Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Our Critical Tech Schools

Wisconsin's budgetary outlays are interesting to read about. A few percent here, several percent there, but nothing breaks into double-digits. Wisconsin just doesn't allocate much in any one particular area...

Except education.

Education support is the one item which not only breaks double-digits, but consumes the vast bulk of the State's expenses. How much? A whopping 38% of the State's money goes to some form of educational support, whether it be public schools, state-funded colleges, or tech schools. Education spending is to Wisconsin what Barbara Streisand's nose is to the rest of her face. It's what Donald Trump's hairpiece is to the top of his head. It's comparable to the percentage of Rush Limbaugh's body fat, or the percentage of Scott Walker's brain-cells devoted to his own ego.

In other words, if one is going to balance the Wisconsin State Budget, one simply has no choice but to cut education support somewhere. There's no way around it. We have to cut.

But may I make an impassioned plea that the one place we mustn't cut is our tech schools.

Our inner-city public schools have been failing. Our businesses are starved for skilled workers. That means that there are hundreds of thousands of under-qualified Milwaukee residents, and thousands of businesses forced to hire outside the State, or leave outright. Bridging this horrendous gap is Milwaukee Area Technical College. With a dual-pronged approach of making up for the lost learning from high school and giving excellent collegiate educational quality for the dollar, MATC is the one, lone bridge allowing those in the realm poverty to cross over the troubled waters of education to reach the promised shore of decent wages. It's the one beacon of hope that desperate education-seekers have.

Oh, don't get me wrong, MATC has its problems! It has its own teachers union which has basically decided to protect its full-time personnel in favor of screwing over the part-time instructors. And it seems to have the habit of looking after its own members Ph.D. aspirations more than is healthy. But it really is a remarkable institution otherwise. Its bathrooms have no mirrors and barely any tissue paper (because it can't afford these creature-comforts), its downtown buildings are old and dilapidated, and its facilities are stripped so bare that its teachers are forced to bring in their own white-board markers because none of the ones the school provides are ever anything but bone-dry. But it gets the job done. As teacher pay gets cut, and need for skilled workers becomes even greater, the gulf MATC bridges is more important than ever.

Cutting funding to tech schools like MATC now is the stupidest possible move. Why shut the front door on a burning building full of people?

Unlike MPS, MATC is doing awesome. It, along with two other Wisconsin tech schools, namely, Northeastern Technical College and Moraine Park technical college, are ranked in the upper 10% of technical schools in the nation in terms of demonstrating high levels of student success.

In other words, MATC is succeeding where MPS is failing.

Cut everywhere else if you must, but cut MATC last of all! It's an institution that's desperately needed, desperately wanted, and best of all...'s working!


Friday, April 22, 2011

I Want A Chevy Volt!

The Chevy Volt is out, and I want one!

It's the 2011 Motortrend car of the year, and for good reason. All the benefits of a pure electric, with a small gasoline motor to act as a safety-net for longer drives. Nice! And with gasoline prices blowing the ceiling right off of gasoline station rooftops, we could all use one, couldn't we? Looks like the Volt has arrived just in time to save America's economy from yet another gasoline-induced economic recession.

Well, guess again. GM has produced, for 2011, 10,000 models of the new Volt. Ten thousand! That's it! To put that in perspective, the village of Greendale has a population of 14,400. The Bradley Center seats 18,000. You could fit the entire run of Chevy Volts for 2011 in the parking lot of Miller Park, and it wouldn't come close to occupying half of it!

It'll be easier to buy a ticket for the Superbowl than it will be to buy a Chevy Volt.
So much for the rescue.

Why are we, who are so starving for this needed product being tossed these few, paltry crumbs? Why is the free market not rising to the challenge?

The answer is simple supply and demand. GM has produced one hell of a car, but it cost them one hell of an investment. The price tag for this new vehicle would have been equivalent to that of a gas-guzzling sports car, without all the traditional flash. So GM pledged to hold the price down below $35,000. As it turns out, the car has smashed through that ceiling, and is going for something like $44,000. Worth it? You bet. IF you can find one!

You see, if left to the free market, GM would be rolling Volts off by the hundreds of thousands, for the initial price of around $60,000. But because they made a pledge to hold the price down, they simply cannot make money if they produce high volume. So they produce low volume, take a small gain, or possibly even a calculated small loss, and make plans to ratchet up the production gradually. It makes good business sense, but hurts the rest of us, for whom this technology is sorely overdue.

It's 'Tickle Me Elmo' all over again. Remember 'Tickle Me Elmo?' Christmas of 1995, I believe. The manufacturer of that toy pledged to only sell at a set, low price. But then demand went through the roof as everyone's kid wanted one. To meet demand, the price should have been raised to pay for the cost of increased production. But no, the price had to stay the same -- they promised. The result? No Elmos on the store shelves. And when they did materialize, parents stampeeded for them like herds of wild buffalo, at times getting into fisticuffs with other parents who dared get to the toy first.

It's the effect of price-fixing. You can't force the market. If the price is forced to stay low, manufacturers cannot make money unless they produce far less. The Soviet Union learned this lesson the hard way. If one forces prices of bread to be low by law, then prices will be low -- but the bakery shelves will usually be empty. The "invisible hand" fights back against attempts to force prices lower than what the free market demands.

The manufacturers of 'Tickle Me Elmo' lost out on the opportunity to make billions. Likewise, GM is going to lose billions. Oh, it won't be operating under red ink. In fact, the Volt sales will likely show a small profit. But that's because they didn't have to break the bank on producing very many. What SHOULD have happened is for prices on 'Tickle Me Elmo' to have been raised, production lines increased, and vastly more money made, to say nothing of there being lots stress-relieved parents as a result. The following year, demand would come down, and the price would have dropped dramatically. Investments in production for the company would have been made, and the cost of production would be dramatically less. Lots more parents could get Elmos for a reasonable price. And GM? It should be selling Volts at $60K or more, making money hand over fist, then, next year, the 2012 models can come down in cost. The manufacturing infrastructure will have been expanded and improved. People will finally be able to flip the bird to the overpriced gas stations forever.

And GM will be rolling, rolling, rolling in cash. But nah, that would mean the corporate executives would have to be smart!

And in case you're wondering where else I'm going with all this, it's very similar to the situation with collective bargaining and teachers' salaries. Give legislators the ability to fix the price of hiring an inner-city school teacher to what they THINK it should be, and the salary will be affordable to the taxpayer -- but good luck finding anyone to teach science or math!

In the meantime, we'll have to make do with what other options are out there. A Toyota Prius is still an affordable option, with the power of a wet noodle and the mileage of a Harley Fat-Boy. Nissan has a nice all-electric car, the Leaf, if you're willing to never drive out of the city. Most don't. In fact, Nissan may be poised to run away with this thing! Or how about a Ford? Ford now has hybrid Fusions, Fiestas and Focuses (Foci?). If you want a hybrid, that's the most affordable way to get one, with prices under $20K. (NOW you're talking!) Nissan may have the best all-electric, but Ford has gone hybrid-crazy, and is now the leading car manufacturer again. Or, maybe one could go extra fancy and buy a Tesla. Those sports cars are not only all-electric and could take you from Milwaukee to the Twin Cities, they're SWEET! But they cost the equivalent of a luxury yacht.

Meanwhile, BMW is producing the electric crossover model, the Megacity, Mercedes Benz is producing the Blue Zero, and even Minicoops are now coming out with a "Mini-E" version. But look out! China's car-company, BYD, is producing the E6! The Panda has seen the future!

All this is happening because the demand for electrics and hybrids is so high. Ford saw it, and is currently #1 again. GM could have seen it, but stubbornly stayed married to the idea of too little, too late.

Just think of how wonderful GM's stock would be, and how stable our economy would have been, had GM not been stupid enough to kill the EV-1 model back in the early 90's!

Oh, the folly of it all!


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Waiting for Superman

I've got a lot to blog about, but there's just too much to summarize, so let me start with the one that's most on my mind.

I've just seen the documentary film, 'Waiting for Superman.' It's about the plight of the failings of our public school system, and what can be done to fix it. As someone working to become a teacher, I knew this was a film I probably wanted to see. So I put it in my Netflix cue and finally got around to viewing it.

Twenty minutes in, I was furiously taking notes.

I knew things were bad, but I had no idea that they were this bad. And the film illustrated the problem in the best possible way, by following the lives of a few kids, and their caring parents. One kid, an adorable Hispanic girl who said she wanted to be a doctor, broke my (and indeed, everyone's) heart when she didn't get into the school she wanted.

The interviews were enlightening, and the facts, staggering. I've long heard Charlie Sykes rant about the situation in public schools in Milwaukee, but one of the interviewees was none other than Howard Fuller, former Superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools. In an event which took place many years ago (apparently, while I was paying attention to something else), a kid walked into an MPS school with a hidden camera, taking pictures of teachers who were doing nothing, reading newspapers, with whole classrooms full of kids doing absolutely nothing. Fuller, when shown the video, yelled, "I'm gonna fire these people!"

The teacher's union stopped him. After he'd fired them, he was later forced to hire them back, with one year's back-pay.

Realizing he wasn't in charge, he resigned.

This acute Milwaukee connection got my attention. And there were plenty of other figures which blew me away. Here's just a small sample of what I wrote down in the notes I took from the film:

In Pennsylvania, 67% of all prison inmates are high school dropouts.
There, it costs $33,000 per year to incarcerate one inmate. Over the average period of incarceration, four years, that's $132,000 dollars.
A private school in PA costs $8,300 per year. So for K through 12th grade, the state could have put the same inmate through a quality school for 13 years. 13 times 83K is $107,000.
If they did, they'd still have $24,000 left over for that person to go to college.

