Wisconsin Power Play

"Wisconsin Power Play" by Paul Krugman

Last week, in the face of protest demonstrations against Wisconsin’s new union-busting governor, Scott Walker — demonstrations that continued through the weekend, with huge crowds on Saturday — Representative Paul Ryan made an unintentionally apt comparison: “It’s like Cairo has moved to Madison.”

It wasn’t the smartest thing for Mr. Ryan to say, since he probably didn’t mean to compare Mr. Walker, a fellow Republican, to Hosni Mubarak. Or maybe he did — after all, quite a few prominent conservatives, including Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Rick Santorum, denounced the uprising in Egypt and insist that President Obama should have helped the Mubarak regime suppress it.

In any case, however, Mr. Ryan was more right than he knew. For what’s happening in Wisconsin isn’t about the state budget, despite Mr. Walker’s pretense that he’s just trying to be fiscally responsible. It is, instead, about power. What Mr. Walker and his backers are trying to do is to make Wisconsin — and eventually, America — less of a functioning democracy and more of a third-world-style oligarchy. And that’s why anyone who believes that we need some counterweight to the political power of big money should be on the demonstrators’ side.

Some background: Wisconsin is indeed facing a budget crunch, although its difficulties are less severe than those facing many other states. Revenue has fallen in the face of a weak economy, while stimulus funds, which helped close the gap in 2009 and 2010, have faded away.

In this situation, it makes sense to call for shared sacrifice, including monetary concessions from state workers. And union leaders have signaled that they are, in fact, willing to make such concessions.

But Mr. Walker isn’t interested in making a deal. Partly that’s because he doesn’t want to share the sacrifice: even as he proclaims that Wisconsin faces a terrible fiscal crisis, he has been pushing through tax cuts that make the deficit worse. Mainly, however, he has made it clear that rather than bargaining with workers, he wants to end workers’ ability to bargain.

The bill that has inspired the demonstrations would strip away collective bargaining rights for many of the state’s workers, in effect busting public-employee unions. Tellingly, some workers — namely, those who tend to be Republican-leaning — are exempted from the ban; it’s as if Mr. Walker were flaunting the political nature of his actions.

Why bust the unions? As I said, it has nothing to do with helping Wisconsin deal with its current fiscal crisis. Nor is it likely to help the state’s budget prospects even in the long run: contrary to what you may have heard, public-sector workers in Wisconsin and elsewhere are paid somewhat less than private-sector workers with comparable qualifications, so there’s not much room for further pay squeezes.

So it’s not about the budget; it’s about the power.

In principle, every American citizen has an equal say in our political process. In practice, of course, some of us are more equal than others. Billionaires can field armies of lobbyists; they can finance think tanks that put the desired spin on policy issues; they can funnel cash to politicians with sympathetic views (as the Koch brothers did in the case of Mr. Walker). On paper, we’re a one-person-one-vote nation; in reality, we’re more than a bit of an oligarchy, in which a handful of wealthy people dominate.

Given this reality, it’s important to have institutions that can act as counterweights to the power of big money. And unions are among the most important of these institutions.

You don’t have to love unions, you don’t have to believe that their policy positions are always right, to recognize that they’re among the few influential players in our political system representing the interests of middle- and working-class Americans, as opposed to the wealthy. Indeed, if America has become more oligarchic and less democratic over the last 30 years — which it has — that’s to an important extent due to the decline of private-sector unions.

And now Mr. Walker and his backers are trying to get rid of public-sector unions, too.

There’s a bitter irony here. The fiscal crisis in Wisconsin, as in other states, was largely caused by the increasing power of America’s oligarchy. After all, it was superwealthy players, not the general public, who pushed for financial deregulation and thereby set the stage for the economic crisis of 2008-9, a crisis whose aftermath is the main reason for the current budget crunch. And now the political right is trying to exploit that very crisis, using it to remove one of the few remaining checks on oligarchic influence.

So will the attack on unions succeed? I don’t know. But anyone who cares about retaining government of the people by the people should hope that it doesn’t.

source: New York Times, 20 February 2011, by Paul Krugman

GOP's Save The Rich Campaign


Chaka Khan-My Funny Valentine

My funny valentine
Sweet, comic valentine
You make me smile with my heart
Oooh, mmm

Your looks are laughable
Yet, you're my favorite work of art
Is your figure less than Greek?
Is your mouth a little bit weak?When you open it to speak, are you smart?

Don't, baby don't, don't you change your hair for me
Not if you care for me
Stay, stay little valentine, stay
Each day is Valentine's...
Each day is Valentine's Day
Stay, little valentine, stay
Stay, stay, yeah yeah
Each day is Valentine's...
Each day is Valentine's Da


Michelle Obama's $3 Billion Dollar Fashion Babe

From the Week's article entitled, "Michelle Obama's $3 billion fashion 'effect' ," posted on October 28, 2010, at 11:32 AM, states that "according to a new study, the first lady, and her chic choices, are moving markets."

