Railroad workers are being ground to dust

TRNN viewers may remember a recent interview we published at the beginning of February in which Editor-in-Chief Maximillian Alvarez spoke with retired railway engineer Jeff Kurtz about a US District Court blocking railroad workers at BNSF Railway from striking over the recent implementation of an oppressive new attendance policy. Even if the story has faded from the headlines, the struggles railroad workers are facing have not gone away in the slightest, and workers and their families have reported that BNSF’s “Hi-Viz” policy has been a disaster for them and for the railroad industry. In this crucial follow-up report, Alvarez speaks with Jeff Kurtz and Ron Kaminkow of Railroad Workers United about what workers have been going through since the implementation of this new attendance policy and what can be done about it.

Jeff Kurtz was a railway engineer and union member for 40 years. He served as a union officer most of his career, including eight years as president of BLET Local 391 and chairman of the BLET Iowa State Legislative Board, where he oversaw safety and legislative matters for the union in the state for four railroads for 10 years. He retired in 2014 and served as state representative for one term in the Iowa House after winning the 2018 election in his House district. He now works in a volunteer capacity with Railroad Workers United and the local labor chapter of the Iowa Federation of Labor. Ron Kaminkow is currently serving as General Secretary of Railroad Workers United. Prior to hiring out as a brakeman with Conrail in 1996, he served as President of AFSCME Local 634 in Madison, WI. In 2005, Kaminkow helped to found Railroad Operating Crafts United (ROCU), an RWU predecessor. A former brakeman, conductor, and engineer for Conrail and later NS in Chicago, he formerly worked for Amtrak in Milwaukee and Chicago. He currently is working as an Amtrak engineer in Reno, NV, where he is the Vice President of BLET Local 51.

 

 

U.S. District Court Judge Mark Pittman on Feb. 22 blocked the BLET (Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen) and the SMART Transportation Division—the two unions opposed to BNSF’s planned Hi-Viz worker availability policy—from striking.  Link

 

Is The US Economy DOOMED? | Warren Buffet Explains

August 30th, 2021. As we move along into the final quarter, we draw closer to ending one of the craziest years of our lives. The events that have transpired in the past 18 months have shaken the entire world, pushing it to adapt and change in ways never before thought possible. Many are now calling this pandemic environment the new normal. So much uncertainty lies ahead, but as we move forward we begin to ignore the biggest problem facing our generation. The ticking time bomb that is the US economy. Throughout YouTube, you will find thousands of videos about upcoming market crashes, fears, and possible sources of a meltdown. But the underlying issues holding up this unstable house of cards, are very simple to understand, cutting through the complex jargon, the graphs, and BS is what this video is about. Why are so many people convinced that the downfall of America is imminent and our golden age of prosperity and world dominance is coming to a sad end? In this video, we explain with 3 chapters. Begin with #1, Greed.

Warren Buffett and the Myth of the ‘Good Billionaire’

Warren Buffett appears to be the safest kind of billionaire: the good kind. Mr. Buffett is neither Zuckerbergian messiah nor Musky provocateur, neither Bezosist space cadet nor Sacklerian undertaker. He is, or seems to be, quiet, humble, indifferent to money, philanthropic and critical of the system that allowed him to rise. Years ago, a proposed tax increase was named after him.

It’s easy for people to think: If only members of the Sackler family were more like Mr. Buffett, imagine how many lives would have been saved. If only the billionaires who haven’t signed the Giving Pledge would give away as much as Mr. Buffett has pledged to, imagine the impact on the world. If only more billionaires would make use of the system without feeling the need to pervert it, so many of our troubles would vanish.

So I regret to inform you that Mr. Buffett is actually the most dangerous kind of billionaire we have. The worst billionaires are the Good Billionaires. The sort who make it seem like the problem is the distortion of the system when, in fact, the problem is the system.

Actually malevolent and disastrously negligent plutocrats get most of the attention. And when we hear about these Bad Billionaire exploits, it is possible to conclude from them that the system needs better policing, updated regulations and maybe slightly higher taxes. The system needs to be made to work again.

But as America slouches toward plutocracy, our problem isn’t the virtue level of billionaires. It’s a set of social arrangements that make it possible for anyone to gain and guard and keep so much wealth, even as millions of others lack for food, work, housing, health, connectivity, education, dignity and the occasion to pursue their happiness.

There is no way to be a billionaire in America without taking advantage of a system predicated on cruelty, a system whose tax code and labor laws and regulatory apparatus prioritize your needs above most people’s. Even noted Good Billionaire Mr. Buffett has profited from Coca-Cola’s sugary drinks, Amazon’s union busting, Chevron’s oil drilling, Clayton Homes’s predatory loans and, as the country learned recently, the failure to tax billionaires on their wealth.

The Good Billionaire myth took a hard blow in recent days when Mr. Buffett won a dubious distinction. A staggering exposé published by ProPublica revealed just how little the biggest plutocrats pay in taxes, despite mounting piles of wealth. And at the very top of that list of plutocrats — many of them with troubled reputations — was the cleanest, grandfatherliest plutocrat of them all: Mr. Buffett.

