Friday, March 20, 2009

Bonus Schmonus

I'm not going to dwell on the AIG bonus debacle, per se. Because the real issue isn't the fact that a bunch of people who played roulette with other people's money and lost are now being compensated for it. The issue isn't the absurd claim that only the people who got AIG into its current mess are the only ones who know how to get us out, or even that those same people are in no small part responsible for for our current mess by enabling companies to take unreasonable risks by insuring credit default swaps. I'm not even sure the deregulation of the banking industry that allowed all of this to take place is the issue.

As I see it, the true problem continues to be overlooked.

No, the real issue we should be discussing, and the fact that has avoided almost all scrutiny, is the fact that no one seems to be willing to ask the thorny questions, and so we're being run over day after day.

There was a time, not so very long ago, when a household was able to survive comfortably on a single income. Conservatives, in particular, love to hearken back to those halcyon days of traditional values when fathers worked, women stayed home, children were raised in bliss, and gay people were afraid to come out of the closet. And in those bright and golden times, say, 1950, the average ratio of executive-average compensation in America was just about 20-1.

Now, it's true that we've moved away from the economy of those times. That economy was in no small part based on an industrial and manufacturing base, whereas our current (or most recent) economy is (was?) based primarily in our financial sector and a service economy. But that can't possibly explain the trend of the last 30 years.

In 1980, the average CEO earned 42 times the amount that Joe Blow took home from the same company. In 1990, that ratio had more than doubled, reaching 107-1. By 2000, the rate of stratification had increased until the ratio reached a whopping 525-1. The numbers have shrunk slightly since, but the most recent numbers show that the average CEO beats out his/her average employee by a rate of 364-1.

Admittedly, the CEO of Wal-Mart or Target is going to make a hugely larger salary than the average cashier, and rightly so. And, for the most part, CEOs deserve a high compensation relative to the average employee. But the shamelessness of this is surpassed only by the degree to which we've been willing to swallow such rampant disparity. Where was the outrage 3 years ago when the outgoing CEO of ExxonMobil took with him a golden parachute totaling more than $400 million in overall compensation? Where were the questions as CEO pay exploded while average salaries grew slightly, stagnated, or, in the last 8 years, shrank?

Can we really cry foul so loudly now, when we were virtually silent for years of abuse? How can we pretend to be so outraged now over bonuses when those same bonuses, and ones much more egregious, were being paid year after year without a peep from the concerned masses? The argument that "taxpayer money is subsidizing bad behavior" rings absolutely hollow. Our money has been subsidizing these bonuses all along, in the form of lower and lower relative compensation and benefits for the average employee, the usurous policies devised and enabled within the upper eschalons of these corporations, the repeated destruction of shared wealth caused by the collapse of an Enron, an AIG, a Lehman Bros., and the added burden on average Americans as the Bush tax cuts allowed these bad actors to keep a larger portion of their bonuses and earnings that at any other point since the income tax was established (Tax rates now, even if raised to proposed level of 39.5% at the top bracket, are dwarfed by those of the past. Under Reagan, "wealthy" americans paid 50%. Under Nixon it was about 71%. Under Eisenhower, a whopping 91%).

Every few years, there is some extreme example of greed run amok. Whether it was the savings and loan scandals of the 80s, the overzealous rush and push into tech stocks in the late 90s, the deregulation of California's energy industry that led to the Enron collapse, or our current debacle, the outrage remains targetted, misdirected, and generally short lived. In the end, no one raises the true questions that lie at the base of the problem. Why have we come to settle so easily for a world in which the very few earn hundreds of times what the average worker brings home? How does it benefit society at large to allow this type of stratification to continue unabated? Why are we willing to silently bear the added weight when millions of people are forced into the corners of the system and the taxpayer foots the bill so that CEO compensation and stock prices can continue to rise? And why are we unwilling to ask the real questions and demand the real answers, settling instead for pitchfork and torch bearing riot mobs that are grossly and intentionally misdirected every time a scandal erupts?