Where is all the money going?

Here's another stunning fact: There are 14,000 separate, autonomous school boards in the U.S. That's a lot of cooks to spoil the broth! Any reform efforts must face fourteen thousand individual bureaucracies!

(This same multiplicity of school boards is also what allows creationism to thrive in science classrooms below the radar.)

This one really blew me away: A bad teacher retards a student's development by 50% of an entire year. By contrast, a good teacher can bring students up by 150% or more! And here's a juicy tidbit: If we were to eliminate only the bottom 10% of bad teachers, and replace them with only average teachers, our overall school performance would jump to the level of Finland, which has the best academic measurements in the world!

We've got to get rid of those bad teachers! But firing a teacher is harder than curing herpes these days.

In Illinois, for example, there are 876 school districts. Only 61 of them even tried to fire a teacher. Only 38 were successful. Ever.

Compare this with other professions. On average, 1 in 57 doctors will lose their license. One lawyer in 97 will be disbarred. But among teachers, only 1 out of every 2,500 will lose their teaching license.

Why is this? Well, Howard Fuller found that teachers had something called "Tenure." Interesting, that. Tenure was originally meant for college professors, and was designed to prevent them from being fired for arbitrary or political reasons. Even today, professors can teach college classes for years before they qualify, and many never even get tenure.

Tenure for high school teachers? And it's automatic after only two years? When the hell did that happen?

I've always held the opinion that you can't pay a good teacher enough, while you can't fire a bad teacher fast enough.

Sadly, teacher's unions have stood in the way of both these things.

This brings me to the subject of the unions, and the power they've had. I've recently put my good name on the line defending these unions, while simultaneously hedging my defense by advocating that these unions be reformed. I now know just how deep that reform needs to run. Unions need reform, and not just for public sector unions. The whole thing needs to be reworked.

A few blog posts ago, I detailed some needed overall union reforms. I errantly left out one BIG one, and for that, I apologize. The one I left out, the most important one of all, is this:


I don't think I can overemphasize this enough. The survival of unions depends upon this more than anything else. Over and over again, those who oppose unions cite the inevitable lazy son-of-a-bitch who doesn't produce, gets over-paid, and who can't be fired. Why is it that union leadership doesn't realize that if they could just change that one thing, and then change the perception of it, if they could just get that damned pro-laziness albatross off from around their collective necks, they could have complete political acceptance? Why do unions not realize they need to fire lazy jerk-offs more than they need oxygen?

The answer, I fear, is poor leadership within unions. A good union, with wise leadership, can be a sound system which benefits all. A bad union is worse than no union at all.

Which might explain why Walker went after the unions.

The secret-camera episode is what Walker should have cited when attacking the teachers unions, instead of listing all of the bullshit union "offenses" which I debunked in my blog post from March 13 of this year (yet another example of his overall incompetence). He probably didn't because it was an episode from back in the early 90's. But so what? The need to be able to fire bad teachers is still essential.

(Where was Howard Fuller during this whole Madison budget-battle, by the way?)

The film cited Michelle Rhee, who was given broad powers to reform schools in Washington, D.C., which has the worst performing public schools in the nation. She started to make progress, but she knew she needed to make sure the bad teachers were gotten rid of. Her proposal to the teachers union during a collective bargaining session was brilliant: Either teachers could accept "tenure" with modest pay increases, or they could relinquish tenure and potentially receive massive pay increases based on performance. It was a brilliant masterstroke! I must say, I think this Michelle Rhee is one hell of a woman!

The union didn't even let her measure come up for a vote, fearing it would pass.

Meanwhile, enterprising charter schools, such as the Kipp academy, and boarding schools such as SEED in New York, are working -- operating outside the sphere of influence of the teachers unions.

David Guggenheim, the director of the film, told it like it is, and really targeted the fact that most political contributions from teachers unions go to Democrats. He wasn't being political, he was merely telling the truth. As such, we're greatly indebted to him. This is the same guy who directed the film, An Inconvenient Truth! He's certainly no raging conservative nut-job!

So here's my new position, and I don't think it's too radically different from my old one: I intend to really pound hard upon the leadership of the Milwaukee teachers union to push for the firing of poor teachers, and to drop any attempts to defend residency rules. Those unions should be defending the quality of education just as much, if not more, than the teachers themselves. I'll watch them like a hawk! After that, it depends on what the union itself does or has to say. If they do the right thing, all's well. If they don't...

Well, then I'll be forced to eat my slice of humble pie, and admit that, in his sheer incompetence, and primarily out of political malice, Scott Walker may just have accidentally done the right thing in breaking the teachers' union.

And I'll be there afterwards to help with the work of putting the union back together again, only better this time.