ProPublica’s story was unusual in that, for once, it was the Good Billionaire at the top of the naughty list. This was helpful, because it served to indict the system that makes him possible, even when it is working perfectly, wholly lawfully.

From 2014 to 2018, Mr. Buffett’s wealth soared by $24.3 billion, according to ProPublica. (To underline, this is just the amount the fortune grew.) The amount of taxes Mr. Buffett paid over this period? $23.7 million. If middle-class Americans in their 40s enjoyed such a low effective tax rate, they would have paid a few dozen bucks per household over this same time period. Instead, as the ProPublica story notes, they paid around $62,000.

Imagine if Mr. Buffett had to pay the same fraction of the growth of his net worth that regular people do. Taxing that money could have helped pay for bridge repairs, mammograms, and free day care. More important — and this isn’t said enough — there is intrinsic value in shrinking gargantuan fortunes. The sway plutocrats have over public life is inconsistent with a one person, one vote democracy.

The important point here is that Mr. Buffett’s tax payments as detailed by ProPublica are fully legal. Though Mr. Buffett has called for changing the tax system, while we have the one we have, he will continue to benefit from the madness of taxing billionaires for their income, rather than their wealth, when their income is pretty much just a number they can construct.

I asked Mr. Buffett last week, via his longtime secretary, Debbie Bosanek, if he could think of even one tax or accounting practice that he has come to regret. Sure, he may have followed the letter of the law. But was there any aspect of his patriotism or humanity that left him feeling guilty for hoarding so much untaxed when regular people pay so much in taxes? Though Ms. Bosanek responded to an initial inquiry, she declined to offer any such examples.

In a long statement last week, Mr. Buffett defended himself by pointing to his long advocacy for a fairer taxation system, and then he immediately told on himself by undermining the very idea of taxes in the same letter. “I believe the money will be of more use to society if disbursed philanthropically than if it is used to slightly reduce an ever-increasing U.S. debt.”

In other words: I believe in higher income taxes on people like me, but I’m highly organized to avoid having income to report, and I don’t really believe in taxes because I think I should decide how these surplus resources are spent.

And this points to another way in which the Good Billionaire is hard to deal with. The crooks and the scoundrels and the people manifestly looking for quick P.R. highs come to philanthropy for the marketing payoff. When Goldman Sachs announces a new initiative on fighting the racial wealth gap despite having done little to repair the damage it did to Black homeowners in contributing to the 2008 financial meltdown, some may be fooled, but, more and more, many are not.

Supposed Good Billionaires like Mr. Buffett and his friend Bill Gates are more complicated because they give real money. They may benefit from marketing but also seem to many people to be motivated by more than that, and they apply their smarts to the work.

Yet because of this, it is often the Good Billionaires who end up with the most illegitimate influence over public life. No one is asking members of the Sackler family for public health advice. But Mr. Gates has become a major policy voice on vaccines despite holding no elected position. Mr. Buffett, for his part, has shied away from that kind of lane hopping and richsplaining, but in donating his fortune to Mr. Gates’s foundation he has pumped up that undemocratic influence.

Mr. Buffett is almost the perfectly made billionaire for this moment in which, at last, many Americans are beginning to question not only corruptions of the system but the matter of whether billionaires should exist at all. He doesn’t do the things the worst of them do. He isn’t in it for what they’re in it for. He clearly must care about money, but he also kind of doesn’t care about money. Even in his generosity, he has avoided the imperial lording over that others cannot resist.

And this is what makes him so troubling, because through him we are tempted into believing that a system can be defended that allows a man to accumulate more than $100 billion while people are sleeping, in hock to him, in his mobile homes, shortening their lives with the beverages he’s invested in, scampering around the warehouses whose nonunion status has redounded to his money pile.

It can’t. And who keeps us from seeing that simple, stark truth more effectively, more perniciously, than the Good Billionaire?

How Chamath Palihapitiya Is Overtaking Warren Buffett With Berkshire Hathaway 2.0

Over the past decade, Chamath Palihapitiya has solidified himself as one of the greatest investors. Chamath’s vision goes beyond his investing skills, as he plans to build the next Berkshire Hathaway with a slightly different approach. In this video, I cover how Chamath is overtaking Warren Buffett with Berkshire Hathaway 2.0.

Buffett’s Chance for a Blockbuster Deal Faded When Fed Stepped In

Warren Buffett struck some of his famous deals — taking lucrative stakes in Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and General Electric Co. — by swooping in when others panicked during the last financial crisis. He’s treading more carefully this time around.

With a record $137 billion of cash piled up at his Berkshire Hathaway Inc., Buffett fielded questions over the weekend from shareholders who wanted to know why he hadn’t acted as companies clamored for liquidity amid the pandemic-related shutdowns. This crisis is different, Buffett said.

“We have not done anything because we don’t see anything that attractive to do,” Buffett said at his annual shareholder meeting, which was held by webcast. The deals in 2008 and 2009 weren’t done to make “a statement to the world,” he said. “They seemed intelligent things to do and markets were such that we didn’t really have much competition.”

The famous investor’s reputation allowed him to serve as a lender of last resort during the 2008 financial crisis, racking up deals that generated 10% annual dividends from household-name companies. But as panic about the virus and shutdowns assaulted equities in March and even began to freeze debt markets, the Federal Reserve beat him to the punch with an unprecedented set of emergency measures.

“There was a period right before the Fed acted, we were starting to get calls,” Buffett said at Saturday’s meeting. “They weren’t attractive calls, but we were getting calls. And the companies we were getting calls from, after the Fed acted, a number of them were able to get money in the public market frankly at terms we wouldn’t have given.”

Buffett’s cautious reaction to the latest crisis drew plenty of attention from investors. While Berkshire bought back $1.7 billion of its shares in the first quarter, it was a net seller of stocks through April as it shed stakes in four major U.S. airlines.

The approach seems to put him in the camp of other notable investors who think markets may not have seen the worst of the impact from the pandemic. Buffett said the prospect of buying back Berkshire’s own stock isn’t much more attractive than it was in January, even as the share price dropped.

“He received much more demanding questions,” said Tom Russo, who oversees investments including Berkshire shares at Gardner Russo & Gardner LLC.

The sale of stakes in Delta Air Lines Inc., Southwest Airlines Co., American Airlines Group Inc. and United Airlines Holdings Inc. continues Buffett’s tumultuous history with the industry. He swore off the sector years ago after a troubled bet on USAir, then in 2016 he dove back in. In March, he told Yahoo Finance that he wouldn’t be selling airline stocks.

“Well, he just rejoined Airlines Anonymous,” said Bill Smead, chairman and chief investment officer of Smead Capital Management, which owns Berkshire shares.

Buffett, Berkshire’s chairman and chief executive officer, gained fame for turning a struggling textile company into a conglomerate now valued at $444 billion. But as Berkshire swelled in size, the billionaire investor struggled to supercharge its growth amid soaring valuations in the recent bull market. That’s weighed on Berkshire’s stock price, as the Class A shares fell 19% this year, more than the 12% decline in the S&P 500 Index, and have trailed the benchmark’s returns over the past decade.

In the meantime, Berkshire’s companies keep throwing off earnings, building the $137 billion cash pile that’s equal to nearly 31% of Berkshire’s market value. Buffett acknowledged that Berkshire doesn’t need that much on hand, adding that he still aims to keep his company as a “Fort Knox,” stout enough to weather the pandemic.

Buffett said he couldn’t promise Berkshire would outperform the S&P over the next decade, but he could vow not to be reckless. Maintaining that discipline is gratifying to longtime investors, said James Armstrong, who manages money, including Berkshire shares, as president of Henry H. Armstrong Associates.

“He bears a lot of responsibility and he never has any trouble remembering that Berkshire isn’t his,” Armstrong said. “Despite the criticism in the press and the public eye that he should deploy that cash, he continues to, every day, make his calculation of price to value and say, ‘I either see a good investment or I don’t.”’

Berkshire’s meeting lacked the familiar presence of his longtime business partner, Charlie Munger, as well as the thousands of audience members who normally attend the event in Omaha, Nebraska. Buffett said that Munger, 96, was still in fine health, but it didn’t make sense for him to travel from California or to have another vice chairman, Ajit Jain, come in from the East Coast in this age of social distancing.

Buffett, 89, instead was joined by a top deputy who lives just hours from Omaha, Greg Abel. A vice chairman overseeing the non-insurance units, Abel is considered a candidate to take over the CEO job someday. While Buffett still dominated the time, Abel spoke up about incoming calls before the Fed acted and gave investors a taste of his leadership style and his knowledge of Berkshire’s varied operations.

Buffett’s businesses haven’t been spared the effects of the shutdowns. The railroad BNSF reported reduced volumes as Covid-19 disrupted commerce, while footwear and apparel businesses were hit with a 34% decline in first-quarter earnings.

Munger said earlier this year that some small Berkshire units might not reopen after the pandemic. Buffett clarified the point, saying Berkshire was never willing to prop up a business amid unending losses. “There are businesses that were having problems before and that have even greater problems now,” he said.

Buffett remains cautious about the current crisis, saying that the range of economic possibilities was “extraordinarily wide.” Still, he ended the meeting on his classic optimistic note that people should never bet against America. And he left open the possibility that Berkshire’s dealmaking days will return.

The panic in markets “changed dramatically when the Fed acted, but who knows what happens next week or next month or next year? The Fed doesn’t know. I don’t know and nobody knows,” Buffett said. “There’s a lot of different scenarios that can play out. And under some scenarios, we’ll spend a lot of money. And under other scenarios, we won’t.”