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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

incomeinequality
You’d think the super rich would be thrilled.

Since the recovery from 2008’s financial crisis began, 95 percent of the wealth created has gone to the richest 1 percent, which is why most Americans feel as if there has been no recovery at all.

But venture capitalist Tom Perkins thinks progressive rhetoric isn’t just reflective of an already shaky middle class that was rocked by the Great Recession — it’s menacing.

“This is a very dangerous drift in our American thinking,” he wrote in a letter to the editors of The Wall Street Journal this weekend. “Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendent ‘progressive’ radicalism unthinkable now?”

The author of Sex and the Single Zillionaire used the German word to describe the night in 1938 when simultaneous attacks across Germany against Jews resulted in tens of thousands of arrests and nearly a hundred deaths. Jews refer to the historic escalation of the Holocaust as “Pogromnacht.”

Perkins not only warns that progressive criticism of inequality may be followed by violence, he connects modern liberalism to the Nazi Party in a way that only makes sense to the far right who play up the “National Socialism” label the party applied to itself. Nearly all of Hitler’s views were right-wing and his rise to power was enabled by rich industrialists.

Perkins stood by his comments in an email to Bloomberg News on Monday. “In the Nazi area it was racial demonization, now it is class demonization,” he wrote.

In a country where millions of mostly poor, mostly minority people are literally imprisoned, but not one banker has gone to jail for a financial crisis that cost our economy millions of jobs and trillions in wealth, Perkins fears for the well-being of the rich, not seeming to understand that the wealthy dominate our political, legal and financial system in a way that the Nazis only imagined the Jews did.

But as The New York Times‘ Paul Krugman points out, the effort to rein in income inequality over the last five years has been more intense than even some progressives realize. Here are five reasons that the richest may not be pleased with President Obama.

Photo: mSeattle via Flickr

Taxes On The Richest Back At Pre-Reagan Levels

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“The Bush tax cuts haven’t gone completely away, but at the very high end they have been pretty much reversed; plus there are additional high-end taxes associated with Obamacare,” Krugman wrote. “The result is that taxes on wealthy Americans have basically been rolled back to pre-Reagan levels.”

And President Obama isn’t done. He’d like to close nonsensical tax breaks for the rich — like the “carried-interest” deduction that allows millionaires like Mitt Romney to pay a lower tax rate than some nurses. The reason progressives don’t see this as some huge victory is that if the GOP would agree to closing such loopholes, the president would agree to reforms, aka “cuts” to Medicare and Social Security. But the GOP’s unwillingness to budge on this issue has led to a shrinking deficit that has made the need for such cuts much less pressing.

But what’s even worse than the end of tax breaks on the rich is what the president is doing with the money.

Taxing The Rich To Help Working People Afford Insurance

Obamacare

Some progressives complain that the Affordable Care Act leaves the private insurance industry intact. And though it regulates its profits for the first time, it forces Americans to buy a private product that would be cheaper if it were administered by the government.

That’s not what’s leading to the progressive Kristallnacht.

Medicaid — which is single-payer health care — is being expanded to cover up to 14 million people whose income puts them just over the poverty level. Also, 17 million Americans are eligible for subsidies to help them afford their insurance and pay no more 9.5 percent of their household income on health insurance. And guess how all of this “taking” is being paid for?

Taxes on the rich and corporations. The result? The people who earn the least benefit the most.

“Under our broadest and most comprehensive income measure we project that incomes in the bottom one-fifth of the distribution will increase almost 6%; those in the bottom one-tenth of the distribution will rise more than 7%,” according to Brookings’ Henry J. Aaron and Gary Burtless.

Photo: LeDawna’s Pics via Flickr

He Adopted The Critiques Of Occupy Wall Street And Fight For Fifteen

minimum-wage RS

President Obama ran for president in 2008 arguing that “our prosperity has always risen from the bottom up.”

As the extent of the Great Recession became clear, the populist movement that helped bring him into office subsided and the energy — as well as the media focus — shifted to the Tea Party, which was arguing for less regulation and taxes, though both being at 60-year lows helped bring about the crisis that fed the movement.

When Occupy Wall Street emerged with its framing of the 99 percent and the 1 percent, it fit right in with the president’s past rhetoric. Thus he aligned with the broad strokes of their message, if not their tactics, by embracing a word that he had rarely used before: “inequality.”

As organized labor supported the “Fight for Fifteen” movement, which is calling for a living wage for fast-food and retail workers, the president made raising the minimum wage a staple of his second-term agenda and is reportedly considering an executive order that will raise the wage for federal contractors.

After decades of government policies creating inequality, President Obama made opposing it both a policy goal and key weapon in his rhetorical arsenal. And while this wasn’t enough for many progressives, the rich have noticed.

Photo: The All-Nite Images via Flickr

Some Success At Reforming Wall Street And Lending

Elizabeth Warren

Wall Street wants you to believe that they lost and are now swimming in regulations that strangle their ability to cause systemic risk to our economy, or earn as much as they deserve.

In reality, some real reforms were included in Dodd-Frank, including Elizabeth Warren’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which advocates on behalf of borrowers for the first time. But much of the regulation has been slowed or minimized by the lengthy process of the writing of rules that financiers have spent millions to influence.

Still, some reform has actually happened largely because Wall Street continued to fumble into scandals like the “London Whale,” and Elizabeth Warren became Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA):

Senator Warren used her new position on the Senate Banking Committee to raise the profile of financial reform. She completely restarted the conversation about criminal settlements and trials for Wall Street wrongdoing. It also became clear that the implementation of several rules had been dragged out not because banks were undermining them, but because, in fact, regulators were fighting for tougher rules.

