The Trump Organization and the Trump Org CFO, Allen Weisselberg, were formally indicted in Manhattan on Thursday for a variety of crimes, including a 15-year record of tax and financial crimes. Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s former personal attorney, predicts that this is just the “tip of the iceberg”, and that many more indictments are to come, including Michael Calamari, the Trump kids and even The Former Guy himself.
Alan Futerfas, an attorney for Trump Organization, vented to reporters outside a Manhattan courthouse about the charges brought against the Trump family business on Thursday. The company was charged with fraud and tax crimes as part of what District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr.’s office says was a 15-year-long arrangement to compensate Allen Weisselberg off the books. Weisselberg, the company’s chief financial officer, was also charged. Prosecutors say he avoided paying taxes on $1.7 million in perks. Both the Trump Organization and Weisselberg pleaded not guilty.
Outside the courthouse, Futerfas suggested the charges are politically motivated and are designed to harm former president Donald Trump.
MSNBC’s Ari Melber delivered an assessment for the Trump Organization on the potential ramification of the charges against CFO Allen Weisselberg.
The Trump Organization’s chief financial officer pleaded not guilty on Thursday after he and the company were indicted for grand larceny, falsifying business records, and a conspiracy of tax fraud. Melber joined Ayman Mohyeldin for analysis as the news was breaking, and his takeaway was “they have thrown the kitchen sink at the Trump Organization and Allen Weisselberg.”
“This is very bad news for the Trump Organization because the DA’s taken an aggressive tact, indicting the entire Trump Organization in reference to the payroll company and others,” Melber continued. “If you were the company hoping to pin this on the employee or get out of it as far as the DA is concerned, game over there. They’re going after the whole company. That ensures Donald Trump and others will be drawn out to fight this.”
Melber went on to catalogue the full list of charges against the Trump Organization from a 15 year period. He also noted that the indictment references an “unindicted co-conspirator number one” who facilitated Weisselberg to carry on his alleged tax fraud scheme.
“Who is unindicted co-conspirator one?” Melber asked. “Many people would like to know.”
Possible charges against the Trump Organization could reportedly be announced in just a matter of days.
On Friday, The New York Times reported that the Manhattan district attorney’s office informed former President Donald Trump’s lawyers it’s considering criminal charges against his business, the Trump Organization, related to “fringe benefits the company awarded a top executive,” Allen Weisselberg.
“If the case moves ahead,” the Times writes, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. could announce the charges “as soon as next week.”
Vance has been probing the former president’s business dealings, though these would be the first charges to be brought in the case. The Times previously reported that prosecutors were examining Trump for having handed out “valuable benefits to some of his executives and whether taxes were paid on those perks,” which included school tuition, apartment rent, and car leases.
The Times reports that Trump’s lawyers met with prosecutors Thursday hoping to convince them not to charge the company, though it reportedly isn’t clear whether a final decision about whether to do so has been made. Lawyers, though, told the Times that indicting a company for not paying taxes on fringe benefits would be “highly unusual.”
Former Minneapolis police officer and convicted murderer Derek Chauvin was sentenced Friday to 270 months, or 22.5 years in prison.
In April, Chauvin was found guilty on all counts in the murder of George Floyd: second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. Earlier Friday, Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill heard impact statements from Floyd’s family, including his seven-year-old daughter, who gave a heartbreaking statement about how much she misses her dad.
“I ask about him all the time,” Gianna said via video. “I want to play with him, have fun, go on a plane ride.”
Cahill also heard from Chauvin’s mother, who did not speak at all about Floyd or his family’s grief, but tried to paint her son as being a victim of a false media narrative, as well as from Chauvin’s attorney, who urged the judge not to be swayed by “public opinion.”
When Cahill issued Chauvin’s sentence, he insisted he wasn’t being influenced by public opinion or by emotion, but by the law. And while the 22.5-year sentence is more than the state’s sentencing guidelines for offenders without prior felony convictions and also “one of the longest a former police officer has ever received for an unlawful use of deadly force,” according to MN Attorney General Keith Ellison, it is far less than the 30 years prosecutors and Floyd’s family were pushing for.
Even for those generally opposed to America’s overly severe prison sentences, the double standard in the judicial system is on full display here, and completely infuriating.
The World Socialist Web Site calls on Volvo workers and all autoworkers to come to the support of the nearly 3,000 striking Volvo Trucks workers at the New River Valley (NRV) plant in Dublin, Virginia.
