“Forget what they told you. If you want the truth, follow the money,” said author Roxanne Bland. On the one hand, the American Dream is alive, with numbers making their case in favor of that belief. On the other hand, millions believe the American Dream is under attack and that access to that idealistic dream is limited and uneven at best. Ironically, politicians from the left and right – including Democrats, Republicans, Independents, and others – have said four simple words describing the current scenario in the USA. That four-word description? “The system is rigged.” Senators like Elizabeth Warren (MA-D), Bernie Sanders (VT-I-but self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist who has run for president as a Democrat), or deposed President Donald J. Trump have said those precise four words, “the system is rigged.” But how is it rigged? What can be done about it? This report, analysis, and commentary aims at conveying simple concepts that can be used like a key to unlock the door to the truth behind often confusing, misleading headlines. The reason headlines from the left, center, or right can be bewildering has been described by the Capital Research Center (CRC) as “Deception and Misdirection.”
Let’s unpack every item mentioned in the headline in a systematic fashion. Later this week, we’ll examine these concepts in real world situations that are in the headlines impacting you and your loved ones.
John Solomon from Just the News for years was an investigative reporter with the Washington, D.C. based The Hill news publication. Solomon said there are two things he learned from the late Senator William Proxmire (WI-D) that helped him in investigations. Those two insights Solomon credits Senator Proxmire sharing: “There are no coincidences in Washington [D.C.]” and “follow the money” which the lawmaker said are the keys to understanding American politics.
Another centuries old tool for investigators is summed up in two Latin words: “Cui Bono?”
Cui bono means “who benefits?” from a given situation. Rephrased, who benefited from a situation being investigated to help determine the guilty person or group? “Cui bono” is a search for the possible motive behind a crime or troubling circumstance.
So, when peeling back the truth behind the “tapestry of lies” or “deception and misdirection” that often emerges from some news sources, politicians, business leaders, do this. Imagine you are an honest detective or reporter. Then, objectively ask yourself:
- cui bono? Who benefits from this picture?
- Then, while what someone says may sound good, it may also be paltering or deceptive.
- So, to further peel back the motivations, follow the money trail.
- If patterns emerge, on disconnects between statements, behaviors, or actions, there may be good reasons to believe, said Proxmire, that an emerging pattern(s) may not be coincidental.
Armed with such useful notions, let’s look at the war occurring in the U.S.A. involving the American Dream of a business, trade, or career that earns someone enough money to have your own home and niceties that go along with someone’s “home is his castle” ideal.
“The War” Billionaire Warren Buffett Proclaimed
Left-leaning Wikipedia says that in 2008, billionaire and Berkshire Hathaway Chairman Warren Buffett became the world’s richest man. Citing Forbes, the stats.areppim.com said that in 2006, William “Bill” Gates III – a close Buffett friend and ally – was the world’s wealthiest man, with Buffett himself at #2.
Due to his success, Buffett has long been followed by investors. He is still in the top ten list shown below, per Visual Capitalist (VC) that cites Forbes, Bloomberg, and other sources. In an analysis of the following infographic on MHProNews, that source noted that Russia’s leader Vladimir Putin and Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei were credited with some $200 billion in net worth each. So, the list that follows is useful, but is ever shifting and should not be considered perfect. That VC infographic shows Buffett as currently #5 in the world, with Bill Gates at #4.
In 2006, Buffett told the New York Times that there is class warfare and that his class, the wealthy class, was winning.
The case can be made that Buffett wasn’t joking about “class warfare.” Knowing his words are carefully followed by investors, politicos, regulators, media, and others, Buffett doubled down and went further on his class warfare statement in 2011. According to the Washington Post. “Actually, there’s been class warfare going on for the last 20 years, and my class has won,” Buffett said. Note: as a quick segue, to help with media bias, the following infographic from award-winning investigative reporter Sharyl Attkisson is useful. Note that the case can be made that some, like Fox News, have drifted more toward the left since her infographic was first published.
Back to Buffett and his bold assertion that the rich have been at war with the bulk of American society, in a “class warfare” struggle. While Buffett has contributed to the political campaigns of some Republicans, it should be noted that a look at Federal Election Commission (FEC) data reported by Open Secrets indicates that for years, Buffett has supported Democratic or “progressive” candidates. An objective investigator and truth-seeker should ask. Why is Buffett supporting those that claim they want higher taxes on the wealthy, like himself?
Hold that thought, because it is part of what Capital Research Center (CRC) reveals as “deception and misdirection.” Buffett sometimes says one thing, but he may deceptively mean something else. But there are times that Buffett – and arguably others left-leaning billionaires like Bill Gates, George Soros, Mark Zuckerberg, etc. – mean precisely what they have said.
During the Obama-Biden Administration years, left-leaning Politico published an op-ed by another (lesser) billionaire, Nick Hanauer. Hanauer warned that if something wasn’t done about wealth inequality in America, that either a police state would rise, or there would be an uprising.
Hanauer’s column was entitled, “The Pitchforks Are Coming… For Us Plutocrats.” It said lots of nice-sounding things about a higher minimum wage as a way of avoiding “pitchforks” – an uprising – by the working classes against the ultra-wealthy.
To Hanauer’s point, one should recall that American history has witnessed such battles of the working classes vs. the wealthy before. One example is during the so-called Gilded Age and the era of the “Robber Barons.” At times, large numbers of police or even military units were needed to quell the unrest. So, Hanauer wasn’t just using hyperbole or exaggeration to make a point.
None of these three short videos are ideal. But they each shed useful light on the Gilded Age, the Robber Baron era, and how Americans organized to fight back against this pattern in prior eras. They also illustrate Hanauer’s point about ‘pitchforks’ coming for billionaire oligarchs and plutocrats if they aren’t careful.
So, one takeaway from these factoids is this. Buffett and his fellow “oligarchs and plutocrats” are quite aware of this history. Buffett has said he has long been interested in studying history. Indeed, the case could be made that before Buffett invests in or buys a firm, what he is doing is studying the ‘history’ or performance and financial data about a given operation and its management. Now, put yourself in Buffett’s or Gates’ shoes. If you became wealthy beyond your wildest imagination, how would you protect your wealth from the possible ‘pitchfork’ type uprising that Hanauer and history inform us about?
The answer is simple yet sobering. It is to employ deception and misdirection. It may require posturing without doing.
For example. Buffett has talked on various occasions about the injustice of the tax policies in the U.S. Per CNN, “Warren Buffett says despite a higher tax bill this year than in 2012, he’ll likely still pay a lower rate than his secretary.” He, Gates, and others have entered the so-called ‘giving pledge’ where they have seemingly donated tens of billions into philanthropic foundations and nonprofits.
But what do those nonprofits Buffett, Gates and others have donated to actually do? How is that donation actually given? Upon close examination, Buffett has often donated stock vs. cash. Either way, the ‘gift’ to a nonprofit becomes a tax break.
As important, the nonprofit often advocates for causes that directly or obliquely benefit Buffett’s – or others like him – in their various interests. The Capital Research Center and Influence Watch have documented numerous examples of such a pattern that covers decades of public records.
So, when “following the money trail” applied, what emerges is this picture. The wealthy often support Democratic candidates that seem to call for higher taxes on the wealthy. But when examined, those politicians during that timeframe and/or later have lined their pockets through various schemes that may be technically legal, but are nevertheless a payoff, a ‘quid pro-quo’ form of corruption.
An example will be useful.
Per Open Secrets, in 2008 “Barack Obama’s estimated net worth for 2008 is $3,665,505.” By 2021, Wealthy Gorilla and other sources said that “As of 2021, Barack Obama’s net worth is estimated to be $70 million.” After 8 years in the White House, Obama emerged almost 20 times wealthier. Books, videos, speaking fees, and other deals from those who benefited during the Obama-years routinely explain his increased wealth. The time in the White House paid off nicely.
Obama was supported by numbers of politically left-leaning billionaires, including Buffett. In ‘Vlad The Impaler’ – Ukraine, USA, EU, NATO, Oil, Green Energy, Oligarchs, George Soros, Paltering, Affordable Housing 2022 – Costly Facts You Have And Haven’t Been Told,’ among the fact- and evidence-based revelations that Tampa Free Press op-ed reviewed was evidence regarding claims about possible catastrophic climate change. But if the oceans are rising, why did the Obamas buy not one, but two mansions in elite locales on the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans?
Applying author Bland’s notion to Obama’s seemingly contradictory behavior: “Forget what they told you. If you want the truth, follow the money.”
HOW ITS DONE
Some of the so-called ‘biggest givers’ are apparently donating to causes that earn them tax breaks and are foundations or nonprofits that are advocating for causes that benefit their interests.
For example. Mark Zuckerberg donated some $350 million dollars to the Center for Tech Life (CTCL) in advance of the 2020 election.
Per Influence Watch, “Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan reportedly donated a total of $350 million to CTCL.”
CTCL in turn is accused of supporting Democratic turnout efforts. Billionaires giving tens of millions or even billions to causes that in turn get candidates and causes supported time reveals benefited their interests. That may occur despite the fact that a politician may posture the opposite of what they end up doing.
Or as Buffett quipped about the lessons of history: “In the business world, the rearview mirror is always clearer than the windshield.” It is in looking back and comparing claims vs. deeds and results that the truth often springs to light.
So, when patterns of donations are carefully examined, what matters to the wealthy is that donations may result in neutral or helpful behavior by politicians to their interests.
Then, apply the rationale from Senator William Proxmire (WI-D).
The number of times that such ‘connections of the dots’ between billionaires donating to nonprofit causes and politicians that in turn benefits the billionaire donor are too often to be written off as mere coincidence.
The reason why this pattern occurs is explained by Hanauer’s point. Namely, billionaires want to avoid the pitchforks or uprisings of the past. The wealthy class may give to candidates that claim they will raise taxes on the rich, or increase regulations on their business interests, etc. But when examined in hindsight, what has routinely actually occurred is that the rich got richer. Yet in many cases, the poor, working class, and middle class got poorer. More on that in a follow-up report.
So, by following the money trail, examining the facts, and considering but don’t necessarily accepting at face value the claim being voiced by some billionaire or politico, the sobering truth often springs to life.
Before addressing Buffett’s “castle and moat” and how this pattern can be addressed, what shouldn’t be done is to think that every wealthy person is somehow corrupt.
There are people who have honestly earned their money.
However, there are also those who have used political and financial influence to ‘rig the system’ in their favor. These principles must be applied case by case.
That is why the ancient biblical wisdom of the separating the wheat from the chaff is useful and necessary.
Let’s sum up before proceeding for clarity.
Because grasping these principles are useful in discovering the agendas and meaning behind media, politicos, and business interests that are trying to obscure the truth that is often hiding in plain sight.
At its essence: following the money trail, motivation (cui bono), and evidence trumps merely nice sounding, but often deceptive and misleading statements.
After all, if Buffett and others like him really wanted – for example – to pay higher tax rates, then he could simply write the U.S. Treasury a check. But that is not what he or other billionaires do.
Instead, they may deceptively say they want higher rates. While such posturing curries the favor with the uninformed, all the while they wealthy are tax sheltering their money. They can back candidates that may say they want higher taxes, regulations, or whatever. Meanwhile, when the facts are examined, after 8 years of Obama in the White House, Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, George Soros, and other big-time Democratic supporters emerged wealthier than ever before. Obama came out richer too.
Note that this vexing pattern can occur on the right too. The billionaire Koch brothers are an example given by those on the left. Candidates the Kochs supported might have said they wanted border control, but little or nothing occurred to make control over immigration a reality until Trump moved into the White House. Koch and other billionaires routinely wanted cheaper labor. Illegal immigration and shipping jobs overseas help many of the ultra-wealthy accomplish that goal of lower domestic labor costs.
As with most other matters, the law of supply and demand drives wages and salaries. Flood the market with cheaper domestic labor (migrants illegally entering the U.S., and/or using visa programs to import cheaper talent, or shipping jobs offshore to a country that has fewer regulations and lower wages than America). That is how numbers of elites apparently operate. For the wealthy class, politics and nonprofits are part of their cost of doing business and protecting their wealth.
Warren Buffett, the “Castle and Moat”
For those who understand the simple law of supply and demand, much comes into focus.
- When supply is limited, demand is high, and money is available, the price of the limited supply item tends to rise. An example of that is the sharp rise in housing costs. Too few homes, too much demand, and prices go up.
- But when supply and demand are at equilibrium, or when supply exceeds demand, prices tend to fall or remain lower.
- An example is after the 2008 housing/financial crisis, foreclosures and other housing came on the market in numbers that exceed demand and the ability to get financing for those homes. The result was a sharp drop in price.
With these thoughts in mind, let’s turn to what Billionaire Buffett and numbers of his colleagues deploy, which is the notion of “the Castle and Moat” method of influencing or controlling a given market. Per Buffett, are the following quotations.
Per Wealth Management: “The most important thing in evaluating businesses is figuring out how big the moat is around the business,” prophesized Warren Buffett to a 1991 audience of Notre Dame faculty and student. In 2007, Buffett again reiterated “moats” in Berkshire Hathaway’s annual letter to shareholders, “A truly great business must have an enduring ‘moat’ that protects excellent Returns on Invested Capital.” In his analogy, the castle is the business. The moat are obstacles or barriers that keep the castle from being attacked, captured, or destroyed.
What Buffett is doing, in essence, is slyly describing a type of monopolization scenario that allows him to limit supply and thus “protect” demand. By limiting supply, his business interests profit more. Antitrust laws exist that appear to forbid such behavior. But antitrust laws have – almost magically – not been rigorously enforced for decades. Who says? Open Markets.
With concern over the problems caused by monopoly power growing, both major parties have begun to give at least lip service to the issue of antitrust enforcement. By talking about ‘castles’ ‘moats’ ‘durable competitive advantages’ and similar terminology that avoids the words ‘monopoly’ or market manipulation, slick-talking (paltering) billionaires are using a type of code for those who get it. Meanwhile, most who hear those same words don’t realize the implications to themselves, their friends, and loved ones. The reasons for such behavior include the fact that federal and even numbers of state laws can impose heavy civil and/or criminal penalties for violating antitrust (think anti-competitive, anti-monopoly or natural free market) laws.
Here are specific and painful legal reasons why billionaires like Buffett may palter or talk in code.
Per the Cornell University Legal Information Institute (LII), these are the penalties for violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act. “Every contract, combination in the form of trust or otherwise, or conspiracy, in restraint of trade or commerce among the several States, or with foreign nations, is declared to be illegal. Every person who shall make any contract or engage in any combination or conspiracy hereby declared to be illegal shall be deemed guilty of a felony, and, on conviction thereof, shall be punished by fine not exceeding $100,000,000 if a corporation, or, if any other person, $1,000,000, or by imprisonment not exceeding 10 years, or by both said punishments, in the discretion of the court.”
A $100 million fine for Buffett, Gates, Zuckerberg, Soros or others might be akin to a slap on the wrist. But ten years in prison? That’s arguably a more serious penalty to them.
One fact is that these de facto monopolists are slowly but steadily subsuming wide sectors of the American economy. In several cases, it is a limited number of firms that are monopolizing a sector. The Biden White House website noted on 7.9.2021: “In fact, concentration [of a limited number of businesses controlling markets] has increased in over 75 percent of U.S. industries since the late 1990s.”
