have a blind trust in their own kind. They assume the worst one can imagine about “racists,” “nazis,” and various individuals demonized by their high priests in the mainstream media, but they somehow can’t picture politicians or other powerful figures joining together to eliminate a troublesome rival. That isn’t random. And never forget, of course, that while even the Narrativists recognize how corrupt Congress is (thus their constant sub-10% approval ratings), they also re-elect 96% of them to office, election after election.
If one wants to see how extreme these Narrativists have become, just look at some of the online videos of recent protests, posted by Alex Jones and others. The Narrativists in these videos are absolutely beyond belief, which leads many of us to suspect they are largely crisis actors and paid government agents. We already know that there have been regular ads on Craigs List for these “protesters,” and we’ve seen far too many examples of the violence perpetrated by these lovers of peace and tolerance, but somehow this doesn’t shake the faith of the Narrativists.
Much as we used to think of religious teachings as something one either does or doesn’t accept, I would suggest that the Narrativists have chosen to accept the tenets of another faith, one promulgated by the mainstream media, conventional science and the educational establishment. Their dogma isn’t delivered by priests and ministers, but by the likes of Bill Nye the Science Guy (who isn’t a scientist), Neil deGrasse Tyson, Bill Maher, Stephen Colbert, and many other highly-paid mouthpieces for the state.
The Official Narrativists essentially have chosen to give a giant thumbs-up to the established order. They are approving of the job our leaders are doing, and fighting any potential threat to the blatantly corrupt order they’ve constructed with everything they have. Just look at the faces in those videos- the complete irrationality, the childishness, the anger, the tendency towards violence. Those of us who feel the system is absolutely corrupt and that those who run it need to nearly all be replaced, certainly have a huge task in front of us in trying to reason with these zealots who are defending the indefensible with a fervor any monk would be proud of.
Most of the faces at these protests aren’t young kids, with passionate but misguided radical impulses. On the contrary, I’ve seen several alleged college professors who acted like not very mature elementary school students, and cursed like drunken sailors. That’s both appropriate and ironic, since the one political figure they hate the most has the maturity and impulse control of a nine year old. Most of these protesters won’t even speak to the alternative reporters attempting to engage them in intelligent dialogue, and instead resort to shouting, name-calling, animalistic noises or real physical violence.
I’ve written regularly on how easy it is to distract modern-day Americans. I guess it’s always been that way, the whole “bread and circuses” thing. One of our own greatest capitalists, P.T. Barnum, would be licking his chops if he were around today. He’d probably have to amend his famous saying to “there’s a sucker born every second.”
“No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people,” H.L. Mencken once wrote. He was writing this before the advent of television and the growth of mass media, which really refined brainwashing and indoctrination to an art form. The simplest way to break down the division between the Official Narrativists and the rest of us is; the Narrativists accept the reality that Hollywood, Madison Avenue and the disciples of Einstein have constructed.
Narrativists watch their television shows and movies and swallow the boldly obvious propaganda without blinking. They believe in a theory of relativity that no one- least of all them- can explain. They think that life can be summed up by books like To Kill a Mockingbird, miniseries like Roots and The Holocaust, and films like Saving Private Ryan and Dunkirk. They don’t think outside the box. In fact, most of them don’t really think at all.
The recent, almost certainly government sponsored protests and counter-protests in Charlottesville and elsewhere have really hammered the point home. The Narrativists have all but declared history itself to be “racist.” They very bluntly inform us that “nazis” and “racists” don’t have free speech. If we didn’t already have a battered Bill of Rights in our Constitution, we certainly couldn’t get it enacted today, and at least half the public- led by the loudest Narrativists- would be violently opposed to it.
Since we’re almost certainly headed for another Civil War, I urge all Americans to read up on the last one. Not the books and films produced by the Official Narrativists, but the alternative ones written by the likes of Thomas DiLorenzo. I will explore the true history of the tragic conflict between the states in Hidden History 2.
Since America has nearly always been at war, I don’t expect many to really object to another internal conflict. Many will welcome it with open arms. While all war is bad, this kind is particularly so. And the Narrativists will follow every distorted pronouncement emanating from the mainstream media and their precious celebrities with bated breath, as they do everything else.
The recent protests in Charlottesville, Virginia clarified once again just how divided we’ve become as a country. The fact that people died as a result of a seeming “white nationalist” driving his car through the crowd just added more flames to what is becoming a raging national inferno.
The reaction to the tragedy was predictable; virtually the entire media focused exclusively on the “neo-nazis,” “racists,” or just outright “nazis,” as they repeatedly referred to those who organized the rally and attended in support of it, and directed all blame for what transpired upon them. Their ire wasn’t really directed at anything these “white nationalists” did or said, but at the fact they were there, together, expressing their collective views.
Having read a multitude of news reports, as well as countless social media comments, many of them from friends I respect, it’s obvious that at least half of this country doesn’t truly believe in the Bill of Rights. Once an individual or group has been labeled, falsely or not, as “nazi” or “racist,” then everything they say is automatically branded “hate” speech, and the most strident leftists inform us very passionately that “hate” speech isn’t protected by the First Amendment.
None of the Founding Fathers would have even comprehended what is meant by “hate” speech. We all hate some things, and some people. The irony here is that the loud opponents of “hate” speech are expressing their opposition with a venomous hate themselves. And while protesting against “nazis” because of their failure to be inclusive towards certain groups, they are failing themselves to recognize the “nazis” right to freedom of assembly and freedom of speech. These social justice warrior types, as always, are far more intolerant than their enemies.
Ivanka Trump categorically stated that there is “no place” in America for “racism” or “white supremacy.” As I noted on Facebook, exactly what do those who feel these “nazis” have no place in America intend to do with them? Lock them up? Do we really want to add to our record prison population by simply throwing people behind bars who offend the loudest individuals or groups? I’ve written before about how over legislated as a people we are; it’s clear that the establishment left wants to expand this insanity and start imprisoning those with forbidden political beliefs.
Why is “hate” speech confined to the far right? Why have the Black Panthers or Nation of Islam never been accused of this “hate?” Why haven’t the countless anti- Trump demonstrators who’ve been caught on tape physically assaulting peaceful Trump supporters ever been accused of “hate?” Why not those who’ve urged the assassination of Trump? What about the college that advertised a “white people free” day? Again, we all hate certain beliefs of others. Why is the establishment left (and mainstream media) view of “hate” all that counts?
The ACLU, to its credit, fought for the “white nationalists” right to assemble in Charlottesville. There are few other voices on the left now who will even acknowledge that these people had a right to be there, let alone to express their political rhetoric. Both Voltaire and Patrick Henry eloquently declared their support of those they vehemently disagreed with to express their views. There are few Voltaires and Patrick Henrys, let alone Gore Vidals and Nat Hentoffs, in the vanguard of today’s left, however.
The likes of Keith Olbermann, who truly appears to have lost his mind, and J.K. Rowling, are apoplectic on this whole “hate” thing. They see more “nazis” and “racists” than the number of “communists” Joe McCarthy could have imagined at the height of his powers. Under intense pressure by these kinds of high-profile social justice warriors, President Trump predictably caved in, like any good Stupid Party leader, and singled out white “racists” for condemnation. Nothing about Antifa, or Black Lives Matter, however. When they express their anger towards white people, and resort to violence, it somehow isn’t “hate,” or it is an acceptable response to the very presence of “racists” in their midst.
“Hate” speech is incompatible with any concept of Freedom of Speech. You can’t pick and choose what “hate” to include or exclude under the First Amendment. No true civil libertarian from the past would understand, let alone support, any notion of “hate” speech. What “hate” speech amounts to is a direct abridgment of our right to express ourselves. We all ought to oppose that, but much of the country is so riled up about this issue that they simply cannot be reasoned with. They will simply respond with “there is no place for hate” in America. Diversity is our strength, and all that.
The First Amendment wasn’t devised to protect popular, mainstream thought. It was designed explicitly to protect unpopular ideas, views that fall far outside the mainstream. The notion of defending to our dying day the right of someone to say something we strongly disagree with, is directly related to the Golden Rule, as well as the oft-ignored Christian concept of loving one’s enemy. I understand this is all very difficult, as most of us have great trouble loving our neighbors, let alone our enemies.
The other element of the Charlottesville incident that will never be examined by our incredibly lame mainstream media, is the fact both sides were undoubtedly riddled with undercover government assets. I pointed out in Hidden History how extreme groups on both the left and the right have always been infiltrated by government agents. Also, there are indications that the “white nationalist” who organized the event was a recent Obama supporter and affiliated with the Occupy movement. Maybe he’s just a kinder and gentler “nazi.” Not to mention, of course, the alleged ad on Craigs List, looking for paid demonstrators, which was quickly scrubbed from the record.
I have grown incredibly tired of identity politics, and these contrived incidents which serve only to divide us further. If they can get us fighting about race, religion, gender, etc., then they have successfully distracted us from their persistent corruption and incompetence, the perpetual wars, the crumbling economy, etc.
My credo is we should all treat everyone with respect. We should all have to abide by the same rules, laws and standards of conduct. How I wish America would start producing some more civil libertarians.
My new book Survival of the Richest has been out less than a month. It’s been Amazon’s #1 New Release in the category of Unemployment for most of that time. I’ve been ridiculed for this by a few of my Facebook “friends,” because many of Amazon’s categories don’t have that many new books. For the record, authors have nothing to do with putting their books in these categories. It’s purely a strategy that all publishers employ, and it’s a good one.
Speaking of Amazon, I’ve been contacted by one reader who informed me that he tried to post a 5-star review of Survival of the Richest, but it never appeared. He actually contacted Amazon customer service, and they gave him the bizarre excuse that “the book has sold a lot of copies, but it only has one review,” as if that was some kind of reasonable explanation. As always, I’d love interested readers to post reviews, but if you encounter this kind of issue, please contact me. I did mention Jeff Bezos quite a bit in the book. My paranoia kicks in here, and I wonder if Amazon has some kind of search feature that looks for those kinds of things.
The Amazon ranking hasn’t been all that impressive, which makes all the more curious the customer service representative’s statement about it selling a lot of copies. The ranking also doesn’t seem to jibe with the really impressive start the book has had in libraries all over the country. I don’t think I’m the only author who checks the status of their books in libraries, and I see lots of copies ordered, a bunch of holds from patrons and a few glowing reviews.
I was thrilled (and frankly surprised) when Salon, one of the biggest web sites in the world, published the entire introduction to the book earlier this month. It didn’t seem to result in much of an uptick in the Amazon ranking, however, which I clearly expected. For those interested, here’s the link to that article: Salon Article- The Rich Are Winning
The response to the book on Facebook and other social media has been a bit disappointing as well. When I posted the link to the Salon article, for instance, I expected a lot of “likes” and comments. However, there were only a handful. Sometimes I wonder about my Facebook “friends.” I haven’t sent out any friend requests for years, and most of the ones I regularly get are from people who tell me they love my writing. Is it petty to wonder why these seeming fans of my work don’t have much interest in “liking” or commenting on my posts?