Talk about an economic stimulus package. According to a new study, First Lady Michelle Obama is having a profound and profitable effect on some lucky clothing retailers. . . . Here, a brief guide to the findings:

How can Mrs. Obama help sell clothes?

By wearing them. David Yermack, a business and finance professor at New York University's Stern School, looked at 29 clothing companies whose garments Michelle Obama wore in 189 public appearances between November 2008 and December 2009. Their stock prices typically jumped by 2 to 3 percent — and when the first lady wore J. Crew on "The Tonight Show" in October 2008, the company's stock price climbed 25 percent in the next three days. Such increases that "cannot be attributed to normal market variations," says Yermack.

How much money do the companies make?
Yermack reckons that, on average, an appearance by Michelle Obama in a company's clothes is worth $14 million. The total boost for all of the appearances examined in the study — a whopping $2.7 billion. Designer Naeem Khan found out first hand about the first lady's influence when she wore one of his outfits to a state dinner in February 2009. "My stuff is flying out of stores," the designer says. "It's the gift that doesn't stop giving."

How does the effect last?

"The stock price gains persist days after an outfit is worn and in some cases even trend slightly higher three weeks later," says Yermack. Some clothing companies, likes Saks, appear to have experienced long-term gains. And the effect persists regardless of how President Obama is doing. "Her husband’s approval rating appears to have no effect on the returns," says Yermack. Or, as Marni Katz puts it at NBC New York, "even when his approval ratings are down, Mrs. Obama's style score soars."

Are any other celebrities having a similar effect?

"None that I can find," says Yermack. "Once in a while there is someone in politics, Princess Diana, Jacqueline Onassis, come to mind, who just build a very big allegiance among the public and they get celebrated for their sense of style and fashion." France's First Lady, Carla Bruni Sarkozy, is also iconic and stylish, but she only wears one designer: Dior.

What is it about Michelle Obama?

Part of Obama's appeal, and the strength of her effect, is that she mixes high and low fashion, carrying off J. Crew and couture equally well. "She has very consciously tried to wear garments from mid-market retail chains where many voters also would have shopped, and she's talked about that very openly," Yermack says. She's also "recognized by consumers as authentic" — unlike a starlet who might be known to have an endorsement deal or get freebies from a certain designer. And, theorizes Naomi Attwood at Grazia Daily, there's her body type. While she's "gorgeous," Obama "doesn't look like a typical fashion plate, waify clothes horse, therefore people identify with her and believe 'if it works on her..."

Sources: Harvard Business Review, BBC World Service, NBC New York, Grazia Daily, The Independent, Investor Place

Oscar de la Renta Embarrasses First Lady Laura Bush

Oscar de la Renta whines about First Lady Michelle Obama's stunning British-designed Alexander McQueen dress that she wore to the State Dinner, "Why do you wear European clothes?"

According to the Huffington Post, Oscar de le Renta told WWD, "My understanding is that the visit was to promote American-Chinese trade -- American products in China and Chinese products in America. Why do you wear European clothes?" adding, "I'm not talking about my clothes, my business. I'm old, and I don't need it. But there are a lot of young people, very talented people here who do."

De la Renta made similar comments in April 2009, right after the first lady visited London. He told WWD at the time:

"American fashion right now is struggling. I think I understand what [Obama and her advisers] are doing, but I don't think that is the right message at this particular point....I don't object to the fact that Mrs. Obama is wearing J. Crew to whatever because the diversity of America is what makes this country great. But there are a lot of great designers out there. I think it's wrong to go in one direction only."
In the same article, he also knocked the outfit Michelle wore to meet Queen Elizabeth, remarking, "You don't...go to Buckingham Palace in a sweater."

Let's flashback to December of 2006, when Oscar de la Renta's dress made the Official White House Holiday card . . .

People Magazine writes, "Imagine spending $8,500 on a beaded Oscar de la Renta gown to wear to an exclusive White House holiday reception and then arriving to find three other women wearing the same dress. Now, imagine that you’re the First Lady who has found herself in the middle of a real-life, four-way fashion faceoff! "

That’s what happened to Laura Bush at a Dec. 3 event at the White House. Luckily, she able to sneak off upstairs mid-party to change into a new dress.

Susan Whitson, Press Secretary to Mrs. Bush, tells PEOPLE: “Though Mrs. Bush has seen guests at the White House wearing dresses she herself owns, this was the first identical dress-to-dress encounter she has had.
She and the President found it quite amusing that Mrs. Bush and three other ladies had on the same gown at the same event.” If only all Fashion Faceoffs could be solved with a quick run upstairs! (source: People Magazine. 8 December 2006)

"Why do you wear European clothes?"... Perhaps First Lady Obama doesn't want to be humiliated like First Lady Laura Bush was by wearing a matronly, off-the-rack Oscar de la Renta's gowns.


Best Super Bowl Commercials 2011

It looks like the car commercials won for the best Super Bowl commercials. My top picks were the Audi-Kenny G jailbreak, Eminem's Imported from Detroit, and the cute kid in the VW ad. We also liked the mix of the Doritos commercials. Honorable mention goes to the Sealy ad.

2011 Audi A8 Commercial - Kenny G (Super Bowl)

Chrysler Eminem Super Bowl Commercial - Imported From Detroit

This one is so good that Detroit's Chamber of Commerce should use it to generate investments and tourism. Brilliant!

The Force Darth Vader Volkswagen Commercial

Sealy (Mattress) - Posturepedic After Glow



"Hard Facts" from CBC's Meltdown Series:

  • Half of America owns only 2.5% of country's wealth. The top 1% owns a third of it.
  • The gap between the top 0.01% and everyone else hasn't been this bad since the Roaring Twenties.
  • In 1950, the ratio of the average executive's paycheque to the average worker's paycheque was about 30 to 1. Since the year 2000, that ratio has exploded to between 300 to 500 to one.
  • In 2008, the total national household debt in Canada has reached an all-time high of$1.3 trillion. A survey found that 42% of respondents said their personal debt was rising in the past three years, and 21%said they couldn't manage their debt.
  • 61% of Americans "always or usually" live paycheck to paycheck, which was up from 49% in 2008 and 43% in 2007. The numbers are similar in Canada.
  • A staggering 43% of Americans have less than $10,000 saved up for retirement.
  • In America today, the average time needed to find a job has risen to a record 35.2 weeks.

  • In 2008, the World Economic Forum rated Canada's banking system No. 1 in the world. The U.S. came in right behind — Namibia.
  • It is being projected that the U.S. government will have a budget deficit of approximately1.6 trillion dollars in 2010. How much is that? If you went out and spent one dollar every single second, it would take you more than 31,000 years to spend a trillion dollars.
  • In February 2010, there were 5.5 unemployed Americans for every job opening.
  • In California’s Central Valley, 1 out of every 16 homes is in some phase of foreclosure.
  • U.S. banks repossessed nearly 258,000 homes nationwide in the first quarter of 2010, a35% jump from the first quarter of 2009.
  • In May 2009, the number of Canadians getting regular employment insurance benefits in reached 778,700, the highest level on comparable records going back 12 years. During the month, the number of people getting EI benefits grew by 9.2%, from April.
  • More than 24% of all homes with mortgages in the United States were underwater (the mortgage is more than the current market value of the home) as of the end of 2009.

  • This recession has erased 8 million private sector jobs in the United States.
  • 39.68 million Americans are now on food stamps, which represents a new all-time record. But things look like they are going to get even worse. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is forecastingthat enrollment in the food stamp program will exceed 43 million Americans in 2011.
  • The Dow Jones Industrial Average just experienced the worst May it has seen since 1940.
  • If you only make the minimum payment each and every time, a $6,000 credit card bill can end up costing you over $30,000 (depending on the interest rate).
  • Approximately 21% of all children in the United States are living below the poverty line in 2010 - the highest rate in 20 years.
  • In 2010 the U.S. government is projected to issue almost as much new debt as the rest of the governments of the world combined.
  • In 2009, U.S. banks posted their sharpest decline in private lending since 1942.

  • During the first quarter of 2010, the total number of loans that are at least three months past due in the United States increased for the 16th consecutive quarter.
  • As of February 2009, there were 111,500 employees working in motor vehicle assembly and parts, down 37% from its peak in 2001, according to a Stats Canada report.
  • According to a Pew Research Center study, approximately 37% of all Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 have either been unemployed or underemployed at some point during the recession.
  • For the first time in U.S. history, banks own a greater share of residential housing net worth in the United States than all individual Americans put together.
Source: CBC

HOUR 1: The Men Who Crashed the World

HOUR 1: The Men Who Crashed the World

Greed and recklessness by the titans of Wall Street triggers the largest financial crash since the Great Depression. It's left to US Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, himself a former Wall Street banker, to try and avert further disaster.

Source: CBC

HOUR 2: A Global Tsunami

HOUR 2: A Global Tsunami

The meltdown's devastation ripples around the world from California to Iceland and China. Facing economic ruin, desperate world leaders are at each other's throats.

Source: CBC

HOUR 3: Paying the Price

HOUR 3: Paying the Price

The victims of the meltdown fight back. In Iceland, protestors force a government to fall. In Canada, ripped off autoworkers occupy their plant. And in France, furious union members kidnap their bosses.

Source: CBC

HOUR 4: After the Fall

HOUR 4: After the Fall


Investigators begin to sift through the meltdown's rubble. Shaken world leaders question the very foundations of modern capitalism while asking: could it all happen again?

source: CBS

Crises of Capitalism by David Harvey

My favorite Marxist, David Harvey, presents his take on the "Crisis of Capitalism" at the R.S.A., the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce.

The animation on this short talk is absolutely brilliant.

Watch David Harvey's "Crises of Capitalism"

In this RSA Animate, renowned academic David Harvey asks if it is time to look beyond capitalism towards a new social order that would allow us to live within a system that really could be responsible, just, and humane?

This is based on a lecture at the RSA (www.theRSA.org).