The Co-Op Movement – A Decentralized Solution to Solving Inequality and Avoiding Serfdom?

Or take the right to vote. In principle, it is a great privilege. In practice, as recent history has repeatedly shown, the right to vote, by itself, is no guarantee of liberty. Therefore, if you wish to avoid dictatorship by referendum, break up modern society’s merely functional collectives into self-governing, voluntarily co-operating groups, capable of functioning outside the bureaucratic systems of Big Business and Big Government.

-Aldous Huxley, in Brave New World Revisited (1958) 

As readers of this website are well aware, the entrenched power structure has proven itself unwilling to address any of the extreme fraud, crony capitalism and corruption that plagues the U.S. economy. As such, it has become increasingly clear to myself and countless others that the solutions we need must be grassroots and decentralized. I have personally made it a point to encourage people to take matters into their own hands, using whatever tools they have available to make the communities in which they live better for their families and their neighbors.

Of course, in a world in which power is ever increasingly concentrated in the hands of a very unenlightened egomaniacal handful of oligarchs, this seems like a daunting and near impossible task to many. Because so many Americans are simply consumed with making ends meet and putting food on the table, the concept of changing the world appears entirely unrealistic if not downright impossible.

The message I want to convey is that this is not the case. Whether it be decentralized competing currency systems, states rights initiatives such as legalizing marijuana (some pot convictions can now be overturned in Colorado), neighborhood farms, independent energy systems, the path toward localized solutions is the one I firmly believe we must follow.

To that end, I want to highlight this encouraging article from the New York Times titled, Who Needs a Boss?, which explores possibilities worker co-ops provide for workers everywhere. Not only is the pay far better, not only is work engagement considerably more robust, but it restores a sense of community and power to those involved. I think this is a model we should greatly expand upon, rather than looking for centralized solutions, which are merely band-aids placed upon a cancer.

Here are some excerpts from the New York Times:

If you happen to be looking for your morning coffee near Golden Gate Park and the bright red storefront of the Arizmendi Bakery attracts your attention, congratulations. You have found what the readers of The San Francisco Bay Guardian, a local alt-weekly, deem the city’s best bakery. But it has another, less obvious, distinction. Of the $3.50 you hand over for a latte (plus $2.75 for the signature sourdough croissant), not one penny ends up in the hands of a faraway investor. Nothing goes to anyone who might be tempted to sell out to a larger bakery chain or shutter the business if its quarterly sales lag.

Instead, your money will go more or less directly to its 20-odd bakers, who each make $24 an hour — more than double the national median wage for bakers. On top of that, they get health insurance, paid vacation and a share of the profits. “It’s not luxury, but I can sort of afford living in San Francisco,” says Edhi Rotandi, a baker at Arizmendi. He works four days a week and spends the other days with his 2-year-old son.

Arizmendi and its five sister bakeries in the Bay Area are worker-owned cooperatives, an age-old business model that has lately attracted renewed interest as a possible antidote to some of our most persistent economic ills. Most co-ops in the U.S. are smaller than Arizmendi, with around a dozen employees, but the largest, Cooperative Home Care Associates in the Bronx, has about 2,000. That’s hardly the organizational structure’s upper limit. In fact, Arizmendi was named for a Spanish priest and labor organizer in Basque country, José María Arizmendiarrieta. He founded what eventually became the Mondragon Corporation, now one of the region’s biggest employers, with more than 60,000 members and 14 billion euro in revenue. And it’s still a co-op.

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The New York Times Covers “Oligarch Welfare” – Tax Breaks for Private Planes, Yachts and More…

I’m pleased to say that the topic of oligarch and corporate welfare finally seems to be getting the much needed attention it deserves. While billionaires like Sam Zell (read my open letter to him) continue to spout nonsense about how the poor just need to be more like the rich, objective folks are catching on to the joke.

Ironically, the biggest welfare queens in America are the oligarchs and multinational corporations themselves, yet many of them constantly like to blame growing inequality on the supposed character deficiencies of the lower classes.

