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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Profiles in Courage -- Bob Wirch, WI Senator

In coming days and weeks I'll be doing some profiles of the heroes central to the stuggle For the American Middle Class AGAINST the Multinational Plutocrats--first up, Senator Bob Wirch, one of the "Wisconsin 14".

State Senator, Bob Wirch (D-Kenosha)
Because of his principled stance against governor Scott Walker's overtly illegal putsch attempt, Wirch has been targeted for personal attack by forces in thrall to Walker and his Koch brother masters. One of the more curious initiatives is a recall attempt--launched by a Utah resident!

Say, is that even legal? No that has bothered any of the Koch coterie before, but it IS a pretty glaring show of contempt for the principle of local democracy that borders on the stupid . . .

Friday, February 25, 2011

Radical Union Advocate (In)action

Conversation overheard in Madison:

Man: Where the fuck is Obama in all this shite? Unions were his biggest supporters in '08, and now Fauntleroy can't be bothered to get his dainties dirtied rubbing shoulders with us?

Woman: He's in Washington--doing his JOB!

Man: His job?! What's that? Choking on Lloyd Blankfein's crank? Bush not good enough for him any more?*

*Triple entendre

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Back to the (Dystopian) Future: Scott Walker's CV Explains a Lot

Is Scott Walker's latest stunt in Wisconsin just an attempt at revenge for his own mediocre academic career?  Let's take a look at the facts.

Been busy days out here in Wisconsin, what with all the turmoil wrought by "Boy Wonder" Scott Walker's genius pre-emptory activation of the armed forces.  Clearly the man missed his calling as an FBI hostage negotiator.

As of the time of this writing, the basic facts of the matter remain as they have for nearly a week now:  Scott Walker has called for, and the public employees unions have agreed to, major financial concessions.  Which raises the question as to why there remains so much upset a week into the farrago.  I mean, if this were really about saving $ and ¢, why would Walker have bothered to call in the national guard, starting the meter running on their active-duty pay1 when unions have caved on the only issue?  Why does Walker still refuse even to negotiate non-financial issues?

Well, the answer, of course, is that the budget is NOT the only issue--or even the main issue.  Clearly, if the budget were the real issue Walker would have been content with the union concessions.  Clearly, if the budget were the real issue Walker wouldn't have thrown away $117.2 million in revenue.2  Not when the amount that he sought (and succeeded) in hi-jacking from union workers is only about $27.9 million annually3.  That's less than half of the amount he's feely pissed away in corp tax handouts, and Walker seems willing to throw away $147k in national guard costs daily1 on top of it.

No, the real issue here is caudillo Walker's blind insistance that the public employees unions surrender their constitutional rights to freedom of association and contracting.  You know, that pinko commie shit guys like Thomas Jefferson and George Mason were trying to slip through the backdoor in the so-called Bill of Rights.4 

But why, oh why would such an intellectual giant and economic genius as Scott Walker feel compelled to behave this way?  Simple:  Because Scott Walker is far from an intellectual giant or an economic genius.  In fact, a quick perusal of his CV will demonstrate that Scott Walker is far from even adequate in either of these respects.  Two salient facts:

1.  Scott Walker's "professional" career was in sales--not economics, not accounting, not finance.  Well, no surprises there.

2.  Scott Walker failed even to graduate from school.  A mediocre "C-ish" student, he dropped out without a degree.

So that's the picture we've got here:  A college dropout who couldn't acheive a GP of better than a 2.59 is demanding that the state teacher's union surrender their constitutional rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining, all in the name of a "fiscal responsibility" plan that is on balance about $30.7 million WORSE annually than doing nothing.  Oh yeah, and he's willing to gin up about $147,000 in national guard deployment costs PER DAY1 in order to enforce it. 

Sounds almost like the plot to a bad 1980's teen comedy:  Scott Walker goes 'Back to the Future'--and it's payback time for some very unhappy teachers . . . .

1  My guess is that Scott Walker is forcing us to pay about $147k per day in order to surrender our civil rights.  Not being privvy to inside information such as the exact # of Wisconsin Army National Guard personnel who have been made active, or precisely how many of which grade are deployed at specific locations at any given time, the public is only left to guess.  But it sure ain't free, so this is only one rough estimate to start the discussion.  Details here.  I am more than happy to entertain other informed guesses.

2  Yeah, it's true.  $117.2 million is the net cost through 2013 associated with only 3 of the Boy Wonder's pet corporate giveaways:  $55.2 million YE 2012 and $62.0 million YE 2013.  See page 11 of the report of the Wisconsin Legislative Bureau ("WLB")  here.  The WLB is a non-partisan body of economists tasked with the estimation of financial impact of legislation, similar to the Congressional Budget Office's role on the federal level.

3 See the WLB's estimate of $27,891,400 for fiscal 2012 on page 2 and detailed discussion on begining on page 29 of the WLB report here.

