The Disgruntled Dylanologist

All the truth in the world adds up to one big lie.

‘Lawyers, Lepers & Crooks’: Can Dylan’s Thin Man trim the fat on Wall Street?


You walk into the room

With your pencil in your hand

You see somebody naked

And you say, “Who is that
man?”

Last week marked the one-year anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the first in a series of dominoes that led to the biggest financial meltdown since the Great Depression. And while we’re still reeling from the implosion of AIG, Merrill Lynch, Citigroup and the half dozen other ‘too big to fail’ financial institutions that did receive government bailout funds, the fleecing the American middle class continues.

Something’s happening on Wall Street, and you don’t have to be a financial whiz to know what it is: good, old fashion greed.

Despite the enormous losses suffered by the recipients of the TARP funds, Citigroup and Merrill Lynch—two of the most high-profile beneficiaries of the federal government’s fiscal benevolence—still managed to justify dishing out more than $9 billion in bonuses.

And how’s this for fancy financial footwork? Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and J.P. Morgan Chase actually paid out more in bonuses than they made the entire year. Goldman Sachs, for example, earned $2.3 billion, paid out $4.8 billion in bonuses, and got $10 billion in TARP funds.

It’s no secret the big Wall Street firms conspire and collude to keep their year-end cash outs at the highest levels possible. But it’s one thing when you’re playing with ‘other people’s money’; it’s something else entirely when that ‘other person’ turns out to be the guy next door who just lost his house.

But it gets worse. Not only did 4,800 Wall Street employees pocket bonuses worth more than a $1 million on top of their exorbitant salaries, it turns out it wasn’t enough. According to a recent survey, 46% of those newly-minted millionaires were “dissatisfied” with their bonuses. And are you ready for the kicker? Nine in 10 had been working on Wall Street for five years or less.

And while none of our behemoth banking institutions were untouched by what, in hindsight, amounted to the financial equivalent of a ‘perfect storm,’ last week’s reminder that the government was unwilling to bailout Lehman Brothers was a frightening reminder of how choppy the seas still are.

It should hardly come as a surprise that Congress would capitalize on this rather auspicious anniversary to turn the spotlight not on the problem, but rather on themselves— which is precisely what they did in typical grandstanding fashion.

Positioned as the first piece of a larger, more comprehensive legislation endorsed by President Obama to increase oversight over financial institutions, last week the House voted on a bill that will restrict how Wall Street executives will get paid in the future.

Billed as a ‘bold, decisive action,’ the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. Unless, of course, the old expression, “A day late and a dollar short,” is modified by roughly 365 days and somewhere around $700 billion.

Enter Ben Bernanke. Recently nominated to a second term as Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Bernanke is preparing to cash in a little currency with the president by sidestepping the Congressional pomp and circumstance altogether. Bernanke’s plan is refreshing simple: take Wall Street’s bull market by the balls by placing regulators directly inside banks to monitor (and one would assume reject) excess pay packages.

And while the precise job description has yet to be fully fleshed out, this disgruntled Dylanologist knows just the man for the job.

Dark, menacing, boorish and brooding, he is one of the most enigmatic characters from Dylan’s canon of bizarre and none-too-usual suspects.

His identity has long been in dispute. When asked in a 1965 interview, Dylan offered a response that was as cryptic as the character in question: “He’s a pinboy. He also wears suspenders. He’s a real person. You know him, but not by that name…”

The president is on the right track introducing regulatory reform for Wall Street. But identifying the problem won’t necessarily solve it.

What we need is someone who’s well connected, someone who can move effortlessly among lawyers, lepers and crooks. Someone who will keep his eyes in his pocket, his nose to the ground, take copious notes, click his heels and do exactly as he is told. We need a man on the inside looking out; not outside looking in.

And who exactly is this inscrutable urchin? This puzzling patsy set up to take the inevitable fall?