Earlier this week, I wrote a very well received post titled, A First Look at a New Report on Crony Capitalism – Trillions in Corporate Welfare, as well as the post, Walmart Admits in its Annual Report that its Profits Depend Heavily on Corporate Welfare.

The New York Times has now thrown its hat in the arena with an article titled: A Nation of Takers?

Here are some excerpts:

In the debate about poverty, critics argue that government assistance saps initiative and is unaffordable. After exploring the issue, I must concede that the critics have a point. Here are five public welfare programs that are wasteful and turning us into a nation of “takers.”

First, welfare subsidies for private planes. The United States offers three kinds of subsidies to tycoons with private jets: accelerated tax write-offs, avoidance of personal taxes on the benefit by claiming that private aircraft are for security, and use of air traffic control paid for by chumps flying commercial.

I worry about those tycoons sponging off government. Won’t our pampering damage their character? Won’t they become addicted to the entitlement culture, demanding subsidies even for their yachts? Oh, wait …

Second, welfare subsidies for yachts. The mortgage-interest deduction was meant to encourage a home-owning middle class. But it has been extended to provide subsidies for beach homes and even yachts.

In the meantime, money was slashed last year from the public housing program for America’s neediest.

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American Feudalism – Obama Travels to Brussels with a 900 Person Entourage

Earlier this week, U.S. President Barack Obama arrived in Brussels for the E.U. summit, but he was not alone. In fact, he is reported to have traveled with an entourage of 900 people, no doubt leaving a gaping expense for U.S. taxpayers. Brussels itself also took at major hit, with the city spending over $10 million on security compared to the usual expense of roughly $700,000 for E.U. summits.

Of course feudal trips are nothing new to 21st Century American Presidents. As The Washington Post notes, George W. Bush took 700 people with him on a trip to London in 2003.

Oh, and if you think these trips don’t cost much, let’s not forget that the Obama family trip to sub-Saharan Africa was projected to cost the U.S. government anywhere from $60 million to $100 million.

From The Washington Post:

As President Obama and his entourage, which The Guardian estimated at 900 people, arrived in Brussels for the E.U. summit Tuesday, the Belgian capital braced for the significant expense of hosting him.

Brussels mayor Yvan Mayeur told The Guardian his city will spend $10.4 million to ensure Obama’s security during the president’s 24-hour visit. Hosting an E.U. summit typically costs the city about €500,000 ($690,000), the newspaper reports. “But this time round, you can multiply that figure by 20,” Mayeur said.

Obama’s security needs are not unique. When his predecessor, President George W. Bush, traveled abroad, he didn’t pack light. In November 2003, just months after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Bush brought 700 people with him on a visit to London, which The Guardian at the time described as “worthy of a travelling medieval monarch.” The British government expected to spend around £5 million to protect Bush over his four-day London stay.

Not only do these trips require host cities to shell out considerable capital, they also come at a hefty price to American taxpayers. The Washington Post reported in June 2013 that the Obama family trip to sub-Saharan Africa was projected to cost the U.S. government anywhere from $60 million to $100 million.

Meanwhile, still barely a peep can be heard from the peasants.

Full article here

Liberty,
Michael Krieger

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Walmart Admits in its Annual Report that its Profits Depend Heavily on Corporate Welfare

Following up from my post earlier today, A First Look at a New Report on Crony Capitalism – Trillions in Corporate Welfare, some really juicy additional corporate welfare queen news has now come across my screen. It appears that Walmart has admitted the potentially severe adverse impact a reduction in food stamp payments could have on its bottom line. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who reads this site, as I have written about this many, many times. Most notably in the very popular post: McDonald’s Math: You Can’t Survive Working for Us.

Well now we have further evidence of this disturbing economic trend straight from the horse’s mouth: Walmart.

