Progressives At The Bat

Something is happening in the political world. Folks are beginning to catch on. They’re beginning to see the linkage between surging wealth for the few and austerity for the rest, and longing for a return to America’s post-War II fair wealth distribution and prosperity for the many economic model. Here’s a baseball season poetry knockoff describing what this might mean in the next election…

Progressives At The Bat

It looked extremely rocky for progressives in D.C.,
The folks they’d long depended on to others bent a knee,
The White House rarely answered calls, the Senate mostly cowed,
Tea party members ran the House, “We’ll make the rules,” they vowed.

But out there where the Beltway gang is rarely ever seen,
In countless places o’er the land where the living had gone mean,
The days of settling for a phrase, for promises unmet,
A spirit craving real change, these bad times did beget.

Yes in our nation’s capital they still ain’t yet caught on,
They still to Wall Street genuflect, buy the right’s self-serving yarn,
They don’t sense the awakening, ain’t twigged to where it’s at,
That progressives next election day will swing the big vote bat.

Michael Silverstein is a former Bloomberg News senior editor;
his latest book is Gorilla Warfare Against The Bureaucratic
State (Confessions of a Lefty Libertarian).


Why Hillary Shouldn’t Be The Democratic Party’s Standard Bearer

Hillary Clinton outlined her economic policies the other day. They were billed as helping working Americans, giving a boost to the middle class. And they would do that. Sort of.

When you look at her proposals concerning sick leave and minimum wages and equal pay and gender equality generally in the workplace, they look very, very familiar. That’s because some of them have been on the books in countries with advanced economies for more than a hundred years, and are even already on the books of many developing countries today.

On these shores they would indeed make economic life better for many people. Marginally. They would take the edge off some of the additional nastiness and pain so many Americans have experienced in recent years. But they are a palliative, not a fundamental improvement, when it comes to this country’s real economic woes.

That’s because we’ve had an economic coup in our economy. The top one-tenth of one percent have taken control of key economic levers. The result isn’t just that the very top have benefited while the middle has wallowed. Not just a failure of trickle down. The vast enrichment at the very top HAS TAKEN PLACE AT THE EXPENSE OF THE MIDDLE.

We’ve been robbed. A genuine counter-coup, not the equivalent of longer coffee breaks, is needed to redress things.

Hillary Clinton might get the middle class longer coffee breaks. But she’ll never be the leader of a needed economic counter coup. She’s the same old same old, same promises, same travails down the same old unhealthy economic trails.

Democratic voters were conned by our first black president. You want to be conned again by our first woman president? You want to make history again, or do you want to thrive again?

No to Hillary. Been there. Done that. Want better.

Michael Silverstein’s new book:

Obama Prepares For His Last Great Sellout

President Obama Prepares For His Grand Sellout

Barack Obama, like the Clintons, is a creature of Wall Street. He’s a servant of this country’s currently dominant political force — the very rich and very richest, a group that styles itself the best and brightest.

His ability to totally sell out the interests of his party, the people that party purports to represent, and the country generally, however, has been restrained since he took office by a congress at least partially controlled by Democrats.

The Democrats lost control of the senate on Tuesday, and that restraint is now removed. Mr. Obama will now be free to do what he was put into office to do — completely sell out the poor and middle class to the lasting benefit of his rich and incredibly rich principals.

The mechanism by which he will do so was summed up in just a few words that appeared in a November 2 New York Times story: “Expecting a less friendly Congress after the election, President Obama’s aides are mapping out compromises with Republicans to expand trade and overhaul taxes.” Mitch McConnell, who wii soon head a Republican Senate, himself said he believed he and the President would at least be able “to work together on trade and taxes.”

You bet they will.

These compromises, no matter how packaged, will not only favor big corporate and financial interests to an extraordinary extent at the expense of everyone else, they will be so structured as to make serious future revisions extremely difficult.

Vast income inequality, an economic alpha-beta society, skewed maker and taker-based policy making, will be institutionalized. And because of Clinton-Obama domination of the Democratic Party apparatus, no real progressive populism will ever be allowed to take control of this once great vehicle of positive political and economic change.