Let’s just say his eerie, shape-shifting presence made John Lennon feel suicidal, evoked Adam Durtiz’s desire to be someone else, reduced David Byrne’s description to a detached third person account.

That’s right, Dylan aficionados, it just may be the man who saves the American financial system is none other than the inscrutable Mister Jones.

After all, everyone knows the best way to catch someone with questionable morals is to recruit one…

And without further notice
He asks you how it feels

And he says, “Here is your throat back

Thanks for the loan”

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September 20, 2009 Posted by | Disgruntled, Dylanologist | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dont Look Back: 2008 in Review

A poetic look back on 2008, set to the tune of Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row”:

They’re printing tickets to the coronation
They’re fitting his thorny crown
The district’s filling up with Democrats
A new sheriff is in town
There goes the Maverick from Arizona
And gal from Wasilla
Couldn’t quite get the votes they needed
Their platform was too vanilla
Eight long years they ran this place
Now it’s time for them to go
As ‘43’ and Laura lament the passing
Of Republican Row

Congress, they make it look so easy
“This won’t hurt a bit,” they smile
As they slip $700 billion in their back pocket
Hank Paulson style
In come the auto makers, they’re whining
“What about our piece of the pie?”
“Talk to 16th and Penn,” the gentleman from Alabama says,
he’s gonna be your guy
And the only sound that’s left
As theyfill their Priuses with dough
Is the sound of Wagoner, Nardelli and Mulally cleaning up
On Republican Row

And the banks are also empty
Lehman, Stearns and AIG can’t console
As America’s fortunes disappear
Down a dark, rat-infested black hole
All except for T. Boone Pickens
And the Oracle of Omaha
Everybody’s future is bleak
No one can believe the gall
And Bernard Madoff, he’s in lockdown
$50 billion and nothing to show
A house of cards has come tumbling down
On Republican Row

Now Hillary, she’s buckin’ for a promotion
The Senate could not hold
Less than eight years in New York
Her true ambition did unfold

To her, New Hampshire seemed quite inviting
She wore her emotions on her sleeve
An act of pure political theater
Even crocodile tears could not deceive
But were it not for her former rival
To whom she does now owe
She’d be serving the rest of her sentence
On Republican Row

OJ, disguised as an All-American
Reclaiming his memories from a fan
Into a Vegas suite he burst
A pistol in his hand
He must have looked rather frightful
Waving his USC letter vest
Then ran off with the Heisman
Clutched tightly against his chest
Got off years ago after killing his wife
It seems you reap what you sow
Thirty-two got 33-to-life
On Republican Row

Spitzer, he keeps all his names
Inside a little black book
But it’s what he said on the phone
That got him cooked
Now the girl, quite a looker
Had the lungs to be a singer
It was the Governor’s tit, however
Got caught in the ringer
For years he blew the whistle on corruption
This time he took the blow
Just another self righteous prick sent packing
To Republican Row

Meanwhile in California
Another sexless battle begins
Gay marriage goes on the ballet
And then abruptly ends
It seems America wasn’t ready for Casanova
To come marching down the aisle
With a partner on his arm
Who can’t produce a child

And the Religious Right is shouting
“It’s not natural, don’t you know”
One Casanova at a time
On Republican Row

And we learn the governor of Illinois
For months has been trying to sell
Obama’s seat in the U.S. Senate
To whomever has the most cash to shell
But despite a jury’s indictment
Blago still refuses to concede
Replacing the people’s trust
With his own gluttonous greed
But soon his house will shatter
When he runs out of stones to throw
His fortunes crashing like everything else
On Republican Row

Praise be to Phelps’ Neptune
A solitary beacon of hope
Brought the whole world together
Eight men out with a single stroke
And another show of mettle
Naked aggression in the Gaza Strip
A millennium of distrust and malice
Of which this latest skirmish is only the tip
In Iraq the war still rages
Would Iran have been the next to go?
You can bet they had it all mapped out
On Republican Row

Yes, America is at a crossroads
(As if you didn’t already know)
But hope and change is coming
Though some would say too slow
But now that the people have finally spoken
And the world has heard their plea
All these people we mentioned
Into exile were forced to flee
Let’s just hope they’ve taken with them
The anguish and the woe
That’s been festering these last eight years
On Republican Row

January 5, 2009 Posted by | Disgruntled, Dylanologist | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Windy City Politicians, Rainy Day Women, Senate Candidate #5


They’ll stone ya when you’re tryin’ to make a buck.

They’ll stone ya and then they’ll say, “good luck.”
Tell ya what, I would not feel so all alone,
Everybody must get stoned.

Cigars, it seems, aren’t the only thing they’re smoking in the backrooms of Chicago.

Last week it was reported that Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich allegedly schemed to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama for $1 million dollars.

Again, that’s $1 million dollars for a Senate seat held by the man who was just elected to lead the free world, making him the most recognizable person on the planet.

What could this guy possibly have been thinking?

Maybe in a time when it’s become a national pastime for politicians to see how many zeros they can put behind the next bank bailout, mortgage mark down or cash-and-carry plan for the failing car industry, Governor Blagojevich thought six zeros was a bargain. Maybe Blagojevich thought it was his duty as governor to uphold Chicago’s longstanding tradition of political corruption and scandal.

Or maybe Blagojevich is just an idiot.

Mental competency aside, anyone with a shred decency knows there’s a larger problem here hanging like a hazy cloud of smoke over this whole sordid affair. In one fail swoop, one governor’s half-baked scheme to sell-out democracy somehow managed to further retard the electorate’s already ailing perception of our political system.

To Blagojevich’s credit, this Wiley politician from the Windy City’s North side wasn’t completely impervious to the fact that most people don’t have $1 million cash just lying around. According to FBI wiretaps, Blagojevich would have been willing to have made do with any one of the following:

  • a substantial salary for himself at a non-profit foundation or organization affiliated with labor unions;
  • a spot for his wife on a paid corporate board;
  • promises of future campaign funds;
  • a Cabinet post or ambassadorship

Four, count ‘em four ways to commitment a felony. How considerate of the governor to give his Senatorial suitors so many ways to further debase the public’s trust.

In this season of giving, however, it seems Old Saint Nick isn’t the only one ‘making a list and checking it twice.’ Blagojevich had a list of his own. And that’s where it starts to get really interesting…

According to the FBI, prominent Oak Brook businessman Raghuveer Nayak and Blagojevich aide Rajinder Bedi held a meeting October 31 during which Blagojevich claimed he’d been approached by a representative for an unnamed “Senate Candidate #5” who offered cash in exchange for the Senate seat. On Wednesday, it was revealed that Jesse, Jackson, Jr., was that candidate.

Jackson spokesman Rick Bryant says that while Jackson did discuss the Senate seat with Nayak, he never asked him to do—or give—anything. The notoriously talkative Jackson has said even less. Interesting.

It’s also started to get interesting for Barack Obama.

The president-elect also insists he hasn’t had any contact with the Illinois governor regarding his vacant Senate seat. But Obama has yet to give his transition staff the same clean bill of health—and perhaps with good reason.

As it turns out, Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s incoming chief of staff, is a rough-and-tumble politico in his own right. But until Emanuel assumes his new position on January 20, he will continue to represent the good people of Illinois’ 5th congressional district. And can you guess who held that job before Rahm? That’s right—Rod Blagojevich.

For the Obama team to expect us to think that the paths of Emanuel and Blagojevich haven’t crossed, and crossed repeatedly—especially considering the fact Emanuel was charged with securing his new boss’s old Senate seat for Obama family friend, Valerie Jarrett—we’d all have to be smoking something.

