The Looters Have Arrived

Wednesday, I posted about the “partnership” approach Trump proposes to take to infrastructure repair.

Paul Krugman had a recent description of that plan, which he concludes is not about public investment, but about ripping off taxpayers.

Trumpists are touting the idea of a big infrastructure build, and some Democrats are making conciliatory noises about working with the new regime on that front. But remember who you’re dealing with: if you invest anything with this guy, be it money or reputation, you are at great risk of being scammed.

So, what do we know about the Trump infrastructure plan, such as it is? Crucially, it’s not a plan to borrow $1 trillion and spend it on much-needed projects — which would be the straightforward, obvious thing to do. It is, instead, supposed to involve having private investors do the work both of raising money and building the projects — with the aid of a huge tax credit that gives them back 82 percent of the equity they put in. To compensate for the small sliver of additional equity and the interest on their borrowing, the private investors then have to somehow make profits on the assets they end up owning.

The description of this rip-off reminded me rather forcefully of the “looters” described by Ayn Rand in  Atlas Shrugged.

I have frequently been bemused by the actions of politicians and others who claim to have been influenced by Rand’s philosophy (and who all seem to see themselves as one of her protagonists. Remember those “I am John Galt” bumper stickers?) I particularly recall an Indiana agency head during the Daniels administration who made all his employees read the “two most important books”–Atlas Shrugged and–wait for it– the bible.

Rand, of course, was a very outspoken atheist who insisted that her philosophy was an explicit rejection–and antithesis– of Christianity.

Then we have Paul Ryan, another Rand fan, who is intent upon keeping Americans from becoming dependent on such “giveaways” as health care (and who was able to go to college after his father’s death thanks to Social Security).  I wonder if he will see the parallels between an infrastructure scheme that will enrich crony capitalists and Rand’s withering description of the morally indefensible “looters” who used government to enrich themselves at the expense of the truly productive  (Rand’s version of the “makers and takers” worldview).

Ayn Rand had an excuse for her extreme worldview; she was a product of  Soviet collectivism, and saw first-hand the danger that such a system posed to human diversity and individual excellence. What she failed to see was the equivalent danger posed by a society that defines success solely as the attainment of wealth, however acquired, and encourages contempt rather than compassion for the weak and powerless.

The latter society is the one that produced Donald Trump, who is already promising to be looter-in-chief.


  1. To know what Trump is about; simply remember all of those ugly, racist, bigoted campaign rants, add them to the backgrounds and lack of qualifications of his cabinet appointees today and ignore his current friendly, “I’m going to save the country” bullshit. Make your own disaster plans for survival and travel at your own risk.

    The news this morning was one of Trump’s infamous Tweets that he is working, even on Thanksgiving, to get Carrier to remain here. I translated his “working, even on Thanksgiving” to mean he sent out 1 or 2 Tweets. If he is working to keep Carrier “here”; does he mean here in Indiana or simply to prevent it from going to Mexico? Or will he buy the company and shut it down?

    The renovation of infrastructure problems here in Indiana could have been well underway by Pence simply using Daniel’s “surplus” to fund the work. Riding to and from my son’s home yesterday or denture-jarring streets while swerving around pot holes or lumpy patches, it is obvious the “surplus” remains safely tucked away for Holcomb to keep hidden.

    How much of Ayn Rand’s Soviet collectivism will be utilized by Trump with Putin riding shotgun and Pence in control of the presidency? The Flat-Earth Society will prevent big business from controlling pollution, escalating deterioration of all infrastructure – at least for the next four years. Beyond here there be dragons!

  2. Indianapolis already suffers from bogus infrastructure projects. The massive expenditure of federal money on Redline will do little for improving public transportation. The purpose of a fixed line is to allow “transit oriented development.” The infrastructure does nothing to improve transportation, and having unnecessary permanent infrastructure actually undercuts the ability to the bus system to operate frugally and flexibly to meet changing needs. The beneficiaries will be the developers who can now justify urban density through stable and prosperous neighborhoods along College Avenue. These dense projects are being approved over neighborhood objections and zoning law because “the density is necessary to feed Redline”. Wasted money, degraded neighborhoods, burdened bus system, but big profits for well-connected private firms.

  3. What continues to astonish me is the inability of so many political and social leaders to learn from the mistakes of the past. If there is a psychiatrist reading this blog please jump in here and give us some bit of insight into this facet of the human condition.

  4. Theresa,

    I’m not a psychiatrist, but I have some thoughts on that. One of the sad facts of life is that people seldom learn from other peoples’ mistakes. It sometimes takes a lifetime to learn from our own mistakes. Santayana was right that we are doomed to repeat the past if we don’t remember it, but we need to understand that memory is selective. In our minds, we are generally the heroes of our own life stories.

    As for history, there is evidence that Hitler’s big mistake was opening a two front war and going after Russia. There is also ample evidence that many in the countries he conquered were not unhappy with his “solution” of the Jewish problem.

    We need leaders who bring out our better angels. They are in short supply.

  5. I am not a psychiatrist but my wife is and her mantra these days is Trump has appealed to the reptilian portion of the brain in making his pronouncements. There isn’t any room at this level of thinking for intellectual honesty or higher order functions.

  6. Thank you all!!

    Given how so many Republicans seem to have embraced the words of Ayn Rand it makes me wonder if there isn’t some secret cabal within the Republican Party that does some sort of indoctrination on their potential candidates. Her ideas, those of a failed communist, have no place here. Nevertheless, Paul Ryan, her leading exponent, will do his best to ensure that they are.

    “We need leaders who bring out our better angels. They are in short supply.” The last one we may see for awhile at the national level, most unfortunately, leaves office on January 20th.

  7. Not to detract or take away from anything that Professor Kennedy has cogently set out as the Trump Administration’s and the Republicans’ plan to rip off the taxpayers once again (all except the richest 1 or 2 percent of course), I’d be extremely surprised if Trump has read Atlas Shrugged, or any other substantive work on history, philosophy, or government, or has any idea who Ayn Rand is. That being said, many of the people he is surrounding himself with have, or at least have read a Cliff’s Notes synopsis of Atlas Shrugged. Nonetheless, I’m sure that when they tried to explain it to Trump, it would have resonated with him because it fits right into his worldview of “Donald Trump” as a superior being who is smarter, tougher, and truly more productive than anyone else.

  8. Donald Trump isn’t even being as productive as Mike Pence if Trump’s refusing to find time to attend and read daily security briefings. But then I never did think he wanted to work as hard as Presidents have to work or to discipline himself to daily learn everything a President needs to learn to make informed judgments on the most difficult problems here and abroad. If he thought the campaign was tough (despite his flying back to NY to sleep in his own bed most nights), he is in for a rude awakening. The Presidency will be much tougher. If he didn’t want all the work, he shouldn’t have run.

  9. With all due respects to psychiatry, there is another fundamental problem which I eluded to many months ago on this blog. At that time, my quote was from “Freedom for Sale: Why the World is Trading Democracy for Security” by John Kampfner (New York: Perseus Books Group, 2010) Inside Front Cover: “Emerging middle classes have proven themselves all too willing to sacrifice certain democratic rights–including free speech, an open media, and free elections–in exchange for prosperity.”

    99% of Americans have a total lack of CIVIC COURAGE, that also includes the psychiatrists who are afraid to speak out because of their need for goodwill among the other physicians who are their major source of referrals. We’ve become one big dangerous joke which is undermining the whole planetary political system.

  10. I tried to read Atlas Shrugged and had to put it down after a couple of pages. I’m sure David F that Trump has not read a book since college especially after reading the transcript of the NYT meeting with him. That man can’t finish his own sentence without changing subjects and not finishing a simple thought. That transcript made me want to slap him upside the head and think “This” is what we are going to be dealing with for four more years?

    JoAnn, you’re on fire today. Thanks for the belly laughs.

    After lunch with a girl friend, I went downtown to do a little shopping and what did I see? Black Friday sales! OMG, it’s here. But there is no way I’m going to spend 98 bucks on a dress shirt for my spouse even with 30% off. You know the same dang shirts they make in China and sell for <24 bucks in the states. The least they could do is give us Thursday off so we can eat turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie. And gravy.

  11. One of the great advantages of your column is that you know the enemy much better than most of us, who, for example, have never read Atlas Shrugged. It’s great to read you tearing the likes of Paul Ryan down with such good knowledge of where he’s trying to come from.

  12. “99% of Americans have a total lack of CIVIC COURAGE”

    Marv; hope you don’t mind that I copied and pasted that small bit of your comments to respond to. I spent Thanksgiving day at my son Scott and his wife Anne’s home with other family members to share the day and the turkey and ham. Anne’s mother and grandmother are staunch Republicans but voted Libertarian to vote against Trump – and against Hillary. Little political discussion went on due to the lack of awareness or interest in politics until Anne’s sister Tammy and her daughters Claire and Caroline (in their early 20’s) arrived to announce they are going to the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. I thought Tammy was merely a working mother with no political awareness; learned she is strong union and has picketed and protested for years, beginning with Caroline in her stroller. They all belong to Pantsuit Nation. Two days ago they were in McDonald’s when they overheard a group of older men bashing Hillary. Tammy spoke up politely, trying to explain the real picture and things got so heated that Tammy and the girls were thrown out of McDonald’s. You must admit this took great CIVIC COURAGE to confront old men and get kicked out of McDonald’s. I was cheering, applauding and giving double thumbs-up throughout the conversation and wishing I could go with them to D.C. Mom and Grandma sat looking on, appalled.

    Tammy and I shared some information before they left; I told Grandma that, whether she agreed with their views or not, she should be proud of them because they are standing up for Americans.

    This morning I sent my 4th E-mail to the Indiana Electoral College members citing Trump’s vast waste of tax dollars; the current waste in New York City and the greater waste lying ahead if he is inaugurated. I have felt I am fighting alone till yesterday; maybe there are many who are taking Civic action but keeping quiet.

    We all know I ain’t one of them!

  13. JoAnn,

    “We all know I ain’t one of them!”

    I know that. I started to say 99.999% because of you and a few others on the blog. But being more optimistic I used 99% which is 1 out of a 100, which makes much more sense because of my experiences on the internet. Today, I’m activating

    Our slogan isn’t going to be “We’re AGAINST the 1%” like the Occupy Movement. It’s going to be …….”We’re FOR the 1% who are not civic cowards.”

  14. JoAnn, I believe is a more appropriate orgnizational structure than my active website which ends in “org.” You can’t stand up to power unless you completely understand the power stystem, otherwise you’re waisting your time. That’s why POLITICAL SONAR is a must.

  15. Paul Krugman has put his finger on Trump’s proposal to fix the infrastructure. Infrastructure is the cover to bring along recalcitrant Democrats like me to say yes and I was on board until I saw the details of how Trump proposes to bring a renewed America about. It has little to do with better roads and bridges and a lot to do with further enrichment of the already engorged rich while leaving the payment for such improvements to you and me while Wall Street laps up the credits on their taxes. We don’t need Wall Street financing and construction of public projects of this magnitude; we can do it ourselves, as FDR did, sans giveaways to those who don’t need them. So, if it’s O.K. with Wall Street and their connector (Trump) to the public till, how ’bout we have the public involved in public projects? We can come up with a modernized version of the WPA and rebuild America while collecting reasonable revenues from such massive efforts to pay for them as we go along. We don’t have to pay anybody to do our work other than ourselves and contractors we may employ, who will pay full freight in taxes in order to retire the increased deficit in classic Keynesian fashion. Trump’s plan would pay the wrong people, give tax breaks to those who don’t need them, and leave the rest of us to pay the bill via increased taxes and/or an increase in the deficit for which we would be liable. Oh, I forgot. I suppose his plan would also in addition lend itself to the interpretation that business would own or lease the roads and bridges and charge us tolls to use them, thus adding transportation to health insurance and education to the list of soon-to-be privatized areas formerly under public control and accountability. As I have written before, total corporate control of America is my greatest fear (surpassing Putin, Iran et al.), and now it is apparent that the rich and corporate class has a champion headed for the Oval Office. If we want even some semblance of democracy to survive, we must resist this and other such attempts sure to be coming down the road which will enrich the rich at an accelerated rate while the middle class is emptied into poverty. We can start by solving the problem of wage inequality, which will help to empty the poverty class into the middle class, but that’s another story.

  16. The rebuild of the military, infrastructure rebuild, and trickle down economics have the same goal, wealth redistribution up. That will be put on steroids by looting education and necessary energy projects to mitigate the risks of anthropogenic global warming.

    When the Trump Administration has reached its ultimate goals the medieval system of aristocracy, royal lords and masters and serfs, as well as the Crusades, will have been fully restored.

  17. Pete – Maybe when the medieval order is restored you and I will not have to gather the wheat for the lords’ beer but can rather get a job as keepers of the moat and/or as shiners of the big brass door a la HMS Pinafore.

  18. I am pasting part of an article I read.

    > Education is the enemy of fundamentalism because fundamentalism, by its very nature, is not built on facts. The fundamentalists I grew up around aren’t anti-education. They want their kids to know how to read and write. They are anti-quality, in-depth, broad, specialized education. Learning is only valued up to the certain point. Once it reaches the level where what you learn contradicts doctrine and fundamentalist arguments, it becomes dangerous. How do you make climate change personal to someone who believes only God can alter the weather? >

    Learning is only valued up to the certain point. Once it reaches the level where what you learn contradicts doctrine and fundamentalist arguments, it becomes dangerous.

  19. Louie and Gerald, I think that we will as a country realize too late the real costs of giving up democracy and therefore freedom. Our grandchildren won’t be in actual prison but economic prison much like the one imposed on many inner city folks today. In other words the present plight of inner cities will spread to more and more people like us and the Versailles style Trump life will be guaranteed for the very few.

    0f course that society will not be in any way competitive in global markets so will decline for everyone for a long time before collapsing on itself.

