Greg Rhyno's WHO BY FIRE, the first novel in the Dame Polara mystery series, has sold to Marc Côte at Cormorant Books in a three-book deal.

This new series follows a reluctant detective who must rely on the skills she learned from her hardboiled PI father to uncover and survive a dangerous arson conspiracy.

"Like so many reluctant detectives before her, Dame Polara's complex past and detective dad makes her the perfect person to find and pursue wrong-doing amidst the moral decay around her and in Toronto,” says The Rights Factory agent Sam Hiyate. “Rhyno has given us a new, big-hearted and compelling character to follow in her first three big cases."

Learn more about Greg on his website.

This is the final installment of a 3-part essay about the current American dilemma by The Rights Factory’s Kamal Gupta, author of PLAY IT RIGHT. Click here to read Part 1 and Part 2.

Part 3: The Way Forward

The first step towards a solution is recognizing that the real battle in America is between corporations and people. It is a fight that transcends the political, racial, and geographic tensions that are being continuously inflamed by those in charge. The fight against corporatism should unite ninety-nine percent of the country, from progressives to conservatives, from the left to the right, from the coasts to the heartland, from those that adore Trump to those that abhor him, and from one end of the racial spectrum to the other. The disputes between these groups pale in significance to the real battle they need to face jointly. I am not trying to minimize the influence of race in America or the deep scars of slavery. However, I believe that we first need to deal with the gaping wound in the heart of the nation. If and when we have done that, only then will we be able to address the other challenges facing us.

Uniting the country will not be easy. Virtually every apparatus of the establishment is vested in keeping it divided and ensuring that one half of the country is at the throat of the other. Every minor skirmish between the two warring factions is instantly turned into a tool for political fundraising. Mainstream media does everything it can to keep its audience in a perpetual state of fear of the other side. And Section 230 has made sure that social media companies suffer no consequences for their role in exacerbating the problem.

As bleak as the situation appears, there is a way out of this mess. For starters, America is in desperate need of a third or even a fourth credible political party. The two parties have effectively turned into abusive parents of the American public. Every election cycle turns into rebellion against the parent that is currently in power, forcing the children to bounce back-and-forth between the Democrats and the Republicans. The only escape from this vicious cycle is the creation of new political parties. A more vibrant American democracy will also lead to less rancor and more compromise. In the 2021 German elections, the top three parties won 25.7%, 24.1%, and 14.8% of the vote respectively, forcing the formation of a three-way alliance. An alliance, by definition, requires compromise which has become a dirty word in today’s American political climate. Only by breaking the stranglehold of the two party system will compromise be possible in a deeply-divided country. One doesn’t have to be religious to understand that a house divided against itself cannot stand. We must stop seeing our political opponents as our enemy and a multi-party governing coalition would go a long way in achieving that goal.

Elections in America need to be state funded instead of being paid for by corporations if for no other reason than to foster more competition. The obscene amount of money required to fight an election today makes it extraordinarily difficult for an outsider to enter the political arena. The first amendment states that “Congress shall make no law….abridging the freedom of speech.” Restricting political ads on TV, however, is not the same as restricting free speech. You are still free to stand at a street corner and shout all you like or hand out leaflets to passersby. Print was the only form of mass media in the 18th century (when the first amendment was drafted) and the framers of the constitution could not have imagined a scenario whereby one person’s shouting would be instantly broadcast to every household in the country.

It is also imperative to lengthen the election cycle in America. A national election every two years ensures that there is never any time to govern. The country is in a perpetual state of campaigning where as soon as a presidential election ends, talk immediately turns to midterms (and vice versa). A freshly elected president, having spent the past two years as a candidate, is forced to govern with an eye towards the next election. The two-year election cycle also forces Republicans and Democrats into constant fundraising. It is far easier to raise money when you are fighting a war and not merely an election. The two sides have increasingly begun to see each other as enemies and not as political opponents, a phenomenon gleefully cheered on by mainstream media. Eliminating midterms will at least halve the wars being fought and lower the temperature of the nation.

While the election cycle needs to be lengthened, elections themselves need to be shortened. Obama launched his candidacy in February 2007, almost two years before taking office in January 2009. In contrast, campaigns in Germany, UK, and Canada only last six weeks, 60 days and 50 days respectively. A shorter campaign will result in reduced election spending which, in turn, will lower corporate influence in America’s governance.

