Energy Past And Future by Michael Silverstein

Energy Past And Future
by Michael Silverstein

Why do we raid the burial grounds
Of long dead creatures for coal?
For oil and methane from these old remains
Why are these are energy goal?

The sun and the wind, the motion of waves,
The heat ‘neath our feet underground;
Are there to be tapped, to be used, and enjoyed
Live energy sources abound.

We’ve gone from the horse for private transport,
Keep in touch in a host of new ways;
It’s time, truly time, for a better resort
Navigating the energy maze.


A Progressive’s Call For Smaller Government

Conservatives are shredding the safety net. They say government spending here is getting out of control.

I agree. We have to reduce spending in this realm. And there’s only one sensible and sustainable way to do this: We have to reform the private sector of the economy.

Isn’t that obvious? The main reason more and more people need government aid is because their economic needs aren’t being met by working in the private sector. If they made enough, they wouldn’t need food stamps. If they made enough, they wouldn’t need subsidies to help pay for their health insurance.

Raise the minimum wage, and safety net spending decreases. Rebalance the tax code so it doesn’t unduly favor capital over labor, investors over workers, and fewer working people would qualify for earned income credits that reduce government revenues.

The government safety net that covers the elderly, the disabled and the impoverished young should of course remain in tact. But the part of that safety net that today is growing so quickly because working people are being squeezed in a top-heavy marketplace, could be cut dramatically with reforms of the private sector.

Progressives — ditto the conservatives’ call for smaller government. Just combine the call with the most sensible and sustainable way to bring it about. Marketplace reform.

(Michael Silverstein’s recent books, all available from Amazon, include: The Devil’s Dictionary Of Wall Street, and the comic novels’ Fifteen Feet Beneath Manhattan, The Bellman’s Revenge, and Murder At Bernstein’s.)

What The Democrats Need: A Voice, Not An Echo

In the 1964 presidential race between Barry Goldwater and LBJ, Goldwater got creamed. His conservative principles-based campaign went down to a massive electoral defeat. His campaign slogan, “A voice, not an echo,” appeared to be something the Republican Party would be wise to forget.

Except Republicans didn’t forget that slogan. Instead, a harder edged conservatism took hold of the party and with the passage of time led to its present dominance setting the national agenda.

Today conservative Republicans are the voice. Democrats are the echo. So…

Maybe it’s time for Democrats to find their own voice. A harder edged progressive voice. One that favors labor over capital, workers over investors, students over their bank lenders.. One that doesn’t keep making the hard choices between the economy and the environment because it’s recognized that sound environmental policies create more prosperous economies. One that promotes live energy of solar, wind and geothermal rather than raiding burial grounds for coal and oil to burn.

There’s a powerful progressive voice on many issues such as these. Perhaps not for an immediate 2104 victory. But for real political power in the future.

Progressives—Make 2014 your voice, not a Clinton-Obama echo. There’s no future in being satisfied with the least worst choices.

Fly Cheap, Fly Wheel Well

Two big problems face the airlines industry today. Carriers want to increase their seating capacity without ordering more planes, but because of excessive government regulation they are not permitted to seat passengers on the wings of their aircraft.

The other big problem is airline fares. A lot of people can’t afford them, and this is especially true of young people with little economic opportunity in today’s version of the American Opportunity Society.

So what’s the solution to both these problems? Wheel well seating on both domestic and overseas flights.

Arctic sleeping bags and oxygen breathing equipment do away with any prissy safety concerns about this mode of travel. The airlines get their extra seating with no new plane purchases. Passengers get cheap flights that with one thing and another, after all the comfort cut-backs in recent years, are not that much less comfortable than flying commuter class.

(Michael Silverstein’s latest books: The Devil’s Dictionary of Wall Street, Fifteen Feet Beneath Manhattan, The Bellman’s Revenge, and Murder at Bernstein’s — all available from Amazon)

Personhood For All Living And Non-Living Things

An article in today’s New York Times describes the work of some lawyers seeking to win personhood rights for animals. You know. Dogs, monkeys, rabbits, ferrets, persons like that.

And why the hell not? Charley the Chimp is every bit as much a person as IBM or Apple.

And when you get right down to it, why not open the doors of personhood to single-celled as well as multi-celled creatures. Heck, the bacteria in your gut is also as much a person as some Wall Street corporation.

It would probably take years for the important constitutional issues involving personhood for everyone and everything to reach the Masters Of Law in our Supreme Court. So we’d better get the balling rolling soon. Because to get this critical constitutional issue settled appropriately, we’ll need the court to decide before legal giants like Scalia and Thomas have passed on.

Michael Silverstein’s latest books: The Devil’s Dictionary of Wall Street, Fifteen Feet Beneath Manhattan, The Bellman’s Revenge, and Murder at Bernstein’s — all available from Amazon.

