Sunday, June 24, 2012

Peter Gabriel & Robert Fripp - Here comes the flood

Sea ice tracking at record low levels or how would you like that cooked?

The National Snow and Ice Data Center weighs in with another dubious milestone in the oncoming onslaught of climate change:
"After a period of rapid ice loss through the first half of June, sea ice extent is now slightly below 2010 levels, the previous record low at this time of year. Sea level pressure patterns have been favorable for the retreat of sea ice for much of the past month."
"The main contributors to the unusually rapid ice loss to this point in June are the disappearance of most of the winter sea ice in the Bering Sea, rapid ice loss in the Barents and Kara Seas, and early development of open water areas in the Beaufort and Laptev Seas north of Alaska and Siberia. Recent ice loss rates have been 100,000 to 150,000 square kilometers (38,600 to 57,900 square miles) per day, which is more than double the climatological rate."
David Roberts puts the implications of what this might mean in the greater scheme of things which is that we are basically toast or toasted as the case may be..

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Wisconsin Autopsy of a Recall

If you are of a progressive state of mind and live in what is truly Fitzwalkerstan the past week has been one of unhappy ruminations. I guess I can't say I was totally surprised but hope springs eternal even though there were warning signs, such as the plethora of giant Walker and Fitzgerald signs in the rural areas where I live and which I heard later land owners were paid to put up. There are some with more pithier views which deserve repeating and thinking about: From Mark Vorpahl from Counterpunch:
"The main reason behind the recall’s defeat is political. It wasn’t enough to recall Walker. Someone from the Democratic Party had to be elected to replace him. The Madison uprising had started as a movement that put forward its own demands, rather than whittle away at them in order to make them more palatable for the Democratic politicians. While some union officials talked about concessions in the spirit of “shared sacrifice,” this attitude was not reflected in the great numbers filling and surrounding Madison’s Capitol. Therefore, the shift from mass collective action to an electoral campaign accelerated the movement’s degeneration from an inspiring expression of independent working class fight-back to an example corporate co-optation by the Democratic Party. The Democrats and Barrett The Wall Street funded Democratic and Republican parties do not fundamentally differ in their aim to fix the deficit by making workers pay for it rather than the 1%, whose bailouts, federal loans, and tax breaks have increased as the deficit has grown. The Democrats are no more capable of countering austerity than the Republicans because that would require that they bite the hand that feeds them – the corporations, banks, and economic elite. In fact, they are aggressively pursuing policies that will greatly exacerbate the historic divide between the rich and working people. For instance, the bi-partisan supported and Obama designed Simpson/Bowles measure, that will likely go into effect shortly after the presidential election, will slash hundreds of billions from Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security while providing the rich with even more tax breaks. In addition, the recall election in Wisconsin demonstrated an even further distancing between the Democrats and the interests of Labor and working people in general. The Democratic National Committee was largely missing in action for most of the campaign. Not only did Obama fail to do anything to support the recall other than write a supportive tweet, he bypassed a trip to Wisconsin in order to speak at an event on June 3rd with Honeywell CEO Dave Cote in Minneapolis. (1) Honeywell is currently attempting to bust unions in three different labor disputes. Obama and the Democratic Party could not have made their priorities more clear with this slight. They value standing shoulder to shoulder with an anti-Labor CEO than with the unions. The Democratic candidate that ran against Walker, Tom Barrett, is a typical corporate party man. That is, he is no legitimate friend of the unions and workers. As mayor in Milwaukee he attempted to take over the city’s public school district, angering the cities African-American community. (2) He is also a supporter of charter schools and has said this is an area where he can work together with Walker. (3) During the uprising, he proposed an alternative budget to Walkers that extended its cuts to benefits and pensions to police and fire fighters as well, in opposition to the aspirations of those protesting at the Capitol. (4)",
Jeffrey Sommers, also in CounterPunch, gives another penetrating analysis:
Ultimately, however, the bottom line is that Walker was able to capitalize on the very crisis and long-term economic decline Republicans helped engineer over the past thirty years–with no small help from the Democrats. UCLA’s Robert Brenner described how the Republicans managed to jujitsu the crisis of the 1970s to the GOP’s advantage by turning people’s economic distress over declining living standards to electoral victory. The key was to shift the public’s concerns over the private economy and move them onto government. Ensuring that wage increases match levels of economic growth in the economy is difficult. It requires organizing and unions. In the US only a minority of workers have ever been unionized. This made it difficult to address stagnant wages during the 1970’s crisis, but still possible with union efforts. The GOP innovation was to provide an easier route to fattening one’s wallet: tax cuts. This was first achieved in 1978 through Proposition 13 in California that slashed property taxes, thus providing short-term relief to taxpayers. While people could not control their wages (at least not easily) they could determine their level of taxation, and thus their take home pay. The long run cost of this