But again, talking about ‘a rigged system’ is not the same as doing something about a rigged system. The laws needed already exist, as the Sherman Antitrust Act referenced above indicates. What is needed isn’t more talk, but rather, muscular legal action.
Against this backdrop, back to Buffett and Moats. Robin Harding, writing in the Financial Times, began a commentary in which he said there was no one he used to admire more than Buffett as a businessman.
But once Harding began to understand how “the moat” works, and how this Buffett method aims at harming or limiting competitors, the author began to realize that Buffett was undermining free markets. Harding’s opinion of Buffett soured. So, “a capitalist” named Harding is criticizing another capitalist – Buffett – because Buffett is apparently undermining the free marketplace.
Undermining the market harms smaller businesses, works against innovation, limits job opportunities, income, and authentic investing. Here is the longer version of Harding’s observations, which specifically mentions Buffett’s use of the term “the moat.”
On MHLivingNews, several articles and fact-packed examples of this “castle and moat” are described and detailed. They help explain why there is an affordable housing crisis in America. The Tampa Free Press outlined that pattern too, in an article linked here.
Books and scholarly articles have been written on these topics, so this op-ed is just an introduction. But one more set of quotations relating to monopolies and how they are slyly being deployed is useful.
Per James A. “Jim” Schmitz and his colleagues at the Minneapolis Federal Reserve, who have studied decades of evidence on monopolization and its harmful impacts on the general public are the following quotable quotes. They call this pattern they have documented as “sabotaging monopolies.” Note the similarity between what Harding explained about Buffett and what Schmitz and his colleagues described?
This subtle-but-real “sabotaging” of markets and competitors may help explain why this isn’t common knowledge. Note that the type of monopolization described can include oligopoly, where a limited number of big companies dominate a market. Think about Buffett describing his “moat” filled with man eating amphibians. Buffett used colorful, but also vicious, imagery.
Schmitz and his colleagues documented this pattern in several researched and well-footnoted reports. Among them is one entitled, Monopolies Inflict Great Harm on Low- and Middle-Income,
which has been explored in a report linked here. That article details how this pattern undermined the U.S. housing market. Schmitz said in 2020 that “Solving the Housing Crisis will Require Fighting Monopolies.” Schmitz also noted that regulators were part of the problem rather than part of the solution. Consider these facts in the light of the prior observations published on Tampa Free Press here, here, and here.
So, Donald J. Trump, Senators Sanders and Warren are among those who have raised these concerns about the sly rigging of the American system.
President Trump went a step further by noting that the system would not be corrected by those who rigged it in the first place.
During Trump’s term in office, he spoke about various ways this vexing pattern was manifest in institutions of all types. His administration’s antitrust enforcers launched actions against giants such as Google and Facebook. With antitrust action in process, is it any surprise that corporate giants wanted Trump out of office? Is it any surprise that Biden was favored by ultra-billionaires who arguably are often subtle to blatant monopolists?
Note that facism was described by Benito Mussolini as follows: “Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power” (source: Roanoke, Political Research). That is an apt description of what is occurring in America today.
But what must be grasped is that this de facto alliance between big corporate interests and big government need not be from the right, as is often claimed. In Communist China, what we see today is apparently a fascist-style authoritarianism. Such facism or corporatism is what occurred in Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist Workers Party (i.e.: Nazis. Note that Nazis were socialists, on the left, not conservatives on the right). Left-leaning Glen Greenwald explained how this pattern is occurring in the U.S. today.
A common undercurrent from much of this is big corporate muscle, or monopoly power.
But once the troubling pattern is understood, the solution also begins to emerge.
The problem and solutions today are much the same as what the late Senator John Sherman (OH-R and independent) stated. Sherman, in the famous quote below, was a leader in the pushback by populists to fight the power of the robber barons of the Gilded Age of the late 19th century.