The Volvo workers have been on strike now for more than 10 days, following their overwhelming rejection, by 90 percent, of a second tentative agreement brought back by the United Auto Workers (UAW) union. The workers are demanding a significant increase in wages to make up for previous concessions, a cost-of-living escalator clause to meet the soaring cost of consumer goods, an end to the multitier wage and benefit system, the preservation of the eight-hour day, and full health care for current workers and retirees.
The Volvo workers at NRV face a war on two fronts. First, they are waging a battle against a multinational corporation with more than $50 billion in annual revenue and more than $4 billion in annual profits. Volvo management, with the support of the entire capitalist state, is determined to intensify the exploitation of workers to pay for the billions of dollars it is handing out to its major shareholders.
Following Sunday’s massive repudiation of the second sellout contract negotiated by the pro-corporate United Auto Workers, 3,000 workers at the Volvo Truck North America’s New River Valley Plant in Dublin, Virginia, are back on the picket line. Inasmuch as the struggle of the Volvo truck workers has been scarcely reported on in the national media and all but ignored in the publications of the middle-class pseudo-left organizations, it is necessary to provide a concise review of the events leading up to Sunday’s vote.
The UAW’s betrayal
Volvo workers originally went out on strike on April 17, determined to reverse the concessions that had been granted by the UAW to the Sweden-based transnational corporation over the last three contracts. Two weeks later, on April 30, the union bureaucracy announced that a settlement had been reached and ended the strike, without workers either seeing or voting on the contract.
Autoworkers: Form Rank-and-File Solidarity Committees to Break the Isolation of the Strike at Volvo Trucks!
The World Socialist Web Site calls for all Volvo workers and autoworkers to form rank-and-file solidarity committees to break the isolation of the ongoing strike at Volvo Trucks in Dublin, Virginia. These committees should prepare protests, slowdowns and other solidarity actions up to and including the shutdown of Volvo and the entire auto and truck manufacturing industry.
Stellantis workers in Detroit support striking Volvo workers (WSWS Media)
The nearly 3,000 workers at Volvo’s New River Valley (NRV) assembly plant are in the third week of their second walkout this year. Workers have rebelled against two attempts by the United Auto Workers (UAW) to force through a concessionary contract, rejecting both deals by an overwhelming 90-91 percent.
The Volvo workers have taken a heroic stand for the entire working class. They are fighting to reverse the pattern of endless givebacks and concessions, the establishment of multiple tiers, ten-hour workdays, and the attack on the health care of workers and retirees. They are demanding significant pay raises and a cost-of-living escalator clause to meet the soaring cost of consumer goods.
An Open Letter to UAW International President Rory Gamble, UAW Secretary-Treasurer Ray Curry and UAW Local 2069 President Matt Blondino
June 14, 2021
To Rory Gamble, Ray Curry and Matt Blondino:
On Monday, June 7, the UAW International called us, the workers of the Volvo Trucks New River Valley plant, out on strike for the second time in two months. The strike followed our rejection of the second tentative agreement with Volvo that you brought back for a vote. We rejected both the first and second tentative agreements by an overwhelming margin—90 to 91 percent.
We have now been on the picket lines for one week, but you have not told rank-and-file workers what the union is fighting for, how the next agreement will differ from the previous two and how the UAW intends to win this strike.
A decades-old pipeline called Line 3, run by the Canadian company Enbridge, is in the midst of a controversial upgrade sparking fierce resistance from Indigenous communities living along the route. Line 3 is being replaced in order to enable the transport of nearly 800,000 barrels of dirty tar sands crude oil per day from Calgary, Canada, to Wisconsin. The majority of the pipeline cuts across northern Minnesota through the heart of lands where the Anishinaabe people have treaty rights to hunt, fish and harvest wild rice and maple syrup.
Indigenous leaders, embodying the spirit of Standing Rock five years ago, have been resisting the Line 3 replacement project and are now calling on all Americans, including those who are not Indigenous, to join them for what is being called a “Treaty People Gathering” from June 5 through 8 to demand an end to the project. One of them is Nancy Beaulieu, co-founder of the Resilient Indigenous Sisters Engaging (RISE) Coalition, and the northern Minnesota organizer for 350.org. Beaulieu explained to me in an interview that, “as Indigenous people, we have the inherent responsibility to protect the waters and all that is sacred. And as settlers—people who signed those treaties with our ancestors—they have an obligation to uphold those treaties.” In other words,“everyone has a responsibility to the treaties” signed with tribal nations.
Non-Indigenous Americans have largely forgotten not only that we have treaty obligations, but also that we live in a nation with a bloody history of settler colonialism. Former Republican Senator Rick Santorum demonstrated that ignorance in his tone-deaf comments on CNN—which later got him fired—when he said, “We birthed a nation from nothing. Yes, there were Native Americans, but there isn’t much Native American culture in American culture.”
Demonstrators hold up signs as the Declaration for American Democracy coalition hosts a rally calling on the Senate to pass the For the People Act, outside the Supreme Court in Washington on June 9, 2021. | Caroline Brehman / CQ Roll Call via AP
WASHINGTON—It is no surprise that despite a spate of endorsements and a rally of backers Tuesday on Capitol Hill, the Senate sponsor of the For The People Act expects it’ll hit a Republican rock in a Senate vote to bring it up for debate.
Democratic President Joe Biden calls the For The People Act (S1/HR1) the most vital legislation of his presidency, in terms of preserving democracy in the U.S. But in another repeat of the GOP’s all-out assault on freedom, voting rights, and the U.S. Constitution, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky plans to have his entire caucus block it. That will be enough to block a vote from taking place Tuesday but will do nothing to prevent a firestorm of protest to spread across the country in what will be an epic battle to preserve democracy.
Labor and all of its allies, often led by groups like Indivisible, will make July a month of misery for cowardly Republicans who, afraid to separate themselves from Donald Trump and the Big Lie, and now afraid to buck McConnell in his attack on voting rights, will have to face the people they represent during the July Senate break.
Attorney General Merrick Garland, admitting it will be tough, says he is determined to use the power of the Justice Department to fight for the voting rights of the American people. Drew Angerer/Associated Press
WASHINGTON (PAI)—Not waiting for the Republican-clogged U.S. Senate to act, the Democratic Biden administration’s Justice Department will step up voting rights enforcement, big time. And it’ll concentrate its resources—and its lawyers’ talents–on states like Florida and Texas that are the biggest threats to voters, especially voters of color but also working-class voters in general.
And organized labor, led by the AFL-CIO, and 86 other unions, civil rights, and civic groups, all organized by the Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights, is cheering Biden’s Attorney General, Merrick Garland, on.
“Barriers to the ballot box are antithetical to our democracy and must be torn down,” they declared.
Garland’s June 11 speech came as the Senate prepares to vote on the For The People Act (HR1/S1), and as progressive groups, including the Poor People’s Campaign and Our Revolution—the Bernie Sanders supporters—step up their lobbying for it. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., plans to bring it to the floor the week of June 21, even without the votes to pass it.
And he doesn’t have them. In the 50-50 Senate, GOP leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has united almost his entire caucus against it. And Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., the most conservative Senate Democrat has proposed a stripped-down alternative which, he hopes, will bring along the ten Republicans needed to halt the GOP filibuster.
For the past few months, Republicans have been waging a ferocious political battle to end federal unemployment benefits, based upon stated desires of saving the U.S. economy from a serious labor shortage. The logic, in the words of Republican politicians like Iowa Senator Joni Ernst, goes like this: “the government pays folks more to stay home than to go to work,” and therefore, “[p]aying people not to work is not helpful.” The conservative Wall Street Journal has been beating the drum for the same argument, saying recently that it was a “terrible blunder” to pay jobless benefits to unemployed workers.
If the hyperbolic claims are to be believed, one might imagine American workers are luxuriating in the largesse of taxpayer-funded payments, thumbing their noses at the earnest “job creators” who are taking far more seriously the importance of a post-pandemic economic growth spurt.
It is true that there are currently millions of jobs going unfilled. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics just released statistics showing that there were 9.3 million job openings in April and that the percentage of layoffs decreased while resignations increased. Taking these statistics at face value, one could conclude this means there is a labor shortage.
But, as economist Heidi Shierholz explained in a New York Times op-ed, there is only a labor shortage if employers raise wages to match worker demands and subsequently still face a shortage of workers. Shierholz wrote, “When those measures [of raising wages] don’t result in a substantial increase in workers, that’s a labor shortage. Absent that dynamic, you can rest easy.”
Remember the subprime mortgage housing crisis of 2008 when economists and pundits blamed low-income homeowners for wanting to purchase homes they could not afford? Perhaps this is the labor market’s way of saying, if you can’t afford higher salaries, you shouldn’t expect to fill jobs.
Or, to use the logic of another accepted capitalist argument, employers could liken the job market to the surge pricing practices of ride-share companies like Uber and Lyft. After consumers complained about hiked-up prices for rides during rush hour, Uber explained, “With surge pricing, Uber rates increase to get more cars on the road and ensure reliability during the busiest times. When enough cars are on the road, prices go back down to normal levels.” Applying this logic to the labor market, workers might be saying to employers: “When enough dollars are being offered in wages, the number of job openings will go back down to normal levels.” In other words, workers are surge-pricing the cost of their labor.
But corporate elites are loudly complaining that the sky is falling—not because of a real labor shortage, but because workers are less likely now to accept low-wage jobs. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce insists that “[t]he worker shortage is real,” and that it has risen to the level of a “national economic emergency” that “poses an imminent threat to our fragile recovery and America’s great resurgence.” In the Chamber’s worldview, workers, not corporate employers who refuse to pay better, are the main obstacle to the U.S.’s economic recovery.
Longtime labor organizer and senior scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies Bill Fletcher Jr. explained to me in an email interview that claims of a labor shortage are an exaggeration and that, actually, “we suffered a minor depression and not another great recession,” as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. In Fletcher’s view, “The so-called labor shortage needs to be understood as the result of tremendous employment reorganization, including the collapse of industries and companies.”
“We strongly believe that the reforms outlined in this blueprint will go a long way towards eradicating much of the senseless and counterproductive harm that has been caused,” said the director of ACLU’s Stop Solitary Campaign.
A criminal justice coalition on Monday provided a roadmap detailing specific steps the United States government can take “to end the torture of solitary confinement in federal custody.”
“The debilitating, dehumanizing, and even deadly effects on incarcerated people are an ongoing stain on the American legal system.”
—Tammie Gregg, ACLU
Described by the Federal Anti-Solitary Taskforce (FAST) as the “first-ever” document of its kind, “A Blueprint for Ending Solitary Confinement by the Federal Government” outlines how the White House and Congress can use executive, administrative, and legislative action to fulfill President Joe Biden’s “promise to stop this tortuous practice,” as the American Civil Liberties Union, a member of FAST, put it.
“There are a growing number of states that have taken a stand against the torture of solitary confinement,” said Johnny Perez, a survivor of solitary confinement and director of the U.S. Prisons Program at the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, another member of FAST.
In 2021, 70 pieces of legislation have been filed in 32 states “to end some aspect of solitary confinement in state prisons and jails,” according to FAST.
“It is time for the federal government to lead by ending the practice once and for all and incentivizing states to do so,” said Perez. “We are hopeful the Biden-Harris administration will follow through with their campaign promise to end solitary by any name and in all forms.”
In addition to the release of the FAST blueprint for ending solitary confinement, more than 130 civil rights, public health, and social justice groups signed a letter to the White House’s Office of Public Engagement made public Monday urging Biden to “end the pain, torture, and trauma of tens of thousands of people languishing in harsh and harmful conditions.”
Last week, the Washington, D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine filed an antitrust suit against Amazon. The point of the suit is simple, but not stated explicitly – to unravel Amazon Prime, which at this point has at least 126 million members, roughly the same number of households in America (128.5 million).
I’ve read a bunch of the coverage, but no one has hit that point yet. So that’s what I’m going to write about today.
“Happily and Deeply Intertwined”
It’s a fascinating moment in the political fight over big tech. On the one hand, the four dominant tech firms have never been more powerful or profitable. On the other hand, there is increasingly a consensus that our political leaders have to do *something* about their power. As a result, Google and Facebook are facing government litigation, and Apple has been fighting off legislative attempts to rein in app stores. Nothing has yet breached the castle walls of any of these firms, but we’re getting closer all the time.
This week, it was Amazon’s turn. On Wednesday, Washington, D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine alleged that Amazon was using its power to manipulate online retail prices. But there is something a bit different about this case than the ones targeting Google and Facebook. As Shira Ovide put it in the New York Times, Racine is making the claim that Amazon isn’t just crushing competitors, but *raising* consumer prices in the process.
It’s a longstanding claim by some of the independent merchants who sell on Amazon’s digital mall that the company punishes them if they list their products for less on their own websites or other shopping sites like Walmart.com. Those sellers are effectively saying that Amazon dictates what happens on shopping sites all over the internet, and in doing so makes products more expensive for all of us.
The reason this case is considered important is because higher consumer prices fit within the orbit of the consensus for antitrust. While there are possible problems with the case, Racine isn’t going outside the orthodoxy of modern antitrust the way enforcers are with the Facebook case. Against Facebook, enforcers are trying to claim that Facebook is engaged in more surveillance than consumers would otherwise prefer, and that this choice is akin to a price hike. That’s true, but it’s a somewhat novel antitrust claim. In this case, Racine is saying Amazon raised consumer prices using monopoly power. This case is not pushing the boundaries of antitrust law, it’s straightforward consumer harm.
That said, I think there’s another important aspect of this case that has gone largely unmentioned, which is that the Amazon Prime program, the keystone that holds Amazon’s dominance over retail together, is effectively being subsidized by the scheme Racine laid out. If you get rid of Amazon’s ability to force sellers to keep their prices high, then Prime, and its promise of free shipping, falls apart, as does much of the Amazon Marketplace business model. Other parts of Prime, such as Amazon’s ventures in Hollywood (like its recently announced purchase of MGM), may also not make sense if Racine wins.
To understand why, we have to start with the idea of free shipping. Free shipping is the God of online retail, so powerful that France actually banned the practice to protect its retail outlets. Free shipping is also the backbone of Prime. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos knew that the number one pain point for online buyers is shipping – one third of shoppers abandon their carts when they see shipping charges. Bezos helped invent Prime for this reason, saying the point of Prime was to use free shipping “to draw a moat around our best customers.” The goal was to get people used to buying from Amazon, knowing they wouldn’t have to worry about shipping charges. Once Amazon had control of a large chunk of online retail customers, it could then begin dictating terms of sellers who needed to reach them.
This became clear as you read Racine’s complaint. One of the most important sentences in the AG’s argument is a quote from Bezos in 2015 where he alludes to this point. In discussing the firm’s logistics service that is the bedrock of its free shipping promise, Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA), he said, “FBA is so important because it is glue that inextricably links Marketplace and Prime. Thanks to FBA, Marketplace and Prime are no longer two things. Their economics . . . are now happily and deeply intertwined.” Amazon wants people to see Prime, FBA, and Marketplace as one integrated mega-product, what Bezos likes to call ‘a flywheel,’ to disguise the actual monopolization at work. (Indeed, any time you hear the word ‘flywheel’ relating to Amazon, replace it with ‘monopoly’ and the sentence will make sense.)
Why would FBA be the glue here between Prime and Marketplace? Shipping and logistics is extremely expensive, far more than the membership fees charged by Prime; Amazon spent $37.9 billion on shipping costs in 2019, and much more in 2020. No matter how amazing your logistics operation, you can’t just offer free shipping to customers without having someone pay for it. Amazon found its solution in the relationship between Prime and Marketplace. It forced third party sellers to de facto pay for its shipping costs, by charging them commissions that reach as high as 45%, according to Racine, merely to access Amazon customers. That’s nearly half the revenue of a seller going to Amazon! And this high fee isn’t just because fulfillment or selling online is expensive; Walmart charges significantly less for its fulfillment services and access charges to its online market, and eBay’s market access fees are also much lower than Amazon’s.
In this May 1, 2020, file photo, a protester carries a sign that reads “Unionize Amazon Tax Bezos,” in reference to Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, while riding a bike during a car-based protest at the Amazon Spheres in downtown Seattle. Mary’s Place, a family homeless shelter located nearby inside an Amazon corporate building on the tech giant’s Seattle campus, marks a major civic contribution bestowed by Amazon to the hometown it has rapidly transformed. But the Mary’s Place family homeless shelter also serves as a stark display of have-and-have-nots, given that some blame the tech giant’s explosive growth over the past decade for making living in Seattle too costly for a growing number of people. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
I consider myself a good American with lots of international experience, seven years consulting in Italy, France and the UK; 15 years as vice president of product design and sales for a major software company involving set up and supervision of offices in more than 40 foreign countries.
Those are my international bona fides. I will now attempt to describe why the rest of the world sees the U.S. as a corrupt falling star.
The U.S. became world leader after much of European and Japanese infrastructure and youth were destroyed in World War II. No European I have met recently thinks that ranking is still justified. We no longer have the biggest economy. Based on purchasing power parity, China has surpassed us. We have the biggest external debt and the biggest current negative trade balance in the world. If the U.S. were an individual, we would be in debtor’s prison.
We should be No. 1. We have the most usable agricultural land in the world. We led the world’s industry for 75 years after World War II. We don’t have the largest population, but plenty of well-educated residents and lots of well-educated would-be immigrants. So, where do many Americans think we are No. 1 but the world thinks otherwise?