delusion was the destruction of the state’s educational and transportation infrastructure. Before Proposition 13 California’s schools were ranked number one in the US. They are now typically ranked in the bottom 10% and California’s finances are a mess. Reagan successfully campaigned, and rode to victory on this model in 1980. Scott Walker has privately declared he takes his inspiration from Reagan. Walker asserted in his now notorious Koch call that Reagan’s strike against the PATCO union workers early in his presidency was his defining moment in office and history. Walker emphasized that this was vital not only to reign in labor, but also to demonstrate to the Soviets that Reagan was no pushover. In Walker’s view curbing labor and displaying his resolve (others say intransigence) are the keys to understanding his agenda and his unwillingness to back off. If Walker survives the John Doe investigation he might be under, he will simply roll over the compromise inclined Democrats and advance his program at any cost. And, he has the financial means to do it. Yet, Walker, while committed and smart, is hardly deep. His understanding of economics, history, and politics are thin. While he takes at face value the narrative of tax cuts as the key to Reagan’s success, he fails to recognize that Reagan gave up on the cost cutting enterprise as hopeless within two years of assuming office. Indeed, Reagan’s early austerity policies further depressed the economy. Thus, Reagan “corrected” and launched a massive military Keynesian debt-fueled binge that pulled the economy from its torpor. Meanwhile, given the US success in 1970s of getting oil priced in dollars, Reagan was able to press the pedal to the floor on both government spending and the dollar printing presses alike. As Dick Cheney infamously noted, “Reagan proved deficits don’t matter.” For Scott Walker, however, “the Gipper” was an austerity icon. Walker is in for a rude shock when he discovers his austerity policies will only exacerbate recessionary conditions. With no Central Bank at his disposal to create dollars, he will be forced to either admit his error (not his strong suit) or launch even further divisive attacks to, in the fashion of the 1930’s USSR, that define and then hit out at “wreckers” responsible for undermining his policy. Further, in the fashion of Mao, he will launch an attack against educators as “elites” parasitically feeding off the people. Meanwhile, just as Reagan’s Director of the Office of Budget and Management, David Stockman, noted early on that it was “feeding time at the trough” for Reagan’s backers at the public trough. That too will continue under Walker’s billionaire, special interest funded Governorship. Walker’s hardcore followers, however, are zealots. They are aggressive in the extreme and will turn hard on all enemies when their ideology is exposed as a failure for not producing broad-based prosperity. Whatever motivates Walker, it is clear his hardcore supporters represent a kind of aggressive freikorps that one would find in the backrooms with Joseph McCarthy or Richard Nixon. What makes Walker dangerous is that at minimum he is comfortable in both attracting and using these elements, while he himself appears to many as a decent and reasonable person who much of the public would not imagine Walker associating with. That said one has to understand Wisconsin in order to further appreciate the broader appeal of Walker’s message. Ironically, under the long Reagan Revolution that Walker has displayed fealty too, Wisconsin disproportionately suffered. For example, its urban workers had wages were 29% over the national average before Reagan took office. Presently, they are under the national average by roughly similar percentages. The Paul Volcker shock Reagan continued to kill inflation and made many of Wisconsin’s industrial exports uncompetitive as the dollar rose. Globalization and NAFTA then buried many of the remaining survivors. For this minister’s son from Wisconsin, however, these reasons are ignored for explaining Wisconsin’s economic decline. Walker instead defaults to the Reagan faith. The crisis is a consequence of government regulation and taxation: provide relief from both and the confidence fairy will return to Wisconsin. Walker’s comic-book narrative is much easier to grasp than any serious economic analysis. Moreover, Walker is an effective salesman for it. He has carefully cultivated his image for years, presenting himself as the plucky working-class kid made good that still carries a brown-bag lunch to work. It’s a throw back to Frank Capra central casting, and the image works for a public generally desiring an honest politician they can identify with. Much of the suburban and rural population has bought into it. Rather than a tool of billionaires, Walker is perceived as the people’s hero that has enlisted the “job creators” (billionaires) to take on the special interests in the public sector. Thus, merely exposing Walker as on the hook to billionaires will not enlighten them to who he really represents. Walker’s constituency desperately needs a hero. Who are they? Overwhelmingly, they were the white working classes with no college education. By and large they have lost these benefits. They may have not seen raises in years. The public sector is an inviting target for them. It’s one of the few places where the working and middle class still receive decent benefits (medical, retirement, etc.). This makes them suspect to a population that has largely lost these. Yet, rather than ask why they too no longer enjoy these, instead, Walker’s supporters want to know why the people in their employ (the public sector) still have them? Walker’s supporters largely assume that “we are broke.” They fail to recognize that the US economy is larger than it has ever been, but that wages have not risen with economic growth since Reagan. Everyone must tighten his or her belts. Moreover, the public sector has disproportionately people of color, thus playing on the racial divide.
"On this note the Kinks inform us again from 40 years ago:

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Massive Hog Lot Waste Lagoon Collapses, 53% of Wisconsin Drowns in Pig Shit

In what experts are calling the largest catastrophe of its kind, the failure of a hog waste containment lagoon has drowned 53% of the the population of Wisconsin in pig shit. The failure at the Koch Brothers Swine Factory and Nuclear Facility located in Waukesha county occurred without warning even though activists had suggested the site was a ticking time bomb. While Dane county and 9 others were largely unscathed the remainder of the state has been inundated in pig waste. According to the Borowitz Report Canada is bracing for an influx of refugees:
"The Canadian coast guard was on alert today, preparing for what it fears could be a massive invasion of boat people from Wisconsin. Conor McGlindon, commander of the Royal Canadian Mounted Coast Guard (RCMCG), said that satellite photos had revealed a “substantial flotilla” in the making, as Wisconsinites prepared to flee their state for their neighbor to the North. “Word has gotten around that we have policemen, firemen, and basic school lunches up here,” Mr. McGlindon said. “You can’t blame these boat people for seeking a better life. But we are under orders to intercept them....Mr. McGlindon offered reporters a look at satellite photos showing the boat people larding their vessels with wheels of premium cheddar cheese, possibly in the hopes of bribing Canadian officials on Superior’s northern shore. “We are telling all of our men that under no circumstances should they accept offerings of cheese,” he said. ”These boat people are desperate and they will try anything.” Reports of the looming refugee crisis coincided with the release of a new poll showing that Gov. Scott Walker is now the most hated man in Wisconsin, narrowly edging Brett Favre. Speaking at the state capitol, Gov. Walker seemed philosophical about his legacy: “I’m not worried how history will remember me, because if I have my way there won’t be any history teachers.”

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Wisconsin Recall: Will Money Talk?

The recall in Wisconsin is now days away and the outcome by no means certain. In the meantime the corruption investigation which has been simmering for months shows signs of having the potential of overshadowing the recall itself as new information comes to light on almost a daily basis. This article in Salon highlights some of what has developed:
The two-year-old corruption investigation into Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker reached a major inflection point just days before his recall election next week when it came out that Walker had transferred $100,000 of campaign money to his legal defense fund and seemed to acknowledge that he is the center of the probe.... The probe reportedly started with a single staffer who had worked for Walker when he was Milwaukee’s county executive, but it has since grown much larger, touching almost everyone who has worked for Walker, and even the governor himself, and producing several arrests and convictions. Documents made public last night show prosecutors requested the secret investigation after they found Walker’s office “unable or unwilling” to provide information. “It may be the county executive’s office is reluctant to provide information to investigators due to a fear of political embarrassment,” an assistant DA wrote to a judge in May 2010. Walker has maintained that he has cooperated with prosecutors all along, so the document casts doubt on his story of the proceedings. Asked about the stonewalling last night, he essentially called the report untrue.
The whole subject of Walker's criminal defense fund itself raises many, at this point unanswered questions.
Walker, thus far, has maintained that he is not the target of the investigation. But under Wisconsin law, politicians can only use their legal defense funds for themselves or their staffs, and Walker said this week that none of the money from the fund would go to his staff, suggesting it would be used only to defend himself. Democrats seized on the comment as an admission from Walker that he is personally a target. Walker had already contributed $60,000 to the fund — which comes from campaign donors whom he refuses to name — before this week’s transfer, bringing his total legal war chest to $160,000. He claims the money is being used to help turn over documents to investigators, but some experts point out this amount of money suggests a more sophisticated legal defense representing hundreds of hours of attorney work. There are also email records suggesting that Walker was personally involved in trying to stem the bleeding when the first allegations came out.
One of the most disconcerting aspects of the recall has been the the obscene amounts of money involved in what is a demonstration case of what post-Citizens United politics are going to look like. gives an accounting of the fund raising in what is arguably the most expensive political undertaking in Wisconsin history:
Walker, in the fight of his political life, raised $5.9 million along between April 24 and May 21, according to finance disclosures posted at the Government Accountability Board website. He has raised around $31 million since he took the oath of office in early January 2011. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, Walker’s Democrat challenger in next week’s unprecedented gubernatorial recall election, took in $3.4 million more than the most recent five-week reporting period, and has raised $4.2 million since jumping into the race in late March. Walker’s totals to date are record-setting by every measure, with the governor far outpacing his previous campaign finance high-water mark of $11 million-plus in 2010. Critics have knocked Walker for his legal ability under Wisconsin recall law to raise unlimited campaign funds through the first stage of the recall campaign. But Walker in recent week still has dwarfed his challenger in the money chase.
I close with the Kinks: