EnduringSense

“The price of apathy towards public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.” Plato

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    “You’ve got this crazy system [Obamacare] where all of a sudden, 25 million more people have health care and then the people that are out there busting it – sometimes 60 hours a week – wind up with their premiums doubled and their coverage cut in half.”

    Bill Clinton

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Making Sense of the Trump Election

Posted by Steve Markowitz on November 20, 2016

With the presidential election behind us, pundits attempt to analyze and explain the results.  Some on the Right interpret the Trump victory as a conservative mandate.  Others on the Left blame Hillary Clinton’s poor campaigning skills or the low intelligence of voters for the loss.  Such conclusions from both sides miss the greater meaning of the election, which is a continuation of the political paradigm shift worldwide.

In the United States the shift began with the Tea Party after Obama’s first election.  It continued with Democrats losing power in both subsequent mid-term elections.

trumpThe United Kingdom voted for Brexit, to disconnect themselves from the European Union.  Similar to the US presidential election, expert pollsters indicated Brexit would not occur.  Just like in the United States the People proved the experts out of touch.

The paradigm shift is the result of the failure of Progressive governments to meet the needs of the People.  While governments bailed out banks in 2009 to the benefit of the wealthy, and continually come up with social programs for the less fortunate, they have ignored the needs of the middle class whose financial well-being has been eroded.

The forces that led to Brexit and the election of Donald Trump will continue to pick up momentum.  As governments continue with the same failed policies, they will lose legitimacy and be voted out.  These forces will likely lead to the breakup of the European Union, as well as increased European nationalism.

John Mauldin recently published an article titled This Could Be Our 1989” that helps explain the eroding authority of Progressive governments.  He begins by quoting Jeffrey Tucker of the Foundation for Economic Education who correctly said:

“All these details of the Trump platform are still important, but strike me as less relevant to what we can expect going forward.  The more I look at it, the less it seems to me that the election results are less about what Trump believes and more about what he represents: a fundamental shattering of an old paradigm.  And I’m finding the widespread commentary that this represents some kind of triumph of racism, misogyny, etc. etc., to be superficial and even preposterous.  And you know this if you visit with any regular voter.

What lies in ruins here is not common decency and morality – much less the character of a whole people and nation – but rather an anachronistic, arrogant, entitled, smug, conceited ruling elite and ruling paradigm.  You can see this in the clues that show that the vote was not so much for a particular vision of one man, but against a prevailing model of managing the world.” [Emphasis added.]

Mauldin then goes on to offer some logical conclusions relating to not only the Trump election, but also the paradigm shift in political power unfolding before us.  This includes:

  • When I read (somewhat bemusedly) that the halls of power in Europe are in an uproar over our election, I think that they should be. Not because Trump is now president but because elites everywhere – the people who “know” how the world should be run and expect the “little people” to stay in line – are an endangered species”.  Yes, these elites have much to fear as they watch their base of power disintegrate.
  • “It is up to the leadership of countries and communities to make sure that everyone is protected – equally – and to do so without burdening future generations with the task of paying for the solutions they come up with.” For decades governments worldwide have ignored the plight of the middle class who are now revolting at the ballot box.
  • The old institutions are not up to the task of managing a world awash in massive and ever faster technological and social changes that are not leaving us enough time to adjust. We went from a world where 50% of us worked on family farms to where less than 2% do today, but that took 8-10 generations.”  Many of the institutions that Mauldin is referring to were created shortly after World War II.  It is not surprising that they are not working in this rapidly changing world.  Expecting the ruling political class to implement change that while necessary, would diminish their power, is illogical.  It is also not surprising that the old guard claims that incoming change endangers society.

Mauldin concludes that those shaking at the idea of a Trump presidency should “get a grip”, reminding us that the power of US presidents are quite limited by the Constitution.  While Progressives, including the current president, have suggested that the Constitution should be a living document that can be morphed to their political agenda, many in this country, including real conservatives, conclude otherwise.  Strict interpretation of the Constitution and the powers it gives the office of the presidency inhibits any president, including Trump, from significant overreach.

The American People have spoken.  They are demanding change and have elected Donald Trump to carry out that mandate.  Time will tell if he is up to the task.  Should he not, he will be voted out by the same group that have given him the office he will shortly command.