  20. Louie, that reminds me of that driver I had from O’hare to Indiana in August. He said that schools are liberal brainwashing buildings. I was so dumb struck I couldn’t reply and just left it there to soak in the stupidity. Especially when he said he had college aged kids in school (because they couldn’t get a job without a degree) and that he was an immigrant from the Czech Republic (20 yrs ago). I had to pick my jaw off the floor board when I exited the vehicle.

  21. “What continues to astonish me is the inability of so many political and social leaders to learn from the mistakes of the past. If there is a psychiatrist reading this blog please jump in here and give us some bit of insight into this facet of the human condition.”

    Like Theresa, I’m no psychiatrist; however, I’ll jump in the discussion with an insight offered years ago by humorist/social commentator, Will Rogers.

    “There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.”

  22. Pete you bring up Versailles. We have in a figurative sense witnessed the storming of the Bastille. The old regime was supposed to be replaced by Trump but what we have seen is the deck chairs being moved around on the Titanic. Captain Trump is not going to be in any way shape or form a force that is going to relieve the anger of Americans at the establishment. It will be full speed ahead.

    When we hit the ice berg, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid will be blamed and thrown over board. The sharks of Wall Street circle the ship in greedy anticipation of the feeding frenzy that awaits them. I am sure the Paul Ryans, Grover Norquists, Steve Forbes and Koch Bros and the like will find themselves in the life boat.

  23. My hope is that Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren will be able to educate the voters about Trump’s plans in such a way that they will truly understand that he will further enrich the wealthy and leave us with the never-ending debt and nothing to show for it. I hope that they can rally a fight against those plans and stop them before they get started.

  24. While rereading “The Ghosts of Mississippi”, I decided to research the White Citizens’ Council (1954), reformed into Citizens’ Councils of America (post 1956) and became known as the Council of Conservative Citizens in 1985, a collaboration of the KKK and white supremast political agendas. Included in a list recent headlines on their web site is an article, “Truth about “Steve Bannon” written by Hunter Wallace. Wallace claims Bannon is NOT a White Nationalist, NOT an Alt-Right member but is an important member of Alt-Lite, a hybrid of mainstream conservatism and the Alt-Right. I must apologize for not researching Wallace before posting the copied and pasted paragraph from his article praising Bannon.

    “The primary difference between the Alt-Right and Steve Bannon is that he is a lot more idealistic about the prospects of nationalism and populism. Bannon and Trump’s instinct is to appeal to everyone – blacks, homosexuals, Hispanics, Jews, Asians – and include them and bring them into the fold. This is what Trump has repeatedly done throughout the campaign. It was Bannon’s idea to campaign in Flint, Michigan.”

    The Trump campaign in Flint, Michigan was looting an entire town of victims for votes, victims of politically supported poisoning of their water system which is still a life-and-death situation in that city. Did anyone of you who followed Trump’s horrendous presidential campaign see even a hint at an “appeal to everyone – blacks, homosexuals, Hispanics, Jews, Asians – and include them and bring them into the fold.”? How will Bannon’s appointment effect the lives of those named in this unbelievable diatribe of propaganda?

    Can my comments be construed as “vetting” Bannon; which has either not been done or the results ignored by the GOP and he has simply been duly accepted by Trump and his children to function unabated in his high-level position? Does the GOP have any authority over a president elect prior to their inauguration? This is more proof of my lack of knowledge of civics; I am trying to learn.

  25. Sorry to take up so much of the blog but…this is interesting. I researched Hunter Wallace. a pen name for Brad Griffin, which led to the Occidental Dissent web site. Occidental Dissent is the “brainchild” of the neo-Confederate League of the South (LOS) a Southern Nationalist blog. Below I copied and pasted what I found regarding Wallace which leads to Bannon which leads directly to the electoral votes for Trump. He and his campaign workers said they had “some roads to the electorate” and Giuliani said they had “some tricks up their sleeve”.

    “Take a 2014 statement on the LOS website by president Michael Hill. “Now we in the League do not participate in National Elections; however we do not miss an opportunity to show how managed [sic] and corrupted the US electoral system is,” Hill said at the time.

    In spite of such high-minded sentiment, Griffin, who writes on his blog under the pen name Hunter Wallace, was an early rider of the Trump Train.”

    Looting takes many forms; this is but one of them.

  26. I wonder about discussing the Davis-Bacon Act, which artificially inflates any public works / government projects. Passed in the 1930’s to prevent minorities from getting their fair share of public works employment, it continues to the present to reward members of certain unions and, of course, means we get fewer roads, bridges, and other public projects. I wouldn’t fuss about Trump’s package, no matter how unfortunate, without comparing to the current program.

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