1992: The Year The Battle For Earth Was Lost

It’s Earth Day again. Important People will don flannel shirts and be photographed against a natural wonder or at an alternative energy site. Kids will hear the usual calls to be green while picking up trash in local parks. Scientists will clearly describe how we are massively transforming our planet for the worst in their annual 15 minutes of allotted air time, after which their warnings will be roundly ignored by the Important People in flannel shirts who think they have to keep pandering to polluters to remain Important.

These days it’s often hard to remember that meaningful steps to protect the planet were almost undertaken by Important People. That happened in 1992.

That year the largest gathering of world leaders in history came together in Rio de Janeiro to discuss collective efforts that might be taken to keep planetary systems healthy. George Bush, our president at the time, almost joined this bevy of Important People but backed off at the last minute because of objection from his party’s polluters’ wing.

But Bush was up for reelection in 1992 and the Democratic ticket included not just a very bright guy from Arkansas, Bill Clinton, but Mr. Environment, Al Gore, as his running mate. It was generally thought in environmental circles that if Bill and Al won the White House in 1992, there would be real action, dramatic action, to save the environment, and the proposals that had come out of the Rio environmental confab would get a giant boost.

The general public would certainly have approved such a development. In 1992, every major poll showed that concern about the environment was second only to worries about the economy. And the belief (a sensible belief) that good environmental practices were not the enemy of economic development was widespread.

Clinton-Gore got elected. But alas, it seemed the environment was not the priority they claimed it would be while running for office. Indeed, Washington’s environmentalism quickly devolved into the flannel shirt on Earth Day variety. By the time the administration of these worthies ended, organized environmentalism as a political movement was totally de-balled. It has yet to recover.

As you watch Important People these days making that never ending phony choice between the environment and the economy — as if they were actually distinct priorities —spare a moment to remember 1992. The world almost got it right that year. But Important People ended up thinking they had more Important things to do than save the planet.

Michael Silverstein’s latest books: The Devil’s Dictionary of Wall Street, Fifteen Feet Beneath Manhattan, The Bellman’s Revenge, and Murder at Bernstein’s — all available from Amazon.

Putting The Right Spin On The Income Inequality Argument

Growing income inequality between the top one percent and the rest of the population seems a wonderful political issue for progressives. This will only be true, however, if the issue is framed properly, which has not always been the case.

For starters, it’s important to appreciate that economically speaking, income inequality is both natural and appropriate. You work harder than me, you’re better educated, you’re more skilled, you simply care more about spending your time and energy making a lot of money than I do because I have other priorities, these are just a few of the good reasons why income inequality exists and should exist.

There’s also nothing inherently bad about very large and growing income inequality. You made 100 units of income last year and 200 units this year (a hundred percent income increase), while my own income just went from 10 units to 12 units (a twenty percent increase), so what? For most of us life isn’t a competition over who gets richer, faster before dying. As long as some of the economy’s extra income trickles down, as long as I get my taste, as long as I get a little richer, if you get a lot richer, God bless.

What makes income inequality such a bad thing these days in these United States is thus not that it exists, not even its extent and growth. And contrary to what apologists for this growing disparity claim, not that it is the inevitable and unavoidable consequence of macro economic forces such as technology trends and globalization. The present 99-to-1 divide is simply and obviously the result of an economy that has been engineered to favor of capital over labor, unearned income over earned income, investors and managers over workers.

Phrased another way, the top one percent have enjoyed great additional prosperity at the expense of the 99 percent. Their more is our less.

All kinds of stats and facts could used to illustrate this reality. Here’s a simple and obvious situation that gets the point across.

Imagine a company. The wages of its workers have been kept stagnant while the benefits enjoyed by these workers, once paid by the company, are now paid for in large measure by the workers themselves. The net compensation of these workers declines in consequence. This is the 99 percent story in this situation.

At this same company. Because profits go up when total worker compensation declines, top managers use this to pad their own compensation packages. Shareholders of the company [mostly one percenters because the top 1 percent own two-thirds of all financial securities such as stocks] also get a bump in the form of bigger dividends and capital gains. Such unearned income is taxed at favorable rates, rates much lower than the earned income rates paid by workers. This unearned income is also not subject to the Payroll (Society Security) Tax paid by workers on their earned income [and approximately two-thirds of workers pay more in payroll taxes than income taxes]. This is the 1 percent story in this situation.

The other side’s income inequality argument is well known and well honed. It portrays this growing disparity as a reflection of the success of the deserving, a reflection of the American Dream to achieve great personal wealth, a tribute to the joys of our opportunity society, and those angry over this growing spread as jealous and envious economic losers.

This, then, is the appropriate reply to this argument that doesn’t go against rewarding the successful or the American Dream myth: There’s nothing wrong with income inequality because some people deserve to earn more than others. There’s even nothing intrinsically wrong with great and growing income inequality, as long as everyone wins at least a little while a few are winning very big. But when this great and growing spread results from market and government policies deliberately warped in ways that favor the very few at the expense of the many it’s a very bad thing — bad for the health of our democracy as well as the health of our economy.

