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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Corporate Power

JPMorgan Chase Tower

Exciting news from Wall Street: Our wealth markets are booming!

For the 15th month in a row, everything from the Dow Jones Average to gold prices to bank stocks are rocketing to new records, showering us with wealth from above. Oh ... wait. Maybe you're one of the majority of workaday Americans who don't own stocks or gold, so maybe you're not celebrating Wall Street's big boom. But just chill, because conventional corporate wisdom assures us that the wealthy will invest their good fortunes in enterprises that someday, somewhere will create jobs and eventually will produce trickle-down gains for everyone.

Excuse me for rudeness, but let's take a peek at how those who're reaping today's big-buck bonanza are actually investing that wealth. Surprise — they're largely putting the increase into schemes that further benefit them ... not you!

Consider Wall Streeters themselves. While workers, Main Street businesses, poverty groups, et al. have been knocked down during the past several months, the big banks have been making money like ... well, like bankers. Just since this January, their stock prices have zoomed up by 28 percent. So, how are these moneyed elites spending this windfall? Not by making job-creating investments, but by simply giving the money to their own shareholders, including their own top executives — nearly all of whom are already among the richest people on Earth.

The main way they do this is through a sleight of hand called a "stock buyback." The honchos simply cash out the bulk of that 28 percent increase in the value of the banks' stock price, using that money to repurchase their banks' own stock from lesser shareholders. Hocus-pocus, this manipulation artificially pumps up the value of the stock these insider shareholders already own — making each of them even richer than rich, although they've done absolutely nothing to earn this increased wealth.

It's not a small scam. JPMorgan Chase is now sinking $30 billion into buying its own stock. Wells Fargo is shifting $18 billion into the scheme, and Bank of America is throwing $25 billion into its buyback. Hello — Wall Street bankers are the biggest robbers in America.

Most people believe the American economy is being rigged by and for big bankers, CEOs, and other superrich elites, because ... well, because it is!

With their hired armies of lawmakers, lobbyists, lawyers and the like, they fix the economic rules so ever more of society's money and power flow uphill, from us to them. Take corporate CEOs. While 2020 was somewhere between a downer and devastating for most people, the CEO class made out like bandits. Indeed, last year, the three top paid corporate honchos in America pocketed personal paychecks of $211 million, $414 million, and $1.1 billion.

Are they geniuses, superproducers or what? What. All three of their corporations ended 2020 with big financial losses and declining value, so how can such mediocrity produce such lavish rewards? Simple — rig the pay machine.

Today's corporate system of setting compensation for top executives is a flimflam disguised as a model of management rectitude. On its face, the system ties the chief's pay to the success of the business. "Pay for performance," it's called — the CEO does well if the company does well. Good theory!

But their trick is in narrowly defining "doing well" to exclude doing good — i.e., treating workers, consumers, the environment, et al. fairly. Thus, rewarding the Big Boss is rooted in nothing more substantial or productive than the sterile ethics of monetary selfishness.

Even implementing that shriveled ethical standard is a scam at most major corporations, because the standard of financial performance that the chief must meet to quality for a huge payday is set by each corporation's board of directors. Guess who they are? Commonly, board members are the CEO's hand-picked brothers-in-law, golfing buddies, and corporate cronies. So, they set the bar for winning multimillion-dollar executive paychecks so low that a sack of concrete could jump over it.

Well, insist these flimflammers, it's the corporate shareholders who are the ultimate stopgap against CEO greed. These "owners" can just vote "no" on any executive pay they consider excessive. Nice try, but even "shareholder democracy" is rigged — corporate rules decree that votes by shareholders are merely "advisory," meaning top executives can simply ignore them, grab the money and run. The system is fixed ... and we need to break it!

To find out more about Jim Hightower and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com

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Indictment: Trump Thinks He CAN Choose Which Laws To Heed

Photo by The White House

Reprinted with permission from DC Report

The extraordinary indictment of the Trump Organization last Thursday prompted an extraordinarily awful response from its sole owner and its lawyer.

Trump asserted that he can pick and choose which laws he obeys. His lawyer, Alan Futerfass, says that prosecutors should have settled the Trump Organization tax fraud allegations in secret negotiations, not with criminal charges filed in public.

What's brazen is how Trump and Futerfass reveal support for two systems of justice, separate and unequal, with people like themselves getting special light treatment.

Pay close attention to the last words in this Trump Organization statement: "The district attorney is bringing a criminal prosecution involving employee benefits that neither the IRS nor any other district attorney would ever think of bringing."

The statement is a lie. Tax fraud cases involving unreported compensation get prosecuted.

Still, the Trump Organization statement may serve a useful purpose by awakening the public to how little prosecution there is against what the IRS says is rampant and growing tax evasion at the top of the economic ladder. Such inattention may cost the rest of us more than a trillion dollars a year.

The Trumpian assertion that prosecutors should not bring charges against thieves who steal from our governments reveals the entitled view among too many of the wealthiest and most privileged Americans. Many of the rich think money makes them special, so special that the criminal law shouldn't apply to them.

The 15-count indictments returned by a Manhattan grand jury are only the first in what l likely will be a series of charges. Ultimately, I anticipate that a grand jury will return a state-level racketeering enterprise indictment. That would allow a receiver to take control of the Trump Organization, ending its decades of cheating workers, vendors, governments and investors.

The richly detailed bill of particulars hints at other likely prosecutions.

Prosecutors charged Trump bagman Allen Weisselberg, chief operating office for the organization, only after he repeatedly rejected invitations to flip on Trump and turn state's evidence. Weisselberg, the indictment says, destroyed some evidence and maintained two sets of books to hide transactions from tax collectors.

This indictment is a tool to leverage Weisselberg, to get him to realize the awful fate that awaits him if he clings to Trump.

After 48 years of doing the Trump family's dirty work, Weisselberg has become a wholly owned psychological subsidiary of Trump's criminal mind. Breaking free would be difficult for Weisselberg, who is about to turn 74, but the prospect of dying in prison may clarify his thoughts about his moral and legal duty. Weisselberg could get 15 years, but he also might get probation.

Trump Textbook

Trump has long argued that he himself is above the law.

When Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance was trying to get his accounting, business and tax records, Trump went to the Supreme Court twice. In 2019, Trump lawyer George Consovoy told a federal judge that if Trump actually shot someone on Fifth Avenue, the NYPD could not even investigate the murder.

Years earlier Trump endorsed a textbook for his scam Trump University. This is from Trump University Asset Protection 101: Tax and Legal Strategies of the Rich: "When you own your own business, you determine how much income tax you pay."

That's not true, but it sure tells you how Trump thinks.

Contrast Trump's cavalier attitude about breaking the law with how American law enforcement and the courts treat those born into poverty who commit petty nonviolent crimes.

Willie Simmons is serving life in an Alabama prison for stealing $9 in 1982. Alvin Kennard got the same life sentence for stealing $36 in 1984, though a judge freed him last year.

50 Years For A Pizza Thief

Jerry Dewayne Williams—broke, hungry and turned away when he begged for food—grabbed a slice of pizza from four children in Redondo Beach, California. Williams got 25 years to life, though a judge let him go after five years.

And then there's Leandro Andrade, another penniless man, who stole four videos in one store and five in another. The U.S. Supreme Court held that his consecutive 25-year sentences were "not unreasonable."

Yet the Trump Organization asserts that enabling its chief finance officer to steal $880,000 from the federal, state and New York City governments shouldn't be prosecuted.

Nine bucks, nine videos, one slice of pizza for a hungry man result in life sentences or damn close, but prosecutors should look the other way or allow tax fraudsters to negotiate in secret, pay some money and go on their way? That's Trumpian chutzpah.

Victor Hugo's 19th century novel Les Misérables about Jean Valjean, who stole bread for his starving sister and spent the next 19 years in prison, is not exactly fiction in modern-day America.

One law for peasants and another for the privileged is not in our Declaration of Independence or our Constitution. Still, it dwells in the hearts of a majority of our Supreme Court justices, as well as Donald Trump and his well-heeled white-collar criminal defense lawyers.

Expect More Indictments

You can be sure that the finely detailed case filed Thursday is far from a comprehensive indictment of Trump Organization tax cheating.

Barbara Res, who for many years oversaw Trump construction projects, told Ari Melber on MSNBC just hours after the arraignments about dubious $1,000 a week expense accounts.

"The first time I started working for Trump, one of the first things I encountered was, I was checking expenses of one of our top employees, and they were ridiculous," Res said.

Res said she spoke to Trump about the inexplicable expense money only to discover he was behind it. "Trump told me to just come up with just so much, I forget the amount, a thousand dollars a week or whatever it was in expenses, maybe not that much back then, and they'll be paid. And they'll be off the books."

What Res described is tax fraud, plain and simple. And if we applied to Trump the same standards applied to Simmons, Kennard, Williams and Andrade, then Trump would have started wearing an orange jumpsuit decades ago. But we don't have equal justice for all.

Notice that Trump's statement through the Trump Organization and lawyer Futterfas' statements aren't denials of tax fraud, just assertions that to prosecute for these crimes isn't fair.