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Democrat Party’s Self-Inflicted Wounds

Posted by Steve Markowitz on November 1, 2016

It has been a few wild days in the race for the White House.  On Friday, FBI Director James Comey announced that the Bureau is reopening its criminal investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server and potential mishandling of classified documents.  If found guilty of a felony Clinton would be subject to potential jail time.  Quite a shadow hanging over a potential president-elect!

It is remarkable that James Comey, who just a week ago was considered a hero and patriot by the Left after recommending against Clinton’s prosecution in July, is now demonized by these same people.  Either they were wrong about Comey in July or they are wrong now.  In fact the issue is not Comey’s credibility or patriotism, but his findings that go against the political leanings of the Left.  This is incredulous for a group that often claims the need for bipartisanship, blaming Republicans for the polarization in Washington.  How quickly the worm has turned.

Some on the Left are beginning to take their compatriots and Clinton to task for the email mess, Hillary’s own creation.  Earlier this week Doug Schoen, long-time supporter of the Clintons, pulled his support for Hillary due to concern for a Constitutional crisis that would likely occur should she be elected president.  Just as amazing, MSNBC’s liberal cohost, Mika Brzezinski, took off after Hillary Clinton and those on the Left that have attacked James Comey, as shared in the video below.

Both political parties are to blame for the state of American national political mess.  Republicans rejected their Party’s conventional wisdom and nominated Donald Trump merely because he was an outsider and irrespective of qualifications or policies.  Taking a different route, the Democrat establishment chose to coronate Hillary Clinton even though she was deemed dishonest by many and under FBI investigation for potential criminal acts.  Those who cry foul on both sides of the aisle need to take a long look in the mirror to locate the source of the Country’s problem.

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Obamacare May Implode

Posted by Steve Markowitz on October 19, 2016

The news media and Americans are focused on the upcoming presidential election.  Given the important role the president plays in the United States this is natural.  However, the focus on the election has been on the questionable personal traits of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.  This myopic focus masks serious issues that face the Country and the next president, irrespective of who is elected.

The significant challenges the Country faces include international relations, as well as economic issues.  The Middle East is devolving into chaos that will eliminate the artificial borders and countries created after World War I.  Russia is again adversarial and imperialistic.  Economic growth in the United States is tepid with the total debt soon to exceed $20 trillion.  Irrespective of whether Clinton or Trump become president, these issues will prove intractable.

Within the broader subject of economic challenges is the out of control medical costs.  This problem had its roots long before Barack Obama became president.  However, the President’s signature program, Obamacare, exasperated the problems and is showing signs of heading into a death spiral.

The President is aware of Obamacare failings writing in The Journal of the American Medical Association: “Too many Americans still strain to pay for their physician visits and prescriptions, cover their deductibles or pay their monthly insurance bills; struggle to navigate a complex, sometimes bewildering system; and remain uninsured.”  This is a far cry from the President’s promises to the American people that healthcare costs would decrease.  Obamacare not only added expensive mandates to the cost of medical insurance, but covered some 20 million people who previously did not have insurance.  For the President to have made this cost cutting promise indicates incompetence or dishonesty, there is no third option.

A more honest representation of the realities of Obamacare was made earlier this month by former President Bill Clinton who said:

bill-clinton“You’ve got this crazy system where all of a sudden, 25 million more people have health care and then the people that are out there busting it – sometimes 60 hours a week – wind up with their premiums doubled and their coverage cut in half.”

Leave it to Bill Clinton to take a complex issue and break it down to its most basic problem; the middle class and healthy younger Americans are being forced to pay for the health costs of others.  Insurance is a system whereby risk is spread amongst a population of people with an example being auto insurance.  Some drivers will have accidents while others will not.  In the case of so-called health insurance, all beneficiaries will require significant benefits.  Therefore what we call health insurance is an entitlement and cannot be financed as if it was insurance.

In early October Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton said: “The reality is the Affordable Care Act is no longer affordable”.  This is no partisan attack coming from a Democrat governor of a state that is projected to have increases in the Affordable Care Act medical exchanges in excess of 50%. (Source)  Other states are facing similar problems.

In business or economics matters, prior to resolving a problem the issue and goals need to be clearly vetted and defined.  This was not done with healthcare reform.  Instead, proponents of Obamacare promoted problems to elicit emotional responses.  This included Americans without medical insurance and the increasing costs of medical care.  Ignored were the basic laws of supply and demand that have impacted these issues and will play a role in any propose resolution.  The upcoming implosion of Obamacare is the result of this gross failure.

After the presidential election the winning party will throw celebrations for the power they gained or maintained in Washington.  Beginning in January a new president who will be forced to address the problems left behind by Barack Obama.  A major issue will be the growing problem of the increasing cost of healthcare.  Democrats will promote a single-payer system; i.e., government run healthcare.  This should concern Americans given the government’s poor track record managing the health care of veterans through the VA Administration.

Republicans will promote market oriented solutions for health care reform.  However, continue calling a solution “insurance” improperly defines the problem and will not lead to productive results that are politically or economically palatable.

When discussing the problems of increasing healthcare costs, rarely will politicians discuss economic realities including supply and demand.  Instead, many scapegoat insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, and/or doctors.  While these factors play some role, it is minor compared to demographic changes.  For example, the Country is rapidly aging.  In 2000 there were 35 million Americans over 65 years of age.  In less than two decades this has increased to 47 million.  In addition we have become more obese.  Both factors increase the demand for healthcare and therefore cost.  Not including these issues in the broader discussion of healthcare reform dooms any program to failure.

The Kaiser family Foundation reported that in the last six years, health insurance premiums rose about 19%, three times greater than inflation.  At the same time, peoples’ salaries rose only 11%.  This increasing cost of healthcare as a percentage of total income is one reason the recovery has been sluggish.  Consumer spending on other goods and services has been decreased as a result.  Unless healthcare costs are brought under control, this negative impact on the economy will grow.  May the force be with the next president!

Posted in Healthcare, healthcare costs | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Sen. Warren Accuses Wells Fargo Chief of “Gutless Leadership”

Posted by Steve Markowitz on September 22, 2016

Earlier this month Wells Fargo admitted that its employees created thousands of bogus credit card accounts to meet sales goals.  This led to bonuses for many employees including high level ones.  Wells Fargo fired over 5,000 employees for their involvement in the scandal.

The Wells Fargo scandal is inexcusable and heads should roll at the bank’s highest levels.  At the same time it is amusing to read Elizabeth Warren’s scolding of Wells Fargo’s CEO John Stumpf’s “gutless leadership” for his pushing responsibility for the scandal onto lower-level employees.  As an associate said of Warren’s double standard:

“I’m not defending this guy by any means, but I wonder if Elizabeth Warren told Hillary she is a gutless leader when she blamed her email issues and subsequent attempts at cover-up on her low-level employees.  Something tells me I already know the answer…. “

Wells Fargo Chief Accused of ‘Gutless Leadership’
The chief of Wells Fargo, John G. Stumpf, appeared before the Senate Banking Committee. He apologized. He expressed regret. He vowed to make amends.
But the senators were not having any of it. And the more he tried to explain, the more skeptical they became.
Senator Elizabeth Warren even suggested he resign, saying that his pushing responsibility onto low-level employees showed a “gutless leadership.” On the issue of clawing back pay, Mr. Stumpf said it was a process that he could not get involved in.
And this is not the end of it — Wells Fargo is under fire from multiple directions:
• Mr. Stumpf has been invited to testify before the House Financial Services Committee, which is also investigating Wells Fargo.
• Prosecutors are examining the scandal.
• The Securities and Exchange Commission has been invited to join the fray by Senator Jeff Merkley, Democrat of Oregon.

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Audience Laughs When Congressman Charlie Crist Calls Hillary Honest

Posted by Steve Markowitz on September 21, 2016

Earlier this week Florida held a debate between current Democratic Congressman Charlie Crist and Republican challenger David Jolly.  When asked about Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Chris responded:

“I am proud of Hillary Clinton.  I think she’s been a very good secretary of state, a very good senator from the state of New York.  The thing I like most about her is I believe she is steady.  I believe that she is strong.  I believe that she is honest.  And I look forward to voting for her.”