Massive stock option grants to CEOs must become a thing of the past. Corporate chieftains need to focus on their company’s long-term business prospects and the welfare of their employees, not the day-to-day fluctuations in their net worth. Antitrust laws need to be applied vigorously to break up monopolies and to encourage competition. It has been four decades since a company of any size was broken up by the U.S. government. It is time to use this tool again, against businesses ranging from social media companies to financial corporations to airlines.

More than anything else, America needs to manufacture again, to provide dignity and well-paying jobs to those that can’t afford college or don’t wish to attend. As a young immigrant to America in the 1980s, I was struck by the fact that anyone who wanted to work could get a job and attain a decent standard of living. Thanks to three decades of corporatism, this is no longer possible. A sustained apprenticeship program will go a long way towards retrieving some what has been lost. The pandemic-related supply chain problems of 2021 can also be traced back to the decimation of the U.S. manufacturing base. Producing more goods in America will also help curtail the growing global influence of China, which is a stated goal of both political parties.

Universities should, at a minimum, expand enrollment in line with population growth and end legacy admissions. There is also no reason for their endowments to be tax-free. Drew Gilpin Faust’s signature achievement as the President of Harvard (2007 to 2018) was to raise nine billion dollars for the university endowment, a run rate of $3.2 million dollars every weekday! Not surprisingly, she joined the board of Goldman Sachs shortly after leaving the presidency.

The Federal Reserve must realize that its mandate is to foster economic growth and not to sustain the stock market. The pandemic has brought out the worst in the Fed’s senior leadership and change is desperately needed in the way it conducts business. The Fed also needs to acknowledge its role in increasing inequality in America (a decade of QE has led to sharp rise in the price of financial assets which are predominantly owned by the rich) and needs to turn its focus towards helping the average American. It would help if the revolving door between the government and private enterprise were to get jammed instead of spinning like a flywheel.

As far as the media goes, the solution is fairly straightforward; just turn the TV off. Only a total boycott of these channels will bring them to their senses. Who knows, maybe CNN will even go back to its roots and focus on reporting the news instead of the incessant blathering of “let’s discuss.”

None of this will be easy. I don’t expect political and corporate leaders to suddenly develop a conscience and start acting in the public’s interest. It is, however, impossible to find a solution without first understanding where the real problem lies.

Interested in reading more from Kamal Gupta? PLAY IT RIGHT is on sale now.

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Updated: May 26

This is the second installment of a 3-part essay about the current American dilemma by The Rights Factory author Kamal Gupta, author of PLAY IT RIGHT. Click here to read Part 1.

A Fine Mess

The revolving door between big business and the U.S. government has ensured that there is no public service in America anymore (at least at the top). A stint in government has turned into either a tax payoff for past earnings (Hank Paulson) or a prelude to post-retirement riches (Timothy Geithner). The door at the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) is especially fast-spinning and has led to corporations rarely being held to account for their misdeeds. When caught, they simply pay a fine and go back to conducting business as usual, a luxury that is almost never afforded to an individual. It almost makes one wonder if CEOs consider fines to be just another cost of doing business.

Not a single Wall Street chief executive was held to account for their role in the great financial crisis of 2008. This is particularly shocking in light of the fact that the companies they ran paid crisis-related fines in excess of fifty billion dollars! In fact, the roots of the financial crisis can be traced back to an April 2004 SEC change in the net capital rule that allowed investment banks to sharply increase their risk taking. Not surprisingly, the change was championed by a gang of broker-dealer CEOs led by Hank Paulson of Goldman Sachs himself. By a supreme irony the three men charged with steering the US out of the 2008 financial crisis — Paulson, Bernanke and Geithner — all played a role in igniting the conflagration in the first place.

One financial institution in particular, HSBC, incurred fines repeatedly from 2007 to 2019 for abuses ranging from laundering money for drug traffickers to manipulation of the foreign exchange market. And yet, the company itself never faced any criminal charges. In a particularly cruel twist, the authorities arrested two of HSBC’s currency traders for an insider trading scheme that generated a whopping eight million dollars in profits even as the bank itself was paying fines by the billions. Likewise, Boeing resolved the 737 Max-related criminal charges — “conspiracy to defraud the United States” — by paying $2.5 Billion. The Department of Justice claimed that this “agreement holds Boeing and its employees accountable,” when it did no such thing. The company’s CEO, Dennis Muilenberg, was allowed to walk away with a $58 million payoff despite being partly responsible for the deaths of 346 innocents.

