All posts by Marcy

About Marcy

Advocate of Constitutional guarantees to individual liberty.

Time for Congress to Go Back to Work?

Now that the Mueller report has been completed is there a chance that our Congress people might go back to work? Or maybe it’s only us working stiffs that need to produce at our jobs? Congress folk make around $180,000 with benefits. You, dear taxpayers, pay for that. You, yes, you who maybe have a job without benefits.

For nearly 16 months now, it seems that Congress has been doing nothing but foaming at the mouth – or campaigning for re-election. Meanwhile, somebody out there, maybe the Deep State, maybe the vast bureaucracy, maybe the status quo that does not want real change has been busy whipping the populace into a frenzy.

Have you tried to ask a “resister” what he is resisting? Is the response word-for-word what the media has been feeding her? If the response is a well-thought reason, a reason that involves a realistic perception that the current situation presents a real danger to oneself or to our Republic, then, of course, a fight is essential. But, is that danger really present, or the only danger is that presented to an entrenched bureaucracy that has ceased to be By the People and For the People.

Is it time for we the people to start wondering if the bickering among us is natural or engineered? Time to question whether the bickering among class, race, gender, or political belief is really beneficial? How about asking if what we are being told is true? For example, Congress is now clamoring for the Mueller report to be released to the public. Congress is full of lawyers; surely one of them must be aware that there are legal reasons why the report cannot be released immediately. For one, nothing can be released that contains reference to on-going investigations, and probably the report has much of that. So, some manipulation going on?

Resistance

Venezuela, The Neocons are Back!

Yes, the neocons are back, and as matter of fact they were never far away from power through think-tanks like the Council on Foreign Relations or the Heritage Foundation. Monthly Review Online, 02/19/19.

Elliott Abrams 2Elliott Abrams, a controversial neoconservative figure who was entangled in the Iran-Contra affair, has been named as a Trump administration special envoy overseeing policy toward Venezuela, which has been rocked by a leadership crisis.  Politico, 01/25/19.

The United States has a clear objective in Venezuela: regime change and the restoration of democracy and the rule of law. Yet sanctions, international diplomatic isolation, and internal pressure have failed to deliver a breakthrough. Minds are turning to military intervention. U.S. President Donald Trump has said that “all options are on the table.  Foreign Affairs, 03/19/19.

Iterations of Interventionists

Neoconservatives, or neocons, are the hawkish rightwing in the political spectrum. They are fond of regime change, spreading democracy, defending our interest abroad, and protecting oil.

This is not to say that U.S. interventionism or empire building started with the rise of the neocons in the 1960s. Far from it. Neocons just took over where previous iterations of interventionists left off.

Neocons are the liberal internationalists who endeavored to impose U.S. ideals where they saw such ideals lacking. They are the remnants of the Cold War. They are the revolutionaries of the 1960s who became disenchanted with what the liberalism of the day came to mean: hippies and the anti-war protests. Eventually they migrated to a solid hawkish camp and embraced regime change in whatever form.

Certainly there are those who wish to make fine distinctions between iterations of interventionists. But black ops, development aid, building civil society, hard power, and military force all aim toward the same objective – takeover of a sovereign nation.

The U.S., of course, is not alone in its quest for hegemony. Cultural, economic, and military conquest has existed since the beginning of time. Today, as always, superpowers vie with one another as to who can dominate the most people. But here we focus on Venezuela and the U.S. track record in Latin America. Will U.S. taxpayers be once again on the hook for another questionably imperative neocon adventure?

U.S. Intervention in Latin America

Before the Middle East was all the news, there was Latin America. Now, after Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria, the U.S. is pivoting towards Venezuela. A look at the U.S. track record in Latin America since the 1960s would give us a rough idea of how useful an intervention in Venezuela would be.

* Fidel Castro’s economic and military alliance with the Soviet Union displeased President John F. Kennedy. In 1961 the U.S. backed an invasion of Cuba intended to overthrow Castro. The “Bay of Pigs Invasion” failed and Castro continued in power.

* When President of Brazil Janio Quadros resigned in 1961 after seven months in office, his vice president Joao Goulart assumed the presidency over the objections of the military, who feared Goulart’s left-leaning tendencies. In 1964 Goulart was overthrown in a U.S.-backed coup, which installed a military authoritarian government that lasted until the 1980s.