Skyhorse also wound up passing on my book about bullying and the social hierarchy in schools, tentatively titled Bully Nation, which they had held for nearly a year. I was really amazed at this, and am considering my options. The book is filled with powerful, true stories of what some youngsters have to face every day in our schools. More importantly, it documents how, in virtually every case, the school authorities sided with the bullies and not the victims. I know it’s a hard sell, even though it should have perhaps the biggest audience of all my books. Criticizing the schools isn’t a popular position to take, and in many ways it’s my most controversial book.
I’ve done a few interviews for the new book already, and will be on John B. Wells’ “Caravan to Midnight” show tomorrow night. I’ve sent feelers out to even some mainstream media outlets, because theoretically they ought to be interested in this subject. If you want the book to have a wider platform, contact C-SPAN, NPR and the like, and ask them to have me on to talk about it. Reader support really helps, and I would appreciate anything you can offer.
Although Survival of the Richest is already in many library systems, I would love it if you’d request that your library system (and your college library) add the book to their collection. A sale is a sale, and it doesn’t cost you anything to have your library purchase it. Also, word of mouth is the best kind of advertisement. If you like my work, please mention it to your friends.
Sorry if this seems more like an advertisement than my usual blog entry, but authors have to do most of their own promotion these days. I read every email and message readers send me, and am always gratified to get them. When that support goes beyond that, to posting ratings on Goodreads and reviews on Amazon, Barnes and Noble or elsewhere, I truly, truly appreciate it.
I wanted to update everyone on the status of the new book, and future projects. Hidden History 2: The Prequel is finished as well, but I’d ideally like it to be published after Bully Nation. On the fiction front, I can’t seem to get much traction. Sean Stone, Oliver Stone’s son, loved my novel The Simulators and sent it to the guy who directed Lawnmower Man and several other films. However, when I asked him for an update, it didn’t seem like things were moving. As I’ve discovered more than once, that seems to be the way things work in Hollywood.
Again, thanks for all your support. Please read Survival of the Richest, and if you like it, consider passing the word along to your friends, asking your library system to purchase it, writing reviews, talking about it on social media, or anything else to promote it. I’ll be very grateful if you do.
Millions of Americans, including me, were swayed at least to some extent by the populist rhetoric of Donald Trump during his 2016 presidential campaign. The simple ideas of putting our own country’s interests first, stopping illegal immigration and bringing factories back to America were appealing and refreshing.
Thus far, President Trump has presided over a typical neocon Republican administration that is indistinguishable from a Jeb Bush or Ted Cruz White House. His curious method of draining the swamp while filling every cabinet position with long-time residents of the swamp is something few of us understand. He also has former “Never Trumpers” everywhere in his administration. To my knowledge, no other president has appointed so many clear political enemies to important posts.
In many ways, Trump reminds us of President Camacho in Mike Judge’s film Idiocracy. His WWE experience has come in handy, and often it seems that he has been cast in the role of the “bad guy,” for the audience to hiss and boo on cue. It’s hard to ignore his former endorsement of Hillary Clinton and the fact his daughter and son-in-law were recently seen partying with the son of George Soros and high profile members of the “fake news” establishment media that Trump so publicly despises.
Ever since the election, the “fake news” has been busy promoting the most absurd “conspiracy theory” ever constructed. Somehow, we are supposed to believe that the Russians “hacked” into our electoral process and tipped the election in Trump’s favor. No one explains what “hacking” means here, with the only specifics being laughable claims that the Russians were the ones who thought of calling Hillary “crooked” and noted her sordid history. I would urge those who believe this to look at multiple sources from the 1990s, which detailed the criminal past of the Clintons. Or read my chapter on them in Hidden History.
While alleging fairy tale notions that the “Russians” interfered with our election, the same people refuse to address the thoroughly documented (again see my chapter on “Votescam” in Hidden History) examples of voting fraud in this country, at the hands of American officials. Or read the disclosures from Wikileaks, which document that the DNC purposefully set out to deny the presidential nomination to Bernie Sanders. Few people seem to care about that, least of all Sanders himself.
The mainstream conservatives are lining up behind Trump, because he’s failing to do anything that he said he’d do. They love this, and will continue to support him as long as he concentrates on “cutting taxes” (only for the wealthy, of course), and cutting what few government benefits are left which go to those most in need. Both the establishment Right and Left praised Trump for the first time when he inexplicably bombed Syria and began the kind of reckless saber-rattling that every president since JFK was assassinated has been noted for.
The only thing Trump still has going for him is the irrational hatred he elicits in the most odious pillars of the establishment. Again, what passes for the “left” these days has embarrassed itself by being fine with the constant stream of name-calling, threats of violence and even death by numerous celebrities and mainstream journalists, yet become apoplectic when Trump re-tweets the comparatively mild satire of him body slamming the CNN logo.
Huge corporations financially back the Public Theater where a play about an obvious Trump figure being assassinated, based upon Julius Caesar, has been playing for quite some time. This includes The New York Times, Delta Airlines, Bank of America, American Express and many others. Considering all the real death threats Trump has received, and continues to receive, from even the rich and famous, this kind of “entertainment” ought to outrage everyone.
As I have noted many times, Trump is being criticized like no politician in our history. However, he is being criticized for all the wrong reasons. Contrary to the notion that he is somehow finally solving the immigration crisis that has been festering for decades, Trump failed to end the H 1-b visa worker program, and levels of other visa workers will seemingly be increased. As for the border, the acting director of ICE remains one Thomas Homan, the same guy who oversaw the release of violent criminals into U.S. communities under President Obama. Presumably he is just another “Never Trumper” who holds an important post under him.
Trump should be lambasted for supporting “stop and frisk” laws, unquestioningly supporting our out-of-control police forces, and opposing efforts to stop the horrific property seizures by law enforcement. He should be blasted for wanting to “build up” the most powerful, bloated military the world has ever seen. He should be questioned about his appalling lack of articulation, and his childish tendency to lash out on Twitter over often trivial matters. But it’s unfair and inaccurate to continue to label him “racist” or a “nazi.” And the barrage of death threats should be no laughing matter to anyone, and wouldn’t be for any other political figure.
Trump’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions has not concentrated on issues like immigration and trade, where he has a solid history. Instead, he has mounted a pathetic campaign to double down on marijuana users, and subject them to the kind of austere, mandatory sentencing that have filled our prisons like no other country’s prisons have ever been filled. And considering how awful McMaster, Tillerson and Trump’s other appointees have been, it’s sobering to consider that Sessions may well be the closest thing in the cabinet to someone outside the swamp.
There are lots of good people out there, some of them my friends, who have completely swallowed much of the disinfo campaign against Trump. The Russian “hacking” thing. The idea that Trump’s attacks on CNN and the like are assaults on our “free” and independent press. Anyone who is a JFK assassination researcher should know by now just how much anyone at CNN, The New York Times of any other mainstream media outlet cares about the truth, or practices investigative journalism. These are the same people who told you, and still tell you, that Oswald acted alone and that 19 crazed Arabs armed with box cutters and plastic knives were responsible for 9/11. Why would anyone, at anytime, side with them?
Trump isn’t a “good guy,” but the mainstream media has a much longer, well documented track record of being “bad guys” in terms of ferreting out the truth and exposing wrongdoing and injustice. It’s kind of like the phony Democrat vs. Republican debate. There are no good guys now in American politics.
When Trump recently called MSNBC “journalists” Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski juvenile names on Twitter, the rest of the establishment press went ballistic. And many of my liberal friends agreed with them. Consider that Mika is the quintessential vacuous reporter who is the daughter of one of the worst icons of the elite in modern history. She is no threat to ever tell the truth about anything. Scarborough, on the other hand, is a former congressman with a sordid past.
I was one of the few writers to cover the curious story of Lori Klausutis, Scarborough’s young and attractive aide who was found dead in his congressional office in 2001. He is certainly no “journalist,” and if he hadn’t been a congressman, he would have been the first one questioned about this very strange unnatural death. Information is scant about this mystery, and thus Trump inadvertently brought it back into the light, as it is now being discussed all over the internet. If Trump was really an outsider, or really wanted to expose Scarborough, he’d mention the Klausutis case on Twitter. I highly doubt he ever will. Instead, he’ll just continue to mindlessly call him “psycho” or something.
Let’s understand what Donald Trump is; an arrogant, lifelong One Percenter who utilized populist rhetoric to get elected. He is a loose cannon, however, and I believe that elements in the establishment still fear he may go postal one day and just talk about 9/11 being an inside job or something. That’s assuming, of course, that Trump wasn’t a veritable actor from the beginning, assigned a role to play, and perhaps ensuring by his offensive personality that no real populist will ever have a chance of succeeding in the future.
As with most of the “choices” our leaders give us, both sides in the present political “debate” leave much to be desired.
With the official publication date of July 4 rapidly approaching, I’m publishing a third deleted chapter from Survival of the Richest on my blog. Hope you enjoy.
The Customer is Always Wrong
The nature of any human being, certainly anyone on Wall Street, is ‘the better deal you give the customer, the worse deal it is for you’.
– Bernie Madoff
If you’ve ever tried to get a company to honor an extended warranty, you understand just how antiquated the classic axiom “the customer is always right” has become. It’s terribly disillusioning to spend an extra amount of money on a product, and be assured repeatedly that this will provide special protection and garner “your money back, no matter what,” if the product stops working, and then have the company invariably find a loophole, once the product breaks, enabling them to deny the claim. Virtually all stores offer these same kinds of warranties, for nearly every electronic or computer product they sell. In the same vein, we find auto dealerships boasting about “bumper to bumper” warranties, on each vehicle they sell. They, too, however, also push customers to purchase an extended warranty. Now, to a novice like me, everything associated with an automobile is between the bumpers, mitigating the need for any “extended” coverage, but it is often very difficult to file a claim on these kinds of plans, as the dealer or manufacturer finds an exemption of one sort or another in order to deny it.
If we had an actual free enterprise system, with unfettered competition, we’d know it. We’d see companies slashing prices for the same products their competitors are selling. But we don’t see that. Ever. Gas prices are uniformly the same, within a few pennies in each general location, regardless of what brand of gas the station is pumping. Safeway, Giant, Shoppers Food Warehouse and other large grocery chains charge the same amount for bread, milk, and other items, again within a few pennies of the competition. Not only would we see free enterprise in motion through competitive pricing, we’d see competitive service as well. Companies would compete against one another to see who could give the best customer service. This situation has really deteriorated over the past twenty years; before the late 1990s or so, for instance, Giant Food used to feature nearly every item in their stores at half price, in bi-weekly sales. Now, their “sales” are almost always laughable, with ten or fifteen cents off the regular price the “new norm.” Safeway does much the same thing.