Hillary Clinton may be may be connected to many adjectives.  However, calling her “honest” is just plain ludicrous.  As indicated in the video below, Crist’s comment drew laughter from the audience.  It is statements such as this one made by Crist that has turned so many Americans against the political elites.  It is a major reason why Donald Trump with all of his weaknesses has a reasonable chance of becoming America’s next president.  Should he be elected, the political elites and those that back them need look in a mirror to see Trump’s greatest asset.

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The Tyranny of Governmental Bureaucracies

Posted by Steve Markowitz on September 16, 2016

Irrespective of good intentions, once started, government agencies and bureaucracies take on a life of their own in never-ending attempts to gain power, influence, and money.  A poster child for this is the US Department of Energy formed in 1977 during the presidency of Jimmy Carter.  Its primary mission was in response to the oil crises of the 1970s and America’s need to become less dependent on imported oil.

oil-importsAs indicated in the chart, at best the DOE could claim some early success in its primary mission. However, between 1985 and 2005 net imports of oil surged.  That did not stop the DOE’s employment from increasing from its initial 20,000 to today being over 100,000, when contract employees are included.

Progressives, who never find a government program they don’t like, would point to the significant drop in net oil imports since 2005.  That decrease, however, was the result of private industry ingenuity, specifically fracking technologies.  Since the election of Barack Obama, the federal government has done all it can in efforts to actually increase America’s dependence on imported oil, putting coal out of business, increasing drilling regulations, stopping pipelines, etc.

Steve Forbes published an op-ed in Forbes titled The Latest in the Never-Ending Assaults on Our Freedoms.  One of These Is Lethal that appropriately attacks the tyranny of government.  Forbes states that: “Even in democracies the natural tendency of government, unless stopped, is to expand its powers and extend its tentacles into every facet of its citizens’ lives–always in the name of helping them”.

Forbes uses the tobacco industry as an example of governmental overreach.  This includes:

  • The FDA’s (US Food and Drug Administration) has implemented regulations that will ultimately put out of business small manufacturers of premium cigars and makers of e-cigarette.
  • E-cigarettes, which are a safer alternative to cigarettes, will now be less safe by the new regulations that subjects all devices designed after February 15, 2007 to FDA approval. Prior to 2007, e-cigarette’s were crude and inferior, both in convenience and safety, to those produced today.  As a result, these regulations will limit consumer choices for safer and superior devices.
  • The smaller, boutique cigar manufacturers are been basically run out of business with the new regulations. The requirement of 5,000 hours of testing takes several years to complete, an expense the smaller companies cannot afford.
  • Pipe smokers are not immune to from the FDA’s lunacy. Tobacconists who mix special blends of pipe tobacco will have to go through an FDA registration process as if they were a tobacco manufacturer.  This added expense will put many of the blunders out of business.

It is not coincidental that the FDA’s tobacco regulations hurt small and newer producers of products and benefit the larger suppliers.  This is but another example of crony capitalism that inflicts our economy.  The incumbent suppliers have the mass in the political clout to push through laws that hinder potential competition.  Politicians benefit from this incestuous relationship through political contributions.  The bureaucracy and their governmental agencies profit through increased control, larger employee counts, and funding.  This is not a new phenomenon, but one that has been repeated throughout history in many countries and governments.  Following the money ultimately leads to the actual motivations behind governmental interventions in society and the economy.

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Incestuous Relationship Between Banks and Government

Posted by Steve Markowitz on September 9, 2016

The greatest economic calamity of contemporary time occurred in 2008.  While there were complex issues behind the economic meltdown, main culprit was an overvalued housing market that became a bubble.  When housing valuations began to fall, the bubble popped, the catalyst for the overall economic meltdown.

The housing bubble did not occur by chance or natural economic activity.  The fuel that fed this fire included:

  • Irresponsible Federal Reserve monetary policy that left interest rates too low for too long. This not only helped promote cheaper mortgages, but also cajoled investors into investing in mortgage-backed securities, seeking yield in very products.
  • Inappropriate lending practices were forced on commercial banks by the government in its pursuit of a social agenda, which included the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977. Through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government forced banks to lower lending standards so that individuals who could not afford mortgages received them.
  • The government also has an in incestuous relationship with banks. For example, it created legislation enabling commercial banks to become involved with very risky financial products that risked systemic damage to the economy; i.e. repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act late in the Clinton administration,  In addition, the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000 allowed banks to become involved in the ultra-high-risk derivatives market.

