Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Valentine's Day in March

Dear Elizabeth Warren,

I just heard you speak on The Rachel Maddow Show about Wall Street, and about the corporate banks which are slowly but surely doing to us what parasitic jungle vines do to trees.

When politics doesn't resemble a tightly-scripted TV show, it's busy aping PR releases. And hearing you call out the trolls, the bullies and the vermin who infest our financial sector in your simple and direct manner was refreshing in a way I can't quite describe.

I don't remember the last time I heard a politician speak who wasn't seduced by the bottomless campaign contributions with which Wall Street routinely purchases our elected representation.

It bordered on the revelatory.

Ditto the realization that the only senator in Washington DC with the balls to stand up to them is a woman.

Look. I know it's forty-something days past Valentine's Day, but if you won't be my president will you at least be my Valentine?


La Piazza Gancio

Friday, March 27, 2015

Getting from Point A to Point B with Bruce Rauner

Cousin Brucie is at it again.

His latest proposal to alleviate Illinois' budget crisis is to gut government subsidies to mass transit, including the Chicago Transit Authority, METRA and the Regional Transit Authority up to sixty-percent.

Despite my fondness for public transportation, I'll be the first to admit these bodies suffer undue difficulty in making ends meet, even as they enjoy large-market monopolies as providers of their respective forms of transportation.

But crippling them isn't the answer.

All three agencies have warned that deep service cuts and steep fare hikes loom if these suggestions are enacted.

And that, of course, is the operative word—enacted.

This could be nothing more than a political maneuver, a red herring meant to divert attention. Or a stratagem designed to scare constituents and make whatever budget cuts follow appear benign by comparison.

It could also be a genuine expression of contempt for what Rauner has repeatedly called “the welfare state” of public transportation in Illinois. Of course, in light of his stated goal of creating jobs and bringing business to Illinois, it's a curious beginning.

Chicago-area job postings regularly make mention of a maximum distance the successful applicant will reside from the job, an obvious cop to the outrageous congestion and commuting times which plague the metropolitan area.

It's hard to see how making a potential labor pool less—and not more—mobile, increasing, rather than decreasing, commuter's reliance on cars and adding to the burden already shouldered by Illinois' brittle motor vehicle infrastructure will improve anything, aside from spiking gasoline tax revenues.

It's also difficult to walk away without feeling that while Cousin Brucie may well want to make Illinois business-friendly and create jobs, he is not quite so interested in people actually getting to them.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Fueling Speculation

I'm confused. I mean, I know I'm not the sharpest tool in the shed. If I were, I would be sodomizing you from my office on Wall Street. But I drive a bus. Could this be the reason I am unable to puzzle out how cheap gas could be bad for the economy?

Despite the inroads made by electric cars, hybrids and more-efficient internal combustion engines, we remain a nation quite literally over an oil barrel. Be it getting to work, distributing consumer goods or taking the kids to soccer practice, we use gas. Lots of it. We can't function without it.

So when gas prices rise, its impact, combined with stagnant wages, is significant. A larger and larger portion of our income is devoted to fuel, leaving less and less for everything else. While this is wildly and exorbitantly wonderful for our oil companies, it is not so good for the rest of us.

And yet, after gas prices have steadily fallen for months, certain entities are propagating the idea that low gas prices not only impact the bottom lines of Royal Dutch Shell and Exxon, but are injurious to the economy as a whole.

How can it be that something which frees up billions of dollars, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed little dollars ready, willing and able to make their acquaintance with the remainder of the economy, be bad?

The answer is it can't.

Now, I've already indicated that I know as much about economics as House Republicans do about foreign policy, but I know for damn sure that cheap gas is better than expensive gas.

Rather than asking whether cheap gas is bad or good for the economy, perhaps a better question would be for whose economy is cheap gas harmful?

I think we already know.

Ripping a page from the Republican fear-mongering manual, industry trade associations are preying upon the fears of a citizenry recently out from under the dark cloud of a brutal recession, itching to impart the idea that low gas prices are a symptom of an economy about to go belly up.

The economy may well do exactly that, but you paying $2.49 per gallon of unleaded won't be the reason.

This falls right in line with previous industry explanations for price increases, shortages and other disruptions. It's the ____________ driving season. The threat of violence in ____________. And my favorite: a refinery is closed for maintenance.

Remarkable hardly describes the gluttony and manipulation oil companies, which receive billions in government subsidies (that's right--we pay them to look for the oil that we, well, pay for), feel entitled in foisting upon we the people. 

If you remain unconvinced, or are of the mind that Obama's Cheap Gas is reckless, destructive and a road to incipient socialism, I've included the addresses of our largest oil companies below.

Feel free to send them the difference between the per gallon price you paid today and the amount you feel guarantees a strong economy.

As for me, I'm ripping a page from the Who songbook. You know, the one about not getting fooled again.

Royal Dutch Shell PLC
Carel van Bylandtlaan 16, 2596 HR
The Hague, The Netherlands

Exxon Mobil Corporation
5959 Las Colinas Blvd
Irving, TX, 75039 United States

British Petroleum Company PLC
International Headquarters
1 St James's Square
London, SW1Y 4PD

Chevron Corporation
6001 Bollinger Canyon Rd.
San Ramon, CA, 94583 United States

Total SA
2 Place Jean Millier
Courbevoie, Hauts De Seine, 92400 France

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Bear Market

This past February was Chicago's coldest ever. Which is pretty amazing when you consider how overheated certain Chicago Tribune sportswriters were about the personnel employed by the local NFL franchise.

You'd think such frequent spontaneous human combustion would make weather records like these all but impossible.

In the world inhabited by David Haugh and Steve Rosenbloom, QB Jay Cutler and GM Phil Emery's continued employment ten-minutes after the conclusion of the regular season was a national crisis on par with Hillary's e-mail accounts, ISIS beheadings and Iran's nuclear program.

The Chicken Little twins advised us repeatedly that if Cutler and Emery weren't removed immediately, the earth would suffer a catastrophic shift of its axis, potentially placing next year's Chicago Bear schedule in jeopardy.

New threats to our collective well-being were exposed if head coach Marc Trestman and defensive coordinator Mel Tucker weren't disposed of with the urgency accorded spent uranium rods. 

Their warnings flowed like money at a Koch Brothers Super PAC.

Speaking as a reader, imagine enduring this kind of stress before you've even had time to sufficiently process Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez calling it quits.


With all but Cutler now gone, the twosome turned their attention to Brandon Marshall, a talented-but-outspoken wide receiver. They took strong exception to Marshall's remark that football was a platform, a means to an end, rather than an end in itself.

This as Haugh and several other Tribune sportswriters enjoy extra-curricular gigs on radio and TV in addition to their newspaper assignments. It's a shame Marshall didn't enjoy a similar bully pulpit from which to question their commitment.

The piling on was ugly. It was unfair. And it was pointless. Vince Lombardi couldn't have taken the 2014 Bears to the post-season.

In overreacting to unfulfilled expectations they themselves created by speaking breathlessly of last year's Bears as Super Bowl contenders, Haugh and Rosenbloom cease to be journalists and instead become their own sitcom, one best called Chasing My Tail.

Now the Bears have a new coach, John Fox. And a new GM, Ryan Pace. 

Welcome to Chicago, gentlemen. If you haven't won a Super Bowl by the Fourth of July, don't say you weren't warned.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Fixing Oscar?

There was an opinion expressed recently that since the Oscar telecast suffered a sixteen percent drop in viewership, something must be done. Like nominate Dawn of the Planet of the Apes or the latest Transformer product for best picture of the year.

These, it is said, are more representative of the movies America actually watches. There are a couple of dozen things wrong with this kind of thinking. I'll try and restrain myself to addressing just a few.

First off, if widespread consumption is the measure of excellence, why is no one nominating McDonald's hamburgers as America's finest? Or Bud Light as the best beer ever? Probably because they're not.

The Oscars seek to recognize the movies which best combine the elements of film: a compelling story, acting, cinematography and music. Or to celebrate those in which a particular aspect like editing or an actor's performance is transcendent.

Let me be clear: I'm not a snob. I mean, I like explosions and dirty, sweaty guys screaming “Arrrrrrrggghhhhh!!!” just before they point miniature, chrome-plated cannons at each other as much as the next dude. 

But just for a laugh, I think we should see what happens when we follow the advice of that famous dead Greek guy about reaching for the stars. About our reach exceeding our grasp.

Secondly, in the instant mass opinion gifted to us by social media, singular incidents—aberrations—assume the weight of decades-long trends. With the exception of the folks who hawk advertising space on ABC, who cares if people didn't find this year's Oscars telecast must-see TV? And why does anything need to be 'done' about it?

People may have avoided it in protest due to the all-white best actor and best actress nominees. Or because there weren't enough romantic comedies nominated in the best picture category. Who knows—maybe they were clearing snow from their cars in preparation for the Monday morning commute.

It doesn't mean we need to upend the Oscar blueprint.

This is akin to spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a Scarlet-throated Tanager defense network simply because a few misguided individuals created a lilliputian, even insignificant, problem with missile defense systems—once.


Finally, since when were the Oscars supposed to be a red-carpet-and-designer-gown, Super Bowl-styled ratings windfall? Let them be. Let the Oscars do what they do best, which is celebrate Hollywood and allow us the rest of us an opportunity to practice a little indoor astronomy.

Celebrate movies—not marketing campaigns.