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Antimatter and Dark Energy

Every once in a great while, I get hit with a really big realization, and I wonder why I never thought of it before. For example, just the other day I was suddenly struck with the insight that all the attacks against Chris Abele having paid no taxes were actually an indictment of Republican tax policy. After all, it's been the Republicans who have consistently given the richest 1% all the tax breaks they can muster. So should they at all be surprised that somewhere out there, as a direct result, there would exist a rich philanthropist who exploits every charitable loophole they themselves provided to pay no taxes? Strange, really. Those on the right-wing never seemed to have a problem with that, until such a wealthy individual decided to represent the left and run for County Executive of Milwaukee. I'm kicking myself for not realizing this obvious fact, and doubly kicking myself for not thinking of it before election day came.

But this most recent thought dwarfs the one about Abele. And, fortunately, it's not about politics for once.

There was a recent story I posted to my Facebook page about CERN, and about how the Large Hadron Collider may have discovered a new sort of anti-particle. Almost simultaneously, Fermilab, the older, smaller particle accelerator located outside of Chicago, announced that it may have made a breakthrough discovery. And these might give new insights into antimatter and how it works.

Strange thing about antimatter, though. There's so little of it. Or is there?

Thinking about the structure of the atom, I've often mulled over how atoms give off light if those atoms are put into an excited state with energy. So, if an electron "orbiting" a nucleus is charged with energy, it will move into a higher orbital. Then, when it returns to its lower orbital again, it will emit a photon of light. Different sizes of orbital shifts make different colors along the spectrum, including ultraviolet, gamma rays, radio waves, infrared, and so forth.

But that's matter. What if antimatter had it's positrons put into an excited state while orbiting a nucleus comprised of antiparticles? Would we then get a photon of "anti-light?"

It's an intriguing thought. Find some excited antimatter, and if you were wearing antimatter-seeing glasses, you could see an entire star which wasn't there before! Or maybe an entire galaxy full of them?

And this gives an interesting possibility as to the riddle of "dark matter." It's not really dark, perhaps. It just might be that dark matter is dark to our eyes because we have eyes of matter and the dark-matter is emitting anti-light which we can't see or yet detect. So if CERN finds a way to "see" in anti-light, wouldn't it be something if we suddenly found a whole shitload of galaxies that weren't there!

And black holes? Black holes happen when enough matter collapses in upon itself so that the very atoms collapse. But however small, however dense that black hole may be, at it's core is still what is essentially matter. So if you have a black hole, you could, in effect, have an "anti-black-hole!"

What happens when a black hole collides with an anti-black-hole? A quasar, perhaps?

This still doesn't solve the riddle of "dark energy," which seems to be making the universe's expansion accelerate. But just in case some dude comes up with this idea later, I wanted to throw up the idea first on this blog, just to gain primacy. Who knows? I may be right!

Then again, maybe I'm just brilliantly wrong.

On second thought, it doesn't look quite so brilliant to me. Maybe that's because it's shining in anti-light.


Sunday, April 10, 2011

Inside Job

I just watched the movie, Inside Job, which is a documentary about the banking crisis of 2008, and how it happened. In some ways it was not as good as the PBS documentary episode of Frontline, which covered the same topic, and in other ways it was better. But one thing mentioned in the film stands out with me, and keeps nagging at my mind over and over. The film claimed that anti-regulation ideology has become so entrenched within the financial world that it has (and forgive me if I'm paraphrasing, but I'm pretty sure this is an exact quote), "corrupted the halls of academia." In other words, students majoring in business are imbued with anti-regulation idealism rather than economic reality.

From personal experience, I can see where someone on the left might see it this way. Often, you can tell what a student's major is simply by observing the student's extra-curricular activities. If the student is a member of the Young Republicans, it's a good bet that his major is in either finance, accounting, economics or something else business related. If the student is a member of the SDS (Students for Democratic Society), that student is probably a humanities major of some kind. (Natural science majors don't often seem to bother much with politics at all.) So a perspective that sees liberalism as superior to conservatism might well regard this as right-wing corruption within the financial world permeating into our very colleges and universities.

Oh, I can hear the right-wing pundits now! "How dare these liberals think that unless their ideology completely dominates every square inch of college campuses that it somehow amounts to 'corruption!' Are they really so blind as to think that only their views can be taught to students? Are they really so frightened of what free market capitalism has to say?"

Well, speaking from the center-left, no, we're not afraid of what free market capitalism has to say. Even if it is based upon the outdated and unreadable novels of Ayn Rand, and the wild-eyed idealism of Milton Friedman. But we are afraid of only one side getting taught, regardless of the context. It's not right that business majors get taught only one view, while liberal arts gets taught another view, and natural science gets taught yet another view. Bullshit, I say. A more broad-based educational environment is needed. And liberal views ought not be shunned in Lubar Hall at UWM any more than conservative views should be shunned in Curtin Hall.

But that's not the real point of this blog. The real point is this: Why is it that there are still two competing economic views that make this campus-division even possible? Why are followers of Keynes still at war with the disciples of Hayek? Why are Democrats championing one view, and Republicans another? Why, in a world where penalizing economic success is every bit as false a doctrine as a flat tax and unbridled deregulation of corporate and banking institutions, do we not have a unified synthesis of economic theory?

It certainly can't be for lack of information. Hell, this is the information age! It can only be because those in both academic and political power don't want to find the truth!

This should not be surprising. In today's world, people have denied one fact after another, based solely on the propaganda of corporate-funded academics. We've heard their bullshit before:

Cigarettes might not give you cancer.
Burning coal doesn't produce acid rain.
Chlorofluorocarbons aren't eroding the ozone hole.
Deforestation isn't killing the spotted owl.
DDT should have been freely distributed to central Africa.
Humans aren't the cause of global warming.

And besides this, significant percentages of the public think that the Moon landings were faked, that aliens traveled billions of light years just to fuck with us using crop-circles, and that John Edwards can really talk to the dead. No wonder they think we're suckers!

And no wonder politics keep Keynes and FDR's politics separate from Hayek, Von Mises, and the Chicago school of economics. It's just too easy to muddy the water!

Here's my promise to you, my readers. I'm going to spend quite a lot of time researching the differences between these two schools of thought, and find out which parts of the ideas work, and which don't. I expect to find much merit in both camps, and also expect that there might be better ideas not thought of by either. It will take me awhile. Hell, it might even result in me writing yet another book. (Which gets passed over yet again for publication in favor of such nonsense as, "They Call Me Baba Booey.") But at the very least, I will blog my findings with you all, and give you a nice, little crash-course in economic wisdom.

Wish me luck!


Union Reforms

Everybody has an opinion about unions. They might blame unions for the loss of manufacturing jobs overseas, or maintain that unions are the only thing preventing a global corporate takeover. As usual, the truth is somewhere in between. A friend of mine maintains, and I partially agree, that the government has assumed much of the role that unions once played – providing employee protections such as OSHA and MSDS requirements, minimum wages, anti-harassment laws, and so forth. He therefore feels that unions should just go away to allow us to compete in the global free market. I, however, feel the time has come, not for union destruction, but for union reformation, and I want to share those ideas with you all. See if you agree.

First, some historical background. Unions claim that they were responsible for the building of manufacturing jobs in America. But were they?

On balance, no. The Great Depression came as a result of imbalance in the money supply (too few at the very top had all the cash, causing the economy to grind to a halt due to the friction caused by most people having no money to spend), and the unwillingness of industries to produce more and make more jobs. The second problem stemmed directly from the first. Business owners were financially comfortable living on interest without producing, so why should they have to build plants and/or hire workers just to make merchandise nobody could afford anyway? It was a deeply-rooted problem.

Unions did help to move the machinery of industry somewhat, but not enough. Furthermore, they were led by Marxist writings, which advocated revolution. This started a tradition of combativeness within union leadership. Industrialists quite rightly feared an assault upon their wealth, and responded to unions with violent force. Union leaders were often killed. Industrial leaders were sometimes attacked. Police were sometimes called in, persuaded by the politicians who had accepted Corporate money, to beat picket lines with truncheons. It was a frightening time. The inner war between workers and manufacturers threatened to topple the United States as a nation.

FDR realized that money supply at the lowest-rung was the problem, and put in a program based on Keynes’ economic model – that an influx of government money can break the deadlock. He put Americans to work with the “Alphabet Soup” of government employment programs, building roads, building infrastructure such as the Tennessee Valley Authority, even building entire communities such as the Milwaukee suburb of Greendale.

It started to work, but slowly. Sometimes unions helped, but sometimes hurt, FDR’s efforts. More people had more money to spend, but it was five loaves and two fish given to a multitude. The miracle needed to make this feed all the masses, and have twelve basketfuls of fragments left over afterward, came in the form of war.

World War II did several things: First, it forced industry to build, train, and hire workers. Second, it hired and paid hundreds of thousands of young men as soldiers, outstripping any previous government work-hire program. Third, it made the wealthy more willing to pay a fairer share of their taxes, knowing that such money was for the war effort. Fourth, it took out a significant percentage of the populations of the U.S. and Europe, relieving the population surplus which was hampering economic growth potential. Fifth, it made government and industry invest heavily in research and development – the lifeblood of a growing economy. In short, the war led to the biggest investment of government and industry both in the American economy. When the war was over, the rich were paying their fair share, and everyone had money to spend. What followed was an industrial boom, a housing boom, a baby boom, and an investment boom.

But America wasn’t done. There was another war to keep the trend going. The Cold War made sure that research and development never ceased, fueling NASA and the space race into developing the computer technology that would make our current wealth possible. It forced politicians to invest in education – something no government hoping to maintain itself can do without. Furthermore, fears over nuclear war caused us to build a network of interstate highways so that people could flee cities rapidly in the event of nuclear attack. The unintended consequence was to make our national transport network the most advanced in the world, thus ensuring our economic dominance for decades to come.

That’s what built America’s industrial dominance in the late 20th Century. Government employment programs, combined with corporate willingness to train and hire, and the wealthy willing to pay their fair share.

Well, if unions weren’t responsible for building American industry, what about the opposite? Are unions responsible for the loss of manufacturing jobs in America?

Again, on balance, no. Unions did tend to demand wages that are higher than non-union wages, but non-union wages still were higher than wages overseas in nations such as China, Mexico, South Korea, Indonesia and elsewhere. That meant that the manufacturing jobs would still eventually have gone overseas had unions not been there. The process would have been slower at first, but the ability of banks to wire money in seconds to the other side of the globe meant that businesses could hire abroad and fly goods out that were made cheaply.

What ended manufacturing in America? Internet banking and globalization. The jet power brought about by WWII eventually made it possible to move goods from overseas to America in record time. But when the Internet made it possible to pay overseas workers with a mouse-click, the exodus of American jobs really began. Ultra-competitive retailers such as Wal-Mart accelerated the process. Fueled by a consumer-lust for lower prices and damn the quality, jobs moved overseas. (The subject of Wal-Mart is enough for an entirely separate blog-post. It’s not that the retail giant is evil. It’s merely a “catastrophic success.”)

So where does that leave unions? Well, with globalization, unions are a non-factor. Any corporation can simply go around any labor strike by moving manufacturing to a different country. Before technology made this possible, companies couldn’t move, and union demands had to eventually be acquiesced to. But today, even if a union strikes and wins, all they’ve done is make a competitor better able to manufacture for lower prices and thus seal their eventual job-loss doom. They might also strike and bring down the entire company at once, leaving everyone out of work. We saw this with Schlitz beer, Allis Chalmers, and several others. It seems that unions are done, and we are all doomed to see ever downward-spiraling prices and wages, coupled with an increasing dependence upon government to protect the labor force, or make welfare for those that get squeezed out by this new service-based economy. The only unions left will be those of billionaire sports athletes.

Not so, I say! Here are two lessons from history that show why:

First, General Motors. Oh, they’ve had their labor problems, but if you look recently, you see few strikes, and an air of cooperation between union leaders and corporate executives. This shows what wonderful things can happen when unions drop the young-Marxist ideology of combativeness towards business owners.

Second, look at a German industrialist of old, named Krupp. He hated unions. So, to keep unions out of his company, he took a radical approach. He paid his workers! Figure that! If you want to keep unions from forming, just make them too happy to bother. It worked! Krupp’s company gained fantastic success, and working for Krupp meant having your own company house, car, school for your kids, even a company church where you had your own funeral plot pre-paid. This shows the power of what happens when business owners have beneficence towards their labor.

So, with that in mind, here are my ideas for unions:

1.) Establish a tradition of cooperation between unions and corporations. This may involve re-naming unions altogether. Maybe we can call them workers guilds, or some such. But combativeness between executives and union leaders must end. Workers’ strikes should be rare, or non-existant. Nothing can legislate this. It can only come by patience and wisdom.

2.) To that end, union leadership must be radically altered. As it is, unions are often despotic, with a centralized leader. That should be outlawed! Unions must be decentralized democracies ruled by many representatives. The laws of our nation must be made to ensure this. No union will vote to destroy their own jobs by striking at the wrong time.

3.) The law must be changed so that corporations must have an open-book policy of their financial positions to union leaders. When a company states that an increase in wages will destroy the company, and show so on paper, the union oughtn’t think it’s a trick. Some state laws and a few federal laws already require this, but these laws need to be expanded and strengthened.

4.) UNIONS MUST GLOBALIZE!!! If corporations go global, then the unions must too. (Duh!) Workers won’t get the higher pay they deserve if corporations can simply move the work somewhere else. Thus, unions must spread to those nations where corporations might be tempted to move to. Then, when negotiations start, there’s no getting around it – wages must increase! It will take time, and much effort, but it can be done if unions get spread abroad – STARTING WITH MEXICO!

These reforms won’t guarantee unions will survive. It may already be too late. But if unions know what’s good for them, they’ll work towards these goals as quickly as possible.

And here's another thought: If unions take root in China, and demand better wages from an indifferent socialist government, it is only a small step for them to decide they want to demand other rights as well. Unions could bring democracy to China!

Sounds like a good idea to me!


Thursday, April 7, 2011

Great, More Gridlock.

Our democratic electoral system works fairly well, IF there's a clear margin of victory. Unfortunately, sometimes the elections are close. Then, all the little mistakes that inevitably happen get pushed to the forefront, and people have something to argue about.

Joanne Kloppenburg seems to now have lost. In the past, close races like this have resulted in the initial seeming winner to loudly maintain victory anyway, tell the other candidate to have class and bow out gracefully, and stop fighting the political process. Also, when voter corrections seem to consistently favor only one candidate, someone tends to scream foul, citing how suspicious it seems that all the "corrections" seem to be going one way.

We saw this pattern with Al Franken in Minnesota recently in 2008. Over and over again, Al was told to step down. He didn't. When his opponent claimed victory, he didn't give up. When the final votes showed that Franken won, Republicans whined that he'd stolen the election. We saw something similar in 1974 when, after several recounts, Republican Louis Wyman beat Democrat John Durkin for the U.S. House of Representatives. Congress called for a re-election, which Durkin won. In the Washington Gubernatorial election of 2004, Republican Dino Rossi appeared to defeat Democrat Christine Gregoire. A recount confirmed Dino Rossi had won. But a second recount declared Christine Gregoire the winner.

My take on all this is simple. I choose to lead by example. Instead of whining how Prosser "stole" the election, or some other nonsense like that, I will champion the democratic process, imperfect though it may be. If I hear any bitching or complaining from the Democratic party about it, I'll voice my opinion against it, and stand for what's right, even though it's contrary to my own personal wishes. I do this, because that's what Republicans should have done with Franken in 2008, with Gregoire in 2004 and with Al Gore in 2000. That's what both sides should always do whenever a race is close.

Still, you never can tell with these recounts.

Meanwhile, the budget battle on Capital Hill continues. My take on that is simple:

Planned Parenthood is worth shutting down the government to protect. Period.

And the health care reform funding is non-negotiable.

By the way, Obama's going to win re-election. How do I know?

Let me put it this way: Donald Trump? Seriously, Donald Trump?!

That's all for now.


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A Perfect Political Storm

A caller-in to the Charlie Sykes show earlier this morning got me to realize something. "This is an utter debacle!" He complained. "Scott Walker needs to re-think his strategy. If he'd just waited a couple of months, he'd have Prosser, and everything else he wanted."

And you know what? He's right! Walker's headstrong, ready-fire-aim approach has resulted in him getting shot in the foot.

Yes, if he'd waited a couple of months, Prosser likely would have won in a landslide. Instead, he's in a virtual tie, and possible loss, to a woman who, in spite of a lifetime of legal experience, has never been a judge before. But it goes even deeper than that.

Political bystander apathy resulted in the stage being set for this nonsense in the first place. In spite of a general left-of-center overall leaning in Wisconsin, liberals stayed home last November, allowing the 30% of pissed off Republicans who voted to take power. (I suppose I wouldn't mind that so much except that now, Republicans are audaciously claiming that "The people have spoken," as if they'd had some sort of majority back then.) The apathy continued during the judicial primary. Kloppenburg won the nomination to be one of the two finalists mostly because everyone assumed that Prosser would be a shoo-in, and Kloppenburg would be a sacrificial lamb. In a normal election cycle, that's the way it would have happened. Kloppenburg had plenty of courtroom experience, but kept getting turned down for judicial appointments. Doyle and Obama both turned her down multiple times. Most people assumed that meant there was something wrong with her, even though they couldn't tell what that might be. In actuality, politicians like appointing judges to high judicial seats if they've already won election to a more minor judicial seat. Why? Because that gives them some measure of assurance that such an appointment will be able to retain that position when running for re-election. Kloppenburg, who'd never run for any damned thing, was less than ideal only in that regard. Her inexperience in running a campaign meant an almost sure-fire victory for Prosser. But, she spent the most money out of any non right-wing candidate, and so she made runner-up. Then, Scott Walker happened.

To a budget that clearly needed a scalpel, Walker revved up a chainsaw. Everyone went up in arms. In the first month of his administration, he had Wisconsin, of all places, in a full-fledged revolt. Kloppenburg, who was by no means the first choice of those on the left, ended up running a ham-handed campaign which talked very good stuff about ending partisan divisions while allowing partisan interest groups to attack Prosser on her behalf without objection. Normally, that would blow up in her face, but people are so pissed at Walker, and so convinced that Prosser would be in his back pocket, that they voted for Kloppenburg anyway. This was also in partial reaction to another justice who shouldn't have won, Michael Gabelman, who won, some say, thanks to dirty campaign advertising against Louis Butler. Gabelman probably wasn't the ideal conservative first choice, either, but to defeat the man they'd nicknamed "Loophole Louie," he got the nod. Regardless, Gabelman showed that ethics don't matter in politics - only victory. Now, in addition to Gabelman, we will have Kloppenburg (assuming she edges out in her virtual tie-vote), making for two justices who are not the ideal choice on a panel of merely seven.

That's an overall lose-lose. And we largely have Walker's incompetence to blame for it.

Then there's the event I'm still puzzling about: Walker separated out the budgetary elements of the bill that would strip public sector unions of their bargaining rights, but only made this obvious move long after a virtual political civil war tore the state apart. Fucking WHY? Why did he wait for weeks on end to do this? Why did he seemingly throw the state into chaos, and then settle the contended issue as though he'd forgotten he'd left the solution to the deadlock in his other pocket that whole time?

Were I a conservative, I would fiercely want Walker recalled, not because I would disagree with his positions, but because of his sheer incompetence. He fails to plan, at all, makes up a tactically stupid plan on the fly, then sticks to that poor design plan, and shows "strong leadership" by not deviating from it. He's the type of guy who swats flies with a brick. He's the type of guy who listens to good advice, then ignores it. He's a hammer, and sees all the world's problems as nails for him to pound down. He's George W., without the stammering, all the steadfastness, and none of the brains. He's exactly the type of leader that liberals love because they can win by comparing their conservative opponents to him. Already, politicians are winning all over the state on the campaign slogan of, "I'm not Walker, vote for me!" And it's working.

In short, Walker is the Perfect Political Storm. P.P.S. for short. So, we can refer to Scotty, in future, as 'Governor Scott Walker, P.P.S.'

Yet another nickname for 'Little Boy Blue,' a.k.a. our beloved 'Slash & Burn Scooter.'


Sunday, April 3, 2011

Tuesday's Elections

Interesting how pumped people are about an election cycle that normally only gets noticed by those that have enough free time to be aware of it - namely, the retirement community. It seems that this time, an election day that would consider itself lucky to have 15% of the electorate come out and vote could have as much as 75% of the electorate vote, with each voter, regardless of party affiliation, mad as a white hornet.

There's a vote for the Wisconsin supreme court coming up. Kloppenburg v. Prosser. Now, I don't know what's scarier: The fact that justices are selected by the common ignorant lemmings who make up the electorate, or the fact that the alternative would be for those justices to be selected by the partisan nation-dividers we laughably call politicians. Personally I'm not inclined to allow politics to decide supreme court positions. I want five moderates on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. I want nine moderates on the United States Supreme Court. I want all moderates in every Supreme Court and every other court, for that matter. And I want nothing but a pool of moderates to choose from in every justice's selection process, whether it's as insane as letting everyday people pick a judge, or as slovenly as permitting a three-ring circus of legislators to vet a judicial selectee.

That being the case, I like Kloppenburg's campaign calling for a moderate voice in the court system and ending political partisanship. Whether she really believes it or not, it's about damned time somebody said it! The fact that her opponent, Prosser, is not echoing those same words is proof enough that he oughtn't to be taken seriously as a candidate. Instead, he attacks her on her experience, as if her lack of experience somehow trumps his negatives in that regard.

Remember back when Walker was elected? No, of course not. According to the numbers, you probably didn't even vote. And not long after that, back on February 8, there was another election you didn't vote in, which selected Kloppenburg and Prosser as the two finalists. Essentially, they all won because they got the approval of partisan morons - the only ones who seem to care. Then, by the end of February into March, Scott Walker happened, and everybody suddenly cared about the elections they should have voted in. Maybe if more people had gotten off their asses to vote, we'd be talking about Governor Barrett. We might also have two supreme court candidates who 1.) have more judicial experience and 2.) aren't so damned politically polarized.

You snooze you loose. You snooze on election day, we all loose.

We have two candidates for Milwaukee County Executive. Either one, graciously, is bound to be better than Scott Walker was. (And remember, Walker won primarily because people at the time were pissed off over excessive retirement benefits doled out by Tom Ament. Funny how the pendulum can swing the other way on the same issue, isn't it?)

On the one hand, we have a candidate whose nose is clean, but whose politics are dirty. And partisan. Technically, the County Exec is supposed to be a non-partisan position, but Jeff Stone is a Tea Party candidate, and everybody knows it. His political attack ads are more charged than a Japanese nuclear meltdown. On the other hand, we have another candidate whose politics are clean, but whose nose is practically covered in carbon-black. Chris Abele's dirty laundry has been aired out so thoroughly that I half expect Willie Mayes to come back from the dead and do an Oxy-Clean commercial using it.

I'm very close to advocating a complete ban on all political ads on television or radio, in spite of the free speech consequences.

I once voted for an ultra-conservative named Scott Walker for County Exec years ago, on the grounds that a county-level government position simply isn't one where conservative extremism can have an opportunity to manifest itself. While that's essentially true, it seems that a county position can be an adequate staging ground for enacting extremist positions later on. As such, I'm not inclined to think of county government as too small for a partisan candidate to matter anymore. I'm not making that mistake again. Regardless, I'm more willing to vote for the happy philanthropist over the grim sourpuss, even if the politics were reversed.

Besides, Abele once threw a firecracker at Attorney Michael Hupy. If having the balls to throw explosives at lawyers isn't worth my vote, what the hell is? Maybe next time he'll light a firecracker under some high-priced lawyer's ass.

So, here's hoping that the Tea-Partiers go home losers tomorrow. We could all use a break.