Take A Billionaire Out To Dinner — It’s The Least You Can Do

The New York Times today reported that a former associate of Mitt Romney at Bain Capital is writing a book that purports to show why greater income inequality is good for the economy, and also benefits the 99 percent-plus who haven’t been cunning or well connected enough to become super-rich.

His argument, in brief, is this: most of the money garnered by these super rich worthies isn’t spent on their own luxuries. Rather, it is invested in ways that generate wealth that ends up being shared by all — though admittedly, the less cunning and well-connected 99 percenters do have to settle for much, much smaller shares.

The fact this this love-thy-economic-betters author is a former Wall Street colleague of a guy who is now running for President, a guy who sadly (that darn old democratic system) must appeal to more than half of today’s economically aggrieved 99 percenters, is probably not appreciated by the Romney camp. Maybe they shouldn’t feel that way, however. Maybe the rest of us shouldn’t feel that way either.

Maybe extraordinarily high levels of wealth concentration are good for everyone. I mean sure, it hasn’t proven to make most Americans wealthier in recent years. It hasn’t generated huge numbers of well paying jobs (or any other kind for that matter) at a time when this concentration has grown and grown. Indeed, it hasn’t made for an economy nearly as satisfying and secure and productive as when such concentration wasn’t nearly as evident, as during the post-WW II period between 1945 and the coming of Reagan.

But heck. Why focus on current realities, or the realities of recent decades past? Let’s focus instead on the economic theorizing of a super rich former Bain partner of Mitt Romney. And let us all then genuflect in the appropriate manner.

If this doesn’t seem a good enough of show of appreciation, why not invite a 0.01 percenter out to dinner to show your gratitude for the wonderful things he’s done for us all? And if that requires cashing in pension savings to make this best and brightest person comfortable at table with the fare we provide, cash in your pension savings (or what’s left of it). It’s the least you can do.

All hail Bain Capital! All hail Wall Street and the increasing number of tasty morsels it provides for vulture funds like Bain! Let us now all tap our heels together, mutter “death to regulation and progressive taxation,” and queue up to follow Bain folk down the iron pyrite brick road being laid out for us this coming election day.

*****

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Selig Cartwright, Goldman Sachs Washroom Attendant: Helping Mr. B. Make A Major PAC Decision

Mr. B. You’re back again. Nothing bad on the digestive front, I hope.

No. Selig. I actually came by to talk with you about something important. To get your advice. Can we sit down and chat?

Sit down, sir? This is a washroom. The only places where we could…

Point taken. We can chat standing. Do you know what a political action committee is, Selig? A PAC?

Yes sir. They’re things that promote free speech. They free the media from the clutches of socialist indigents and allow decent rich people to finally get a hearing.

Exactly, Selig. Though I’m surprised a washroom attendant like yourself has this sophisticated level of understanding.

It’s because I listen to a lot of a.m. talk radio when no one else is around, sir. One of my friends is also the attendant at the Supreme Court men’s room in Washington, and he keeps me up to date on the court’s thinking about money and free speech.

The Supreme Court, you say. I’ve always wondered something about those people. Those long black robes they wear. When they have to use a washroom, how do they…you know…how do they manage…never mind. I need your advice on something else, Selig.

I live to serve, sir.

Indeed you do, Selig. Indeed you do. Here’s the thing. Some of the gang here at Goldman are thinking of contributing to a PAC. Naturally this will be chump change for us, but for people in Washington its crumbs to die for.

I’m a bit short of cash right now, Mr. B. Maybe you could come around at Christmas time if I get a bonus this year.

No need to grovel, Selig. I’m not here for a contribution. I just need some advice. The actual contributors would be the firm’s top earners, the best and brightest people, the job creators, the fighters for an opportunity society. Our problem is that being so bright and working so hard to create jobs, we don’t have time for much contact with little people like yourself. In my own case, except for a gardener who I can’t understand half the time, you’re the only little person I meet with on a regular basis.