Warren’s rhetoric helped inspire Occupy Wall Street, and when the president began sounding like her and included her as a primetime speaker at the Democratic National Convention, the 1 percent noticed.

Photo: Office of Governor Patrick via Flickr

The Super Rich Expect To Be Worshipped

Wall Street

President Harry Truman famously said, “I never give them hell. I just tell the truth and they think it’s hell.”

Some very rich people aren’t used to hearing the truth — and why should they have to, when they own yachts that can sail around it?

Talking Points Memo‘s Josh Marshall attributes Tom Perkins’ inability to censor himself and his ludicrous Nazi comparisons to the enormous gulf of wealth separating the über rich from the 99 percent, and the outpouring of criticism for the 1 percent that came about because of financial crisis and the animosity for President Obama, the most progressive president in generations — or at least since the first two years of Bill Clinton’s presidency.

“Quite simply, these were and are folks who just weren’t used to public criticism,” Marshall wrote. “The whole ‘masters of the universe’ mythology was basically, sure we’re massively wealthy. But we’re also the ones keeping the globe we all live on from spinning off its axis. So let us enjoy our Hamptons estates and our private jets in peace and we’ll do our jobs and you do yours.”

So though the elite of world finance recognize that inequality could lead to unrest, Obama is a bad guy because he’s trying to do something to prevent that from happening.

AFP Photo/Stan Honda

Many Democrats are getting nervous about the upcoming presidential election. Ominous, extensively reported articles by two of the best in the business—the New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin and The Atlantic's Barton Gellman—outline Boss Trump's plot to keep control of the White House in 2021 no matter how the American people vote.
Trump is hardly making a secret of it. He's pointedly refused to commit to "a peaceful transfer of power."

"Well, we're going to have to see what happens," is how he answered the question. He added that after we "get rid of the ballots"—presumably mail-in ballots he's been whining about for weeks--"there won't be a transfer, frankly. There'll be a continuation."

Of course, Trump himself has always voted by mail, but then brazen hypocrisy is his standard operating mode. If you haven't noticed, he also lies a lot. Without prevaricating, boasting, and bitching, he'd be mute. And even then, he'd still have Twitter. He recently tweeted that the winner "may NEVER BE ACCURATELY DETERMINED" because mail-in ballots make it a "RIGGED ELECTION in waiting."
Gellman gets this part exactly right in The Atlantic: "Let us not hedge about one thing. Donald Trump may win or lose, but he will never concede. Not under any circumstance. Not during the Interregnum and not afterward. If compelled in the end to vacate his office, Trump will insist from exile, as long as he draws breath, that the contest was rigged.
"Trump's invincible commitment to this stance will be the most important fact about the coming Interregnum. It will deform the proceedings from beginning to end. We have not experienced anything like it before."
No, we haven't. However, it's important to remember that Trump makes threats and promises almost daily that never happen. Remember that gigantic border wall Mexico was going to pay for? Trump has built exactly five miles of the fool thing, leaving roughly two thousand to go.
His brilliant cheaper, better health care plan? Non-existent.
On Labor Day, Boss Trump boasted of his unparalleled success in strong-arming Japan into building new auto-manufacturing plants. "They're being built in Ohio, they're being built in South Carolina, North Carolina, they're being built all over and expanded at a level that we've never seen before."
Not a word of that is true. Two new plants, one German, another Swedish have opened in South Carolina, but construction began before Trump took office. Auto industry investment during Barack Obama's second term far exceeded Trump's. His version is sheer make-believe.
But back to the GOP scheme to steal the election.
First, it's clear that even Trump understands that he has virtually no chance of winning the national popular vote. He's been polling in the low 40s, with no sign of change. To have any chance of prevailing in the Electoral College, he's got to do the electoral equivalent of drawing to an inside straight all over again—winning a half-dozen so-called battleground states where he defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016 by the narrowest of margins.
At this writing, that looks highly unlikely. The latest polling in must-win Pennsylvania, for example, shows Trump trailing Joe Biden by nine points. That's a landslide. Trump's down ten in Wisconsin, eight in Michigan. And so on.
So spare me the screeching emails in ALL CAPS, OK? Polls were actually quite accurate in 2016. Trump narrowly defeated the odds. It can happen. But he's in far worse shape this time. Furthermore, early voting turnout is very high, with Democrats outnumbering Republicans two to one.
Hence, The Atlantic reports, "Trump's state and national legal teams are already laying the groundwork for post-election maneuvers that would circumvent the results of the vote count in battleground states."
The plan is clear. Because more Democrats than Republicans are choosing mail-in voting during the COVID pandemic, Trump hopes to prevent those ballots from being counted. Assuming he'll have a narrow "swing state" lead on election night, he'll declare victory and start filing lawsuits. "The red mirage," some Democrats call it.
"As a result," Toobin writes, "the aftermath of the 2020 election has the potential to make 2000 look like a mere skirmish." With Trump in the White House urging armed militias to take to the street.
Mail-in votes take a long time to count. Things could definitely get crazy.
True, but filing a lawsuit to halt a Florida recount was one thing. Filing suits against a half dozen states to prevent votes from being counted at all is quite another. Public reaction would be strong. Also, winning such lawsuits requires serious evidence of fraud. Trumpian bluster ain't evidence.
The Atlantic reports that GOP-controlled state legislatures are thinking about sending Trumpist delegations to the Electoral College regardless of the popular vote winner—theoretically constitutional but currently illegal.
Fat chance. If that's the best they've got, they've got nothing.
Anyway, here's the answer: Vote early, and in person*.

[Editor's note: In some states, receiving an absentee ballot means that a voter can no longer vote in person* or may have to surrender the absentee ballot, including the envelope in which it arrived, at their polling place. Please check with your local election authorities.]