The reality is, instead of competition, we see collusion. The service is going to be uniformly subpar, most of the time, at McDonald’s, Wendys, Taco Bell and Burger King. The cashiers will generally be no more friendly at CVS than they are at Target or Walmart. Sure, there will be individual exceptions, but the companies themselves are not mandating smiles or good service, no matter how much they may claim to be. The Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us that the average retail worker makes just over $21,000 per year. In all reality, one cannot expect happy employees behind the cash registers at any company, since all retail pays such a paltry wage (with little or no benefits, to boot). So, the consumer is actually paying for the small amount he or she may be saving in list price, as the only possible benefit from outsourcing and free trade, with pedestrian service and shoddy quality. In the same way that restaurants expect the consumer to supplement the pittance they are paying servers with generous tips, retail stores expect consumers to be patient with inadequate customer service, because, as a friend of mine once told me years ago, after complaining about how much the regional managers at his retail company who “did nothing” made, “What do you expect when we’re being paid like this?”
Some companies mandate what the Huffington Post referred to as “surface acting.” For example, Walgreens recently dictated that their retail people use the canned phrase, “Be well” to customers. (Huffington Post, February 20, 2014). The author of this particular story didn’t address the crucial matter of salary; it certainly must be hard to act pleasant and utter a scripted line multiple times a day, when one is earning the kind of compensation retail stores inevitably provide. Such in-authenticity at the cash registers reflects the fraudulent nature of the companies as a whole, much as their mindless advertisements and forgettable slogans do.
If “Mom and Pop” shops still existed in any quantity, as conservative propaganda would lead you to believe, then consumers could take their business there, pay a little more for the product, but receive better service and support local industry as well. What “Mom and Pop” store can compete with the big grocery chains, the huge oil companies, the national drug store chains? Instead, we have seen massive mergers in nearly all fields of business over the past few decades, culminating in the ugly reality that six companies now control 90 percent of the mainstream media, whereas the number was fifty companies as recently as 1983. (Business Insider, June 14, 2012). We’ve seen the same monopolistic mania throughout our capitalist system, from airlines to oil companies to big banks. Bigger is definitely not better when it comes to business, from the point of view of the average consumer. Through what feisty internet site Reddit calls “the illusion of choice,” ten mega corporations have consolidated things to such an extent that they control nearly every purchase we make. To give just one example of the present “competition” in the marketplace, the giant Nestle Corporation owns nearly 8,000 brands worldwide. In the world of finance, Mother Jones disclosed that the number of banks has dropped, due to mergers, from 12,500 to 8,000. Meanwhile, the ten largest financial institutions control 54 percent of our total assets, a number which has increased dramatically from 1990, when they held just 20 percent. Even corporate stalwart Forbes magazine had to admit the obvious, in an October 22, 2011 article headlined, “The 147 Companies That Control Everything.” We see the same kind of intense consolidation of wealth and power in corporations that we see in individual wealth.
The illusion of choice is one of the most hilarious games corporate America plays with consumers. The farce is aided and abetted by the mainstream media, who pretend that companies are fiercely competing for customers. The fact is, if your child wants the latest video game system, or smart phone, you’re free to buy it from several “competing” outlets, but the price is going to be almost exactly the same. The same thing applies to automobiles; while every dealer loudly and garishly proclaims they are having a “monster closeout sale” virtually all year, every year, when they add up all the taxes and surcharges, the price is going to be pretty much identical, wherever and whenever you buy it. And if you want the sadly but undeniably superior Japanese engineering, you can find comparable-and I mean almost exactly comparable-“levels” of cars for each company. They’re going to look similar, get the same kind of gas mileage, and cost pretty much the same. If these companies were really competing against each other, at least one of them, especially the American ones-who have every reason to slash prices, since the public lost confidence in their vehicles a long time ago-would have advertised the “best deal anywhere,” and developed a new model for under $10,000, including taxes, freight and shipping, etc.
Figures from the U.S. Energy Information Administration reveal that gasoline usage has fallen dramatically in this country over the past decade. In 2000, Americans reached a peak of over 59,000 gallons of gas used every day. By 2014, the daily number of gallons had plunged to less than 18,500. Some enterprising wit on a conspiracy forum tallied the numbers from the 1980s, using an average price of $1.50 per gallon, and compared them with the lower usage numbers from 2014, at an average price of $4 per gallon. Not surprisingly, the figures matched exactly. So the oil companies are losing nothing by the sharp drop in usage, and were calculating enough to raise the price per gallon just enough to continue a consistent profit margin.
Obamacare, more kindly known as the Affordable Care Act, appears to be a corporate-like fiasco that is about as unfriendly to the “customer” as possible. Critics discovered recently that the toll-free line for Obamacare was almost exactly 1-800-FUCKYOU. Actually, if you dial that specific number, you get a sex line that now gives you options for Obamacare. This is because the actual number our government leaders set up for this health insurance plan is 1-800-F1UCKYO. I don’t think you have to be a “conspiracy theorist” to find it impossible to attribute this to innocent, bureaucratic red tape. The odds of them randomly coming up with a number spelling out something like that is incalculable. Those who misrule us appear to have a macabre sense of humor; is this their “inside joke” way of giving a literal middle finger to the suckers who bought into this misnamed “affordable” monstrosity? Is it just another way of saying the customer is never right? Did the bureaucrats and lobbyists “earn” whatever it was they were paid to devise this dastardly program?
While small businesses have had to cut positions and employee hours because of the additional costs of the new healthcare law, McDonalds and twenty nine other big corporations (including PepsiCo and Foot Locker) were given a special “waiver” that allowed them to bypass the requirements that those who aren’t “too big to fail” had to abide by. Also exempted were Democratic Party favorites AARP, the United Federation of Teachers and the Teamsters. This is really just the most recent version of the “rich man’s exemption” instituted during the Civil War. Some things never change. (Bloomberg Business News, October 7, 2010). Meanwhile, the Catholic Church was understandably upset that their soup kitchens, hospitals, homeless shelters and other social service organizations weren’t granted an exemption from the law. They were strongly motivated by the fact that part of the “healthcare” the Church must provide to its employees includes contraceptive drugs and services, which of course violates the tenets of their faith. In a baffling inconsistency, other religions, like Muslims, Christian Scientists, and the Amish, are exempt under the law. (Insurance Financial Advisor News, February 7, 2012).
Wherever you call now, business or government agency, you are met with an incredibly annoying, increasingly lengthy and complex automated menu system, which is incomprehensibly frustrating to navigate. I have heard almost no public criticism of this menu system, which no one can possibly like. How are these menus an “improvement” in any way, shape or form? The only beneficiary here is the company instituting it, thereby eliminating a general receptionist employee, and a human voice for the caller to talk to. Again, if there was truly “competition” in the marketplace, some companies would discard these automated menus, and advertise that they were doing so. Customers would be attracted and receptive to this, but since everyone uses it, no company has to get rid of it in order to attract business. You can talk to one metallic voice or another, but you really have no choice in the matter.
Ann Brenoff, of the Huffington Post, wrote in a column aptly titled “When Did the Customer Stop Being Right?” that, the answer to her question was “somewhere around 1980.” Citing Gordon Gekko, corporate villain extraordinaire from Oliver Stone’s iconic ‘80s movie Wall Street, Brenoff states that “When eating your young became the new business model, customer service was kicked to the curb in favor of not wasting money.” While Brenoff attributes what she calls, “…an entire generation of disinterested store clerks, rude waiters, indifferent cable company operators and medical office staffs…” to the excesses of Wall Street, as was the case with the earlier cited article from HuffPo, she doesn’t mention how little these positions pay, and also overlooks the calling card of this new uncaring collective persona; the automated menu system. (Huffington Post, August 15, 2013).
One particularly bad investment many Americans make is in life insurance. The only way to come out ahead on this deal is to die, and to die young. Your family may reap some benefit from it, but you will never do anything but make payments. Or you could be murdered, and have your beneficiary collect a double indemnity payment. The only reason such insurance is necessary is, once again, because most people aren’t paid enough to save much of anything, and cannot even meet what the funeral industry indelicately calls “final expenses,” much as they struggle to meet the day to day expenses of life. In 2008, the Federal Reserve System acquired an 80 percent stake in the mega insurance company American International Group (AIG), when it gave AIG an $85 billion loan. The Associated Press dutifully and inaccurately called the transaction a “government takeover.” Of course, in reality the Fed is not a government agency, but a private corporation. The entire insurance world became even murkier as a result. AIG CEO Robert Benmosche got a 24 percent pay raise in 2013, bringing his total yearly compensation to $13 million.
Car insurance is an even worse deal for consumers, but it’s mandated by law if one is to be permitted the “privilege” of driving. A customer can pay for auto insurance for decades, without a single blip on the record, and then one accident, or sometimes just one ticket results in higher premiums, even a cancellation of the policy. Home insurance is a bit more valuable, but even there the only way to come out ahead is to have something disastrous occur. Just as it is with life insurance, car insurance and homeowner’s insurance are necessary only due to the fact most Americans would struggle otherwise to pay the costs of severe damage to either their automobiles or homes. Incredibly, all insurance companies (there’s that absence of competition again) exempt flooding and foundation damage from their coverage. Needless to say, these are very expensive repairs, but the coverage you’re paying for won’t help you at all.
The insurance industry justifies this policy by maintaining that honoring such damage claims destroys homeowner incentive to improve their property. Why then, do they exclude damage from a nuclear war from their coverage? From a tidal wave? How are homeowners supposed to prep for that? The failure of insurance companies to cover certain devastating events conveniently created a cottage sub-industry, whereby homeowners can purchase extra flood insurance, for example. Even when insurance claims are honored, the consumer usually has to pay a substantial deductible out of pocket. People avoid insurance agents for a reason; they inherently know it’s never going to be a really good deal for them. You’re basically gambling that nothing bad happens, to you, your home, or your vehicle, and the best case scenario would be for you to pay for decades on each policy, while remaining healthy, accident free and storm and flood free. Which would mean, of course, that you paid for nothing. And if you keep contacting them for legitimate claims on your home, the same situation applies as it does with auto insurance; the company will raise your premiums and eventually cancel your policy. It’s a real lose-lose situation.
In 2004, New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer announced that a lawsuit was being brought against Marsh and McLennan, the nation’s leading insurance brokerage firm, for “fraud, bid-rigging and antitrust violations.” Spitzer declared, “The insurance industry needs to take a long, hard look at itself…If the practices identified in our suit are as widespread as they appear to be, then the industry’s fundamental business model needs corrective action and reform.” His official press release was titled, “Investigation Reveals Widespread Corruption in Insurance Industry.” One of the numerous buried provisions in the massive Affordable Care Act, which was read by almost no legislator who nevertheless felt qualified to vote on it, is what conservative critics claim is coded bailout language. Will the insurance companies be given billions courtesy of taxpayers, like the banks and auto manufacturers before them were? Insurance companies of all kinds are, in reality, middlemen that are necessary only because the cost of car accidents, death and home repair is beyond the means of almost all poor and working class Americans. The logical solution, as it is in every case, is to pay all workers enough to meet these costs when necessary, not to mention the costs of everyday living. But that will remain impossible, as long as our crony capitalist marketplace continues to bestow such a huge percentage of the money supply upon so few people.