Until we wake up and realize that it is not the culture of corruption, the stream of wreckless choices, repeated tries at deregulation, or even the egregious stratification of wealth that has us pinned down, we'll stay right where we are. It's not the Bernie Madoffs, the or the Ken Lays, or the Wal-Marts or Bear Stearns of the world that are to blame for our repeated and continued inability to maintain a just system. Our own unwillingness to ask tough questions, demand real answers and maintain pressure until changes are made is what is to blame. Most of us would rather watch back to back to back to back to back NCAA basketball games than educate ourselves about fiscal policy, and god forbid we should stick our necks out to ask a question. So before we play judge, jury and executioner for a group of bonus recipients at AIG who were only repeating a violation they've made year after year, ask yourself what you ever did to prevent it from happening. Sure, integrity is what we do when no one's looking. But how can we blame people for breaking the rules of common decency when we see them violating our social contract, then simply look away?

Friday, February 6, 2009

Brain Drain?

Below is a link to a fabulous article on President Obama's plan to cap the compensation available to executives at banks that receive Federal Bailout funds.

The thing that's great about this article is that it flatly calls out those who oppose this plan in the clearest and best way - by contrasting their stance on executive/corporate welfare recipients with their stances on public welfare recipients. Calling out the obvious hypocracy of the Republican't party is something that we've been all to afraid to do in the past, and it's why a progressive agenda is routinely hijacked by the superior and ruthless discipline of the right wing. This article does that. It shows, with relative clarity, the pure hypocracy of the opposition to this common sense measure.

The one thing it fails to do, however, is draw the obvious conclusion as to why these folks would support the onerous burdens placed on the standard welfare recipient but oppose even the most reasonable restrictions on compensation for corporate welfare recipients (and seriously, does anyone think these folks deserve to be making more than $400,000 per year with what they've done?). While you can argue that it's a race thing, black and brown folk on welfare versus white folk in the board room, you'd be missing the point. Yes, it's a color thing, but that color is green. A recent article showed that bailed out banks spent more than $100 million (yes, you read that right) lobbying congress last year. While certainly there's a large chunk of that spent on high-powered lobbying firms' services, there's another large chunk going into campaign coffers. I doubt too many folks on welfare were able to lobby Congress last year.

My final comment, and something I wish this article expanded on, is the comment by Sen. Bob Bennett (R-UT), regarding the threat of a so-called "brain-drain" at these institutions. Sen. Bennett believes that capping corporate compensation will mean that top executives will leave these banks for work in fields where their earning potential is unlimited, leaving the banks to wallow without quality leadership (and doubtless this will be echoed in the Republican't spin chamber).

Let's ignore, for a moment, the fact that executive compensation is currently at near feudal level as compared to average employee compensation, outpacing historical levels by double and triple-digit multiples. Let's ignore the ridiculous concept that anyone NEEDS to make more than $400,000 per year. Let's simply focus on where we are, and how we got here. The current economic cataclysm was conceived, gestated and birthed by bankers obsessed with the potential profits of subprime loans, and then nurtured and coddled in these very boardrooms, where those self-same bankers created complex and convoluted systems to support their monstrous creations. Blinded to the long term risks of their investments by the seemingly endless earning potential, this "brain-trust" of Sen. Bennett's imagining abandoned their responsibilities to their shareholders and the larger society in a feeding frenzy of greed. Like sharks, they smelled blood in the water and whipped themselves into a frenzy, and, like sharks, were too literally shortsighted to see beyond the churning water to realize that the water was churning because a very large propeller was backing into the feeding frenzy. Now, the sharks want to flee ahead of the propellor, leaving us in it's path, but still carrying off as much as they need to fill their already bloated bellies.

It was the housing market collapse that destroyed the credit markets, dashed the dreams of millions of honest home buyers, and brought the entire global economy to its knees. Now Senator Bennett and his ilk are concerned about brain-drain at these institutions? Correct me if I'm wrong, but that sounds like we're worried that the Captain of the Titanic won't come back to pilot a sister ship if we dock his pay until he gets it safely to port. Pull the lever, I say. Let the sacred brain trust at the head of these banks out with the shitwater that we're all living in because of their mismanagement and greed. If we're gonna get slashed, it's only reasonable to expect their lifestyle to be reduced from outlandish to simply extravagant.

Thursday, February 5, 2009


Not much changing, really. Just the title, as neither my candidate nor I can accurately be described as "On the Trail."

I've got some personal commentary about the end of things, and the next phases, but I'm going to save it for a later time. For now, I'll launch this newly retitled entity with my first political commentary in a good, long time. If you like what I have to say, pass it on to your friends. If you don't, pass it on to your friends and mock me ceaselessly. Either way, pass it on to your friends.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Inauguration et al

I'm still sort of processing this whole thing, so for the time being, I'm just gonna upload a bunch of photos with a few comments. At some point in the not-so-distant future, I'll add commentary, analysis and so forth. For now, enjoy the images.

First, there was our trip to the big city... where, despite brutally cold temperatures and swirling snow, we did all the touristy things we could, like going to the Empire State Building. Here, Amy makes a new friend:
When we came up the escalator, this dude looked quite stuffed. And, as we'd been joking about King Kong, I sent her across to get a picture. I don't know that I've ever actually heard someone scream "like a little girl" previous to that, but when he started moving...

and here we are on top, where it's (duh) snowing.

Times Square looked pretty cool from up here.

Amy discovers that there's still a long way to the top...

And I discover that the stupid building is STILL taller than me.

Eventually, it was time to get on the southbound bus. NYC looks pretty cool the day after it snows.

We got up early on the big day, although not as early as some. Through a trick of fate, we had a ticket upgrade, and didn't feel the need to be in place at the crack of dawn. Thank god for the ticket upgrade, because we honestly wouldn't have made it in if we'd gone to the purple ticket line. If you haven't heard about the Purple Tunnel of Doom...

This is the scene just outside the purple gates, circa 8:45am.

There are three distinct lines here. Can you identify them? No? Well, thanks to wonderful forethought and planning by the United States Congress's Presidential Inaugural Committee, neither could anyone else. In fact, there was neither direction nor organization outside the gates. Here's a series of maps, so maybe you can understand what I'm talking about. First, the official seating chart:

Then, a google map of the area of the purple and yellow gates:

I've drawn in the Purple Ticket Holders' (PTH) line and access point, as well as those for Yellow Ticket Holders (YTH, line drawn in red). Now, it would have been simple to have either a) volunteers directing the lines, or b) movable barricade indicating the direction the lines should take. A very small amount of forethought could have made life much easier for a lot of people, and spared several thousand people with purple tickets the heartbreak of traveling to DC, getting excellent tickets, lining up in the wee hours on a freezing morning, only to be turned away without even reaching the gates. But no, congress felt that 40,000 people (about the combined number of ticket holders for those two areas) could figure it out for themselves. And so people just sorta lined up in whatever direction they saw fit, which resulted in the YTH line terminating into the PTH line, and the PTH line winding it's way into the Purple Tunnel of Doom (out of frame to the north). Oh, did I mention that every other color of ticket holder was attempting to get through the same area? So, eventually, here's what happened, as shown in the following two maps:
As you can see above, the YTH line terminates into the PTH line. The reason for the split in the line is that it couldn't go any further back, so it split into two to make enough room. Now, at about 8:30, when we arrived, there was space between the lines, and things were vaguely clear. Then things started to fill in, as more and more people simply filled the space. Those of us in line did our best to inform people that they needed to follow the PTH line around the building, but we were simply ignored. People crammed the empty space, effectively cutting the PTH line. By 9am, the lines looked something like this:
Now, some of you may be wondering, how in the hell will any of this work? What happened to the YTH line? How will they get through? And how will the PTH line ever figure itself out? Well, I'll tell you. After about 15 minutes of the YTH line not going anywhere, I decided to go on recon. After fighting my way through the Purple Scrum, I discovered that the YTH line had progressed about 100 yards east of Louisiana, and was moving inexorably towards the gates. Upon making this discovery, I returned, rallied my comrades, and off we went to rejoin our fellows in the YTH line. What I came to find out later was that Secret Service is not particularly fond of Scrums, especially the Purple Scrum, and, when faced with it, shut down the gates for a period. A period just long enough to prevent several thousand Purple Ticket Holders from gaining entry to the event.

But I knew nothing about the gate closure, or the many suffering, so off we went to the yellow gates, and in to the capitol grounds. Once inside...

There were still lots of people...

Although there were many, many more behind us on the National Mall...

And, of course, we were there too.

I was working on a 5 layer theory, although I only had two on my legs. Coulda used another everywhere. Amy, I believe, was on a 4-2, but she had warmer underlayers than I. Behind us, as you can see, are the Capitol Steps, one side of the grandstand that provided additional seating, and, of course, the Capitol Dome.

I'll write more about the speech, and the experience of being there, later.

Once things were over, we opted to walk the 3+ miles to the tuxedo rental joint, as there were few cabs and roughly 1 million people trying to ride the metro. Have I mentioned the DC metro? Beautiful, clean, fast, easily understood and efficient subway, completely ruined by a stupendously idiotic fare system. Unlike pretty much every other mass transit system in the world, rather than pay a simple fare to get on, fares vary depending on how far you're going. What this means, in the end, is that, unless you're buying an unlimited pass, you have to figure out the fare before you purchase your ticket. And, when you get off, instead of just leaving the station, you have to pass back through a turnstile to correctly debit your fare. This creates a logjam at the ticket machines, and a logjam at the station exits. Because of this stupidity, I was unable to appreciate the speed, convenience, cleanliness or beauty of the system, but instead spent every trip wondering who came up with such a dumbass way to collect the fare. Whoever came up with this system should be forced to buy single trip fares to different stations every day for eternity.

Anyway, we walked. Got the tux. Got dressed. And it was off to the ball...

Now, this was the Neighborhood Ball. Those of you who watched a ball on TV likely watched this one. I have to admit, I mostly went because hey, when am I gonna have another chance to hit up an official Inaugural Ball? But I was with friends

I was wearing a tux, I had a gorgeous lady on my arm...

did I mention the perfectly perfect, off the rack ballgown Amy found in NYC for the perfectly perfect price of $89?
and holy holy, was the entertainment off the hook. Will.I.Am kicked it off...

Mary J Blige had her say...

Maroon 5 wanted to sing, so they let em...

and they let Mariah Carey sing some pretty shit too...

I'm not sure who these two are, but someone let the dude have the mic for a little while. He was pretty good.

After they came out, it was like some sorta All-Star thing:

The US Color Guard was there...
Along with (left to right, or kinda) Queen Latifah, Puffy, Mary J Blige, Faith Hill, Denzel Washington, Sting, Will.I.Am Jay-Z, Vanessa Williams, Alicia Keys, Lucy Liu, Kate Walsh (not in picture, but there, Stevie Wonder, Leonardo DiCaprio, Shakira, Ray Romano, Nick Cannon...)

And why would the Color Guard be there? Well, I think they were there for this (can't get my stupid video to upload, but this one's better anyway):

After they danced, to that one, Stevie played a slightly "groovier" dance track for them...

When that was done, they waved to the crowd a bit...

and he chatted a little

Amy definitely heard it all...

They had other Balls to attend, so one more wave...

Then it was time for a little more entertainment. Jay-Z had some cool graphics to go along with his song, like this one:

Faith Hill played, and some crazy dudes with bouncy stilts and chicks on trapeezes. It was cool, but I didn't get good pictures, so you'll just have to look for them somewhere else if you wanna see em.

Once that was over, it was time to go off to the birthday party. People, lots of people, came. We were out till 3am. Here's a brief view of those in attendance:

My oldest homey, AKA Riley

Bill Gibbons, veteran of many states, but Iowa and Nevada chief among them

Most of my NV general election team showed, and a few even made it into this picture

Border State Coordinator Extraordinaire and generally wonderful gal Angelina Burnett (no "e") came too

Shoshona O'Keefe and Brad Hellman joined me, making Team Nevada State Democratic Convention 60% complete.

And even if I didn't want him there, DaveO would've come. Thankfully, I always want him there

A lot of other people came, too. Sadly, my camera decided it didn't want to continue to have battery life, so only memories will remain. And the hundreds of photos other people took and put on facebook.

There's a lot more to tell, and to say, about everything, but that's all the energy I have for blogging right now. Hopefully this will tide over those of you who've been emailing/texting/calling to ask for pictures and stories. More insightful commentary to come, soon.