4  Just how, pray tell, could the right to collectively bargain through a union be qualitatively different than the right of individual entrepreneur to contract on behalf of his wholly owned business?  Do individual employees somehow have LESS right to determine the disposition and compensation of their OWN personal labor than an entrepreur does to contract for his business?  Is that the new Tea Party line of talk--that the state is entirely able to disregard the God-given civil liberties the Founding Fathers fought and died for?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Oh Cupcake, Where Art Thou?: The Search for America's Next Sweetheart

AA Veteran Lindsay Lohan:  America's next Little Cupcake?
The U.S. spiralled into decades of romantic uncertainty and self-loathing after the heartbreak of Mary Pickford losing a leg to gangrene following a vicious tavern brawl in 1929.  Where will we find America's Little Cupcake for the 21st century?

Well, 2011 certainly is shaping up to be quite the year for Wisconsinites.  Douchebag Senator Paul Ryan not only escaped the noose for his role in engineering the AIG bailouts in the mid-terms, but also became the budget committee chief this January.  Newly elected RNC chair and former ethical giant Rancid Priebus, a Kenosha native, began in earnest his party's campaign to contest the health care reform law that he himself claimed was unassailably constitutional.  And of course, just this week, America's Team, the Green Bay Packers took the crown in the fairly eventful Superbowl XLV.

Whew!  Pretty heady stuff--but the ride's not over yet.  Valentine's weekend is almost upon us, and as the United State's official Capitol of Love is in Milwaukee, Wisconsin is once more at the center stage of world events.  Yeah, yeah, fuck populist uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia; screw the over-hyped utopian romance of Marianne du France, WISCONSIN is the place to be.

On the surface that might seem like some kind of sick, cynical joke--but only if you've never actually been to Wisconsin or never actually known a Wisconsinite.  We Wisconsin folk are, in fact, are the true heirs of the SPIRIT of St. Valentine, not some fromage-swilling, knee-breech wearing, bewigged European aristocrats.  No, our love is the pure love of chaste devotion rather than decadant sensuality--a love as honest, callow and enduring as the heartland fields of corn whose bounty forms the pith and marrow of our very bones.  Some may accuse us of being naive and inexperienced hayseeds, but this we take as the highest compliment: it is only the birthright of the Most Typical Americans of All.

My overseas friends will recognize this fact immediately and uncontroversially.  Americans value no virtues more highly than simplicity and earnestness.  This is reflected time and time again by our selection of popular culture romantic icons, whose primary qualifications are a bland, uncomplicated physical symmetry and a conventional, unchallenging cast of mind.  Realizing the verity of the old adage that "God doesn't open one door without closing another"--and being properly skeptical of the horrors that may lie behind the impenetrable secret of the human soul--we Americans have made the supremely sensible compromise of raising to our national pedastal only the most physically stunning but mentally and morally mediocre women.  Let's take a brief tour of some of those icons of yesteryear and meditate a bit about what it takes to be raised to the pantheon as the American Venus.

For my money, it all began with Doris Day in the late '40's.

Doris Day
Mary Pickford
The archtypical Midwestern girl-next-door, Doris Day radiated a down-to-earth wholesomeness that you wouldn't be ashamed to take home to mother.  Silky blonde hair, big fawn-like blue eyes and a clear, fresh complexion she presented exactly the virginal image the Mormon Church would have taken for its own concept of a native American Mary of Nazareth had not the Nazis beaten them to the punch in the 1930's.  Starring in uncomplicated and unchallenging film roles depicting women who had to be saved from themselves, Doris really brought out the best in American patriarchy.  Which was exactly what we all needed during the long confusing malaise that followed the tragic events surrounding auburn-haired Mary Pickford and a gang of merchant marines on shore leave in Atlantic City 1929.

Yeah, Doris was great, maybe even the best of the lot.  She never once bucked a trend or challenged the status quo.  But tragedy haunted her, too.  Sadly Doris Day died in 1968 leading a squad of marines against a Viet Cong outpost, a tour of duty bravely undertaken to publicly rebuke the cowardice of Cassius Clay's anti-draft ravings.  If only all-American leading man Rock Hudson had proposed to her in real life as he had so many times in film, he might have kept her down on the farm and she might still be with us today.

The next 2 decades were a mixed-up, confusing time in American culture, marked by radical change in everything from hairstyles to hemlengths to heroine doses.  We seemingly couldn't make up our minds about what we were looking for in an "ideal woman".  Schizophrenically cycling between the edgy subliminal threat of the ambiguous Dianna Ross and the more reassuring gingam-tinged appeal of Karen Carpenter, a vast canyon-like chasm seemed to have opened in our collective romantic imagination, one that no single woman seemed capable of completely filling.  These I call "America's Lost Years".
Dianna Ross                                        Karen Carpenter     
 However hope eventually triumphed over experience, and America did find another sweetheart in 1983, a darling Detroit lass by the name of Madonna Ciccone

Madonna Ciccone
A natural blonde born with black roots, classically European features, and technically Christian1 despite the unfamiliar, vaguely ethnic nomenclature, Madonna was the 1-in-200 million girl who could actually fit the bill to make America whole again.  Her unique presence and musical gifts are unparalelled assetsin a highly competitive and demanding entertainment industry, it's true.

