I have fond affection for my sense of right and wrong – morally, spiritually and legally. But it’s becoming increasingly difficult to behave responsibly as a citizen given the thorough corruption which has engulfed nearly the entire population of elected officials and business leaders. Fraud, corruption, grand-scale theft and remarkable dishonesty is endemic to Wall Street, DC and across corporate America. Every single elected official at the Federal level, and at most State levels, is a paid servant of big banks, corporations and wealthy families/individuals. Obtaining a House or Senate seat is worth $10’s of millions. Getting into the Oval Office is worth $100’s of millions. For those you who still harbor disillusions of Obama’s integrity, recall that he campaigned aggressively on a platform in 2008 that promoted ‘cleaning up Wall Street’ as a high priority. Not only did he not clean anything up, he enabled the same fraudulent business activities that sunk the financial system in 2008 to become even more grand in scale and stealth. Now he’s greedily pocketing $1 million speaking engagement with the banks he bailed out in 2008 with $800 billion in taxpayer funds. Anyone who believes their vote matters has their head buried in sand. Even though he must believe his vote still matters, James Kunstler has written must-read commentary on the current plight of the U. S. political system:
Authored by John Whitehead via The Rutherford Institute, Has Donald Trump been a blessing or a curse to the architects of the American police state? One thing is for sure: a year into his presidency, Trump hasn’t done much to improve the lot of the American people. The predators of the police state are still wreaking havoc on our freedoms, our communities, and our lives. The government still doesn’t listen to the citizenry, it still refuses to abide by the Constitution, which is our rule of law, and it still treats the citizenry as a source of funding and little else. Police officers are still shooting unarmed citizens and their household pets. Government agents – including local police – are still being armed to the teeth and encouraged to act like soldiers on a battlefield. Bloated government agencies are still fleecing taxpayers. Government technicians are still spying on our emails and phone calls. Government contractors are still making a killing by waging endless wars abroad. In other words, the American police state is still alive and well and flourishing. Nothing has changed. Rather than draining the corrupt swamps of Washington, as he repeatedly promised, Trump and his brand of reality TV politics have merely redirected our attention. Trust me, the swamps are still stagnant with corruption. Indeed, we are still the unwitting victims of a system so corrupt that it spans all branches of government. We are still ruled by an elite class of individuals who are completely out of touch with the travails of the average American. We are still viewed as relatively expendable in the eyes of government: faceless numbers of individuals who serve one purpose, which is to keep the government machine running through our labor and our tax dollars. We are still being made to suffer countless abuses at the government’s hands.
This post was published at Zero Hedge on Oct 31, 2017.
Having sworn themselves to secrecy, Republicans on the House Ways and Means committee are scrambling to put together a tax bill by next week. But not knowing anything about the details of the plan, as it stands right now, hasn’t stopped an army of lobbyists from mobbing Capitol Hill with one overweening mission: To threaten, cajole or otherwise coax lawmakers into preserving loopholes that benefit their clients. Here’s Bloomberg: The stage was set with the House’s adoption Thursday of a budget resolution designed to speed the course of tax legislation and kick off a three-week sprint toward a House bill. Now, lobbyists representing every corner of the economy are poised to first devour, then attack what may be hundreds of pages of legislation that Brady says he’ll release Nov. 1. Special interests from realtors to dairy farmers will be trying to save their industry-specific tax breaks, said Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity. His group, which is backed by billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch, supports ending such breaks. ‘It’s pretty fierce,’ Phillips said. ‘We met with Brady on Tuesday and he was saying their offices are swamped with all the special interest groups swarming in asking to be protected.’ The immense pressure to find a source of revenue to compensate for the sweeping cuts to corporate and individual rates has already nearly derailed the tax reform process. Yesterday, House Republicans narrowly approved the Senate version of a $4 trillion federal budget over the objections of 20 blue-state Republicans who oppose the elimination of the state and local tax deduction, which they say would disproportionately raise taxes on middle-class taxpayers in blue states, which tend to have higher taxes. Yet, Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady has said the elimination of the SALT deduction will stay in the bill – for now, at least.
This post was published at Zero Hedge on Oct 27, 2017.
Opponents of Abe-economics – a policy whose defining characteristic these days is ever more radical monetary experimentation and a creeping but serious deterioration in the public finances – are in despair. Yet again, as in March 2015, the Japanese PM Abe has called a snap election (one year short of a full term with a campaign limited to 3 weeks), this time with the intention of crushing a potential leadership challenge within his party (the LDP) which incidentally could have brought a change in economic policy direction. PM Abe took a gamble. The established opposition party to the LDP, the DPJ, is weak and indeed in meltdown. But the Party of Hope formed just in the last few weeks by popular governor Koike (the nationalist ex LDP defense minister, previously a television news anchor) could galvanize a protest vote. Opinion polls suggest now that the Abe’s LDP will obtain indeed a large majority in the Diet following the October 22 election. Governor Koike has gained from the corruption scandals beleaguering the PM but she articulates no alternative to Abe-economics. In fact her party’s program supports continuation of the mega-money printing program This time, like the last, the ostensible justification which PM Abe has advanced for a snap election is to win voter approval for his decision to over-ride already legislated fiscal discipline. In 2015 the election was called to postpone a looming increase in the consumption tax; this time it is to match that delayed tax increase (scheduled now for 2019) with a boost to social spending. The fact that such a rolling back of fiscal tightening is indeed saleable to a doubting public fully aware of the weak public finances is due to long-term interest rate markets having ceased to exert any constraint. They have become dysfunctional in consequence of monetary radicalism – now extending to the Bank of Japan (since September 2016) pegging long term interest rates at zero.
President Trump and the congressional Republican leadership recently unveiled a tax reform ‘framework.’ The framework has a number of provisions that will lower taxes on middle-class Americans. For example, the framework doubles the standard deduction and increases the child care tax credit. It also eliminates the alternative minimum tax (AMT). Created in the 1960s, the AMT was designed to ensure the ‘wealthy’ did not use ‘loopholes’ to ‘get out of’ paying taxes. Today the AMT is mostly a means to increase taxes on the middle class. The framework eliminates the ‘death tax,’ thus enabling family-owned small businesses and farms to remain family owned. It also helps the economy by lowering the corporate tax rate to 20 percent, reducing taxes on small businesses. The framework also adopts a territorial tax system, which means US companies would only pay tax on profits earned in the United States. However, the framework is far from a total victory for liberty. Concerns have been raised that, depending on what income levels are assigned to what tax brackets, the plan could increase taxes on many middle- and lower-income Americans! This is largely due to the framework’s elimination of most tax deductions. The framework also contains a stealth tax increase imposed via the chained consumer price index (chained CPI). Supporters of chained CPI clam the government is currently overstating inflation. The truth is exactly the opposite: government statistics are manipulated to understate inflation.
Are you ready for mass chaos in Washington? There are lobbyists for just about every cause that you can possibly imagine, and they are always working hard to influence members of Congress on their particular issues. But when you are talking about a major tax reform bill, that is something that virtually every single lobbyist in the entire city will want to be involved in. Our tax code is over two million words long, and the regulations are over seven million words long, and any changes to our immensely complex system could have absolutely enormous implications. There will be winners and there will be losers with any piece of legislation, and lobbyists will zealously fight to defend the turf belonging to their particular clients. Often lobbyists from different sides will literally be pitted directly against one another, and it won’t be pretty. In fact, one analyst that works for Cowen Washington Research Group says that we could soon be watching ‘the corporate hunger games’… Almost every industry, special interest, and consumer group has an interest in the tax code, especially if the package ends up being as ambitious as Trump and Republican leaders want it to be. Chris Krueger, an analyst at Cowen Washington Research Group, told Business Insider that the battle over which loopholes to keep and which to throw out could get nasty.
Barack Obama is funding the anti-Trump movement through a series of backdoor deals and policies. Wall Street may be surprised to learn that it is also helping bankroll the anti-Trump ‘resistance’ whether they wanted to or not. Wall Street is fighting policies which would heavily favor it, including corporate tax cuts and the repeal of Obama-era banking and health-care regulations. We have the Obama administration to thank for the harsh anti-Trump movement by far left groups, according to an article by the New York Post. The Obama administration’s massive shakedown of Big Banks over the mortgage crisis included unprecedented back-door funding for dozens of Democratic activist groups who were not even victims of the crisis. At least three liberal nonprofit organizations the Justice Department approved to receive funds from multibillion-dollar mortgage settlements were instrumental in killing the ObamaCare repeal bill and are now lobbying against GOP tax reform, as well as efforts to rein in illegal immigration. An estimated $640 million has been diverted into what critics say is an improper, if not unconstitutional, ‘slush fund’ fed from government settlements with JPMorgan Chase and Co., Citigroup Inc. and Bank of America Corp., according to congressional sources. The payola is potentially earmarked for third-party interest groups approved by the Justice Department and HUD without requiring any proof of how the funds will be spent. Many of the recipients so far are radical leftist organizations who solicited the settlement cash from the administration even though they were not parties to the lawsuits, records show. ‘During the Obama administration, groups committed to ‘revolutionary social change’ sent proposals and met with high-level HUD and Justice Department officials to try to get their pieces of the settlement pie,’ Cause of Action Institute vice president Julie Smith told The Post. -New York Post
This post was published at shtfplan on September 25th, 2017.
One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results. The Okaloosa County Commission is by definition dysfunctional, corrupt or both. Any governmental unit that believes a 47% budget increase over the space of a mere five years is defensible has rocks in their head. That the Commission managed to paint over this by drawing down reserves when the cause was not a one-year hit from an event like a hurricane (which is what reserves are for) ought to be treated as criminal corruption and result in the incarceration of everyone involved. The “escalating” expenses in the budget this year alone are primarily (1) reserve restoration (that is, paying back what the commission took through gross mismanagement), (2) adding to said reserves (possibly arguably ok), (3) more law enforcement (big shock) and (4) insane health care cost escalations. If Okaloosa County wishes to improve its economic attractiveness it must address these issues along with the outrageous actions and inactions by the Commission not only over previous years, but on a forward basis. Like many if not most counties Okaloosa County’s ad-valorem tax revenue almost exclusively goes to the Sheriff’s Office (and related expenditures, such as the county jail.) This is not unusual; there are in fact counties where more than 100% of ad-valorem revenue goes to law enforcement. If you’re wondering why county sheriffs like to write tickets, well, you just figured it out since traffic fines of course offset some of their ad-valorem tax demand. But in this county, as in other tourist areas, there’s a problem: The majority of services provided by the Sheriff’s Office, most of which are quite-mundane (e.g. traffic accidents, etc) involve and are provided to tourists. The issue is that tourists pay almost zero ad-valorem tax; while if they rent someone’s condo that person does pay the tax they only occupy the building for a tiny part of the year and thus on a pro-rata basis, that is, on a per-capita/year basis, they pay almost nothing. Yet on a per-capita/year basis tourists form the majority of the Sheriff Department’s load.
Ever wonder about property taxes, how they’re set, and what they cover? Specifically, the largest component of most property-tax assessments are for schools. Virtually every State Constitution calls forth a State duty to provide a free public education. Ok. Fair enough. I can argue against that quite-easily but so long as it’s present in State Constitutions the law has to be followed in that regard. But on whom should the funding costs fall? Answer: Those closest to the output of the program, who thus have every incentive to do something about it if it sucks. That’s not you, as a common citizen. If the schools suck in your local area you don’t, for the most part, get the direct costs. If you’re a parent at age 18 your offspring are no longer your responsibility. You can throw them out of the house — literally. Now it’s certainly true that the indirect costs wind up on the citizens — mostly through crime and social dependence. The direct costs fall on the local employers.
Well, that escalated quickly. Just two months after Standard & Poor’s downgraded its general obligation debt to junk status, warning that the historic Connecticut capital could soon follow other once-proud cities like Detroit into bankruptcy, Hartford city officials confirmed as much when they warned on Thursday that the city could be forced into insolvency within two months if the state doesn’t provide emergency financial relief, the WSJ reports. ‘City officials warned Gov. Dannel Malloy, a Democrat, and state lawmakers that Hartford, which has a deficit approaching $50 million, wouldn’t be able to pay all of its bills within 60 days. Hartford officials said it would file for bankruptcy at that point unless the state legislature passes a budget that gives the city more funding or otherwise provides it with more cash. ‘We face the greatest fiscal crisis in our city’s history,’ officials said in a letter signed by Mayor Luke Bronin, Treasurer Adam Cloud and Thomas Clarke II, president of the court of common council.’ Hartford has been plagued by political corruption and a disintegrating corporate tax base – most recently exemplified by health-insurance giant Aetna’s decision to move its corporate headquarters away from the city, which was once proudly called ‘the Insurance Capital of the World.’
This post was published at Zero Hedge on Sep 8, 2017.
Following the recent clashes between the alt-right and the group antifa, some libertarians have debated which group they should support. The answer is simple: neither. The alt-right and its leftist opponents are two sides of the same authoritarian coin. The alt-right elevates racial identity over individual identity. The obsession with race leads them to support massive government interference in the economy in order to benefit members of the favored race. They also favor massive welfare and entitlement spending, as long as it functions as a racial spoils system. Some prominent alt-right leaders even support abortion as a way of limiting the minority population. No one who sincerely supports individual liberty, property rights, or the right to life can have any sympathy for this type of racial collectivism. Antifa, like all Marxists, elevates class identity over individual identity. Antifa supporters believe government must run the economy because otherwise workers will be exploited by greedy capitalists. This faith in central planning ignores economic reality, as well as the reality that in a free market employers and workers voluntarily work together for their mutual benefit. It is only when government intervenes in the economy that crony capitalists have the opportunity to exploit workers, consumers, and taxpayers. Sadly, many on the left confuse the results of the ‘mixed economy’ with free markets.
Wall Street appears to have a plan to get the deregulation it wants by pinning the start of the epic financial crash of 2007-2010 on (wait for it) the French, rather than its own unbridled greed, corruption and toxic manufacture of junk bonds known as subprime debt that it paid to have rated AAA by ethically-challenged and deeply conflicted rating agencies. (The same rating agencies that are getting paid by Wall Street to rate its debt issues today.) One of the men helping to peddle this narrative is Steve Hanke, a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute, a taxpayer-subsidized nonprofit that was secretly owned by the billionaire Koch brothers for decades. Hanke’s bio at Cato lists him as a Professor of Applied Economics at John Hopkins University in Baltimore and provides the following titillating background: ‘Prof. Hanke served as a State Counselor to both the Republic of Lithuania in 1994-96 and the Republic of Montenegro in 1999-2003. He was also an Advisor to the Presidents of Bulgaria in 1997-2002, Venezuela in 1995-96, and Indonesia in 1998. He played an important role in establishing new currency regimes in Argentina, Estonia, Bulgaria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Ecuador, Lithuania, and Montenegro. Prof. Hanke has also held senior appointments in the governments of many other countries, including Albania, Kazakhstan, the United Arab Emirates, and Yugoslavia.’
A frequently repeated claim is that loopholes in the tax code are ‘inefficient.’ A more efficient tax, economists say, is a flat and all-encompassing tax that is inescapable. Why? Because this means no one will waste resources on tax planning and thus tax avoidance. In other words, more resources will be used in production, which is better for the ‘economy.’ Leaving the moral and ethical argument about tax avoidance aside, the efficiency argument too is completely wrong. It shows how much economists have deviated from understanding what they supposedly try to learn about: the market. The loophole inefficiency argument is based on the view that seemingly unproductive uses of resources are a waste because they don’t contribute to the overall economy. But this is a backward argument, and in fact the same argument as that against ‘hoarding’ of funds. And it assumes that people (or, more specifically, their owned resources) are for the economy, rather than the economy for people.
The Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR), John Sopko, in an interview with Breitbart News, said the U. S. has been ‘drowning’ Afghanistan in money, wasting millions and creating conditions for corruption. ‘You can drown somebody in goodness,’ Sopko told Breitbart. ‘It’s the comedy of the absurd when it comes down to [American] assistance [to Afghanistan] and we are just drowning Afghans in money. And when you drown somebody in money, you can’t be surprised that some of it gets wasted.’ Sopko said the American people should care about the Afghan war as a natural security issue, but should also demand accountability for their government’s reckless use of tax dollars in the conflict. The office of the SIGAR is charged with overseeing reconstruction projects in Afghanistan, conducting audits and investigations to prevent waste, fraud and abuse. To date, the U. S. has appropriated a total of some $700 billion for the war, including the $120 billion spent on ‘reconstruction’ which Sopko’s office is tasked to track and account for.
This sort of rank corruption should lead to trials, followed by hangings. But it doesn’t. Tesla will soon hit the limit of the federal tax rebates, which are good for the first 200,000 EVs sold in the US per manufacturer beginning in December 2009 (IRS explanation). In the second quarter after the manufacturer hits the limit, the subsidy gets cut in half, from $7,500 to $3,750; two quarters later, it gets cut to $1,875. Two quarters later, it goes to zero. Given Tesla’s ambitious US sales forecast for its Model 3, it will hit the 200,000 vehicle limit in 2018, after which the phase-out begins. A year later, the subsidies are gone. Losing a $7,500 subsidy on a $35,000 car is a huge deal. Tesla will sell near-zero cars without the subsidies. They know this. So does California, and guess where Tesla sells more cars than anywhere else? What California is contemplating doing is subsidizing the difference in price between an EV and a car of “equivalent features” that is not an EV. This could wind up costing $30,000 per vehicle, and not as a tax credit either — as a direct rebate.
Crackpot Schemes POITOU, FRANCE – ‘Nothing really changes.’ Sitting next to us at breakfast, a companion was reading an article written by the No. 2 man in France, douard Philippe, in Le Monde. The headline promised to tell us how the country was going to ‘deblock’ itself. But upon inspection, the proposals were the same old claptrap about favoring ‘green’ energy… changing the tax code to reward one group and punish another… and spending more money on various humbug initiatives. *** Subsidized green energy scams are mainly creating eyesores – other than that, they add up to nothing but cronyism writ large. After the one of the biggest solar company bankruptcies ever happened in Spain, a detailed economic study found that for every subsidized renewable energy job the government ‘created’ (at a cost of nearly $2 million per job!) 2.2 jobs were lost elsewhere. It is a good bet that the math isn’t much different elsewhere. To add insult to injury, there is precisely zero evidence that carbon emissions are reduced by even one iota due to these efforts. It is an apodictic certainty that no economy can possibly be ‘rescued’ by the subsidization of this nonsense. There is a widespread belief in government circles that ‘economic growth’ can somehow be conjured up by bureaucrats. That is a costly error that increasingly endangers the future of Western civilization. [PT]
This post was published at Acting-Man on July 12, 2017.
When the parties do finally implode, the general mood will be: good riddance. History informs us that once something is obsolete, it can disappear far faster than anyone expected. While we generally think of obsoleted technologies vanishing, social and political systems can become obsolete as well. Should a poor soul who entered a deep coma a year ago awaken today, we must forgive his/her astonishment at the political wreckage left by the 2016 election. The Democratic Party, a mere year ago an absurdly over-funded machine confident in an easy victory in the presidential race, is now a complete shambles: its leadership in free-fall, its Fat-Cat donors disgusted, and its demented intoxication with pinning collaboration with Russia on the Trump camp eroding whatever feeble legacy legitimacy it still holds. What the party stands for is a mystery, as its Elites are clearly beholden to insiders, special interests and Corporate donors while glorifying the worst excesses of globalism and the National Security State’s endless war on civil liberties. The newly awakened citizen would also marvel at the chaotic war zone of the Republican Party, in which the Insider Warlords are battling insurgent Outsiders, while the same Elites that fund the Democratic machine are wondering what they’re buying with their millions of dollars in contributions, for it’s unclear what the Republican Party stands for: it’s for Small Government, except when it’s for Bigger Government, which is 95% of the time; it’s for more law enforcement and the militarization of local police, and more intrusion into the lives of the citizenry; it’s for stricter standards for welfare, except for Corporate Welfare; it’s for tax reform, except the thousands of pages of give-aways, loopholes and tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations all remain untouched, and so on: a smelly tangle of special interests masked by a few sprays of PR air freshener to the millions left behind by the globalization that has so enriched Corporate America and the class of financier-owners, bankers, insiders and technocrats–the same group that funds and controls both political parties.
With Illinois facing a Friday night deadline by which it has to come up with its first fiscal budget in three years or face a downgrade to junk resulting in what a policymaker called a “death spiral“, another mini drama is taking place in Connecticut, which is also facing big budget problems as wealthy residents, hedge funds and major corporations flee the state’s high taxes and its fiscal future gets murkier by the day. Just today, we reported that Aetna, the insurance giant founded in Hartford where it has been for the past 164 years, announced it would move its headquarters to New York City despite intensive lobbying efforts by Connecticut officials. The move, which followed a departure by GE of its Fairfield HQ of 40 years, is a blow to the company’s hometown, which is facing severe financial problems. Hartford’s problems are a representation of the troubles facing the entire state: while Illinois’ story is familiar, Connecticut has the distinction of the third-worst ratings in the country, only behind Illinois and New Jersey after S&P, Moody’s and Fitch all downgraded the state last month in what officials described as a “call to action” for state leaders. ‘We’ve been downgraded by everybody in the last six months, and in the last year two or three times,’ Senate Republican President Len Fasano said cited by Fox news. ‘If we don’t pass a budget, I think we will see a further downward spiral.’ And, just like Illinois (and 14 other states), Connecticut faces a Friday day of reckoning: the state has yet to pass a fiscal 2018 budget by the June 30 deadline. ‘We must immediately take the necessary steps to mitigate the current year deficit and then balance the … budget with recurring measures to reduce spending and structural solutions to our long-term problems,’ a spokesperson for the Connecticut Office of Policy and Management said in response to Moody’s downgrade.
This post was published at Zero Hedge on Jun 30, 2017.
While the public’s attention is keenly focused on whether Illinois will reach a budget deal in the next 2 days ahead of the next fiscal year which begins on July 1, avoiding the first ever downgrade to junk for a US state as the state piles up some $15 billion in unpaid bills and now oews more than $800 million in interest on the unpaid balances alone, the financial peril facing Connecticut is just as dire. We laid out the big picture one month ago in “Connecticut State Capital Prepares For Bankruptcy Amid Collapse In Hedge Fund Revenue.” And now, as the state rushes to iron out its own budget deal ahead of the June 30 deadline, another major hit for the fiscally challenged state has emerged because one of the state’s most reliable sources of corporate tax revenue, Aetna, is leaving Hartford and moving to New York. According to the NYT, Aetna, the insurance giant founded in Hartford, where it has been for the past 164 years, announced Thursday that it would move its headquarters to New York City despite intensive lobbying efforts by Connecticut officials. The move is a blow to the company’s hometown, which is facing severe financial problems, and a potential boon for Aetna, which stands to receive $24 million in tax breaks over the next decade, among other benefits, for its new headquarters in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan.
This post was published at Zero Hedge on Jun 29, 2017.
Centrally issued money optimizes inequality, monopoly, cronyism, stagnation and systemic instability. Everyone who wants to reduce wealth and income inequality with more regulations and taxes is missing the key dynamic: central banks’ monopoly on creating and issuing money widens wealth inequality, as those with access to newly issued money can always outbid the rest of us to buy the engines of wealth creation. History informs us that rising wealth and income inequality generate social disorder. Access to low-cost credit issued by central banks creates financial and political power. Those with access to low-cost credit have a monopoly as valuable as the one to create money. I explain why in my book A Radically Beneficial World: Automation, Technology and Creating Jobs for All. Compare the limited power of an individual with cash and the enormous power of unlimited cheap credit. Let’s say an individual has saved $100,000 in cash. He keeps the money in the bank, which pays him less than 1% interest. Rather than earn this low rate, he decides to loan the cash to an individual who wants to buy a rental home at 4% interest.