Note in the years in the graphic below cover the early years after the Sherman Act and the Clayton Acts (both of which addressed antitrust and regulation of consolidation of markets) helped rebalance income distribution in the U.S. When antitrust laws are better enforced, the evidence reveals income distribution in America – and thus opportunities for living the American Dream – increased. When the antitrust laws are under-enforced or missing, wealth concentration by the wealthy class Buffett bragged about grows.
Let’s sum up.
- Buffett as a top U.S. billionaire said that there is class warfare. He later doubled down on that candid statement.
- Buffett said he believes in moats around his business interests where alligators, piranha, crocodiles, and other man-eating creatures infest the waters to keep competitors out.
- Buffett managers, such as Kevin Clayton at Clayton Homes, are on record as saying that they follow this Buffett mantra of implementing the moat in their business units.
- Robin Harding said Buffett was undermining free markets. Harding thinks antitrust enforcement is part of the answer.
- Schmitz and his fellow economist colleagues also believe that antitrust enforcement is a key to solving the affordable housing crisis and other supply and social problems. Schmitz and his colleagues did deep-dive research before concluding that “sabotaging monopolies” are causing the U.S. housing crises and undermine lower- and middle-class families and households. That’s the corollary or flip side to Buffett’s candid class warfare quote above.
- While some politicians claim new antitrust laws are needed, there is ample evidence that existing laws could swiftly be used to solve problems undermining the American Dream. That is why the Sherman Antitrust Act and Clayton Act were passed – precisely to fight such concentrations of economic and political power.
- Deception and misdirection are part of the tools used by ultra-billionaires. Their allies and mouthpieces who are working for such corporate giants do similarly.
- To spot the vexing patterns and sort out the truth in the news, Sharyl Attkisson advised: “check your facts” and “follow the money” trail. Ask, who benefits from the status quo or proposal?
We just finished Holy Week and Passover and are in the Easter season. Jewish and Christian Scriptures, along with Islam and Eastern wisdom literature are among those sources that assert the need to spot deception, avoid, condemn, and punish lying. Some examples are shared below.
This column is like a piece of the puzzle from this periodic evidence-based and nonpartisan series on the forces undermining the American Dream.
A related column will appear here on the Tampa Free Press in the next few days. The follow up will provide more examples torn from recent headlines of how this game in the ‘rigged system’ is played.
That upcoming report and analysis will go deeper into what can be done to stop this assault on the American Dream. So, until next time, stay tuned, and until then: ‘pay more attention to what people do then what they say and follow the money trail for evidence of who benefits from some plan or claim.’ ##
L. A. “Tony” Kovach is a multiple award-winner in U.S. and European history, including the prestigious Lottinville Award from the University of Oklahoma. Kovach and his wife Soheyla are the co-founders and publishers of MHProNews.com and MHLivingNews.com. Their son Tamas Kovach helped edit this article and is their heir apparent. Tony Kovach and/or his publications have been referenced by others in mainstream media, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the National Association of Realtors (NAR) Journal of Real Estate Studies, federal, university-level, nonprofit, and other sources.
That’s a wrap on this installment of “News through the lens of manufactured homes and factory-built housing” © where “We Provide, You Decide.” © ## (Affordable housing, manufactured homes, reports, fact-checks, analysis, and commentary. Third-party images or content are provided under fair use guidelines for media.) (See Related Reports, further below. Text/image boxes often are hot-linked to other reports that can be access by clicking on them.)
By L.A. “Tony” Kovach – for MHLivingNews.com.
Tony earned a journalism scholarship and earned numerous awards in history and in manufactured housing. For example, he earned the prestigious Lottinville Award in history from the University of Oklahoma, where he studied history and business management. He’s a managing member and co-founder of LifeStyle Factory Homes, LLC, the parent company to MHProNews, and MHLivingNews.com. This article reflects the LLC’s and/or the writer’s position, and may or may not reflect the views of sponsors or supporters.
Connect on LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/latonykovach
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