The LA Times reports that:

Wal-Mart’s annual report, issued late last week, puts a different spin on things. Buried within the long list of risk factors disclosed to its shareholders–that is, factors “outside our control” that could materially affect financial performance–are these: “changes in the amount of payments made under the Supplement Nutrition Assistance Plan and other public assistance plans, (and) changes in the eligibility requirements of public assistance plans.”

Yes, that says “materially impact.”

Wal-Mart followers say this is the first time the company has made a disclosure like that. 

I’m not sure if that is the case, I think they have mentioned it before, but I’m not sure. Either way…

Wal-Mart says it gets more than half its sales from its grocery departments. Since low-income shoppers are a big part of its clientele, it’s unsurprising that that squealing you hear is coming from its annual report. There’s no indication that Wal-Mart executives stepped up to the plate during the debate in Washington to warn Congress off these cuts in assistance to its customers.

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Eric Holder and the DOJ Have Spent Millions of Taxpayer Dollars on Unreported Personal Travel

As the Attorney General of these United States, Eric Holder is the top legal advisor for the entire nation. As such, he has been in a position to help punish financial criminals and the mega-banks for the crimes they committed in the run-up to the financial crisis, and the egregious looting thereafter.

Despite his unique role, Eric Holder has spent the past five years taking absolutely zero action on any matter of national significance. In fact, his major claim to fame appears to be that he has solidified the creation of a group of untouchable criminals known as the “Too Big to Jail” class.

So what does Eric Holder do in his spare time, you know, when he isn’t coddling financial oligarchs and running firearms into Mexico? Apparently, according to a recent study from the non-partisan Government Accountability Office, he likes to hop on government planes for personal trips at taxpayer expense. Serfs up suckers!

From The Washington Post:

The agency that tracks federal travel did not report hundreds of personal and other “non mission” trips aboard government planes for senior Justice Department officials including Attorney General Eric Holder and former FBI Director Robert Mueller, according to a watchdog report.

Congress’s nonpartisan Government Accountability Office determined that the 395 flights cost taxpayers $7.8 million. But the General Services Administration, which oversees trips aboard federal jets, did not require documentation because of a GSA reporting exemption that covers intelligence agencies, even in cases of unclassified personal travel.

The findings, released Thursday, came out nearly 19 months after Republican lawmakers began questioning Holder’s use of an FBI jet for travel unrelated to Justice Department work. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, asked the GAO to look into the matter.

For security reasons, attorneys general are required to use non-commercial flights when they fly, and they have access to Defense Department jets. However, they must reimburse the government for personal trips.

Oh right, good luck with that. I’m more likely to have dinner with the Easter Bunny tonight.

Full article here.

In the spirit of this article, I suggest watching this classic Eric Holder video clip that I highlighted last year. Enjoy:

In Liberty,
Michael Krieger

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More Hypocrisy from Warren Buffett as He Structures Deal to Avoid $400 Million in Taxes

Warren Buffett epitomizes everything that is wrong with the global economy, and the U.S. economy specifically. He is the consummate crony capitalist, a brilliant yet conniving oligarch who intentionally plays on the gullibility of the masses to portray himself as one thing, when in reality he is something else entirely.

He publicly talks about how rich people need to pay more in taxes, then turns around and pioneers new ways for his company Berkshire Hathaway to avoid hundreds of millions in taxes. He thinks that by going on television stuffing ice cream cones and hamburgers in his mouth and acting all grandfatherly that no one will notice who he is really is and the incredible hypocrisy of his actions.

I’ve pointed out “Uncle” Warren’s hypocrisy previously on these pages, most recently in my post from last March titled: Crony Capitalist “Uncle” Warren Buffett Drives Company Profits Using Derivatives.

While that was pretty blatant hypocrisy, Buffett’s latest elaborate scheme to avoid $400 million in capital gains taxes from the disposition of a large chunk of Berkshire Hataway’s Washington Post stake (which was acquired in the 1970s for $11 million) absolutely takes the cake.

The Street published an excellent article on the topic. Their conclusion at the end of the piece says it all:

Bottom Line: Warren Buffett is pioneering new ways to avoid capital gains tax, even as he is President Obama’s richest spokesperson for progressive income tax policy. 

More from The Street:

NEW YORK (TheStreet) - Berkshire Hathaway may have avoided about $400 million in taxes by exiting its long-time stake in Graham Holdings - formerly known as The Washington Post Company - through an asset swap with the company that will add Miami-based TV station WPLG and hundreds of millions in cash to Berkshire’s coffers. Wednesday’s transaction also may also break new ground in how large investors structure deals to avoid taxes on their investment gains.

Berkshire’s deal with Graham Holdings is structured in a way that may allow the Warren Buffett-run conglomerate to exit a multi-decade investment in Graham Holdings without paying any capital gains tax, Robert Willens, an independent tax expert, said in a Friday telephone interview.

The cost-basis for Berkshire’s 1,727,765 million shares was $11 million, Warren Buffett said in Berkshire’s 2000 annual letter to shareholders. Now, Berkshire is seeking to exit Graham Holdings at a value in excess of $1.1 billion.

Applying a 38 percent tax rate (federal plus state and local taxes) would bring Berkshire to about $400 million in tax liability, Willens said. The swap orchestrated between Berkshire and Graham Holdings, however, is likely to reduce Berkshire’s tax liability to $0.

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Blackstone’s Home Buying Binge Drops 70% from its Peak Last Year

The whole story about how private equity firms and hedge funds have steamrolled into the residential home market to become this decade’s slumlords is a story covered on this blog before mainstream media even knew it was happening. I first identified the trend in January of last year in one of my most popular posts of 2013: America Meet Your New Slumlord: Wall Street.

Since then, I’ve done my best to cover the various twists and turns in this fascinating and disturbing saga. Some of my follow up pieces can be read below:

March 2013: Is the “Buy to Rent” Party Over?
May 2013: Carrington Bails: More Smart Money Leaves the “Buy to Rent” Game
July 2013: The Las Vegas Housing Market has Gone Full Chinese
August 2013: Welcome to the Housing Recovery: Rents are Rising, Incomes are Falling
October 2013: A Closer Look at the Decrepit World of Wall Street Rental Homes
February 2014: Is “Buy to Rent” Dead? – Rents on Blackstone Housing Bonds Plunge 7.6%

With all that in mind, let’s now take a look at the latest article from Bloomberg, which points out that Blackstone’s home purchases have plunged 70% from their peak last year. Perhaps they overestimated the rental cash flow potential of indebted youth living in their parents’ basements?

From Bloomberg:

Blackstone Group LP is slowing its purchases of houses to rent amid soaring prices after a buying binge made it the biggest U.S. single-family home landlord.

Blackstone’s acquisition pace has declined 70 percent from its peak last year, when the private equity firm was spending more than $100 million a week on properties, said Jonathan Gray, global head of real estate for the New York-based firm. After investing $8 billion since April 2012 to buy 43,000 homes in 14 cities, the company has narrowed most of its purchasing to Seattle, Atlanta, Miami, Orlando and Tampa.

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Massive Fraud Has Been Unveiled at the EPA (Again)

While I doubt anyone reading this will be shocked by major fraud at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the potential extent of the fraud is huge, and we still have no idea how big it is.

A report released by the EPA’s Inspector General found that over 90% of sampled transactions were for “prohibited, improper, or erroneous purchases.” Worst of all, the sample size was extremely small at only 80 transactions out of 67,000 transactions during the sample period. Considering EPA cardholders spent $29 million in taxpayer dollars in 2012 with a potential 90% fraud rate, you do the math.

Oh, but the story gets even better (or worse, depending on your perspective). Examples of egregious fraud at the EPA have been well documented in the past, in fact as recently as in 2008. Absolutely nothing was done about it.