Incredibly, in this field as in seemingly all others, the poor get especially screwed. A 2012 study by the Consumer Federation of America found that “Low-income drivers are routinely charged higher auto insurance premiums than well-heeled car owners.” This is because the insurance industry factors in elements like occupation, credit history, education and residence location, resulting in the poor being routinely labeled higher “risks,” and thus subject to higher rates. The report found that the exorbitant costs of insurance made driving effectively unaffordable for many low-income households, leaving them at a further disadvantage in the rat race by restricting where they can work, shop, find daycare or go to school. The study also exposed the inconsistency of the industry, by pointing out that it apparently doesn’t consider an important fact which should theoretically lower the risk for drivers with less income; the poor drive only about half the annual miles the richest 20 percent of Americans do, because of the cost of gas and car maintenance, entertainment, etc. Estimates vary on just how much more the poor have to pay for the “privilege” of driving, but various comparisons place the difference as at least $300 annually, with perhaps as much as $1,000 per year. (Time, January 31, 2012).
An updated study in 2013 found even more glaring discrimination against the poor. As America Online reported, on January 28, 2013: “Even if they have better driving records, researchers found that drivers in lower-and-middle income brackets were charged higher premiums than well-to-do drivers in 66 percent of the cases studied. We’re talking more than pocket change. In more than 60 percent of cases studied, the safer driver was charged at least 25 percent more than the one with a checkered driving record.” “What our research at this time, and our earlier reports, show is that this is not a free market at all,” said Stephen Brobeck, executive director of the CFA. “It’s a very uncompetitive market.” Again, we see the marketplace charging those who have the least means to afford it more than anyone else for a product that is practically mandatory in our society.
One of the few areas in which the mainstream media has actually done some real investigative work is the car repair industry. Several times, local and national stories have shown, by use of undercover reporters, how ripping the customer off with unnecessary and/or overpriced repairs is standard operating procedure for many gas stations and national automobile shops. I was told, by two different people who had never met each other, that when they worked at their respective gas stations as youths, that giving wrong directions on purpose to those who asked for them was a proud tradition of the industry. Given that, it’s hardly surprising that these businesses would bilk the public for unneeded repairs. But these undercover exposes have done little to change the practices which are clearly just “a part of the business.” In 2006, for example, NBC’s undercover report exposed Jiffy Lube employees in California selling unnecessary services and in some cases not even performing the services purchased. In 2013, NBC followed up on the story with a hidden camera, and found the situation hadn’t changed at all, despite the fact that the earlier report had elicited an apology and a promise from Jiffy Lube management that they would curb this cheating of customers. (St. George News, May 21, 2013). The automobile repair industry, however, represents one of the only ways a blue collar worker can take advantage of someone wealthy or at least upper middle class. As David Hapgood showed, in his excellent 1975 book The Screwing of the Average Man, this industry, like all others, has its own coded language, its own way of “screwing” the public. If a member of the Rockefeller family has to take his car into a local repair shop, he or she is going to be just as unlikely to understand the jargon of the lowly paid clerk behind the counter as any one else. How many of us would be able to tell if we really need a new distributor?
This is the unspoken reality of today’s business world; not only do the companies act as if the customer is never right, they all seem to behave as if they couldn’t care less if you took your business elsewhere. Why don’t they seem to want our business? Is it because they’re all in cahoots together, to offer similar, poorly manufactured products, bad service, and identical pricing? Is their arrogance a result of the fact they know there is no real competition out there, and that you have nowhere else to go? When I complained to Papa John’s a few years ago, because when we opened our pizzas, we found the toppings were wrong and had all slid to one side, the regional director never responded to my email. I tried again, and he came back with a ridiculous reply that said, “Well, you told me you were going to buy your pizza elsewhere, so I figured what was the point?” I don’t mean to single out Papa John’s, but if you go online, you’ll find numerous web sites devoted to complaints about this company’s drivers, food, management, etc. And yet the company just keeps growing more successful. This is in large measure due to all the corporate promotion (remember, Papa John’s is the “official pizza of the National Football League”), but still one would expect consumers who have been burned by them to at least switch to someone else. Has “Papa John” Schnatter “earned” his success? How many companies achieve success through a superior product, as opposed to expensive advertising campaigns and the sheer convenience of plentiful chain stores in numerous locations?
To cite just one example of an inexplicable success story, consider Amy’s Baking Company, located in Scottsdale, Arizona. Their establishment was renowned enough to warrant an appearance on Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares reality show. Watching the episode they appeared on was an uncomfortable experience; owners Amy and Samy Bouzaglo were presumably on their best behavior, yet they conveyed the most arrogant, unfriendly demeanor one could ever envision. To say that the customer was “never right” in their restaurant is quite an understatement; the couple would angrily confront patrons over the slightest complaint and usually insist they leave their establishment and never return. They were shown absconding with their servers’ tips, and treating their staff shabbily. Their personalities were so over the top, it was impossible to believe they weren’t acting, at least to some degree. The Bouzaglos even reacted to online criticism by taunting reviewers with expletive-rich responses. Shortly after the show aired in May, 2013, Israeli citizen Samy’s immigration status was found to be in question, and he faced deportation. (International Business Times, May 22, 2013). Also, Amy’s criminal past, which included a stint in prison, became public knowledge. There are no figures available for Samy’s net worth, but he invested over a million dollars into the restaurant in 2006, in an attempt to fulfill Amy’s “dream.” It is incomprehensible to me how someone with the violent, volatile personality of a Samy Bouzaglo could have accumulated a million dollars “extra” in which to indulge his wife’s fantasy, indicating he’d been very successful in some capacity. And how could a restaurant with food consistently rated so poorly, and service so bad even our jaded mainstream media couldn’t fathom it, have operated successfully for the seven years prior to the airing of this reality show?
My personal experience tells me that success in the business world is not normally the result of hard work, dedication, or exceptional ability. I confess that I often cannot figure out exactly what is responsible for it. When I interact with one uncaring cog after another, in business after business, I’m forced to conclude that the owners of most businesses don’t care whatsoever about consumer satisfaction or delivering the best possible product, and thus haven’t “earned” the wealth they’ve accumulated, nor do many of them seem remotely “worth” what they’re making.
The bad customer service we all now take for granted is reflective of the unconcerned, entitled oligarchs who run the business world. I have known individuals who became successful at business, albeit on a much smaller scale than the examples I’ve generally cited in this book. They have not been ingenious at all; as a matter of fact, they have often been remarkable for their inefficiency and incompetence. They didn’t have good interpersonal skills. Some of them only had rudimentary writing and spelling abilities. They weren’t offering a product that was different from numerous others vying for the same market, or something that was new or daring. One thing they all seemed to realize, however, is that it is inexplicably advantageous to not be overly concerned about the consumer. I saw this in real estate agents as well, over many years in the business. The successful ones were often impatient, unpleasant types who bullied their customers and provided subpar service. An honest marketplace would weed those types out, and force them to either fight for the consumer or the client, or be driven from the industry. Our corrupt, illogical marketplace appears to do just the opposite, rewarding failure, bad service, slow response and ill manners, as if it was being overseen by a team of Bizarro World directors.
Part of the problem we face is that society often mistakes hubris and aggressive self-confidence for competence and leadership skills. Successful salespersons in any industry are those who “won’t take no for an answer;” in other words, those who don’t listen to the customer. For whatever reason, a large percentage of human beings respond to this kind of pressure, often obnoxiously applied, by caving in and giving the brash “closer” yet another sale. One of the all-time nastiest “successful” people in any field, Major League player and manager Leo Durocher, unfortunately was all too correct with his philosophy that “Nice guys finish last.” Strict, disciplinarian coaches, teachers, parents and bosses are universally more respected than their laid-back, kinder and gentler peers. Bullies are usually popular in school, and are just as frequently the ones promoted by companies when they graduate to the work force. As a Harvard Business Review study found, “Leaderless groups have a natural tendency to elect self-centered, overconfident and narcissistic individuals as leaders….” Too many humans also suffer from a Stockholm syndrome effect, whereby these bullying, impolite figures are seen as figurative captors, and identified with. Are most bosses, at all levels, “earning” their success with learned aggressiveness? Or are they profiting from unattractive genetic traits, ones that should logically be shunned in polite society? How wide is the line between alpha-aggressiveness and sociopathic behavior? Considering that according to respected journalist Jonathan Turley, several studies have also shown that a high proportion of CEOs from major companies are sociopaths, it appears that “leadership” qualities may be intertwined with darker, truly dangerous traits.
The slogan “The customer is always right” was originally coined in 1909 by Harry Gordon Selfridge, founder of London’s Selfridge department store. The “new norm” in terms of customer service was perhaps first officially postulated by Gordon Bethune, CEO of Continental Airlines. Bethune stated that he realized a small number of passengers were just “unreasonable, demanding jerks,” and that he was going to side with his employees. Well, that kind of loyalty sounds commendable, but part of the “rebuilding process” Bethune instituted were the layoffs of 4,000 of those workers he cared so much about. He initiated a typical top-heavy bonus incentive program, where non-management workers could earn anywhere from $65-100 per month if certain goals were met, while the top 20 company executives could get as much as 125 percent of their yearly salary each quarter if those same goals were met. (Bloomberg Businessweek, May 26, 1996). He also began to outsource some flights to other companies. Bethune was typical of the “successful” middle-agent adolescent we see so often in our modern age, having become renowned during a prior stint with Boeing for collecting a slew of speeding tickets while driving his Porsche. He really knows how to work the system; sitting, as a “retiree,” on the Boards of Honeywell (his yearly compensation there, as of 2008, was just under $260,000), Sprint Nextel (for which he received $243,958 in compensation in 2013 alone), Prudential Financial (for which he was paid $220,000), and is a trustee of the New York Academy of Art. No figures could be found for his net worth, or any of his yearly compensation while at Continental or elsewhere, but it’s a certainty he has accumulated a substantial fortune. (All numbers courtesy of Forbes).
Of course, there are rude, demanding customers who expect too much and lodge illegitimate complaints. But much like the old expression, usually attributed to William Blackstone, that “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than one innocent suffer,” if a company is truly committed to superior service, then the old adage “the customer is always right” makes perfect business sense, and adds another veneer of civility to our society. Such a policy, and a commitment by management to enforce it, is pro-consumer and thus a perk that the average person used to benefit from. And ignoring input from customers makes a mockery of so-called “competitive” free enterprise.
No matter how you look at it, most business owners at all levels are doing little to “earn” whatever wealth they’ve accumulated. In an office environment, they fret over the trivial costs of pens and stationery, while food establishments monitor the numbers of ketchup and mustard packets, napkins and straws that their employees provide for carryout orders. Many fast food and other restaurant employees don’t even get the free meals and sodas they used to be given, not that long ago. Business owners don’t have to worry about competing, because the competition offers nothing different to the consumer. When the marketplace is dominated by incompetence, someone incompetent has to win.
Here’s another chapter that was originally in Survival of the Richest, which was edited out of the final published version.
Rich Reverends, Advisers and Experts
Great things happen in small places. Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Jesse Jackson was born in Greenville (South Carolina).
– Jesse Jackson
It takes money to preach the gospel. Jesus himself knew that, and contrary to what some people think, His ministry was not a poor one. He had so much money coming in and going out through His ministry that He had to appoint a treasurer. His name was Judas.
– Kenneth Copeland
L. Ron Hubbard, science fiction writer and founder of Scientology, once declared, “Writing for a penny a word is ridiculous. If a man really wanted to make a million dollars, the best way would be to start his own religion.” Hubbard succeeded beyond his or anyone else’s reasonable expectations. Leaving aside any of the allegations concerning the authoritarian, iron-handed approach of Scientologists, it cannot be denied that this modern day founder of a new religion achieved incredible wealth because of it. Most reports indicate that when he died in 1986, Hubbard left behind an estate valued at $650 million. He may indeed have “built” that, but did he “earn” it?
The whole televangelist field, which usually features highly animated, over the top preachers “starring”on their own individual programs, didn’t end with Jim and Tammy Bakker. Kenneth Copeland is today perhaps the most visible proponent of what has become popularly known as “prosperity theology.” This kind of new gospel, and new terminology, is necessary, in order to explain and excuse the extravagant wealth Copeland and his ilk invariably accrue.
A 2008 Associated Press investigation found that Copeland had arranged a lucrative brokering deal, through Integrity Media, for his brother-in-law, his son had acquired church-owned land, which had quadrupled in value as he used it for his ranching business, and Board members of his organization had been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for speaking at church events. They found a “web of companies and non-profits tied to the televangelist” that “calls the ministry’s integrity into question.” Copeland enjoys a $6 million (at the time of this 2008 article) 18,000 square foot church-owned mansion, a private airstrip and hangar for the ministry’s aircraft, on a 1,500 acre campus outside Forth Worth, Texas. Copeland became “born again” while working as a pilot and chauffeur for an even more notable evangelist, Oral Roberts. Kenneth Copeland Ministries employs five hundred, with a budget in the tens of millions. The last publicly known salary paid to Copeland by his ministry was $364,577 in 1995; Copeland’s wife, Gloria, was paid $292, 593 during the same year. Much as the corporate world arranges to have their fellow plutocrats sit on each other’s Boards, Copeland has several fellow televangelists on his organization’s Board. (Associated Press, July 28, 2008). In 2007, former employees of Kenneth Copeland Ministries were interviewed by local Dallas/Fort Worth reporter Brett Shipp. The employees revealed that around 10,000 cash-bearing prayer requests were received each week, and that Copeland himself saw “zero percent” of the mail.
Creflo A. Dollar is Senior Pastor of World Changers Church International, which has locations in several U.S. cities, including Atlanta and New York. He drives a Rolls- Royce, is transported by private jet, and owns a million dollar Atlanta house and a $2.5 million Manhattan apartment. John Hagee is the CEO of Global Evangelical Television. Before converting his organization into a church in 2004, which permitted him to avoid disclosing his tax returns, Hagee “was known to be the highest-paid nonprofit executive in San Antonio, making nearly $1 million a year.” In 2000, Hagee was paid nearly a half million dollars in salary and deferred compensation for sixteen hours of work a week, which most of us would define as “part time.” In the same year, Hagee earned another $300,000 from his church, for unspecified reasons. According to the Memphis Flyer, Bishop Charles Blake of the West Angeles Church of God in Christ “earns” a $900,000 salary and owns a 10,000 square-foot mansion in Beverly Hills while most of his congregation lives in impoverished South Central Los Angeles.” Joel Osteen and his wife Victoria are known to have made tens of millions of dollars from book sales, and live in a luxurious, 17,000 square-foot Houston mansion, that is worth some $10.5 million. Osteen’s net worth has been estimated at $40 million. Bishop Eddie Long, of the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church outside Atlanta, has made millions from his ministries, drives a $350,000 Bentley automobile and lives on a twenty acre, $1.4 million estate. Ed Young of Fellowship Church in Dallas was paid a $1 million annual pastor’s salary, as well as $240,000 additional “parsonage allowance” pay. He, too, lives in an expensive mansion. (Huffington Post, January 19, 2012).
Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) was founded in 1973, by Paul and Jan Crouch. It is the world’s largest Christian broadcasting network, with facilities located all over the United States. Even more impressively, it is the third largest broadcast station group of any kind in the U.S., bigger than CBS, Fox and NBC. The Orange County Register reported, on August 6, 2008, that TBN took in $200.7 million in 2006, and only spent $141 million of that, pushing the organization’s overall assets close to a billion dollars. In 2008, the Crouchs combined made nearly $800,000 and their son, Paul, Jr., was paid $214,137 as “Vice President and Director.” The Crouchs own a $5 million home in a gated Orange County, California community, which was described as a “palatial estate” with an ocean view. In all, TBN owns some thirty homes across the country, all paid for in cash, The Crouches spend time living in all these homes. The Trinity Christian Center of Santa Ana, the nonprofit that runs TBN, owns some $54 million of property in Orange County, with $44 million of it being exempt from property taxes, public documents reveal. Trinity Christian City International features a million dollar fountain in front and Paul Crouch’s 8,000 square-foot executive suite.
The fallen Reverend Jimmy Swaggart was once leading the familiar televangelist lifestyle; huge mansion with swimming pool, referred to by his ministry as “the parsonage,” he and his wife owning matching Lincoln Town Cars, the private jet once owned by the Rockefeller family, swanky gifts like a diamond studded Rolex and a mink coat, courtesy of his faithful flock. (Los Angeles Times, March 14, 1988). Swaggart was caught with a prostitute in 1988, and despite a ridiculous, tearful on-air apology, was eventually defrocked from the Assemblies of God, only to face another scandal involving a prostitute in 1991; this time, Swaggart was not so contrite, informing an audience at the Family Worship Center that, “The Lord told me it’s flat none of your business.” The once high flying televangelist’s fall from grace was engineered by fellow Assemblies of God minister Marvin Gorman, whom Swaggart had previously exposed for his numerous affairs. Gorman had his son and son-in-law stake out the motel in New Orleans where Swaggart met the first prostitute. Swaggart, interestingly enough, is cousins with rock and roll legend Jerry Lee Lewis and country music artist Mickey Gilley. Swaggart has staged something of a “comeback” in recent years, although his reported salary and that of his wife (between $300-600,000 a year) are not all that excessive when compared to the financial worth of some other high profile televangelists.
Early televangelists like Jim and Tammy Bakker and Pat Robertson were undoubtedly influenced by the “prosperity now” philosophy of Rev. Frederick J. Eikerenkoetter II, better known as Reverend Ike. Ike routinely made seemingly anti-Christian statements like, “Close your eyes and see green. Money up to your armpits, a room full of money….” In return for his “blessing,” Ike unashamedly asked for donations, but expressly forbid any coins, declaring, “Change makes your minister nervous in the service.” The cash rolled in, making Ike a multimillionaire. He flaunted his wealth, with ostentatious bright clothes, flashy jewelry, luxurious homes and expensive automobiles. As a young man, he claimed to have been a successful faith healer in Boston. Because of his wealth and love of materialism, Ike antagonized not only traditional Christian ministers, but also Civil Rights leaders, who urged black churches to champion social reforms. Blasphemously twisting the oft-ignored verse in Matthew about the camel going through the eye of a needle, Reverend Ike said, “If it’s that difficult for a rich man to get into heaven, think how terrible it must be for a poor man to get in. He doesn’t even have a bribe for the gatekeeper.” (New York Times, July 29, 2009). Reverend Ike was basically the Little Richard of religion.
Pat Robertson is perhaps the most well known evangelical Christian leader, having run for President in 1988 and still a regular commentator on political issues. Like so many others we have examined in this book, Robertson grew up wealthy, the son of U.S. Senator A. Willis Robertson. Robertson founded the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) in 1960, along with Regent University, the Christian Coalition, and the American Center for Law and Justice, among other things. He is the best selling author of several books, the most interesting being his 1991 The New World Order, in which Robertson reveals a smattering of forbidden political knowledge. According to respected independent-minded journalist Greg Palast, Robertson has built a fortune of anywhere from $200 million to $1 billion. Robertson is a seemingly extreme right-winger, yet he endorsed the decidedly middle-of-the-road establishment favorite Rudy Guiliani for President in 2008.
The feisty populist weekly Spotlight investigated the untouchable Reverend Jesse Jackson and found that the home he resided in as of 1988-one of three homes he then owned- had been recorded in an unusual, secret land trust. (The Spotlight, May 16, 1988). Jackson’s career has consisted largely of being a racial agitator, in highly selective cases. Despite dropping out of seminary school, Jackson began referring to himself as “reverend” as early as 1966. According to Kenneth Timmerman, Jackson “has never had a church himself, and he has been accountable to no one.” Black Chicago Tribune reporter Angela Parker discovered that, following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., Jesse Jackson had embezzled money from Operation Breadbasket. On December 6, 1971, Jackson was suspended by the Southern Chrisitan Leadership Conference’s head Ralph Abernathy and SCLC board chairman Joseph Lowery charged him with, “administrative proprieties and repeated acts of violation of organizational policies.” In response, Jackson broke off from the SCLC to form Operation Push, which would later be known as the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition. As Timmerman revealed, in his best selling book Shakedown, Jackson has made a career out of threatening corporations with claims of discrimination and boycotts. One of his earliest extortions was in 1982, when he launched a boycott of Anheuser-Busch, claiming that they didn’t have enough black-owned distributorships. Jackson wound up collecting some $510,000 from Busch; when two of his sons purchased a River North distributorship for $30 million (and how did they possibly have the financial wherewithal for that?), Jesse suddenly became very supportive of Anheuser-Busch. Jackson has actually lobbied the Federal Communications Commission to block companies seeking government approval to merge, until they donate money to his organization. Timmerman found that another Jackson organization, the Citizenship Education Fund, had received millions of dollars through negotiated settlements with companies Jackson had accused of racist employment practices. In 1981, Jackson pressured Coca-Cola into awarding a lucrative distributorship to his half-brother Noah Robinson, in order to stop the reverend from publicly blasting the company for doing business in apartheid-era South Africa. Half- brother Robinson would profit from another Jackson “shakedown” a year later, obtaining a Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise. The government has funneled at least $50 million into Jackson’s various groups over the years.
Bill Clinton appointed Jesse Jackson as “Special Envoy” to Africa in 1997, and the good reverend ran up exorbitant expenditures in the role; on one 1998 trip to Africa alone, the costs were an incredible $42.8 million. (World Net Daily, March 12, 2002). Jackson is known to have used Rainbow/PUSH Coalition funds to pay his mistress child support as well as her “moving expenses.” The woman Jackson fathered a child of out wedlock with, Karin Sanford, made over $120,000 as a Rainbow/PUSH staffer in 1999 alone. A 2003 “shakedown” of NASCAR over its alleged “racist” practices netted Jackson’s organizations at least $250,000. Jackson initially called Bell Atlantic and GTE the “apartheid system” of telecommunications in a 1999 attempted “shakedown,” but after the company donated $1 million to his CEF organization, the reverend applauded the deal as “a way to deliver the benefits of growth in the telecommunications industry.”
Celebrity Net Worth claims that Jesse Jackson is presently worth $10 million. Considering how his financial activities have been largely undocumented and remain mysterious, this may well be a very conservative figure. On the surface, it seems implausible that Jackson could have legitimately built such a fortune. He served as “shadow Senator” from Washington D.C. for six years in the 1990s, but the position was unpaid. Jackson’s salaries with Rainbow/PUSH and Citizenship Education Fund were not reported on tax returns; CEF did not identify its highest paid employees on its 1999 report to the IRS, as required by law. Jackson sat on the Board of Directors for Citizen Action in Illinois in the 1990s. Sure, Jackson has written books, and had a CNN talk show for a while, but much about his financial worth is shrouded in secrecy and cannot help but raise eyebrows.
Another black reverend, Al Sharpton, burst into prominence in the late 1980s, as one of teenager Tawana Brawley’s advisors. Brawley alleged that she’d been the victim of a vicious, racist gang rape, involving powerful New York figures. Eventually, Brawley admitted it was all a hoax, but Sharpton never apologized and the mainstream media never took him to task for being associated with such a travesty. Celebrity Net Worth claims Sharpton is worth $5 million, a tidy sum for a supposed man of the cloth who was a one time tour manager for James Brown, but whose only known job in recent years has been as host of a low rated MSNBC talk show. In a 2011 interview with Lesley Stahl on 60 Minutes, Sharpton admitted he’d been an undercover government informant in order to stem the flow of crack cocaine into black neighborhoods. (New York Times, July 21, 2013). The Smoking Gun would expose the true facts about Sharpton’s government career in April, 2014, when it revealed that the good reverend had actually been “flipped” by the FBI after being caught on tape negotiating a cocaine deal with an undercover agent. Sharpton went on to wear a wire for the FBI to record conversations with Mob boss Joseph “Joe Bana” Buonanno.” In his usual childish style, Sharpton ridiculed the reports by declaring, “I was not and am not a rat because I wasn’t with the rats….I’m a cat. I chase rats.” While both Jackson and Sharpton appear on cue whenever the mainstream media decides to focus on a particular racial incident (the George Zimmerman-Trayvon Martin case being an obvious recent example), they are nowhere to be found when the almost daily videos of white police officers harassing, injuring or killing blacks all over the country appear online.
Whether it’s the over-the-top televangelists like Kenneth Copeland, or race hustlers like Jesse Jackson, these very wealthy figures don’t appear to have done anything substantial to “earn” their positions in society. Are any of these transparently hypocritical religious leaders “worth” the riches they’ve accumulated?
While many Christian religious figures have been scrutinized for their various transgressions, very little attention has been paid to the number of wealthy rabbis. Israel’s richest rabbi, thirty six year old Pinchas Abuhatzeira, is worth an incredible $367 million. Like so many wealthy people, he inherited his fortune from his father, also a rabbi, who was murdered in 2011. The ten wealthiest rabbis in Israel are worth a collective $620 million. (The Jewish Daily Forward, November 11, 2013). In a June, 2012 article online at Failed Messiah, titled “Israel’s Richest Rabbis Make Hollywood Stars Look Poor,” Forbes Israel reporter Shmarya Rosenberg accurately assessed this lunacy, saying, “They’re richer than you or I will ever be, and they didn’t get their money by inventing products, curing illness, or benefiting society.” Perfectly mirroring the successful strategy of televangelists, Rosenberg explained that, “They got it by graft, by charging people for ‘blessings’ and by exploiting tax laws.”
Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto is known as the “rabbi to the rich and famous.” Like most of the wealthiest rabbis in Israel, Pinto is a Kabbalist. Mimicking “faith healers” in the televangelist world, rabbis like Pinto claim to be able to perform miracles. His ministry in New York features celebrities like basketball star LeBron James, American Eagle chairman Jay Schottenstein, and New York City politician and bully Michael Grimm. Talk-show host Donny Deutsch and former congressman Anthony Weiner are among those who have sought his advice. In the late 1970s, American rabbi Daniel Lapin founded the Pacific Jewish Center, a Venice, California synagogue, with partner right-wing author and media personality Michael Medved. Barbra Streisand and Richard Dreyfuss are among the rich and famous who attend the synagogue. Lapin’s book Thou Shall Prosper could have been written by any “prosperity doctrine” Christian minister. He has collaborated frequently with conservative radio show host and financial “adviser” Dave Ramsey, who has an estimated $55 million fortune, according to Celebrity Net Worth. There is no public information on Lapin’s net worth, but it seems reasonable to believe he has done very well financially. Overall, rabbis on average earn far more than their peers in the Christian denominations. The average salary for a rabbi in the United States is an incredible $140,000, while the average Protestant minister earns only $40,000. Muslim imams make only $30,000 on average, and Catholic priests a mere $25,000. (The Huffington Post, January 13, 2012).
Dov Zakheim is perhaps the most interesting rabbi in the United States. Somehow, he met the qualifications to become Undersecretary of Defense under President George W. Bush. He had previously served in several lesser positions in Ronald Reagan’s administration. He is an eighteenth generation rabbi, and according to a November 20, 2012 interview he gave with Yeshiva University, his connections were such that the man who examined him for his thesis was Alastair Buchan, son of the author of the well-known book The Thirty Nine Steps (later one of Alfred Hitchcock’s acclaimed films), who was at the time head of the Institute for Strategic Studies. Prior to joining Bush’s administration, Zakheim was CEO of SPC International. Not surprisingly, he is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, as well as the United States Naval Institute, the editorial board of the journal The National Interest, and an “adjunct scholar” for the Heritage Foundation. Zakheim took a Senior Vice President position with Booz Allen Hamilton upon leaving the government, and retired in 2010. He remains a “senior fellow” at the CNA Corporation, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, sits on the Board of Directors for TTM Technologies, Inc. ,is Vice Chairman of the Foreign Policy Research Institute and is co-vice-chair of Global Panel America. He has also formed his own Zakheim Group, of which he is president. Zakheim is not only the most interesting rabbi, but clearly the busiest as well. It was during the good rabbi’s watch that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld announced some $2.3 trillion had been discovered missing during an audit of the Pentagon’s books. This startling revelation came on the day before 9/11- September 10, 2001, and was naturally forgotten afterwards. (Department of Defense American Forces Press Service, February 20, 2002). As was the case with Lapin, there is no information available concerning Zakheim’s net worth. But a man with that many important positions must have built up a substantial fortune, and cannot possibly have been able to devote much time to religious functions as a rabbi.
The Dalai Lama, reincarnated spiritual leader of Tibet, lives in exile in India. The U.S. State Department is the Tibetan exile community’s largest funder by far, donating some $3.5 million annually, as of 2009. (Business Standard, April 25, 2009). Westerners have provided much of the funding for the Dalai Lama’s community, which has probably amounted to many millions of dollars over the years. It is unclear just where all that money is going. The Dalai Lama loves nepotism as much as any other powerful figure around the world; many of his family members have assumed prominent roles in the exile government. The Dalai Lama has traveled frequently, and the trips aren’t cheap; one 2012 excursion to Hawaii alone cost an estimated $1 million. (Honolulu Civil Beat, April 18, 2012). The Dalai Lama comes from the aristocratic world of the upper-class Tibetan monks; even without being perceived as the special, reincarnated one, his social status was determined at birth. (Forbes, October 12, 2011). No concrete information can be found regarding his net worth, but the Dalai Lama has been seen wearing gaudy, $60,000 gold Rolex watches. He regularly decries any attachment to wealth, and informs the poor masses listening to his speeches that it’s “fun” to be poor. There are actually four or five other “Dalai Lamas” who are still contending for the title of the “one true one,” but this individual has the support of powerful forces like the United States government. While we don’t know exactly how much wealth the Dalai Lama has, the Information Office of the State Council published a white paper a few years back, claiming that when he fled Tibet in 1959, he personally owned generous quantities of gold and silver, 20,000 pieces of jewelry, and more than 10,000 pieces of rare silk, satin and fur clothing, including 100 plus robes encrusted with pearls and other expensive gems.
Buddhists generally reject materialism and devote themselves to spiritual development. It is probably not surprising that so many typically deluded celebrities have claimed to be Buddhists, while obviously not rejecting any of their own substantial materialism and wealth. Richard Gere, Tina Turner, Keannu Reeves, Leonard Cohen, Herbie Hancock, Orlando Bloom, Steven Seagal, Kate Bosworth and Tiger Woods are some of the more notable figures to espouse Buddhist beliefs. Needless to say, Tiger Woods is one of the richest celebrities in the world, with a net worth of $500 million. He also was a serial adulterer, which has to violate the precepts of any viable religion. Richard Gere is worth $65 million, Bloom is worth some $35 million, Bosworth $24 million; none of these “Buddhist” celebrities are giving up anything earthly in their quest for spiritual growth. Even more laughably, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs and his wife Laurene Powell, a trading strategist with Goldman Sachs, were married by a Zen Buddhist monk.
The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was a Hindu mystic who became a celebrated figure in the 1960s, when the Beatles and other celebrities flocked to him for spiritual guidance. He developed the transcendental meditation technique, known as TM, which also became popular with icons in the entertainment industry. His international organization established health clinics, mail order sales, and organic farms. The value of their U.S. assets alone was reported to be $300 million in 2008. (New York Times, February 8, 2008). Wikipedia informs us that Mahesh came from an “upper caste family” living in British India. His book The Science of Living and Art of Being sold more than a million copies. The Beatles were not dissuaded from following their religious guru, even when they heard that he’d made sexual advances towards actress Mia Farrow, another disciple. The good Maharishi owned lots of lucrative properties in England. In 1988, Indian tax authorities accused his organization of falsifying expenses and tax fraud. Pop culture figure Deepak Chopra got his start as one of Mahesh’s top aides. (Huffington Post, November 17, 2011). The Hare Krishna movement was started by another Hindu mystic, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. He, too, was born to a prosperous family, in Calcutta. The most famous of his publications was The Bhagavad Gita As It Is, released by the giant MacMillan Publishers in 1968.
Controversial Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakahn has managed to build a fortune worth over $4 million, as of 2012. The web site Rich But Broke also reported his yearly salary at that time to be $336,188. Farrakhan is still a Muslim minister, and often gives weekly online sermons, even at his advanced age. Although not much concrete information is available regarding his family’s economic background, Farrakhan was classically trained on the violin, starting at age six, and went on to appear as a child on the Ted Mack Amateur Hour. He also attended the prestigious Boston Latin School. Some have speculated that Farrakhan, who had been an assistant minister to Malcolm X, but quickly became one of his rivals for power, was behind the 1965 assassination of the radical black leader. Rather oddly, the always fascinating Farrakhan has become a devotee of L. Ron Hubbard’s philosophy of Dianetics, while maintaining he is not a Scientologist, and in recent years the Nation of Islam has hosted its own Dianetics courses. One of Farrakhan’s projects, Muhammed Farms, has received substantial government subsidies since Barack Obama entered office. The watchdog group Open the Books reported that, “Within the geographic borders of the City of Chicago, 930 entities received an aggregated total of $6.129 million in federal government farm subsidy payments. Federal farm subsidy program dollars are flowing into the ‘urban areas’- where there are no farms. The recipients include grain traders and members of the Chicago Board of Trade, wealthy second generation inheritors, and non-profit organizations such as the Mallard Habitat Foundation and a charity of The Nation of Islam. Many entities receive the federal subsidies at their downtown loop office buildings or residential mansions. Nearly every neighborhood in the city receives federal farm subsidy payments- including the Gold Coast, Downtown-Loop, Lincoln Park, and even the President’s neighbors in Hyde Park.” (The Blaze, December 9, 2013). Like many leaders of other religions, the wealthy Farrakhan urges his followers to reject “material wealth,” and rebukes “…people of wealth and status who have enriched themselves at the expense of the poor.” (From a 2006 letter to Fidel Castro).
While Catholic priests have less personal wealth than ministers of other religions on average, and, as Fortune magazine once put it, “the Vatican’s top brass…works for peanuts,” the Vatican itself has riches that cannot be accurately calculated. The Economist was able to discover that, in 2010 alone, spending by the Vatican and other church-owned entities was $170 billion; only sixteen companies worldwide generated more revenue. Nearly 60 percent of this spending went to the extensive Catholic Health Care network, led by Catholic Charities USA. Another 28 percent went to colleges, while only 6 percent went towards the daily expenses of local parishes and dioceses. The CEO of Catholic Charities, Rev. Larry Snyder, was paid $318,663 in 2012. When Pope Benedict XVI stepped down in 2013, an unprecedented historical event, he was allotted a relatively modest $3,340 monthly retirement income. The Roman Catholic Church has holdings in art and real estate that, again, can’t really be accurately measured, since they would never sell them. It still holds money, gold and jewels obtained during the Crusades. The Church owns some decidedly unholy types of property, including the London building housing Bulgari Jewelers, and apartment buildings in Paris and Switzerland. The Vatican Bank is the most mysterious element of the Church; its total assets as of 2011 were an astounding $8.2 billion. Pope Benedict, prior to his retirement, aped the actions of corporations all over the world by hiring an international headhunting agency to pick a candidate of “professional and moral excellence” to head the bank. They selected, not surprisingly, the upper crust, German financier Ernst von Freyberg as president. Freyberg, just as predictably, hired Promontory Financial Group as consultants, to review accounts and other bank procedures. (International Business Times, March 14, 2013). One notorious former long time president of the Vatican Bank, Bishop Paul “the Gorilla” Marcinkus, was rumored to have ties to organized crime elements and the shadowy Masonic lodge Propaganda Due (P2) and was accused, by author David Yallop, of being a possible accomplice in the death of Pope John Paul I in his 1984 book In God’s Name. Italian journalist Mino Pecorelli, who had been investigating Marcinkus, the Vatican Bank and Banco Ambrosiano, and their ties to organized crime, was murdered in 1979. One of Marcinkus’s typically tough, blunt public statements was, “You can’t run the Church on Hail Marys.” (Washington Post, February 22, 2006).
The Jehovah’s Witnesses are a controversial Christian sect that is controlled by a group of corporations, the primary one being the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. Watch Tower alone owns a large number of properties in Brooklyn. Between 2004 and 2012, it sold several of these for a cumulative amount of between $600 million and $1 billion. (New York Observer, February 13, 2012). The Watch Tower Society has even opened branches in Britain, Germany and Australia. While average Jehovah’s Witnesses are told that the governing body members of their faith are paid only $400 a month, and live in modest apartments at the Bethel headquarters in Brooklyn, they also get quite a few nice perks. They can travel on an almost unlimited basis to anywhere in the world for free, and receive free lodging and food, as they do at home in Bethel. They also are given free medical care, free dental, free maids and laundry service, and something called “green handshakes.” These “handshakes” are bestowed upon them with an unknown degree of regularity, by wealthy members anxious to curry favors. (Jehovahs Witness.net, April 7, 2008 and others). Although this denomination doesn’t seem to enrich its leaders the way some other branches of Christianity do, they certainly have a huge collective treasure chest. And despite doctrine that rails against material possessions and fleshly desires, some incredibly wealthy figures remain Jehovah’s Witnesses. Venus and Serena Williams, for instance, with a combined net worth of $160 million, are still practicing members of the faith. So was pop music star Prince, who possessed a net worth of $300 million (despite not having a hit record for decades), and was raised a Jehovah’s Witness and converted back in 2001.
Perhaps the most puzzling religious group is the Unification Church, founded by the late Korean “Reverend” Sun Myung Moon. Moon officially declared himself the messiah in 1992, years after he’d built a powerful network of right-wing organizations, including The Washington Times daily newspaper. He was an influential figure in the administrations of both Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. In 2004, he and his wife actually staged a coronation ceremony in the Dirksen Senate Office building, during which Republican Roscoe Barrett embarrassed himself by bowing down before the couple, and Democrat Danny Davis carried in one of the two golden crowns placed upon their heads. (Salon, June 21, 2004). Moon died in 2012, and his Harvard-educated daughter Jin took over, attempting to modernize the religion by renaming it Lovin’ Life Ministries, and establishing an official rock band for the sect. She also abolished the church’s tradition of mass arranged marriages, during which Rev. Moon had presided over matching up hand-picked brides and grooms who often couldn’t communicate in the same language. From the time of the Nixon administration, irate parents began complaining that Moon was a cult leader that was brainwashing his subjects, who were popularly referred to as “Moonies.” In 1976, a congressional investigation concluded that Moon was likely a “political tool” of the KCIA, the Korean intelligence agency. Moon’s family, which included thirteen children, were raised in the lap of luxury, with a private bowling alley, six pizza ovens and a waterfall adorning the dining room of their mansion. Moon and his church fought numerous allegations of misconduct, from tax evasion to personal charges from his children about sexual abuse, violence and drug usage. Other claims were made that Moon’s “church” had originally started out as a sexual cult. One of his sons died in a car wreck and another jumped to his death from the seventeenth floor of a Las Vegas casino. (New Republic, November 12, 2013). The exact amount of the estate Moon left behind is unknown, but most online references assume it to have been in the billions.
Non-religious, self-help gurus preside over what USA Today estimated is a $13 billion a year industry. Tony Robbins, the so-called “peak performance coach,” is probably the most visible of these “gurus,” and is worth an incredible $480 million. Robbins, like all of these “gurus,” tells his gullible audience that “anyone” can become wealthy, if they follow his “system,” which is, of course, available to them at a hefty price. He also preaches “positive” thinking, and that great things await those who simply change their attitude. Robbins charges well-heeled clients $1 million a year for private coaching. Steve Harvey is a former stand up comedian who has transformed himself into an “expert” that specializes in advising mostly other black people, in a “hip,” rather ungrammatical style, about things they really should already know. He has a morning radio program, a television program, is host of The Family Feud and the author of best-selling “self-help” books, all of which have combined to give him an estimated net worth of $100 million. Harvey’s “advice” is mostly aimed at women, whom he objectifies while chastising them about “giving it away” too easily, as Olivia Cole pointed out so cogently in the April 17, 2014 Huffington Post. Harvey is not talented, or especially intelligent, or impressive in any way, and yet he has somehow become a titan in the entertainment industry. “Dr. Phil” McGraw was first promoted by Oprah Winfrey, and has built a $245 million fortune, with his tough, “straight talking” style of “advice.” McGraw responded to extensive criticism that his “counseling” was simplistic and superficial by saying, “I’m not the hush-puppies, pipe and ‘Let’s talk about your mother’ kind of psychologist.” (South Florida Sun Sentinel, July 3, 2001). Again, what are Robbins and his ilk producing of value? Most of what these “experts” say or write is extraordinarily basic; the kind of old-fashioned, common sense advice you might get from a grandparent. Is their “expertise” worth that kind of fortune? And is what they’re doing anything different from what the televangelists do?
Financial “expert” Suze Orman has an estimated worth of $35 million. But hasn’t most of her fortune, like Dave Ramsey’s and others, been derived from “advising” the common riff-raff, at a cost, on how to achieve their financial success? This is similar to the way so many “no money down” real estate seminars have fleeced desperate audiences over the years. During one of these seminars I attended in the mid-1980s, I asked the speaker a few questions. First, I wanted to know why every one of these “experts” had been dead broke, bankrupt, before they discovered the amazing secret that they were willing to share with the unwashed masses, but only at a steep price. Already, at that time, I was realizing that this was classic overkill, selling the product too well, much as habitual liars invariably provide too many details. Second, I told him that because he was charging so much for his tapes and books, the conclusion was inescapable that his wealth had been derived from those sales, and not from any brilliant real estate investing strategies. Naturally, most of the audience hissed at my question, enabling him to ignore it. High profile financial “expert” Jim Cramer, best known for his CNBC program Mad Money, came under blistering attack in December 2014, from irate fund manager J. Carlo Cannell. Cannell was Cramer’s co-founder of and fellow shareholder in TheStreet.com. Cannell was understandably upset that, while the company’s value had plunged from $1.7 billion in 1999 to $75 million, Cramer had received some $14 million in compensation and millions more in stock options, over the same time period. “Were there to have been wealth creation we would characterize your robust compensation as accretive,” Cannell wrote in a letter filed with SEC. The letter goes on to blast Cramer for enjoying such extravagant perks as “a perfumed sedan driver and assorted assistants who spray ionized lavender water on your barren cranium.” Cannell was bitter that Cramer’s yearly compensation was more than the cumulative dividends that were paid out to common shareholders. “Once a $70 stock, TST is now $2.20.” Cannell stated. “You have done well, but how has the common shareholder done?” (Bloomberg and others, December 3, 2014). Helaine Olen wrote about the negative impact of these financial “advisers” in her book, Pound Foolish: Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry. “The idea that anyone can give specific advice to millions of people first of all doesn’t really work,” she notes, and accurately points out that most people don’t rack up credit card debt through “spending too much,” but rather because of medical emergencies or long bouts of unemployment.
Psychics, astrologers and clairvoyants have done remarkably well for themselves, despite the fact that their predictions are almost always vague or wrong. Jeane Dixon made a fortune with her ridiculous predictions, such as her 1960s claim that Mars would be abducting Earth’s teenagers, or her crystal ball seeing World War III starting (with China) in 1958, or her contention that a female U.S. president would be elected in the 1980s. She, like seemingly everyone else, boasted after John F. Kennedy had been assassinated that she’d known it was going to happen. In a similar vein, she garnered notoriety as early as 1942, when she warned actress Carole Lombard not to fly. Since Lombard did die in a plane crash, she wasn’t around to verify Dixon’s story. (Antique Week, August 7, 2009). Nancy Reagan utilized the services of prominent astrologist Joan Quigley during her White House years. According to Reagan aide Donald Regan, Quigley was being paid a $3,000 monthly retainer by Nancy Reagan. As is the case with Jeane Dixon, no figures are available regarding Quigley’s net worth, but the first news story about her connection to the Reagans referred to her as “a wealthy San Francisco socialite.” We do know that her father was president of the California State Hotel Association, and that she grew up on “the high-end Nob Hill area” of San Francisco and attended prestigious Vassar College. (The Telegraph, October 28, 2014).
Another noted “advice” giver, talk show host and author Dr. Laura Schlesinger, has accumulated an estimated $40 million fortune. Dr. Laura portrays herself as a moralistic, “family values” type of person, but her own life has been filled with questionable behavior. While regularly chastising callers for “shacking up” without being married, Schlesinger herself lived with a man who was married to another woman for several years, was estranged from her only sibling for a very long time, and hadn’t spoken to her own mother for some twenty years before her death in 2002. (Vanity Fair, September 1998). It wasn’t until two months after she died that her mother’s remains were discovered in her Beverly Hills condo. (San Francisco Chronicle, December 21, 2002). With an attitude Ayn Rand would have been proud of, Schlesinger explained that she hadn’t mourned over either of her parents’ deaths, because she felt no emotional bond to them. (The London Times, April 6, 2006). Completing the perfect “conservative” persona, she had also posed for nude photos in the 1970s, which were disseminated online to much fanfare in 1998.
The marketplace has apparently determined that those who possess the gift of gab in abundance, and have no qualms about asking those with little wealth, who in fact are coming to them for the express purpose of increasing it, to part with it in order to make more of it, are some of the most valued members of American society.
Whatever else they may be, these bilkers of common folk undoubtedly are aware of H.L. Mencken’s unfortunately accurate assessment of his countrymen, which has come to be paraphrased from a Chicago Daily Tribune column he wrote in 1926 as: “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.”
If a real populist president were elected, or if a majority of those in Congress were populists, what kind of reforms would they enact? What follows are just some of the things I would try to do if I was in a position of power.
The first thing a true populist would do is to focus on the most important issue of our time; the undeniable fact that the vast majority of people are simply not being paid enough to meet the ever increasing costs of living. I don’t mean Bernie Sanders-like rant about raising the minimum wage fifty cents an hour. I mean Huey Long-like emphasis on just where all the wealth is, and proposals to take that ill-gotten wealth and distribute it more equitably among the masses who need it.
We’re about 2000 years overdue for a Year of Jubilee. While it would probably be unworkable to simply absolve all personal debts, I think a compromise could be reached that would still provide massive relief. How about cutting the amount, terms and interest rates on all individual and small business loans in half? Combined with legislation to cap any interest rate on any loan at say 8 percent, I think that would increase cash liquidity for everyone.
A true “America First” policy would involve bringing all military troops home, immediately. We could work out the logistics of military bases in certain countries, but no U.S. troops should be guarding, occupying or bombing anyone in any nation anywhere. Instead, they could be employed at home, guarding our oddly unprotected southern border. There is no reason for an expensive, tacky wall. Those who have been crossing our southern border for decades are doing so because our government wants them here.
A true “America First” policy would slap a 100 percent tax on any corporation that moved offshore. Tax credits could be devised to encourage them to stay in this country, and the more they paid their workers, the bigger the tax credits would be. I would also propose a 100 percent tax on any bonuses given to executives that laid off a single worker that year. And the first thing any real populist would do is to end the disastrous H 1-B Visa worker program, as well as all the other foreign guest worker and student worker programs.
Simply following the recommendations of the Grace Commission from the 1980s would cut government spending by one third, which was discovered to be nothing more than waste. In the thirty plus years that have elapsed since then, I think it can be safely assumed there is even more wasted government funding now.
There should be a complete and thorough audit of the Federal Reserve System. It ought to be abolished, and replaced with a nationalized system controlled by our elected leaders. The national “debt” has been monetized by the Fed and was created by bankers. It isn’t our debt, and should be repudiated. If the bankers who created the debt want to figure out how to pay it back, let them. However, it isn’t the obligation of the people to do so.
The practice of fractional lending needs to be curtailed and replaced with a credit union-type of system, where the funds actually exist in some tangible form. As it stands now, our banking system is legalized counterfeiting. I’m no monetary expert, but if we established a commission led by people like Ron Paul, I’m sure we could come up with a sound, stronger system.
The budgets of our intelligence agencies should be public knowledge. They should be held accountable for everything they’re doing, as well as the cost to taxpayers. At least some of these agencies could easily be abolished. The Homeland Security Department should be abolished at once, and the Patriot Act rescinded. The layers of fat should be cut out of our bloated military budget, and no more inexcusable wastes of taxpayer money from scrapped weapon programs should be tolerated.
Our priorities should be completely rearranged. With no more foreign interventionism, and the elimination of many unnecessary and unconstitutional agencies, plenty of money would be available for the rebuilding of our crumbling infrastructure, including our woefully outdated power grids.
Most every illegal immigrant would leave voluntarily if we simply stopped giving them any government benefits. Proof of citizenship should be required for all government assistance, and the practice of permitting “anchor babies” should be ended. Sanctuary cities should receive no government funding. Obviously, any illegal immigrant caught committing any crime should be deported immediately. With the borders actually being guarded, and no promise of government benefits to lure them, people will simply stop sneaking into this country.
With the advances in artificial intelligence, America has to look at replacing welfare and unemployment benefits with some kind of guaranteed living income. We also should look at trying to house the long-term homeless in abandoned homes and retail properties that have been empty for long periods of time. This would require thoughtfulness and creativity, something our leaders have never been renowned for, but it could be worked out.
Why is America unable to provide free wifi internet access everywhere, when a country like Estonia does? Several other countries provide free or very cheap internet to their citizens. The United States has now dropped out of the top twenty countries worldwide in terms of public wifi network quality. European countries, and even some Third World nations, provide much faster and cheaper broadband services than the wealthiest country in the world does.
While the U.S. lags behind the rest of the world in many crucial areas, we are light years ahead of anyone else in CEO pay. I have long advocated that a maximum compensation package be established for large corporations, tied to a minimum package, so that executives couldn’t make more than say twenty five times what their lowest-paid workers make. That used to be the norm until thirty years or so ago. Even the worst of the old plutocrats recognized that you had to pay people enough to buy their products. But in today’s Ayn Rand-inspired political climate, profits are all that matters. Greed is good.
Part of our infrastructure overhaul should be a true mass transit system that reflects the wealth and technological know-how America possesses. The United States boasts the third worst average commute time among all First World nations. Tallinn, the capital city of Estonia, and Hasselt, Belgium are just two cities that offer zero-fare public transportation systems to their inhabitants. As in all areas, America can and should be doing much better.
I know my conservative friends will remind me that “nothing is free,” and these government services will cost plenty. We already pay enough taxes to receive a well-run socialist state in return. But that’s the problem with America; we don’t get anything in return for what we pay. That is, unless you consider perpetual bombings and occupations of smaller nations to be a benefit. Or that we all benefit somehow from the largely unknown shenanigans of the CIA, FBI, DIA, NSA and other intelligence agencies. We certainly don’t have decent roads, bridges, airports and power grids to show for it.
I would establish a 911 Truth Commission, consisting of impartial researchers, as well as a new independent investigation into the JFK assassination. This would be essential in removing the cloud of suspicion which hangs over the heads of the officials who continue to cover-up the truth about these and so many other issues. “Extreme” leaders like David Duke, Louis Farrakhan and others should be invited to sit down and discuss their concerns, in an effort to establish racial and ethnic harmony. A national commission should be formed to investigate the myriad instances of police brutality and criminality, and the failure of their superiors to hold these officers accountable for their actions.
Much as Huey Long established free health clinics all across Louisiana in the 1930s, we ought to have free health clinics everywhere in this country. We should begin a gradual transition to a single-payer system, like most of the world has. The insurance and pharmaceutical companies will have to “sacrifice” this time, not average people.
Marijuana should be completely legal, and all drugs should be decriminalized. Private prisons should be abolished. All judges should be subject to recall. Direct democracy should be implemented at least partially. With a certain number of signatures, a given number of ballot measures could be put up for a national vote each year. Our elected officials would have to abide by the will of the people on these measures, and the courts could not overturn them.
Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden should be pardoned and hailed as heroes, as should Julian Assange. There must be meaningful prosecutions of powerful political figures that have committed numerous crimes, if only as a symbolic demonstration that no one is above the law.
Much of what I’m saying and writing will be labeled as socialist or even communist. On the contrary, totalitarian societies have never distributed the wealth in any kind of fair way, or delivered essential services fairly to all the people. Populism is far different from socialism or communism. Huey Long, for instance, was attacked relentlessly by both the communist and socialist parties in America. He is hardly a hero in the Soviet Union. It isn’t Marxist to point out how wrong it is for a handful of elites to have more money than they know what to do with, while in present-day America nearly half the population has less than one percent of the collective wealth.
The only way America can be saved from a slide into Third World status and an eventual collapse is to expose all the corruption. We must acknowledge that all these problems exist before we can solve them. As a great paranoid once wrote, if they can get you to ask the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about the answers. America is hopelessly corrupt, from top to bottom. Too many of our people have responded to this perpetual wrongdoing by mimicking the behavior Mike Judge spoofed in his film Idiocracy.
We need to admit that nothing illustrates the sorry state of present-day America better than the sinful distribution of wealth. With Donald Trump exposing himself as more of a plutocrat than any kind of populist, all we can do is hope that the sheeple wake up and finally demand something better.