Any doubts about how CEOs perceive these fines were removed in a 2013 conversation between Senator Elizabeth Warren and Jamie Dimon, the CEO of the banking giant J.P. Morgan. When confronted by the senator about his company potentially breaking the law, he replied, “So hit me with a fine. We can afford it.” I doubt if Dimon would have been quite so smug if any of his compatriots had been imprisoned after the 2008 financial crisis.

The supreme court has also come down on the side of corporations, giving them the first amendment right to make unlimited political expenditures (Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission). The idea of corporate personhood is not a new one and the 2012 Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, embraced it while saying, “corporations are people too.” If corporations are people too then, in a country with the world’s highest per-capita incarceration rate, why don’t we see more corporations (or at least their CEOs) being jailed for their crimes?

Corporations are not people. They are a structure created by mankind for profit and to hide behind whenever any wrongdoing comes to light. Not a single Wells Fargo executive was jailed for fraudulently creating millions (millions!) of accounts without the bank’s customers’ consent or knowledge. As always, the company simply paid a fine and moved on. That fine, several billion dollars, might have appeared large on the surface but it represented a small fraction of the corrupt bank’s annual pre-scandal profits.

It wasn’t always this way. I believe that America’s slide into corporatism began with a bill passed in the early days of the Clinton administration. Here is a description of the law from the U.S. treasury’s website:

This legislation capped a public company’s corporate income tax deduction at $1 million per year for amounts paid to each of its top five executives. This $1 million limit includes income from salary, bonuses, stock grants, and other compensation, but it does not include income that relates to performance pay such as a non-equity incentive plan, stock options, stock appreciation rights, pensions, and deferred compensation (if deferred until after retirement).

The gaping loophole in the law relating to performance pay set the stage for a dramatic shift in CEO pay — from salary, bonuses, and stock, to stock options. With their compensation now highly levered to the price of their company’s stock, CEOs set about maximizing their pay with gusto.

Simply speaking, the price of any stock boils down to the price-to-earnings (PE) ratio multiplied by profits (revenue minus expenses). The PE ratio is determined by the market at large and is beyond a CEO’s control. And, for the most part, so is revenue. An increase in demand comes from either building better products or a growth in population, both of which happen slowly. The fastest way for a chief executive to boost profits, and by extension his stock price, is to cut expenses.

The easiest way to cut costs was to move factories and call centers overseas, a process aided by the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) which also went into effect in 1993. Since then, it seems like every factory in America has moved to China or Mexico and every call center to India, a shift that has left the American worker stranded. This so-called “globalization” was championed as much by Democrats as it was by Republicans (The two parties may not agree on much but they are united in their love for corporate cash). Globalization bears a significant responsibility for the hollowing out of the US middle class and the ensuing opioid crisis in the heartland. It is also to blame for America’s massive trade deficits. The US trade deficit with China alone ballooned from a meager $10 billion in 1990 to a whopping $418 billion in 2018 (It has come down since but is still over $300 billion). Likewise, the trade deficit with Mexico has gone from zero to over $100 billion.

The CEO of the world’s most valuable corporation, Apple, earned $98.7 million in 2021, the vast majority of which came from stock options. Even though every iPhone proudly states “Designed by Apple in California,” it is public knowledge that the company manufactures virtually all of its products overseas. By Apple's own account, it supports almost five million jobs in China as opposed to just two million in America. A 2012 article in Harvard Business Review — a publication not exactly known for defending workers’ rights — claimed that Apple has to (has to!) manufacture in China because “There is simply no factory capable of employing 250,000 workers day and night in the USA.” The article concludes that Apple's location decision “isn’t really about labor costs” but about managing manufacturing risk, as if the two can ever be separated. The write-up is also mute about the political and social climate in China that makes such a marshalling of resources possible.

While all of this is bad news for the American worker, it has been nothing but roses for the U.S. stock market. Over the last three decades, the S&P 500 has climbed ten-fold, creating tens of trillions of dollars in wealth. The overwhelming majority of these trillions have gone to the top 1% whose net-worth has increased lockstep with the stock market, from $5 trillion in 1990 to $44 trillion in 2021. The one-percenters today own an astonishing one-third of total wealth in America while the bottom half’s share amounts to an embarrassing 2%.

It would be difficult to argue therefore that the institutions of America are working for the benefit of its population. The rage against the state of affairs is understandable but, instead of directing it against each other, it needs to be channeled towards bringing about real change.

Interested in reading more from Kamal Gupta? PLAY IT RIGHT is on sale now.

Order from Amazon (US)

Order from Amazon (Canada)

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