Most economists agree that actions of the Fed, government legislation and banker greed were responsible for creating the housing bubble and subsequent banking crisis.  Significant lip-service was offered by politicians for corrective action, including the massive Dodd-Frank legislation of 2010.  However, this legislation is causing more problems in the banking system.  The crisis was caused by banks supposedly being too big to fail.  With Dodd-Frank, the largest banks have gotten bigger.

The 2008 economic meltdown brought on a liquidity crisis that threatened the world’s banking system.  Central banks and governments used massive interventions and stimulative policies to offset the crisis.  These policies may initially have been successful in staving calamity, but have since lost effectiveness.  Eight years later while central bank interest rates remain near zero, economic growth is anemic.  This prolonged economic stagnation i a major reason behind growing social disorder in many countries.

Given the scope of the economic damage, it is telling that not one banker has been indicted or imprisoned for unethical behavior.  In addition, bank executives who were enriched during the bubble years have not had to make any restitution.  The incestuous relationship between bankers, governments and central banks make such punishment unlikely.

To appease the masses, politicians have created the illusion of corrective action.  This includes the above-mentioned Dodd-Frank Act.  In addition, the Justice Department creates an illusion of bank retribution by levying massive fines on large bank.  According to an Andy Koenig’s Wall Street Journal op-ed titled Look Who’s Getting That Bank Settlement Cash, these payments include:

  • $5.1 billion settlement with Goldman Sachs
  • $3.2 billion settlement with Morgan Stanley
  • $7 billion with Citigroup
  • $13 billion with J.P. Morgan Chase
  • $16.65 billion Bank of America

business-relationshipWhile the settlements might make it seem like the greed and poor business practices have been addressed, reality is different.  First, the banks involved were bailed out by the US government through the TARP program.  One could make the argument that the penalties were actually inflicted on the US taxpayers who funded TARP.  In addition, the penalties on the banks affected earnings and shareholders long after the perpetrators of the actions received large bonuses, none of which was returned.

Koenig points to another troubling aspect of the government’s bank “retribution” program.  None of the collected funds have gone to those damaged by the bank’s behavior.  Instead, the Justice Department forces the banks to give the funds to nonprofit organizations drawn from a federal government approved list.  This includes some such as Catholic Charities that are typically nonpolitical.  However, it also includes La Raza, the National Urban League, and the National Community Reinvestment Coalition who are known to have Progressive political agendas that include voter registration programs, community organizing and significant lobbying efforts.  This is but a political shakedown, an abuse of power that does not offer redress to or appropriate punishment to those responsible for the problems.

Those on the Left of the political aisle seem satisfied with the federal government’s role in distributing fines from banks, as a majority back causes they agree with.  However, this is a slippery slope that one day will benefit the opposite political causes.

Conservatives have also been acquiescent to the government’s movement of money from banks to political and social causes.  This demonstrates that the political elites are more concerned with consolidating power in Washington than following the rule of law or the Constitution.

The more power collected in Washington the greater will be the abuse of power.

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Politicians Enriched by the System

Posted by Steve Markowitz on September 2, 2016

Partisans on both sides of the aisle spout talking-points that are the mainstays of their party’s platform.  For Democrats, this includes social justice and wealth distribution.  Republicans promote the benefits of capitalism and strong national defense.  History indicates disconnect between these propositions and reality.

Democratic policies have not led to social gains by many within their party, nor to “fair” wealth distribution.  The ongoing unrest in many American cities indicates the high-level of discontent.  The fact that during the past five decades most of these cities have been run by Democrats is telling.  As for wealth distribution, during the Obama administration this has significantly skewed towards wealthy Americans.  For example, a University of California, Berkeley study found that 95% of the income gains from 2009 to 2012 went to the top 1% earners in the United States.  Whether this result is from bad policies or bad intent is irrelevant to those impacted by the disparity.

Republicans preach the benefits of capitalism and a strong national defense.  However, Republican politicians often support crony-capitalism to the benefit of large corporations.  In the early 1960s President Dwight Eisenhower warned of the dangers presented by the “military industrial complex”, however, this warning was ignored.  Also, American interventions in the name of freedom have not fared well with no better example than Bush’s invasion of Iraq.  The consequences of the interventions have not made America safer.

There is often a blurring of what the parties preach and their actions.  For example, Democrat President Lyndon Johnson took America into the Vietnam cauldron.  Barack Obama intervened in Libya.  Crony-capitalism has morphed from the military industry to the green energy, social services, and education industries.  The corrupting results are the same whether policies are promoted Harry Trumanby Republicans or Democrats.

Harry Truman once said: “You can’t get rich in politics and less you’re a crook.”  History has proven that the blunt-speaking Truman has often been correct.  It brings into question the wealth made by the Clinton’s since leaving the White House.  It also questions why Congressmen and Congresswoman have fared so much better than the American people in the past decade.

Frustration with political elites by the American people is growing.  This has been manifested by the popularity of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.  It is being duplicated worldwide with examples including England’s vote to leave the EU and the recent impeachment in Brazil of its president.  Similar discontent by the people has been the historical norm.  Politicians, whether democratically elected or not, typically enter politics with good intent.  The power of the office then corrupts and personal gain becomes a primary goal.

The indications are that people worldwide have had enough, once again.  Historically this has led to radical change in political structures and significant change to the ruling class.  They are always “interesting” periods of time.

Hillary-Clinton-net-worth-over-timeCongress Net Worth

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Education and Student Debt

Posted by Steve Markowitz on August 26, 2016

Marshall McLuhan“The reason universities are so full of knowledge is that the students come in with so much and leave with so little.”  Marshall McLuhan

 

Republicans and Democrats attempt to differentiate themselves via their views of the government’s role in the economy.  With close examination, it is hard to find real differences between them.

Those on the Right promote the benefits of “true” capitalism that allows markets to set prices via supply and demand.  Those on the Left share the view that capitalism is too harsh and that the government needs to step in and smooth out inequities created by markets.  At the extreme Left, socialism is promoted, irrespective of its history of failure.

At the macro-economic level there is little difference between Republicans and Democrats.  Crony capitalism is rampant within both parties.  Republicans typically support large industries and those in the military industrial complex.  Democrats promote social programs that benefit industries including education, social services, medical services, and trial lawyers.  The result of crony capitalism has been a significant increase in governmental spending and a surging United States’ debt over the past 50 years.  This debt is in part responsible for the economic malaise that has been inflicted on the country over the past decade.

An example of crony capitalism and the damage it has done is the educational industry.  Through the US Department of Education, as well as at the state and municipal levels, the funds spent on primary education have been skyrocketing as indicated by the charts below.

Total Educational Spending

Spending Per StudentSat Scores

 

 

 

 

However, the increased spending has not resulted in improved education.  The chart shows how poorly our students are doing in basic reading comprehension.

Student DebtThe problem is more significant at the college level.  The educational industry, with support of the US government and its loan programs, has created the false narrative that all Americans require and deserve a college education, irrespective of whether or not it improves their economic well-being.  As a result, the amount of student debt now exceeds $1 trillion and a significant portion of college graduates cannot make an income level that would allow them to pay off the debt in a reasonable period of time.  Many have been forced to move back into their parents’ houses.

While a market-based economy can be a cruel arbitrator of scarce resources, crony capitalism has proven to be catastrophic to those who have been cajoled into inappropriate economic decisions based on government programs.  It is a major cause of the growing wealth disparity between the ultra-rich and average Americans.

Yes, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have prospered under crony capitalism.  The same cannot be said for most Americans.

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Obama’s View of Hillary in 2008 Versus 2016

Posted by Steve Markowitz on August 15, 2016

Barack Obama once said words matter.  His words, however, don’t seem to matter all that much.  Below is a rather hilarious video put together showing Obama’s view of Hillary when she was an opponent in 2008, versus today when she is the candidate for the presidency for his party.  If words truly matter, either Obama was disingenuous in 2008 or he is being disingenuous in today.

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