(Recent books from Michael Silverstein: The Devil’s Dictionary Of Wall Street; Fifteen Feet Beneath Manhattan; The Bellman’s Revenge; and Murder At Bernstein’s — To contact him:

Real Tax Reform That You Won’t Hear About Elsewhere

We increase the top income tax rate from the present 39.6 to 45 percent and use ALL the new revenue generated, ALL OF IT, to reduce lower income tax rates.

This is NOT a tax increase. No new money flows to the government. It’s merely a tax shifting from the presently under-taxed top to the over-taxed working lower and middle.

This immediately reduces income inequality. It immediately improves the earnings and economic lives of the working middle class and lower paid workers.

It animates the economy immediately by spawning more spending by most Americans who have more net income to spend.

It reduces the growth of poverty, whose biggest cause today is the working lower and middle sliding down.

And this is critical. It does NOT reduce needed investment that grows an economy. Rather, it generates new investment to tap into greater consumer spending — it loosens the strings on the vast billions not being invested by bloated corporations today because there is no consumer spending to justify such investment with all the new jobs this investment would also generate.

Republicans won’t back this approach because they will call it a tax increase (it isn’t, just a tax shifting), and label it class warfare, which is silly since many if not most tax changes benefit some group at the expense of another.

The Democrats won’t back this proposal because they want to tax the rich to fund government programs — not a bad idea in many cases, but a totally separate issue that should be dealt with separately.

This is a proposal that many on the small-government right can support along with people on the generally big-government left.

Why haven’t you heard this simple and obvious way to immediately reduce income inequality, aid the middle class and do the other worthwhile things noted above? Because no one is being paid to peddle the idea.

Michael Silverstein newest books, The Devil’s Dictionary Of Wall Street, and Fifteen Feet Beneath Manhattan, are both available from Amazon.

Dear HP, Please Marry Me

The Supreme Court has recognized a corporation’s constitutional right to political expression. It may soon do the same for a corporation’s right to religious expression. So shouldn’t the right of corporations to marry — not just other corporations via mergers but marry people — be recognized as well? And if a guy like me also happens to have a thing for Hewlett-Packard and wants to hook up, shouldn’t I have the right to pop the question?

Dear HP, Please Marry Me

Dear HP, please marry me
And soon enough we’ll make them see
That man and firm can find a way
To mate, the heck what skeptics say.

Our courtship past was long and bumpy
On the road to rumpy pumpy
But soon, I’m sure, we’ll be much freer
Thanks to Antonin Scalia.

His law proclaims we’re both the same
So will you deign to share my name
And stride the world, head high, a queen
As Hewlett-Packard Silverstein.

(Recent books by this writer, The Devil’s Dictionary Of Wall StreetFifteen Feet Beneath Manhattan, and The Bellman’s Revenge, are all available from Amazon)

Mr. Putin Is Chuckling At The Dinner Table

Before becoming Germany’s foreign minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop was Nazi Germany’s ambassador to Britain in the mid-1930s. There’s a famous story of him dining with Winston Churchill and discussing the war both expected to come soon. Ribbentrop noted that this time around Germany would have Italy as an ally. To which Churchill famously responded: “Only fair. Only fair. We had them last time.”

This remark brought to mind the present deepening involvement of the U.S. and its NATO partners with Ukraine in that country’s struggles with Russia. The new government in Kiev, it should be noted here, was not elected. It came to power when protestors in the country’s capital overthrew the elected government, a corrupt lot to be sure, but no more noticeably corrupt that those now running the Ukrainian government.

So here’s the current scoreboard of who seems to be getting what from out of this crisis. We, the United States and our NATO partners, get to support a badly divided, terribly corrupt, nearly bankrupt state whose finances will require $30 billion or more in loans and grants in the short-term, and heaven only know how much in a longer term to bring the country up to some approximation of western economic standards.

Oh. And we also get the growing hostility of Russia, a country we are very dependent upon for progress with Iran and Syria and budding conflicts in Asia and nuclear disarmament and…well, the list goes on from there.

And what does Russia get from this Ukrainian crisis? Crimea, which is has already taken. And the loss of having to loan billions and billions to a nearly bankrupt state that the West now has to fund (with little chance of ever getting back any of its loans) along with the need not to give Ukraine bargain prices on its gas imports, and good deals on its exports to Russia.

Italy turned out to be a very bad, resource draining partner for Nazi Germany during WWII. Churchill’s quirky prediction summed this up nicely. The West today seems to be making a very similar deal with Ukraine.

We have gained a drain and a pain in Ukraine. Mr. Putin has escaped a set of obligations to Ukraine he didn’t really want and couldn’t really afford. He must be laughing his buns off watching us sink into a hole he has escaped.

(Recent books by Michael Silverstein include The Devil’s Dictionary Of Wall Street and Fifteen Feet Beneath Manhattan)