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ATWOOD - "A Toiler's Weird Odyssey of Deliverance"-AVAILABLE
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CCJ Publisher Rick Alan Rice dissects
the building of America in a trilogy of novels
collectively calledATWOOD. Book One explores
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the 19th Century. The novel focuses on the religious
and cultural traditions that imbued the American
Midwest with a special character that continues to
have a profound effect on American politics to this
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America's cultural foundations that is further
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the historical-cultural-spiritual development of one
isolated county on the Great Plains that stands as
an icon in the development of a certain brand of
American character. That's the serious stuff viewed
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- A Toiler's Weird Odyssey of Deliveranceis the
outfall of misfires in human interactions, from the
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book features the epic poem"The
well as artwork by New Mexico artist Richard
Elmore Leonard Meets Larry McMurtry
Western Crime Novel
offering another novel through Amazon's Kindle
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It is a ripping good
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General Motors Story
The big walk away from GM's Super Bowl
halftime purchase of a two-minute slot, to tout their recovery as an
auto maker, was that GM is throwing their political support to the
re-election of Barack Obama. This was not, of course, the real
message of the GM commercial, but that was the message that the
political Right came away with, and the reasons are profoundly loaded
with emotional fireworks. To wit:
The "Halftime in America" theme closely
paralleled perhaps the most heralded GOP commercial spot of all
time, Ronald Reagan's "Morning
in America". It even begins with a new day dawning and it is filled
with the same romantic portrayal of American ideals, which is stuff
the Right feels it owns.
The GM spot was delivered by
Clint Eastwood, the former Mayor
of Carmel, California, who is either a Republican or a Libertarian,
depending upon the issue, but either way carries the same sort of
weight that the Republican's late icon
Charlton Heston once represented and, like Heston,
Eastwood is supposed to be theirs, not some suck-up to the
current Democratic president.
The GM yeah-us-yeah-America spot was
shown at the front-end of a presidential election year, and seemed
to break a long-standing tradition of corporations remaining neutral
regarding candidate endorsements. This, of course, comes after
some very public statements by GM executives recognizing the gratis
of the Obama Administration, and the anti-bail out rhetoric of the
Most galling of all, to
Right Wing politicos, was that the commercial seemed to them to imply
that big government bailouts of struggling corporations work!
That last one bugs the Right because whether
or not that's true depends upon whether you think your job was saved by
the $85 billion the Federal government poured into GM, in early 2009, to
keep the company afloat when it appeared that parts manufacturers and
the entire supply chain was on the verge of collapse. The Canadian
government also kicked in another $10 billion for GM's Canada Division.
Today, GM is touted as the number one auto manufacturer in the world,
regaining a title it had relinquished to Japanese automakers for some
time. GM announced $8 billion in net profits in the last year, and has
its eye on $10 billion a year, heretofore unimaginable.
The Obama Administration has made much of
the fact that the loans to GM have been paid back in full, which would
make the story one of heroic grandeur for Obama, savior of the American
Way of Life, were it more than technically true.
Only $8.7 billion of the $85 billion loaned
to GM were marked as repayable loans (and only $4.7 billion of the $10
billion loaned by the Canadians). Indeed, GM has completely returned
The majority of that huge bailout went in
share of GM stock, following a government-coordinated corporate
bankruptcy. Of the new stock, sixty-one percent was purchased by the
Federal Treasury, making every taxpaying U.S. citizen a shareholder in
GM. (Currently the Treasury owns about one-quarter of GM's stock.) Some
would call this the nationalizing of a major industry and a key stepping
stone on the path to a Socialist government.
It is sort of hard to argue with that
socialism charge, which of course comes from right wingers for whom
socialism is a blood vessel-bursting boogie man, because the once-again
wealthy GM has shown little inclination to relieve the American
taxpayer-shareholders of their economic association with GM.
According to December 2012 reports, the U.S.
Treasury owns 500 million shares of GM stock, which is valued at roughly
You will notice that the current value of
the Treasury's stock in GM, plus the amount GM repaid as loans from the
Treasury, don't equal anything near $85 billion.
What happened to the rest of the money?
It disappeared with the falling value of GM
stock, trading at $25.95 and trending up at the time of this report
(February 9, 2012). Treasury paid $33 per share at the Initial Public
Offering in November 2010, so while the value keeps changing the U.S.
taxpayer is still on the hook for approximately $20 billion in the GM
deal. The Treasury has also written off $1.8 billion in debts from the
"old Chrysler" division of GM, and they took a beating on the sale to
Fiat of Chrysler shares owned by the U.S. and Canadian governments.
Here's the kicker: GM is sitting on $33
billion in cash - enough to buyout the shares owned by the U.S. taxpayer
and make the deal square - but it will not make that move, offering a
couple explanations. One is that they are holding on for the value of
the stock to rise, and it has shown an upward movement since the end of
2012, despite the apparent failure of the Chevrolet Volt, which had been
heralded as an important GM entry in the alternative energy market.
The other is that GM is struggling to fund a
$128 billion pension plan, and thus has another incentive to hold onto
that Treasury-owned stock for as long as possible, hoping for the
company to gain value. Spots like "Halftime in America" cannot hurt.
GM chief executive
Dan Akerson has reportedly
offered a buyback to the government, which Treasury declined on an
investment bet. Credit Suisse predicts that GM shares will rise to $32 by the November 2012
election. But what rankles the Right is that the Obama Administration
won't sell the GM shares because it is loath to
spoil its GM success story by having to report what the level of losses
would actually be if the shares were sold back to GM at their current
market value. Otherwise, GM looks a lot better on TV than it looks on
The Obama Administration strategy really
represents a high-stakes political-economic poker game using taxpayer
money. And it is far worse than it sounds in that the $33 per share the
Treasury paid in the IPO carries an actual break-even price of $53 per
share. While GM's stock value has been rising, it has been downgraded
significantly since the fourth quarter of 2011, when analysts thought it
would go as high as $42 per share, still well below the break-even mark.
This is the basic truth underlying the
Right's rage at the "Halftime in America" spot. It is warm and fuzzy,
but has little to do with the reality of our nation's economic recovery.
Greed Greater than Rome's
An estimated seventy percent of
the population of Rome were "slaves", in some technical or
real sense. Some were teachers, artisans, scribes, and some
were just doing hard labor. The glory of Rome was built on
the backs of exploited people, and yet the Romans were
exceedingly willing make citizens of "non-Romans". The slave
masters allowed some of their chattel to buy their freedom.
However hierarchical and
inequitable ancient Rome may have been, the infamous greed
of the Roman elite in no way compared to that of our current
Master of the Universe, defined as the investment class
globally. In ancient Rome, the top three percent of the
population controlled only 16 percent of the total wealth.
In the United States today, the top three percent control 40
percent of the nation's wealth, representing an inequality
in distribution of wealth greater than that of half the
nations of Africa.
World Economic Forum
Single Points of
Occupy Protesters at the World Economic
Forum in Davos, Switzerland.▬►
Congressional Leaders Skirting Congressional
Continued from the Front Page...
The debt ceiling debacle demonstrated a fundamental principle at
work in the U.S. these days: people standing revolutionary-like on principle
regardless of its application to reality. Even Grover Norquist, whose sophomoric
oath to never raise taxes, contrived when he was barely out of high school but
now 25 years later a "contract" held with the majority of those elected to
Congress, found the idea of allowing the U.S. to default on its loans to be
newly imagined "Super Committee" would be expected to create legislation that
would be more likely to pass votes in the House and Senate, partly because the
concept promises a 50-50 balance in spending cuts to Military and Domestic
programs. The Democrats vow to protect popular programs like Medicare and Social
problem is in that principle referenced above - people standing
revolutionary-like on principle regardless of its application to reality -
because pull-backs in federal funding of any kind means fewer dollars in the
system of commerce, which means less purchasing power, lower demand, cutbacks in
production and supply, reduced tax revenues, and somehow this is supposed to
eventually erase a $14 trillion debt.
laws governing Economics, on this level, is about as intractable as the laws of
physics. Reducing dollars in the economic system reduces the size of the system,
which shrinks the economic prospects for us all.
Currently the U.S. government is operating at about 25 percent of the country's
Gross Domestic Product while bringing in only 15 percent of GDP in revenues.
That is a gap with plenty of historic precedent that could be closed, as it has
been in the past, by two mechanisms: Federal spending on job-producing
infrastructure projects, which are in huge need of attention anyway; and levying
higher taxes on people with incomes disproportionate to those of the rest of
is no real argument about this among thoughtful people. The problems are clear,
the solutions are tried and true. And yet, as we see with legislation on climate
change and health care and a plethora of other key issues, the power of simple
facts are failing to hold sway.
Somehow, through an extraordinary warp in the fabric of space beneath President
Barack Obama's crotch, a Democratic majority has shrunk from both houses of
Congress plus the presidency, to the presidency and the Senate, and after the
2012 elections probably nothing at all. All of this while polls seems to
indicate that the majority of public opinion is with the Democrats on most key
it be? Why have Democrats, under Obama's leadership, been so utterly incapable
of playing their upper hand? Why have they ceded control of every negotiation?
I'm not sure that anyone quite understands this. For some reason a cancer has
matured in the system and infiltrated the brain. As a result of its illogical
reaction to stimuli from a variety of sources, the body is seizing. Under the
weight of this shaking, our governmental structures are crumbling, brick by
brick. In the process, an odd light of moon is being allowed to shine on what is
presently inside, and it is making everything seem pretty scary.
Former Treasury Secretary
Lawrence Summers Discusses Confidence in an Economy and the Need for Federal
The following is reprinted from a Reuters news release. The RCJ does not
typically reprint articles but this piece by Summers is important, largely
because it seems to be falling on deaf ears in the Obama Administration, which
is loathe to mount yet another stimulus package after blowing so much borrowed
money on financial industry bailouts. As Summers' article points out,
over-confidence created the economic overreach that further created the housing
bubble that burst in 2006. A resulting lack of public confidence can create a
long period of recession, such as that experienced in Japan after a similar
economic bubble, and the only way to avert a catastrophic lost decade of
American economic vitality is to rebuild public confidence through job-producing
stimulus programs. The obvious place to spend is on the U.S.' aged and ragged
infrastructure. And, as Summers points out, the time to do it is now, when
interest rates are at historic lows.
By Lawrence H. Summers
CAMBRIDGE, Mass., June 12, 2011 (Reuters) - Even
with the massive 2008-2009 policy effort that successfully prevented financial
collapse and depression, the United States is now halfway to a lost economic
Over the last five years, from the first quarter of 2006
to the first quarter of 2011, the U.S. economy's growth rate averaged less than
1 percent a year, about like Japan during the period when its bubble burst. At
the same time, the fraction of the population working has fallen from 63.1
percent to 58.4 percent, reducing the number of those with jobs by more than 10
million. The fraction of the population working remains almost exactly at its
recession trough and recent reports suggest that growth is slowing.
Beyond the lack of jobs and incomes, an economy producing
below its potential for a prolonged interval sacrifices its future. To an extent
that once would have been unimaginable, new college graduates are this month
moving back in with their parents because they have no job or means of support.
Strapped school districts across the country are cutting out advanced courses in
math and science and in some cases only opening school four days a week. And
reduced incomes and tax collections at present and in the future are the most
important cause of unacceptable budget deficits at present and in the future.
You cannot prescribe for a malady unless
you diagnose it accurately and understand its causes. Recessions are times when
there is too little demand for the products of businesses, and so they fail to
employ all those who want to work. That the problem in a period of high
unemployment like the present one is a lack of business demand for employees,
not any lack of desire to work is all but self-evident. It is demonstrated by
the observations that (i) the propensity of workers to quit jobs and the level
of job openings are at near-record low levels; (ii) rises in nonemployment have
taken place among essentially all demographic skill and education groups; and
(iii) rising rates of profit and falling rates of wage growth suggest that it is
employers, not workers, who have the power in almost every market.
I belabor the idea that lack of demand is the fundamental
cause of economies producing below their potential because the failure to
recognize the centrality of demand can have catastrophic consequences. But for
Hitler and the military buildup up he caused, FDR would have left office in
early 1941 a failure, with American unemployment above 15 percent and with the
recovery promise of the New Deal shattered by the premature attempt in 1937 to
reassert the traditional virtues of deficit reduction and inflation control.
When I entered the Clinton administration in 1993, it was generally believed
that Japan had the potential to grow its economy by 4 percent a year going
forward, enough to have doubled output from that time until now. Instead output
has barely grown, a consequence of the post bubble stagnation that Japan
A sick economy constrained by demand works
very differently than a normal one. Measures that usually promote growth and job
creation can have little effect or can actually backfire. When demand is
constraining an economy, there is little to be gained from increasing potential
In a recession, if more people seek to borrow less or save
more, there is reduced demand and hence fewer jobs. Training programs or
measures to increase work incentives for those with both high and low incomes
may affect who gets the jobs, but in a demand-constrained economy will not
affect the total number of jobs. Most paradoxically, measures that increase
productivity and efficiency, if they do not also translate into increased
demand, may actually reduce the number of people working as the level of total
output remains demand constrained.
Traditionally, the American economy has recovered robustly
from recession as demand has been quickly renewed. Within a couple of years
after the only two deep recessions of the post-World War II period -- those of
1974-1975 and 1980-1982 -- the economy was growing in the range of 6 percent or
more -- rates that seem inconceivable today. Why?
Inflation dynamics defined the traditional post-war
American business cycle. Recoveries continued and sometimes even accelerated
until they were murdered by the Federal Reserve with inflation control as the
motive. When the Fed became concerned about inflation accelerating, usually too
late, it raised interest rates and crunched credit, stifling housing, business
investment, and consumer durable purchases and causing the economy to go into
recession. After inflation slowed, rapid recovery propelled by dramatic
reductions in interest rates and a backlog of deferred investment was almost
Our current situation is very different.
With more prudent monetary policies, expansions are no longer cut short by
rising inflation and the Fed hitting the brakes. All three American expansions
since Paul Volcker brought inflation back under control have run long. They end
after a period of overconfidence drives the prices of capital assets too high
and the apparent increases in wealth give rise to excessive borrowing, lending
After bubbles burst, there is no pent-up desire to invest.
Instead, there is a glut of capital caused by overinvestment during the period
of confidence: vacant houses, malls without tenants, and factories without
customers. At the same time, consumers discover that they have less wealth than
they expected, less collateral to borrow against and are under more pressure
than they expected from their creditors. Little wonder that private spending
collapses and that post-bubble economic downturns often last more than a decade
and are only ended through external events like military buildups.
Pressure on private spending is enhanced by structural
changes. Take as a vivid example the publishing industry. As local bookstores
have given way to megastores, megastores have given way to Internet retailers,
and Internet retailers have given way to ebooks, two things have happened. The
economy's productive potential has increased and its ability to generate demand
that fulfills the potential has been compromised as resources have been
transferred from middle-class retail and wholesale workers with a high
propensity to spend up the scale to those with a much lower propensity to spend.
And the need for capital investment in distribution networks has come down.
What then is to be done? This is no time
for fatalism or for traditional political agendas that the two parties have
pushed in more normal times. The central irony of financial crisis is that while
it is caused by too much confidence, borrowing and lending, and spending, it is
only resolved by increases in confidence, borrowing and lending, and spending.
It follows that the central objective of national economic policy until
sustained recovery is firmly established must be increasing confidence,
borrowing and lending, and spending. Unless and until this is done, other
policies, no matter how apparently appealing or effective in normal times, will
be futile at best.
We should recognize that it is a false economy to defer
infrastructure maintenance and replacement, and instead take advantage of a
moment when 10-year interest rates are below 3 percent and construction
unemployment approaches 20 percent to expand infrastructure investment.
It is far too soon for financial policy to
shift toward preventing future bubbles and possible inflation and away from
assuring adequate demand. The underlying rate of inflation is still trending
downward, and the problems of insufficient borrowing and investing exceed any
problems of overconfidence. The Dodd-Frank legislation is a broadly appropriate
response to the hugely important challenge of preventing any recurrence of the
events of 2008. It needs to be vigorously implemented. But under-, not
over-confidence is the problem of the moment and needs to be the focus of
Most important, the fiscal debate needs to take on board
the reality that the greatest threat to the nation's creditworthiness is a
sustained period of slow growth that, as in southern Europe, causes debt-GDP
ratios to soar. This means that essential discussions about medium-term measures
to restrain spending and raise revenues need to be coupled with a focus on
near-term growth. Without the payroll tax cuts and unemployment insurance
negotiated by the president and Congress last fall we might well be looking
today at the possibility of a double dip. Substantial withdrawal of fiscal
support for demand at the end of 2011 would be premature. Fiscal support should
be continued and indeed expanded by providing the payroll tax cut to employers
as well as employees. Raising the share of the payroll tax cut from 2 percent to
3 percent would be desirable as well. At a near-term cost of a little over $200
billion, these measures offer the prospect of significant improvement in
economic performance over the next few years translating into significant
increases in the tax base and reductions in necessary government outlays.
It is appropriate that policy in other dimensions be
informed by the shortage of demand that is a defining characteristic of our
economy. For example, the Obama administration is doing important work in
promoting export growth by modernizing export controls, promoting U.S. products
abroad and reaching and enforcing trade agreements. Much more could be done
through changes in visa policy, for example, to promote exports of tourism as
well as education and health services. In a similar vein, recent presidential
directives regarding relaxation of inappropriate regulatory burdens should be
rigorously implemented to boost confidence.
Perhaps the most fundamental strength of the United States
is its resilience. We averted Depression by acting decisively in 2008 and 2009.
Now we can avert a lost decade by recognizing current economic reality.
(Lawrence H. Summers is the Charles W. Eliot
University Professor at Harvard University and a former U.S. Treasury secretary.
He speaks and consults widely on economic and financial issues.) (Editing by
Copyright 2011 Thomson Reuters
this year's World Economic Forum(WEF) drew to a close on
Saturday (01/28/12), the world's wealthiest people were
expressing concern about the global financial situation. Keynote
speaker and Hong Kong business leader
Donald Tsang stated flatly - "I've never been as
scared as now about the world, what is happening in Europe."
What is happening in Europe is the
collapse of the economy of Greece, despite several
European Economic Union (EEU)
plans to keep the country from defaulting on its government
debts. This would almost certainly set off a domino effect
putting the wobbly economies of Italy and Spain into default.
The problem, as Tsang states, is
that "We do not know how deep this hole will be when the whole
thing implodes on us." And he adds: "Nobody is immune."
OF IN-SOLIDARITY: That last warning shot ("Nobody is
immune") is an indictment of a world economic "community" that
let Asian economies, that bubbled and then imploded in 1990s,
struggle out of disaster on their own, a memory for Tsang that
has left scars. Tsang's point to the economic leaders of the
world was that "In Europe now, you need decisive action, you
need overkill. You need to inspire confidence. That confidence
must come in the decisive action of government, working
together. And do it quickly."
Tsang is freaked out because the
17-nation EEU has not come up with a bailout scheme of
sufficient proportion to do more than prop up Greece to stall
its complete collapse. It turns out that the 17 nations -- each
with their own histories, cultures and, previous to the
invention of the "Euro", their own currencies -- are remarkably
reluctant to suddenly begin acting as one. They are reluctantly
committed to the promise of association with a large,
benefit-sharing union, but not so much to the responsibility
that membership confers.
A big part of the reason for that is
that all of these nations are in trouble themselves, and
while many are not in the desperate economic conditions of
Greece, Italy and Spain, that are also not really in a strong
enough economic position to help.
The governments of the world are at
cross purposes, and sharing only one common trait: they are no
longer in control of their fates.
CORPORATIZATION: The world economy is
staggeringly different now from even a time in history as recent
as the 1990s. The global financial system is now so
interconnected that any protective buffers enjoyed by the
earlier, smaller economies of individual nations are largely
Cato Institute associate Tom G.
Palmer has notably defined globalization as "the diminution or
elimination of state-enforced restrictions on exchanges across
borders and the increasingly integrated and complex global
system of production and exchange that has emerged as a result."
Otherwise put, we are now realizing
the early harvests of a global deregulation that has allowed
wealthy corporations to shift their jobs and accounting
practices to those parts of the world that ensure the best
return for their investors without regard for national
allegiance. Government, the mantra goes, are intrusive and
burdensome and do not produce economic benefits in the form of
jobs, only treasury-draining social welfare.
Government debates aside, investors
and consumers have become intoxicated with the products of the
digital age, the existence of which are reinventing the way
users interact with one another and manage their affairs. To
make this happen, the corporate giants have set price points on
products that can only be made profitable by minimizing labor
and materials overheads, which are achievable only by
outsourcing to low-cost manufacturers in Asia and other
That price-pointing factor, which
makes it possible for the working poor of the developed world to
justify the purchase of iPhones and other electronic products,
also makes it impossible for more than a few companies to
compete, effectively creating a monopoly on whole groups of
products that are now indispensable in the age the products
themselves have created. This is true not only for electronics,
but for brand-name consumer products in general.
This has been a neat trick of
commercial evolution that is having devastating effects on the
world it is reshaping, as might be expected when changes are
taking place with rapidity unparalleled in all of human history.
While the perceptions of most people would be that the world of
today has gotten smaller, and people have probably become
more sensitized to the living conditions of populations around
the world, this has not translated into government policies that
could be construed as responsive to the global community.
Quite the contrary, stewardship has
been rested from governments by virtue of their inability to
finance fiduciary burdens. Tax revenues have collapsed with
global deregulation, and with them have collapsed the power of
governments to do anything other than engage in conflict. With
control of the economy ceded to international corporate powers,
building weapons and putting poor people in uniforms is about
the only certain job creation scheme that governments have left
at their disposal, and it is among the last available
expressions of nationalism.
The world seems on a collision
course with itself, and in a period in which the temptation to
isolate personal interests, from the ravages of a world beyond
control, is strong indeed.
Deregulation has allowed this
transition of power from governments to a few wealthy
corporations, and a relative handful of ultra-wealthy
stakeholders (the Davos WEF folks). The fruits of deregulation
are a series of single point failures, put in place by
the consolidation of wealth into a very few bank accounts
worldwide - and they are not the bank accounts of the
people viz a vie their governments.
As Donald Tsang ranted (some say) in
his WEF address, the output of globalization confers no
protection for anyone. He wondered aloud, as reported by The
Huffington Post, about the health of financial institutions
that trade with Hong Kong's banks and the potential for trouble
rippling out from the Euro zone.
Will governments fall one by one? First Greece,
then Italy, then Spain. Will it mean trouble for leveraged investors in Hong
Kong? And where will it stop? Or will it stop at all?
Perhaps the "1 Percent" are remaking the world to
their liking, paying believers and hucksters on all sides of the political aisle
to flout their philosophy that promises that some will be kings, even as the
well-being of most of us will continue to decline. As Tsang pointedly
discovered, individual actors are not inclined to come to the aid of other
actors, particularly if not doing anything, like sharing their debt load, yields
a perceived advantage over the distressed.
Corporations are not really people, that's what
governments are. It is people who are in trouble in Greece and Italy and Spain,
and we live in a time out of sync with human need, and more in line with the
needs of "the job creators".
They are like gods to us now, that jobs are so
few and mean so much. We'll work for half of what we used to, if that's what it
will take to just be employed. And we will be employed, when finally
wages have been reduced to the point that it will be cheaper and more cost
effective for corporations to bring their manufacturing operations back home,
where there is cheap labor to exploit. And once government protections have been
so eviscerated that corporations are free to behave as they want.