* Before and after the election of Marxist President Salvador Allende of Chile, the CIA worked diligently first to prevent Allende from getting elected and then to promote a coup to remove him from office. The CIA succeeded when in 1973 troops led by General Augusto Pinochet overthrew Allende. Pinochet ruled as president of a repressive authoritarian state for the next 17 years.

* In 1979 left-leaning Sandinistas took power in Nicaragua, and were not interested in U.S. influence. The Ronald Reagan administration mounted a covert operation whereby the U.S. would sell arms to Iran, so Iran could continue its war with Iraq, and the money generated from the arms sale would finance the Contras opposition to the Sandinistas. The Sandinistas remained in power for the next decade, while the Regan administration suffered accusations of illegal foreign operations.

* Manuel Noriega was a long-standing CIA informer who became President of Panama. In 1989, the U.S. invaded Panama and arrested Noriega. U.S. President George H.W. Bush cited the need to safeguard the lives of U.S. citizens living in Panama, defend democracy and human rights, combat drug trafficking, and protect the integrity of the Panama Canal Treaties. This incident marked the first time the U.S. arrested, tried and convicted the leader of a sovereign nation.

* Haiti’s duly elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was deposed in 1991 by a military coup headed by Lieutenant-General Raoul Cédras. Aristide appealed to the Organization of American States and the United Nation’s Security Council. After many attempts at negotiation with Cedras, in 1994 the U.N. Security Council authorized member states to form a multinational force to use all necessary means to restore Aristide to his post as President of Haiti. A U.S.-led invasion of Haiti did just that. In 2004, Jean-Bertrand Aristide was deposed again. U.N. Missions are still in Haiti.

* Starting in the 1890s U.S.-based banana companies established vast plantations in Honduras, transforming the country into the quintessential Banana Republic. Militarization as a result of the U.S. using Honduras as a base to fight the Nicaraguan Sandinistas added to the country’s problems. In 2005 left-leaning Manuel Zelaya was elected President of Honduras. He attempted liberal reforms and relations with Cuba, and was overthrown by a military coup in 2009, in which the U.S. remained tacit. Today, the dire situation in Honduras contributes to thousands of asylum seekers to flood U.S. borders.

It’s not surprising then that the rising and pervasive violence and deep economic insecurity in Honduras and the region has resulted in unprecedented numbers of refugees and migrants fleeing to seek safety and security. The awful irony is that many must seek that shelter in a country that has in no small part contributed over the course of decades to the rapidly deteriorating conditions from which they are fleeing – and that is overtly unwelcoming and hostile.  Eight Years After the Coup in Honduras The Struggle Continues, Center for Constitutional Rights, 06/28/17

So, Does Intervention Work?

From the U.S. track record in Latin America (and the Middle East), one might question the long term effects of military intervention. Thousands suffered at the hands of right-wing autocrats like Augusto Pinochet because such leaders were deemed by the U.S. preferable to left-leaning reformers. Thousands suffer today in Haiti, Honduras, and Venezuela. Relatively stable nations like Brazil and Panama are plagued by extreme inequalities of opportunity.

Maybe the Donald Trump Administration should engage in a reality check before intervening in Venezuela.

Bay Area IPO’s Coming to Raise Your Rent

The San Francisco Bay Area seems to be on a housing treadmill. Just as housing inventory started to grow and prices responded accordingly in some areas, tech companies are planning to go public. Airbnb, Lyft, Pintrest, Slack Technologies, and Uber are expected to issue initial public offerings in 2019. This will mean an infusion of cash into the pockets of the many tech workers who own their company’s stock. The logical thing to expect these workers to do is to use the cash to purchase a home. No more growing housing inventory and possible growing housing prices.

IPOs and Housing Prices

Doubt the correlation between IPOs and housing prices? Market Watch has a good article on the subject.

Zillow examined the link between Facebook’s IPO in 2012 and rising home prices across the Bay Area and found that home values rose more quickly in neighborhoods with higher concentrations of Facebook employees after the social network became a publicly-traded company.

Specifically, every 10 Facebook employees living in a given U.S. Census tract at the time of the IPO were associated with an extra 1.6-percentage-points increase in home values over the following year, the report said.

In dollar figures, the median value home in a neighborhood with a high concentration of Facebook workers rose by an extra $20,800 between May 2012 and May 2013.