It’s probably too late to stop the soon to appear Great Obama Sellout and its inevitable consequences. So then…

Let the slow, painful, challenged-at-every-turn creation of a new third party in this country begin in earnest.

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.)

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:

My 2016 Dream Ticket — Sanders And Paul

My dream presidential ticket in 2016 is a lefty libertarian ticket. Bernie Sanders and Rand Paul.

If this sounds strange, it shouldn’t. The Democrats were always a party that sought to keep Wall Street in check. Then in the 1990s Bill Clinton wedded this party to The Street. Republicans were long a party of openness on social and personal issues. Then fundamentalism took over a large part of its agenda in these realms and the result was that very, very curious McCann-Palin union. A Sanders/Paul ticket is no more inherently strange a mix that the ones now in place in our two major parties.

Beyond this, it would have enormous popular appeal. Especially for turned off youthful voters, conned on Hope and Change, unhappy about fundamentalist threats to their chosen ways of life. What these and so many other voters want are the things Sanders and Paul offer — Decency and Freedom.

Could this pairing win the election as a third party offering? Probably not, given the way our electoral system has been rigged. However…

Imagine this pair on the same platform with the same-old, same-old big buck beards put up by the national Democratic and Republican organizations. They would bring front and center the two greatest threats to our national polity — a perverted form of crony capitalism, and an overreaching presence of government snoops and private data miners in individual American lives.

Sanders and Paul in 2016. Decency and Freedom.

(Michael Silverstein’s newest book is The Devil’s Dictionary Of Wall Street, now available from Amazon.

Popularity Of Congress Soars!

A few months ago the approval rating of the U.S. congress reached its lowest point in history — perhaps the lowest point of any legislature in world history — just 8 percent. But that was then. According to a just released survey, that number has changed dramatically.

The percentage of Americans who now think congress is doing a good or excellent job has soared to 10 percent. Eight percent to 10 percent. This is a massive 25 percent improvement!

Perhaps most exciting and positive for congress watchers when it comes to popularity is the congressional vacation schedule. Like most hard working Americans, congress has just begun its annual five week vacation (you also get a five week vacation each year, right?) And since it won’t be in session conducting business, or conducting no business as has been the case for a very long time, there will be less occasion for 90 percent of the American people to feel an even greater contempt for the institution than they currently feel. The approval rating of congress is thus likely to soar further in this five week period, maybe getting into the mid teens.

Keep it up congress. One in ten Americans think you are doing a good or excellent job and deserving of your $170,000-a-year salary and the attractive health plan you just voted for yourself under Obamacare. And if you decide not to get back into session after a five week layover, well, that would be OK, too.

(Now available from Amazon in print and ebook formats — Michael Silverstein’s The Devil’s Dictionary Of Wall Street.)

Bill Clinton, Robert Rubin, Marc Rich — How The Democratic Party Sold Out To Wall Street

Robert Rubin was the smartest guy in a room full of guys who thought they were the smartest guy in the room. When Bill Clinton appointed him Treasury Security, Rubin explained to the president how the U.S. economy could get a quick shot of prosperity at the same time Wall Street got a huge burst of profits, in a way that also guaranteed that the Clintons could always use New York City as their political and personal ATM.

President Clinton bought in (or was bought out, if you prefer). Wall Street was unleashed, a process that climaxed with the trashing of Glass-Steagall in 1999, a move that in essence put taxpayers on the hook if Wall Street greed and excess went really, really awry. Wall Street reciprocated by giving big to the Democratic Party (a deal is a deal). Barack Obama bought into the same deal after the 2008 market crash and played his part in the arrangement by appointing Wall Street enabler Tim Geithner to be his Treasury Secretary.

There was still something missing, however — at least from Wall Street’s perspective. A legal thing.

Sure, Wall Street was free to “innovate” in ways that made huge fortunes for the folks at the top of the The Street heap. But if this “innovation” was so egregious and flagrantly dishonest that Main Street howled loud enough, there was still the danger that the biggest innovators might go to the slammer. And what’s the point of sucking a billion or two from an infinitely corruptible system if you have to a spend a year or two in a federal lock-up, even a minimum security one with a pool and tennis courts?

Enter the Marc Rich solution to this conundrum.
Rich, who just died at the age of 78, was a commodities trader. He fled to Switzerland in 1983 to get away from federal indictments charging him with 50 counts of wire fraud, racketeering, illegally trading with Iran, and evading more than $40 million in income taxes.

Rich’s wife gave generously to the Democratic party while hubby enjoyed his time in the Alps until 1999. The day before leaving office that year Bill Clinton pardoned Rich, allowing him to return to this land of commodities trading opportunity a free man.

What was really interesting in this pardon — at least to those who closely monitor the decline in this country’s public integrity — was the reason President Clinton gave for the pardon. It was stated that Rich could be pardoned because he shouldn’t have been charged with criminal violations at all, but with civil ones. You know, civil offenses. Like wire fraud, racketeering, illegal trading with a country under U.S. embargo, and tax evasion.

Fast forward to the present. In the wake of the 2008 financial disaster, Wall Street’s greed and arrogance operating in a milieu of trashed government regulation has brought extreme misery to huge numbers of people in this country and around the world. Nonetheless, not a single high level Wall Street miscreant has gone to jail for his part in massive fraudulent schemes. And the reason? Our Department of Justice has made it clear it does not consider such deeds criminal in nature. After the Rich pardon, they are merely deemed civil infractions to be excused with fines paid with money made in the frauds.

Summing up: Bobbie (Rubin) and Billy (Clinton) concocted Wall Street-friendly schemes that among other things neutralized the Democratic Party as a traditional buffer against Wall Street predation, a role that had traditionally only been played by Republicans. And Richie (Marc) Rich’s pardon provided a template, a mechanism, that perpetually excuses even the worst Wall Street slime from criminal punishments.

(Coming very soon from Michael Silverstein: The Devil’s Dictionary Of Wall Street.)

Barack Obama Is Destroying The Democratic Party Brand

The Tea Party’s influence is destroying the Republican brand. A Republican Party with a rich tradition of being moderate with conservative leanings, sensible and willing to negotiate to advance bi-partisan objectives, has been turned into a my-way-or-the-highway gaggle of ideological cranks.

Alas, things are little better on the other side of the political aisle. There, a president who is historic in terms of symbolizing a great step forward in this country’s race relations is proving equally historic in terms of destroying the very soul of the party that brought him to office. Barack Obama is quite clearly and quite tragically destroying the Democratic Party brand.

What is this brand: Concern for the poor, and ferocious defense of government programs that help this part of our national population; equally ferocious in protecting the interests of the huge and vital American middle class from predation by this country’s upper economic tier; safeguarding the regulatory controls over companies that befoul the environment, and over a Wall Street whose value to society is never best served by letting it pursue its own worst predilections unimpeded.

Barack Obama has failed to serve any of these traditional Democratic branded imperatives. He has sometimes stood above the fray when they were challenged, or more often, joined the fray in ways that worked against these imperatives. His excuse (when he’s bothered making ome rather than just railing against Democratic progressives) is that ‘the other guys’ won’t let him do otherwise. An excuse, if true, which simply admits that he isn’t up to the job he was elected to perform.

Barack Obama’s presidency isn’t just a bump on the road of the Democratic Party. It is doing something far more destructive when it comes to the party’s brand. It is saying to believers in this brand that resistance to Wall Street and one percent domination is futile. That the economic powers that run this country can never be challenged, no matter which party is formally in power in Washington. That an attractive-seeming progressive ‘reformer’ will henceforth always be just another beard for the real economic rulers.

The Democratic Party of the United States of America is the longest running, continuously operating political grouping in the world. Barack Obama didn’t initiate its slide into a tragic irrelevance in the people’s service. He seems, however, well on his way to finishing the job.

So long old Democratic Party friend. You were long a good pal. R.I.P.

(Coming soon from Michael Silverstein — The Devil’s Dictionary Of Wall Street)