But even more than that, Madonna seemed to have a deep, innate understanding of the divided character of the American soul and flawlessly combined in one stunningly attractive paradox the virtues of amoral shark-like ethic of rabid self-promoting capitalism and the familiar and homely comforts of our obsession with crypto-Nordic blondeness.  Madonna made us feel ourselves again, a tidy and organic whole, untroubled by socialistic notions of income equity, morality in foreign policy or even plain common sense.  She was a perfect counterpoint to the politics of Ronald "Uncle Dutch" Reagan.

Alas, even the reign of fair Madonna must come to an end, just as "Summer's lease hath all too short a date" within Shakespeare's famous Sonnet #18.  She died as the First Lady of Argentina, in the arms of her ruthless caudillo husband in 1996, after a bout of pneumonia brought on by standing out all night in a cold driving rain feeding her devoted peasants at a local soup kitchen.

But if Madonna was gone, she was hardly forgotten.  Her un-self-conscious worship of Mammon reminded America what our nation has always been about deep at heart:  the amoral pursuit of material gain.  Her legacy guided us through some lonely times, with the help of the new-fangled VCR, remained firmly on our retinas and in our minds as well.  It wasn't long until our next female love fetish, our next Beatrice Portinari, if you will, appeared: that Louisiana lovely,  Britney Spears.

Britney Spears
Britney was not simply a Madonna clone, however.  She, or her corporate handlers at Jive Records, at any rate, had a subtly different take on the feminine mystique--one that was perfectly in tune with the complex changes in the American zeitgeist since the 1980's.   America was in danger of becoming complacent with its seemingly unchallenged status as the world's only remaining superpower, and maybe even a little jaded by the potentially troubling complexity of Madonna's ambiguous natural blonde status.  Britney would bring a more straight-forward, heartland-wholesomeness back:  she promoted her 1999 breakthrough album "Baby One More Time" with an elaborate stage show and series of videos featuring her in the short plaid kilt of a private school girl.  Once again American males were given exactly the right message at exactly the right time:  borderline paedophilia is acceptable again.

But while Britney's classic Southern-belle appeal seemed to perfectly coincide with the tsunami-like resurgent fortunes of a Dixie-dominated Republican party, led by Connecticut-born Texas cowboy George W. Bush, nothing good lasts forever.  Euridice-like, Britney died in 2008 of septicemia after trolling barefoot through the lavatory waste and spent heroine needles covering a petrol station's restroom floor.

Britney angel being taken from us too soon, America went through kind of a tail spin in 2008.  Feeling mired in a decades-deep rut littered by two seemingly endless wars, scores of foreign policy failures and a collapsed economy, we just couldn't continue to ignore reality any longer without the aid of some distracting gris-gris or love idol, America was just plain desperate.  Shit, we even contemplated Hillary Clinton at one point.  Sunk in our grief and national trauma, we leapt at the first voice that seemed to promise us change--something, anything different.  So we tried something really new and gave Barack Obama a go.

America's last little darling, Ms. Barack Obama
Sure, Barack may not have been blonde.  But the Americans of 2008 were hardly the simple bumpkins that their grandparents had been back in 1929; we're more sophisticated these days.  And she said all the right things at precisely the right time, talking about change and possibility, hope for the future, and harnessing the energies of the American people to take on the challenges of the 21st century. Also, I'll let you in on a secret: middle America has always had kind of a thing for Spanish chicks, even if Barack's hands were a little larger and hairy than we normally like in a lady.

But now . . . Now I don't know.  After the first couple of dates, things are starting to seem a little funny, a little suspicious.  Like maybe America hadn't gotten quite what it asked for back in 2008 when we met Barack outside the Chi-Town VD clinc.  She began acting differently: smoking, starting fightstalking like the trashy girls we used to go "hogging" with to fraternity keggers during the 1980's.  To tell the truth, some of her friends seem a little shifty, too.  Don't like 'em, don't trust 'em.

Oh yeah, and let's not forget that night in December.  We took her out to a fancy DC bistro and she left with some other dude--and stiffed us with a $900 billion check to boot.

Not that we regret the experiment, but let's face facts:  the bloom is off the rose here.  Time to move on.  But where to?  Who will be America's next little cupcake?


1  It's true.  Technically Roman Catholicism is a variety of Christianity.  And if Msgr. Fitzgibbon's say-so isn't good enough for you, try Wikipedia on for size.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

2010 Financial and Commodity Markets and Productivity: WTF?

I could go on and on about the way speculative finance is utterly divorced from the real economy, sapping 80 cents out of the economy for each dollar it touches*, etc., etc..  But why bother when the following chart says it all? Compiled from the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics release

See underlying analysis, along with links to original source data, within this workbook.

P.S.  I would like to offer a 'special' TBA prize to the first Dystopia Diaries reader who detects the even more disturbing trend vis-a-vis crude oil prices and CPI-U within the workbook data.  Hint:  Can you say "Peak Oil?"

*Yeah, it's true.  By giving yet another extraordinary tax cut to the finance-addled trust fund brats, Obama and the Republican'ts are throwing away 80% of those dollars' productivity.  See the analytical graph and supporting details here.