Business Clusters 

In the Bay Area, companies highly valued by market standards, as well as startups hoping to join the value crowd at some point, are concentrated in close proximity to one another.  They comprise the world-famous Silicon Valley hub. This concentration affords the most return on investment for the companies, for their host government jurisdiction, and for homeowners in the community.

Clusters and cluster strategies cannot be seen as the answer to every economic challenge faced by a community or region. However, they do represent a valuable tool that economic development stakeholders should have at their disposal. A cluster approach may be most useful in helping officials and practitioners to see a community’s economy in a new way—not as a collection of individual firms, but as a system in which interventions can assist companies, industries, and the entire community.  Cluster-Based Economic Development Strategies, International City/County Management Association, March 29, 2012

Business clusters are the in thing, and the Bay Area has jumped on the bandwagon with two feet. But, when cluster advocates say clusters benefit “the entire community,” are they including those folks in the community’s lower and middle-income brackets who rent their homes? Those community residents might be employed by fast-food restaurant, or might be the people educating your kids in neighborhood schools or caring for your toddlers. Chances are they will never get their hands on IPOs, do not own a home, and never will own a home in the Bay Area.  But as prices increase due to the IPO infusion of cash, their rents will go up.  And forget about rent control, since everybody pays for that by way of taxes or prices.

Is There a Line of Defense?

The Bay Area has chosen to engage in an endless tug of war between developers and slow-growth advocates, high-income workers and lower-income workers, landlords and renters, YIMBYs and NYMBYs.  Meanwhile, housing costs are transforming the Bay Area into a poster child for unaffordability.  Maybe it is time for all sectors to give in a little by balancing housing and business spaces in every community.

Why Wage Earners Live on Debt

You keep hearing about free college, free healthcare, and “affordable” housing. Some of which, you might already be getting. But you are still living on credit card debt. Of course there is an infinite number of reasons why anyone might be living on debt or from paycheck-to-paycheck. There is, however, one reason that is shared with a great number of people: stagnant workers’ wages.

Although our grandparents may have lived relatively comfortably on a job that paid them $3 an hour, today we struggle at $15 an hour. That’s because our wages have not kept up with the cost of living. Our wages have been stagnant in relation to what we can purchase with them. Why is that? Depends on whom you ask.

Here is the usual list of reason for stagnant wages:

* Global competition – U.S. wage earners must compete with lower-wage workers outside the U.S.

* Automation – Employers search for the least costly options that will provide the same results for their companies. If cost of human labor raises above the cost of robots, employers will opt for robots.

* Decline in union membership – During our grandparents’ time union membership was around 30% of workers. Today union membership is around 10.5%.

Here is one reason that pundits do not like to talk about:
Wage stagnation and productivity

What’s the most important date on the chart above? 1971 – the year Nixon closed the “gold window.” It was in this year that the US dollar officially become completely fiat. We could no longer exchange our paper money for gold.  Income Inequality and the End of the Gold Standard, SchiffGold, March 2015.

President Richard Nixon drove the final nail on the coffin of the U.S. gold standard in 1971, thereby unleashing the creation of money backed by nothing.  Here is the cascading of events:

* What we call money these days is also popularly called fiat money, funny money, money out of thin air, and debauched currency.

* This kind of money is created at will by the U.S. Treasury when it prints dollar bills. It is also created by banks when they loan out funds to the general population. The balance in your account at your bank represents an IOU the bank issues to you, since your money is not sitting in some vault marked with your name, but has been lent out to other consumers holding mortgages and other loans.

* The amount of funny money in circulation is controlled by the U.S. central bank, the Federal Reserve. The Fed does this mainly by mandating what level of capital banks need to have on reserve (high level of reserves means less money available to lend out, thus less money created), and by manipulating interest rates (high interest rates produce fewer loans.

* Since around 2008, the Federal Reserve has kept interest rates at near zero. Consumers and businesses have taken advantage of the cheap money, and borrowed.

* Consumers incurred considerable credit card, mortgage, and student loan debt.

* Businesses took advantage of the cheap money to build monopolies. They bought out competitors with cheap borrowed funds. Businesses also learned that they no longer depended on their workers to produce money – if they wanted money for capital investment or other big thing, they just borrowed cheap money.

* As workers became redundant, their wages did not raise in relation to their productivity.

* In the absence of wages that keep up with rising prices, workers rely on debt.

Stacy Herbert reporting on Keiser Report

In this episode of the Keiser Report, Max and Stacy discuss how US workers stopped being compensated for their increased productivity only once the US went off the gold standard and there was no longer any honest way to gauge value.  Something happened in 1971  March 2, 2019.

Addendum:

So, where is money in the economy that used to go workers now going? It is going to investors, those whose income does not depend on wages. Low interest rates encourage those with some money not needed for basic living to buy stocks and other investment assets, thus increasing the prices of such assets. As the prices of assets raise so do the net worth of investors.

It is a commonly held belief that the Fed’s low interest rates have been responsible for inflating stock market values. Because people with more wealth tend to own more stock, to the extent that the Fed has been the cause of higher stock prices, it has worsened wealth inequality. Similarly, low interest rates have meant low borrowing costs for large corporations with direct access to capital markets (through corporate bonds). This cheap money helps to boost corporate profits which, again, flow mostly to the wealthy.  How the Fed;s Low Interest Rates are Increasing Inequality, Forbes, May 2015.

Jeff Adachi – A True Believer

San Francisco lost a true believer on February 22, Jeff Adachi. The City’s Public Defender died unexpectedly at 59. His professional life was dedicated to defending whoever needed defending, no matter what. To that end, he did not observe political niceties, and preferred instead to go after the likes of powerful unions and their potentially unsustainable public pensions, City officials that did not hold police accountable for unwarranted shootings, and Board of Supervisor members who wavered on funding to defend the undocumented when necessary.

Perhaps a less publicized side of Adachi were his California Bar exam guides and books, and the time he spent selflessly preparing both traditional and non-traditional students for the grueling California Bar exam. His dedication to ensuring that everyone had the tools to succeed on a notoriously difficult test was unwavering; so much so that many California lawyers often credit Adachi for being the sole reason they passed the Bar.

Jeff Adachi took seriously one of the basic principles of this republic – Justice is blind. Justice should not look to whether your wallet is full, your skin is of a certain color, or your papers are in order. Justice’s only job is to review the case of any accused and determine what needs to be done under the law.

Adachi’s Public Defender’s Office was not the usual staid lawyer’s den. It was a place where questions were raised, public officials were called into account, and the rich or powerful got the same treatment as the downtrodden.

We will see who takes Adachi’s place. Matt Gonzalez, Deputy Public Defender, an equally true believer who is not know for running away from a good fight? Let’s hope that the Chief Public Defender that follows Jeff Adachi truly defends and does not merely appease the powerful. Let’s hope he or she is as dedicated in providing a level playing field.

Adachi protest 2
Jeff Adachi leads a “Hands Up Don’t Shoot” rally in San Francisco in 2014

Progressive Cities: We Have a Problem

San Francisco is one of California’s jewel cities.  Prized not only for its magnificent views, but also for its progressive populace.  There is not a tax the City does not love, or a compassionate deed that is left undone.

Yet, the City’s vistas, cable cars, resident technology giants, multi-million dollar mansions, as well as its busybody Board of Supervisors have taken a back seat in the City’s consciousness to its streets littered with human feces, discarded needles, and homeless misery. San Francisco has 7,499 unsheltered and sheltered individuals, in the streets or in temporary living arrangements. This number is not surprising, since one-quarter of homeless people in the United States live in California, even though Californians make up only 12% of the U.S. population.

Once Far Back In Time and Now

CableCarTurstile

San Francisco was once called “The City That Knows How,” where streets were clean and safe. Those were the days before the immense tragedy of the AIDS epidemic, before liberals took over City Hall, before developers – for profit or not – joined forces with corporate think tanks to redraw the City, before environmentalists hit upon the gold mine of climate change, and before the City’s Department of Public Works had a Poop Patrol or the City’s Department of Health had free injection needles.

Now Downtown, and increasingly the neighborhoods, is a place where one walks gingerly in order not to accidentally step of human faces or on discarded needles. In spite of the talk about placing children’s playgrounds in every neighborhood, parents are cautious least their children are inadvertently injured by drug paraphernalia on the ground.

Why the Descent Into Hades?

Unfortunately, no one agrees on the cause of the City’s descent; therefore, remedies are irrelevant and ineffective. The laundry list of culprits is varied:

* High-income technology workers that bid up housing costs and displace lower-income residents.

* Out-of-towners attracted by relatively balmy weather that allow for outdoor living, generous public assistance, a permissive population, and free injection needles.

* A welfare-homeless cabal that profits from the homeless trade. Think social workers, non-profit organizations, shelter operators, food banks.

* Legislators that seem to work to attract and keep the homeless. For example, the City is working hard to establish “safe-injection sites,” where homeless addicts can shoot up under the supervision of medical professionals. Another example, the City’s Mayor has proposed legislation that would forcefully place homeless individuals who cannot take care of themselves into conservatorships administered by the City’s Public Guardian. Once plugged into a conservatorship, no legal escape from the City is possible without a Court order.

From the Experts

The health implications of the mounting trash are stark. Discarded needles may be contaminated with diseases like Hepatitis B and C and HIV, infectious disease scientist Lee Riley told NBC Bay Area back in February. Dried feces, he added, can release viruses into the air … Riley, a University of California, Berkeley scientist who has researched the effects of extreme poverty on the health of some of the poorest groups in the world, said the contamination in San Francisco was “much greater than [in] communities in Brazil or Kenya or India.”  Newsweek 08/02/18

Mohammed Nuru, the director of San Francisco Public Works, told Boston’s NPR-affiliated WBUR station the waste is tied to the San Francisco’s high rates of homelessness. People often live in tents with little access to sanitation facilities or trash collection, he said … “Our city has been a magnet for providing services, and you know a large number of the people we see on our streets are not necessarily from San Francisco,” Nuru told WBUR. “They’re coming from surrounding counties and in some cases even from across state lines.”  Newsweek 08/02/18

San Francisco has a ‘Poop Patrol’ to deal with its feces problem, and workers make more than $184,000 a year in salary and benefits.  Business Insider 08/24/18

The main reason that so many people in San Francisco, and other cities like Los Angeles, are living on the streets is that the cost of housing over the past two decades has vastly exceeded the amount of income that people earn making minimum-wage jobs or bring in from modest pensions, disability, or welfare … Before Reagan took office and destroyed the American safety net, and San Francisco decided to be the West Coast Manhattan, you could live on SSI or a low-wage job and still pay rent in this town. When that changed, people who were formerly housed became homeless.  San Francisco Tenants Union 06/07/18

Bad and Beautiful

As one approaches the City for the first time as a tourist, a convention attendee, or a prospective resident, one might notice two breathtakingly beautiful bridges, as well as an ugly as sin structure visible for miles from all parts of the City. The dichotomy is made readily clear.

Green Deals and Watermelons

WatermelonThere is a saying among “climate deniers” that “climate alarmists” are like watermelons – green on the outside and red in the inside. The watermelon people might not be entirely red, at least not yet. However, with all their talk of democratic socialism, social justice, income inequality, and 70% taxation, they are certainly getting there.

Whether the Earth is getting warmer or not is irrelevant for the purposes of discussing the watermelon people. They have been implementing their plans across the globe since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, and have not decreased greenhouse gasses in any meaningful way. But their strategy is to keep ratcheting up what has not worked so far.

What has not worked so far is the reduction of greenhouse gasses in a meaningful way – the green part. What has worked quite beautifully is what critics call the real motives behind the actions of the watermelon people – the red part: raising revenue for social programs, redistributing wealth, and herding people into controllable zones.

The plans of the watermelon people are all handled pretty much in the same way; they are enabled by legislatures and implemented by regional planning agencies. For an example of a powerful regional planning agency, read about Priority Development Areas implemented by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission in the San Francisco Bay Area.  MTC administers transportation and housing through “Plan Bay Area.”

Whether you are convinced that climate action and wealth redistribution in the name of social justice are essential for our survival, or you are still a bit dubious, you might enjoy the transcript of a 2010 interview with Ottmar Edenhofer, co-chair of the United Nations working group Mitigation of Climate Change from 2008 to 2015. This passage is especially interesting:

Edenhofer: First of all, developed countries have basically expropriated the atmosphere of the world community. But one must say clearly that we redistribute de facto the world’s wealth by climate policy. Obviously, the owners of coal and oil will not be enthusiastic about this. One has to free oneself from the illusion that international climate policy is environmental policy. This has almost nothing to do with environmental policy anymore, with problems such as deforestation or the ozone hole.  The Daily Signal, Nov. 19, 2010