Perhaps if you changed your diet, sir. That taco parlor you frequent. You might try eating lunches elsewhere, too.

Focus, Selig. Focus. The focus here is on which party — from your average little person perspective — should get our free speech. Should get our money. They both slobber for it. And no matter what they say at election time, they’ll both do our bidding after the election. But I still need your opinion on which to support with our free speech.

Why do you care about my opinion, sir, if both parties are in your pocket anyway?

Because, Selig, in the event that Wall Street brings the world economy to the brink of disaster yet again, people like you will be called upon for another massive bail out. And we want to be sure the folks in power in Washington then are folks who also had little people’s support this election season. So we all share the blame.

I hope you won’t think I’m sucking up, Mr. B, when I say your thinking here is brilliant, and you are one far-sighted investment banker.

Of course I think you’re sucking up, Selig. That’s expected. Now…into which trough do you suggest we throw some chump change slops?

What the heck, Mr. B. Give ‘em both a taste. It’s only fair to PAC the pair.

‘It’s only fair to PAC the pair.’ Very good, Selig. Even rhymes. I like it. I always seem to come up with good ideas — and good catch phrases like this — when I come down here.

A surprising number of Goldman guys achieve clarity in this very washroom, sir. Up for another visit to Booth #8?

Lead on, McDuff. With your help, I am now Booth 8 ready.

*******

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Note To Democrats In 2012: Pick The Right People To Demonize

If Obama loses the presidency this fall, it will probably be because he ran against the wrong opponent. He ran against Mitt Romney.

Democrats used to know who and how to demonize Republicans in order to win elections. When FDR ran for reelection in 1936, he didn’t run against his official Republican opponent that year, Kansas Governor Alf Landon. He ran against Herbert Hoover. Against Hoovervilles. Against problems the New Deal had not yet fixed because the economic legacy of Herbert Hoover was too awful to fix quickly.

In 2004 the Democrats had another opportunity to demonize and triumph, but blew it that time around. The target they should have gone after that year but didn’t wasn’t sitting President George W. Bush, who, though he had gotten the country into an unpopular war in Iraq and wasn’t presiding over a booming economy, was actually a really likable guy. The demonizing target opportunity here was thus not President Bush. It was others in the Bush Administration.

The John Kerry slogan in 2004 should have been: “A president is known by the company he keeps.” And the demonizing targets should have included Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld. Gale Norton and John Ashcroft, all of whom were generally disliked and distrusted by most Americans, and a few of whom were loathed by a goodly number — a vice-president and powerful cabinet members for whom the likable George W. Bush functioned as the perfect beard.

Which brings us to the current election campaign of 2012. There are early indications that the Obama campaign will focus on running against Mitt Romney, focus on Governor Romney’s own background and present nostrums to reanimate the economy.

Not an altogether bad approach, of course. Romney does come with a lot of baggage. He’s a former CEO of a Wall Street vulture fund. He changes his official views almost daily to accommodate near term political needs. And his nostrums to improve the economy, when you look closely at them, are just a formula to give more to the very rich in hopes they will give some back to everyone else.

All this, however, might not keep Mr. Obama in the White House as the Romney camp points out endlessly, and alas, quite correctly, that the economy hasn’t improved all that much since Obama took office.

What then, might this year’s Obama campaign learn from a past successful FDR campaign and a past unsuccessful Kerry campaign that might be effective in meeting the 2012 Romney challenge?

With regard to the former, endlessly demonize the eight years of George W. Bush in the White House, the massive economic disaster he left behind, and the aim of Mitt Romney to bring back these same Bush policies on an even greater scale. In other words don’t run against Romney, the would-be Obama fixer. Run against Romney the would-be Bush legacy repeater.

And with regard to the company Governor Romney keeps: Congress these days, especially the Republican dominated House of Representatives, has the lowest poll numbers in history. Demonize Romney as the man who will give this extremely unpopular Republican House of Representatives the power to impose its unpopular tax and other stances on the American people. Constantly place before voters the image of Romney the expediter of increasing unpopular Tea Party views and the views of extreme social conservatives.

The 2012 slogan of choice here: “Mitt Romney is known by the company he keeps in Congress, and the company he joined with on the road to his nomination.” Get the focus off the man. Get it on his unpopular associates.

Republicans have mastered the demonize and triumph technique. It’s not nice but it works. Democrats would benefit from playing the same game only better.

******

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Selig Cartwright, Goldman Sachs Washroom Attendant, Does The Second Amendment Fandango

Sorry to bother you, Mr. B. But something happened this morning I thought you should know about.

What is it Selig? A leak in the piping? I hope my Stall #8 hasn’t been flooded.

No, sir. Nothing that serious. It was just that guy who came by this morning. I don’t know who he was, but he said he was here to install gun mounts over the sinks and toilet bowls.

Oh that. No need to worry. He was authorized. Something new we’re offering our staffers. For their protection.

Protection? From what, sir?

Crazed investors. Fanatical terrorists. That sort of thing. Can’t be too careful these days, Selig. Everyone is doing it. Have you heard about that Republican Convention in Tampa, Florida this June?

Yes, sir. Word about it has filtered down to the washroom.

Well, Selig, they’re allowing concealed handguns in the area around the convention site. In some parts of the country you can also carry concealed weapons in bars and schools. So why not have them in the toilet stalls of an investment bank?

When you put it that way, Mr. B., I can see the logic. And I guess anyone who really understands the Constitution would have to conclude the Founding Fathers wanted everyone to have loaded guns at political gatherings, in bars and schools. Very prudent. But in Wall Street washrooms? I don’t know. I mean…

What exactly do you mean, Selig? What’s the problem?

Well, Mr. B., some Wall Street traders who come into washrooms are kind of… sort of… hyper. Overwrought. You know. Losing a few hundred million of other people’s money on a bond bet upsets them.

No reason to get upset over that, Selig.

You’re right, of course, Mr. B. But some traders respond by taking strong stimulants to help get them through the day. And when you combine that with guns you sometimes…

Strong stimulants, Selig? You mean cups of strong, heavily caffeinated coffee.

Of course, sir. What else could I possibly mean?

What else indeed, Selig.

Don’t get me wrong, Mr. B. I’m not saying that anyone, for any reason, most certainly not a highly stimulated trader, should not have ready access to a handgun. Or assault rifle. Or machine pistol. Or a bazooka or hand grenade if that’s what self defense requires. Only that in a Wall Street washroom it might cause occasional difficulties.

Say no more, my good man. Be assured this is only a temporary arrangement. The election coming up in November obliges Wall Streeters to make certain alliances to keep the country from going still further in the wrong direction.

You mean toward socialism, sir?

Yes. There. Big banks and gun super-enthusiasts will have to vote the same side to beat back the socialist beast. And if that means guns above sinks and toilet bowls, what the heck. We go along for a while, after November, the guns disappear. Does that make you happy?

Anything that promotes the interests of investment banks make me happy, sir. Your own Stall #8 is ready, by the way. And the man who came by this morning left a sample gun for you to play with… I mean for you to inspect. I think he called it a ‘MAC-10,’ along with a few banana clips of armor piercing ammo.

Splendid, Selig. Splendid. Forty-round banana clips with armor piercing bullets, you say?

For self-defense, sir. Just give me a few seconds warning before you actually lock and load. I have a family.

*******

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Enter The Gang Of Five

What do you say we get nine leading dentists together to decide the future of our Middle East policies. Sound like a good idea? How about nine highly trained auto mechanics, after hearing all the arguments, deciding how the U.S. tax system should be restructured. How about that one? A good way to go?

These notions are of course idiotic. But no more inherently so than what is happening now in Washington. Here nine jurists, who collectively no sane person would allow to apply a splint to a broken finger, will soon be determining the shape of the U.S. health care system for decades to come.

Health care is a demographic issue, not a legal issue. More people are living longer. Older people need more medical care. The technologies and treatments to provide it are proliferating, and many of the best are also the most costly.

The only feasible way to pay these extra costs over the long term, while also providing at least basic medical coverage for not-so-rich members of our society, is to spread these costs over the entire population. Whether you do this with a public health system, a private system, or as done in most advanced and civilized societies with a combination of the two, you bring everyone into the paying pool. Otherwise, overall health care inevitably becomes rationed and its quality deteriorates.

Isn’t that obvious?

While no court — employing just legal precedents — should therefore have the ultimate responsibility for how national health care is organized, the court that will actually be doing so in this country is the one that befouled our political system with its Citizens United decision.

Hold on to your walker, mama. The Gang Of Five is revving up to do it again.

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Fifteen Feet Beneath Manhattan, art by Kay Wood ©2012              A Dyspeptic's Guide To Contemporary American Politics (In Verse) ©2012

A New Role For The Democratic Party — Comic Relief

Watching elected Democrats in the White House and Congress in the last couple of weeks was like watching a skinny little blowhard getting thrown out of a bar. Lying on the sidewalk he rails at the bouncer who sent him flying, while the bouncer, arms folded, merely smirks as the beaten little guy vents before slouching off.

The Republicans are Washington’s political bouncers these days. They have the measure of the Democrats down perfectly. We won’t compromise, they say, and the Democrats’ response is that if they won’t compromise we must. And like the bar bouncer, the Republicans let the beaten little guy lying on the sidewalk vent because…well, because the scene amuses them.

But why should the Republicans have all the fun? Why shouldn’t the rest of us not share in their amusement — especially those of us foolish enough to have believed the change and hope blather of that articulate Obama fellow, and the twaddle of congressional Democrats that they were actually up to governing effectively? Because once you get over disappointment with the Democrats’ ineptitude, and the shame in yourself for ever having trusted them to advance your interests, these folks are really quite a hoot.

Consider, for example, the amazing misunderstanding of Democratic policy advisers who actually believe that the “compromise” they went along with will give an extra boost to the present “recovery,” and position Democrats to keep the White House in 2012. Forgetting for the moment that this compromise was really a cave in, and the recovery ostensibly going on since June 2009 is a numbers game played by economists with few close links to Main Street reality, even a better economy in 2012 won’t work to the advantage of the President and his party.

Why? Because the Republicans have pulled off a political master stroke. They constrained the Democrats while the latter supposedly controlled all the elected power pieces in Washington, then ran the table during the lame duck session now coming to an end, and will set the agenda completely starting in January. Thus, they will be able to take credit in 2012 for a real recovery if by some miracle one occurs. But if it doesn’t, they will point to Democrats’ numerical control in the Senate and ownership of the White House and again blame the Democrats for economic failure.

Real political power with the option of taking credit for success and avoiding blame for failure. A master stroke. And the Democrats don’t have a clue.

Now ain’t that a hoot? Another great example of Democratic comic relief.

And then there’s the White House’s just initiated attempt to heal things with the liberal wing of its own party. Or the sanctimonious, purist, ungrateful liberal wing of the party as the Obama team likes to say, while folks like James Carville, that well known moderate Democratic strategist, refers to these liberals “gnats.”

Can you just see the meetings between the Obama team and these dissed progressives? The Obama gang desperately trying to triangulate, to appear friendly to the left without looking too friendly because the president’s best-and-brightest advisers are telling him this will turn off independent voters, while the progressives in the room are wondering if they can secret away some of the excellent pastries on the table so they come out of these meetings with at least something of value.

The hoots keep coming. And there’s plenty more to come.

Attention liberals, progressives, lefties, purists, gnats and whatever else they want to call us. We no longer have a dog in this fight. But there’s more to life than politics. A lot more. It’s time to really move on, to focus our energies in non-political realms, and to give our support to people who are worthy of receiving it.
Oh yes. And to read The Times and watch news on Public Television for laughs.