The Russians are Coming! But the Plutocrats are Here!

The extent to which narcissistic sociopathy has become the new normal for ‘presidential’ behavior is truly astounding. Why is that? Well, for one, denial and projection characterize the psychology of the base. Trump’s base denies countless news reports indicating various contacts between the Trump presidential campaign insiders and Russian intermediaries associated with the Kremlin and projects them onto a vast liberal conspiracy.

Trump has repeatedly claimed he “has nothing to do with the Russians.” Yet, evidence of various meetings and associations keeps popping up. Numerous sources report that Trump made financial deals with Russian oligarchs and/or banks in the past. His son told a golfing reporter that the Russians were an unlimited source of financing for Trump projects.

Of course, we do not know what financial entanglements the president may still have with Russian oligarchs, since he refuses to divulge his diverse international business dealings or release his income tax returns as every other president has done. But, so many around him have had direct contacts with known Kremlin officials or their surrogates. For Trump politics is finance is politics.

Intergenerational Kleptocracy

Now, his son, Donald Jr., has admitted that he, Jared Kushner, Paul Manifort – Trump’s campaign manager at the time, widely known for having “made millions promoting Kremlin-friendly interests in Ukraine”[1] –met with a Russian lawyer close to the

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Assange-Trump-Putin Triangle. Source: Salon.com

Kremlin who claimed to have damaging information on Hillary Clinton. Donald Jr. admitted that the meeting happened shortly after Trump Sr. captured the Republican nomination. Now, just how illegal is that?

Numerous reports of other meetings between Trump associates and Russian diplomats have surfaced. Trump could not avoid firing General Michael Flynn shortly after appointing him national security advisor; he had lied about meetings with Russian officials. He had also concealed payments from foreign governments including Turkey.  Jeff Sessions “forgot” his meetings with Russians, as did Trump son-in-law and political point man on everything. How many appearances of inappropriate contacts with Russians by Trump associates, in the context of Trump’s financial secrecy and dark financial history with Russians is enough to raise suspicions? The list goes on…

People Don’t Change

David Kay Johnston, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter, has followed Trump’s antics for decades. His new best-selling book, The Making of Donald Trump, chronicles Trump’s exploits since Johnston first met him in Atlantic City in 1987, when he immediately saw Trump as a modern day P.T.Barnum. In 1990, Johnston broke the story that while claiming to be worth billions, Trump actually had a negative net worth.

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Poker-face Putin. Source: The Independent

Whatever his net worth today, Donald Trump has become an important asset for Vladimir Putin and his aspirations to become a member of the world’s ruling elite. At the G-20 summit Trump played right into Putin’s hand. Gary Kasparov, the world’s greatest chess player and Russian dissident-exile, likens Putin to a champion poker player and Trump as a buffoon.

In any case, the plutocrats are in control, both here and in Russia. That would not have changed much if Hillary Clinton had won the presidency, but we must remember that Putin hates Hillary as she does him. To whatever extent Hillary is beholden to Wall Street, Donald Trump is beholden to his own self-aggrandizement and little else. An exception, perhaps, are the Russian oligarchs who apparently funded those mysterious European bank loans Trump obtained when the big U.S. banks would no longer do business with him because of his consistent failure to pay debts. Plutocrats here, oligarchs there, all aspire to become the most powerful global ruling class in history. Yes, the Russians are coming, but the plutocrats are here.

[1] See Stephanie Baker and Daryna Krasnolutska, “Paul Manafort’s Lucrative Ukraine Years Are Central to the Russia Probe,” Bloomberg News (May 22, 2017). Accessed at https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2017-05-22/paul-manafort-s-lucrative-ukraine-years-are-central-to-the-russia-probe

How to Arrest a Bank

Seems like an absurd question, “How do you arrest a bank?” Well, it is absurd. Someone said, “If corporations are persons, then why doesn’t Texas execute some of them?” That is another seemingly absurd, though valid, question. The answer, of course, is simple. Corporations – including banks – are not persons, nor could they be. Jails are physical structures meant to house criminal persons – living organisms of the species Homo sapiens who have violated laws.

Corporations are not living organisms; they are legal sets of formal relations between (replaceable) humans, specific relations that are sanctioned by the state chartering process. You can’t jail a relationship. If Texas wanted to execute a corporation, it could only do so by rescinding its charter and disbanding it – then it would be “dead,” i.e., it would no longer exist. Without a valid legal charter, its state-approved legal incorporation papers, a corporation does not exist. Persons are not chartered; they simply exist in nature and have some natural lifespan. Corporations, including banks, exist indefinitely until they either fail on their own or their charter is revoked. But they cannot be jailed because they are not living persons.

Managing Banksterism, or Not

In the real world, persons and corporations are clearly very different phenomena, no matter what twisted logic a jurist may come up with. The foolishness over this pseudo-issue is at the root of the deep institutional corruption that has infected our political economy. We have all but forgotten that corporations are legally chartered by state or federal authority and – theoretically – can be as easily disbanded. When some (usually small regional) banks have gotten into trouble, they have been allowed to fail. Bank assets have been seized, insured depositors paid. They may be either reorganized with infusions of cash and may be taken over by a solvent bank. The other option is to “resolve” the bank by liquidating its assets – that is, the bank is disbanded, or in Texas terms, it is executed. But some mega-banks have become so powerful that they are deemed “too big to fail.” That kind of power encourages further corruption.

You can’t physically arrest a bank, but if you are the government banking authority you can institutionally arrest its corrupt practices or, if willing, “execute” it. But the financial elite today is so powerful that it seems to “regulate its regulators.” Also, a “shadow banking” system has arisen in the form of “non-banking financial intermediaries,” that is, speculative financial institutions that fall outside the normal banking regulatory structure. These “shadow banks,” along with the giant investment banks, caused the 2008 financial crisis by their misdeeds. The greatest threat to banking and monetary systems today is the imaginary “too big to fail” status of mega-banks and shadow banks. “Too big to fail” assures that failed gigantic financial speculation will be “bailed out” by the government to avoid institutional failure. These shadow banks and mega-banks have been allowed by political authorities to rule economies. They directly threaten the viability of those same economies by their corrupt behavior.

Corrupting the Economy

Corruption used to be a personal thing. So-and-so embezzled a half-million dollars from his employer. A cop demanded tribute to ‘protect’ shop keepers from ‘the mob.’ Etc. Today, however, something much more vast and sinister is happening. Financial power elites are high-jacking entire economies, both here and abroad, by manipulating stock markets and currencies. “We the people” are paying the financial elites for “protection” from the collapse of our economy that will result from their corruption. But we get no real protection. The mega-banks and shadow banks and their executives continue to be protected from the losses their risky behavior causes. Fines and penalties to these institutions are not real punishments; they are merely passed on to shareholders. That will inevitably result in the public eventually paying for Banksterism with government bailouts.

The mega-banks, shadow banks, and the other corporations they control are so big and powerful that actions they take can yield obscene profits by secretly fixing interest rate spreads and other financial factors. Like the Ponzi schemes of sub-prime mortgage derivatives, the continued and various forms of banking corruption tolerated by government will cause the next financial crisis. When the risks of their speculation and manipulations come home to roost, it will be the society at large who will pony up the costs of keeping the economy from complete collapse. Meanwhile, the jackals of Wall Street award themselves bonuses and take vast infusions of dollars from the Federal Reserve to cover their losses. The bailouts will, just like last time, be backed by new federal debt – our debt.

Arrested Development of Justice for Banking Crime

JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Barclays and Royal Bank of Scotland recently “pleaded guilty”* to several financial crimes involving manipulating currency markets around the world. The players even called themselves “The Cartel,” and communicated via a private chat room. Brazen young “Masters of the Universe” secretly colluded to control currency prices to trade them for huge profits. Most of the employees who committed these crimes were fired by the executives that had enabled a climate in which such behavior was condoned. The executives suffer only slight embarrassment. If it were not so insane, the biggest banks in the world “pleading guilty” would be as absurdly amusing as putting a bank in jail.

Less than a month after her Senate confirmation, Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch announced her intention to “prosecute financial crimes.” Yet in secret negotiations, the banks were allowed “waivers” to continue doing “business as usual.” Further, the Justice Department did not indict any of the persons who carried out these schemes or the executives who encouraged them. Instead, it imposed “penalties” on the banks to “pay” for the crimes of their employees. The combined penalties, around $5.6 billion, constitute a loss for shareholders, but mean nothing to the bonus-bloated executives and are a drop in the bucket compared to their multi-billion dollar schemes.