More from Americans for Tax Reform:

A report released by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Inspector General has found that EPA employees have improperly used federal charge cards to purchase everything from gym memberships to gift cards. The report indicated that over 90 percent of the sampled transactions were for prohibited, improper, or erroneous purchases, all paid for by American taxpayers. Ironically, Senate Democrats Monday night carried on an all-night filibuster in the hopes of generating even more power and funding for the EPA.

The report outlined nine specific internal control oversight issues, ranging from the approval of prohibited transactions by EPA officials to the outright failure to maintain transaction records.

Some specific instances of EPA employee misconduct were so egregious they are worth mentioning. In three instances, cardholders purchased gym memberships totaling $2,867. Two of those purchases were not even for EPA employees but for family members.

The report also found that the purchase of gift cards by EPA cardholders was also a problem in seven transactions. For example, in one transaction 20 American Express gift cards were purchased totaling $1,588. Additionally, the report highlighted an instance where EPA employees blatantly violated records keeping requirements in that:

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The True State of the U.S. Economy: Caviar Facials and Desperate Fire Sales on Craigslist

By now, it must be completely obvious to anyone paying even the slightest bit of attention that the so-called “recovery” we have supposedly been witnessing for the past several years is nothing more than a wealth transfer to a handful of oligarchs and their political minions. While I am intimately familiar with the process in the U.S., it appears to be a global phenomenon as well.

Domestically, this process has been driven by the complete corruption and insanity of those calling the public policy shots in Washington D.C. At the heart of that process, resides a group of unelected economic Central Planners known as the Federal Reserve, or the lender of last resort for oligarchs and cronies who make bad business decisions.

Before I get to the title of this post, I want to highlight a very important article published last week that demonstrates how college graduates are forcing their lesser educated peers out of the workforce by taking jobs that do not require secondary education. If you read this and still can’t be honest that this economy is a total distorted shitshow, I don’t know what to tell you.

From Bloomberg:

Recent college graduates are ending up in more low-wage and part-time positions as it’s become harder to find education-level appropriate jobs, according to a January study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

The share of Americans ages 22 to 27 with at least a bachelor’s degree in jobs that don’t require that level of education was 44 percent in 2012, up from 34 percent in 2001, the study found.

The New York Fed researchers said it isn’t clear whether two decades of increasing underemployment for recent graduates “represent a structural change in the labor market, or if they are a consequence of the two recessions and jobless recoveries in the first decade of the 2000s.”

Two “jobless recoveries.” I’m still trying to figure our how you can have a “jobless recovery.” Perhaps they aren’t recoveries in the first place. Bear in mind that these are the unelected people running the economy.

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Meet “Goldfinger” – The $850k Motorcycle with “Many Buyers Interested”

Welcome back to pre-financial crisis insanity levels. I recall one of the wildest stories from back in early 2008 near the height of the oil price bubble was about how the wealthy in the UAE were spending tens of millions of dollars buying and selling license plates. Yes, just regular aluminum license plates. The most insane example of this was the $14.3 million paid for one in particular.

Well the stupidity is back, and this time it’s coming in the form of $850,000 motorcycles.

CNBC reports that:

It wasn’t that long ago that the first $1 million car was news. Now, a two-wheel vehicle is about to hit seven figures.

The motorcycle, called “Goldfinger,” was plated with 24-karat gold and covered with 250 small diamonds totaling more than 7 carats. The seat is upholstered with what the company calls a “unique cognac-colored crocodile skin” and the bike’s parts—859 of them—were individually gold-plated by hand.

It was shown at special events in Monaco and Dubai, before a private buyer snapped it up.

The sale price: $850,000.

Uffe Lauge Jensen, the company’s founder and chief creator, declined to comment on the buyer or even the buyer’s country. But he said there were many buyers interested in Goldfinger despite the price.

“It was very popular,” he said.

But Lauge Jensen said he’s already working on something bigger. Though he’s vague on specifics, he said he’s working with a customer on a motorcycle that could easily top $1 million. Basically, he said, it’s a piece of jewelry on two wheels.

Can we finally stop persecuting the poor billionaire oligarchs already?

In Liberty,
Michael Krieger

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