And while it’s definitely rained on Jarrett’s political aspirations, it seems she’s traded an umbrella for a golden parachute. Just before the Blagojevich scandal broke, Jarrett’s name was withdrawn from the running for the Senate seat. Shortly thereafter, she was named ‘special adviser to the president.’ Interesting.

I would imagine our fair Bob is watching all of this with some interest as well.

From unequivocal disdain of the flatfoots on Fourth Street,

Yes, I wish that for just one time;
You could stand inside my shoes;
You’d know what a drag it is;
To see you

to unapologetic enmity of those who have mastered the art of war profiteering,

Let me ask you one question;
Is your money that good;
Will it buy you forgiveness;
Do you think that it could

Bob Dylan has always held the feet of the media and the men who manipulate it to the fire.

Dylan once famously claimed, “I don’t write political songs.” But in light of the sheer disregard for justice exhibited by Rod Blagojevich, Dylan need not concern himself with chronicling this particular crisis of faith. There’s enough here to launch a thousand politically minded minstrels.

Besides, if you’re looking for a Dylan song to bookend this cockamamie case of political corruption and mind numbing incompetence, all you have to do is turn the clock back 42 years…

Well, they’ll stone you when you walk all alone.

They’ll stone you when you are walking home.
They’ll stone you and then say you are brave.
They’ll stone you when you are set down in your grave.

In 2008, however, those words are less whimsical social commentary and more reflective of the massive political drubbing a certain governor from Illinois is about to rightfully endure.

December 15, 2008 Posted by | Disgruntled, Dylanologist | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Old Guard: Can Obama change their way of thinking?


Sixteen years,

Sixteen banners united over the field,
Where the good shepherd grieves.
Desperate men, desperate women divided,
Spreading their wings ‘neath the falling leaves.

First, let me say that I’m not a big fan of politicos. But James Carville—perhaps the most puffed up, bombastic, pretentious politico of them all—got it right when he famously opined back in 1992, “It’s the economy, stupid.”

It was the economy in 1992. Sixteen years later, it’s the economy all over again.

The fact that the US economy is in the shitter should come as a surprise to no one. For the past 12 months, we’ve been sliding toward the precipice of the worst recession in 16 years.In the last 60 days, it’s only gone from bad to worse. Thirteen banks have gone into bankruptcy, the top five investment banks have died, the stock market has hit a six-year low, unemployment has reached a 14-year high.

Contrary to John McCain’s reassuring reaction to the September 10 collapse of Lehman Brothers, the fundamentals of our economy were not ‘strong.’ And it certainly didn’t help that McCain borrowed his phrasing from Herbert Hoover, who on Thursday, Oct. 24, 1929, just five days before the crash that would result in the deepest depression in world history, proclaimed, “The fundamental business of the country, that is, production and distribution of commodities, is on a sound and prosperous basis.”

As the largest economy in the world, the American financial crisis has far-reaching ramifications. The direction of the U.S. economy doesn’t merely ‘impact’ the global economy; it decides its destiny.

It’s a big idea. It’s also a big problem. And the irony is that the problem isn’t going to go away until we change the way we do business in this country.

Yet despite the proclamations of ‘change’ that were the cornerstones of both the McCain and Obama presidential campaigns, change won’t be coming anytime soon. You already know the reason why.

It’s the economy, stupid.

Historically, the election of a Democrat has meant more jobs for Americans. History, however, is hardly consolation for the 1.2 million Americans who have lost their jobs since January.

It’s not especially encouraging for those who have jobs, either. With most 401(k)s off by an average of 40% or worse, dreams of retirement by the 50+ set have been replaced by the realization that there simply isn’t enough money in their accounts to sustain them for 10 years, much less the 20 years they’re expected to live.

Sure they can stay the course, stick it out, work a few extra years until the anemic stock market turns around. But there’s just something fundamentally wrong with the notion that what was only a year ago considered an appalling indignation by those who have toiled their entire life to build something for themselves and their families is now an umbrage those who actually have jobs would all too gladly suffer.

