Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Historic Hillary's Big Moment

by Nick Paleologos

Hillary Clinton has all but formally won the Democratic nomination for president – a historic achievement. The good news for her is that she’ll have my vote in November. That bad news for me is that she knows it. The only question remaining is how soon—if ever—will she make an earnest effort to prevent those of us who were “Feeling The Bern” from feeling just plain burned?

For openers, she’s got to loose the attitude that the Sanders wing of the party is made up of hopelessly unrealistic idealists. It is not. Many of us who were fueling Bernie’s campaign with an occasional five-dollar contribution, are middle class baby boomers who are furious at Wall Street – and for good reason. Wall Street raped us. Callously. Painfully. Unapologetically. Worse still, the perpetrator has not only avoided jail time but has brazenly taken our friend Hillary out on several very expensive dates.

At the very least we expect her to show some remorse for that misstep, and to pledge that it will never happen again. She’s done neither. That’s a problem. And invoking President Obama’s coziness to Wall Street as a defense for her own indifference to appearances is also unacceptable. Obama’s failure to deal more harshly with those who crashed our economy and crippled America’s middle class, continues to be the largest stain on his otherwise stellar presidency.

Hillary’s tone is very important. For example, on the issue of universal background checks she has exhibited genuine, heartfelt outrage at the major roadblock to progress—the NRA. When she speaks of fixing that problem, she’s not qualifying her position. To her credit she is firm, forthright, and unequivocal. The parents and loved ones of all those needlessly dead kids—as well as the rest of right-thinking America—will be better off for her sincere advocacy.

We need to hear that same passion from her about Wall Street’s transgressions. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are not crazy commies. They clearly see what the rest of America is rapidly discovering. The dragon that is Wall Street -- with the unconscionable assistance of our elected leaders -- has broken free of the chains placed upon it in the aftermath of the Great Depression, and for more than three decades has ravaged the economic landscape of middle class America.

In 1980, Wall Street radically changed its mission and focus from investing in the production and exchange of goods, to the unregulated buying and selling of assets. Restrictions on S&L’s? Gone. Rules to stabilize mortgage markets? Gone. Let corporations buy back their own shares to raise stock prices? No problem. Allow hostile takeovers of established companies using massive new borrowing? Sure. And while we’re at it, why not make all that debt deductable as a business expense under the corporate tax code? Yeah. That’s the ticket. What could possibly go wrong?

In just the first decade of all that deranged deregulation, one third of America’s Fortune 500 companies ceased to exist. The ones that were left standing completely abandoned any and all deference to: long-term growth; worker well-being; customer satisfaction; and community responsibility. Instead, they slavishly devoted themselves to a single goal, short-term shareholder returns. In that relentless quarterly pursuit, greedy CEO’s and unscrupulous financiers got rich beyond their wildest dreams, while average workers—those who didn’t get laid off--saw no pay increases at all for decades.

And as a rotten little cherry on top, the entire accumulated home equity of America’s middle class--literally trillions of dollars--was wiped out overnight.

In 1982, Forbes Magazine first published their list of the 400 wealthiest Americans. Their combined net worth (in current dollars) was $225 billion. That year, the list contained only two billionaires. By 2014, every single member of the Forbes 400 was a billionaire. And that still left out another 115 billionaires who didn’t make the cutoff—which was $1.55 billion. The combined net worth of the 2014 Forbes 400 was $2.3 trillion, or ten times what it was in 1982 – after adjusting for inflation.

We’re not asking Hillary to slay that dragon, just to put the chains back on so it will once again work for us and not against us. Back in January, Hillary said, “I’m not interested in ideas that look good on paper but can’t work in reality.” Memo to the Presumptive Democratic Nominee for President: “Fairness” is one of America’s best ideas, and it works both on paper and in reality.