How do you arrest a bank? It’s really a simple matter of justice. Indict and prosecute the actual criminals, including the responsible executives, and “resolve” the corporation – in effect, execute it, terminate it. Distribute its assets to more deserving institutions such as local and regional banks that serve the financial needs of the nation. Assign the losses to the perpetrators, not the public. “If a bank is ‘too big to fail,’ says Bernie Sanders it is too big to exist.” Of course, none of this is likely to happen under current political conditions. But the banking crisis is one element in the converging crises of our time, which together are preventing us from responding to the very processes that are leading to societal as well as climate collapse.
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* Michael Corkery and Ben Protess, “Rate rigging makes felons of top banks; 4 fined $5B.” The New York Times. [reprinted in the Santa Fe New Mexican, May 21, 2015, p. A-1]

The Incredible Darkness of Being…a Cop: Warrior or Peacemaker in a Dangerous World. Part I

Almost everyone would agree that the world is a dangerous place these days. Technically, the U.S. has never fought a war on its own soil. Nevertheless, expanding the West and the capture of parts of Mexico were executed on the lands of others, as was the original establishment of the thirteen colonies of New England, all of which were then converted to “our soil.” We frequently observe outbreaks of violence and overthrow of governments elsewhere around the world. The U.S. often intervenes in those far away places, but always claims to be “spreading democracy” and protecting U.S. “interests,” or, more commonly these days, fighting a “war on terrorism.”

Our government projects the image of a worldwide policeman, “keeping the peace,” while secretly practicing torture and conducting presidentially sanctioned extrajudicial remote assassinations via drones. If it were not for occasional whistle blowers, we would never know. No nation has ever invaded the U.S., but we have invaded many. Yet, despite denials, our nation seems to increasingly engage in violence around the world and revere aggression as a matter of national and personal pride. Violence has been deeply rooted in the American culture since its beginning and continues to be reflected in everyday life as well as the mass media and its images of vanquishing “the bad guys.”

Domestically, there has never been such a surge of mistrust between the people and the institutions of law enforcement and justice as exists today. That mistrust has grown in parallel with the militarization of police forces and the legal favoritism toward the most powerful interests in the nation.. “Law enforcement” has become increasingly isolated from the people, as it moves ever closer to becoming the armed force of the power elite.

Our perception of violence has changed. Who now goes hitch hiking on the highways of American without fear? Indeed, who would pick up a hitch-hiker without fear? The mood of the country has changed since the 1950s. Crime rates have declined in recent years, but with no less fear of violence. What gives? Well, we know that a lot more guns are out there and we are acutely aware of the growing number of mass shootings at public locations such as schools and shopping malls. And, there are those rare but shocking shootings of police during ostensibly routine traffic stops. Despite lower crime rates, it is not unreasonable for police officers to fear the unexpected. So, we want them to be prepared for unforeseen danger. The old story of everyday police experience still holds – long periods of boredom occasionally but rarely punctuated by the adrenaline surge of a life-and-death crisis. Nevertheless, these days something is different.

During the Great Depression, the infamous bandits, Bonnie and Clyde, were the epitome of criminality but they were also cultural icons of rebellion in the eyes of the public just as the chaos of the times was surging and a sense of national instability had grown widespread. But Bonnie and Clyde’s status as criminal superstars arose from the creation of legend by the newspapers as much as from their actual exploits. They provided an entertaining distraction from the uncertainties of everyday life and the hardship of the times. But they were the exception. Fear of violence in the general population was not as widespread as fear of hunger, and fear of the general population was not prevalent among police, who were still considered, for the most part, “peace officers.”

Today we have fear of the growing instability of both economy and climate, in addition to the international political instabilities exacerbated by the “war on terror,” and all their ramifications for everyday life. We also fear the growing failures of political institutions to address the crises of economy, climate and domestic politics, as well as a vague but growing fear of violence. These fears extend even beyond the level of technical knowledge of economics, climate science, or crime – they pervade the public consciousness and the media whether fully understood or not. Vehement denial of societal problems stems from ignorant fear as well as from acceptance of propaganda.

All of this frames the growing concern about police violence, which parallels the constant stream of news of questionable killings of mostly men of color, but not always. The most recent shooting death of a mentally unstable homeless man, James Boyd, by Albuquerque Police on the outskirts of the city, coalesced those concerns because it was so clearly seen as unjustified when the video recorded by the police themselves went viral. The department was already under investigation by the Department of Justice for its excessive number of police shootings and deaths in recent years for a department of its size. This tragic case provides a window of opportunity to examine changes in the role of police in our cities and how those changes may affect the future of violence in America. Part II of this essay will examine the illusions and facts of police action and training in this disturbing context.