This past election was about change. A seismic shift, a comprehensive overhaul, a changing of the guard. It’s what we were promised, it’s what we want and, considering the perilous state of the economy, it’s what we need.

Unfortunately, change is not something the Obama Administration will be able to deliver anytime soon. It would mean the old guard would need to step down. But the old guard is like a caged animal tethered to a stake that keeps it from wondering too far from the trough.

And with their retirement pensions gone, the stock market in a perpetual downward spiral, and the potentially some of that $700 billion in bailout money might potential come their way if they just hang on long enough, the old guard is a permanent fixture on the horizon.

Contrary to what the media would have us believe, the rest of the world truly wants America to succeed. For millions around the world, America truly is a beacon of hope, prosperity and opportunity. But Eden is burning. And rather than change the old guard, we need to change their way of thinking.

Because the old guard isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Frankly, they can’t afford to…

I don’t need your organization, I’ve shined your shoes,

I’ve moved your mountains and marked your cards,
But Eden is burning, either brace yourself for elimination,
Or else your hearts must have the courage for the changing of the guards.

November 23, 2008 Posted by | Disgruntled, Dylanologist | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

America in Peril: Someone said Dignity was the first to leave


Chilly wind sharp as a razor blade,

House on fire, debts unpaid,
Gonna stand at the window, gonna ask the maid,
Have you seen dignity?

America is angry. And frankly, we have every right to be.

Over the last eight years, we’ve been buttered up, talked down to, led down the primrose path. And in the process, we’ve been robbed blind.

It would be one thing if we’d been cornered in a dark alley, held at gunpoint and told to hand over everything in our pockets. But that’s not the way the deal’s gone down. It happened in broad daylight, right in the middle of the street.

Instead of having a gun shoved in our ribcage, we’ve had a knife slowly slipped into our back. And we could have only been so lucky as to have been asked to empty our pockets. After all, I don’t know how many Americans carry their entire life savings in their pant pockets. But that’s what the boys on Wall Street walked away with last week.

Estimates vary (after all the estimates are being provided by the guys who stuck it to us in the first place), but one thing’s for sure. Our pockets are empty. And so are our bank accounts. Which means mortgages can’t be paid, car loans can’t be paid, school loans can’t be paid. And just try to turn to your 401K plan for relief. Wall Street’s scorched earth policy burned all that up, too.

The irony, of course, is that while money may be the symptom, the real sickness is the disease of conceit. Sure Lehman is out of business; AIG is $85 billion in the hole; Wachovia is awash in a sea of debt. But the real crime here is that the people running these companies just walked away. The soul of a nation under the knife, and the bankers and politicians are the only ones who got a cut.

We’ve always been told that America is built on a single unifying principle: Hard work pays off. Looks like the old adage may not be true. Certainly not today. Truth be told, many of us are wondering if it was ever true.

According to a recent CNN Money poll, nearly six out of ten Americans believe our country is heading for another economic depression. Quite a frightening turn in public opinion from the halcyon days of just a year ago when the financial markets were at a generational high.

American is angry. But this isn’t some conspiratorial destruction of the American Dream. It’s much scarier than that. This is the real thing. After years of steady moral, ethical and financial decline, we are no longer just a distraught nation. We are a nation in peril.

In the last eight years, the fabric of this country has been torn to shreds. We are fighting an unpopular war abroad while we ship American jobs to China and India. At home, we cannot educate our youth, we cannot take care of our elderly, and animosity toward America has reached an all-time high.

“But don’t worry,” they tell us. “Be patient. Everything will be okay.” Sure, America will come back. We always do.

But who the hell are they kidding? It ain’t ever going to come back all the way. Not until we restore the thing that our leaders really robbed us of in the first place…

Lookin’ east, Lookin’ west,
See people curse, see people blessed
Asking everybody like a man possessed
Have you seen dignity?

October 12, 2008 Posted by | Disgruntled, Dylanologist | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment