advice from a fake consultant

out-of-the-box thinking about economics, politics, and more... 

Friday, June 15, 2012

Rosemary’s Weekly Campaign Memo: Don’t Ever Misdial The FEC

It’s been an active couple of weeks as Rosemary Candidate (the potted plant that’s challenging both Republican “Ineffectual Dave” Reichert and “Generic Democratic Opponent” in Washington State’s 8th Congressional District) continues to grow through the legal process of officially becoming a PAC.

Rosemary recently obtained her Taxpayer ID Number from the IRS, she also opened her campaign bank account, and she’s about to file the last official paperwork before the inanimate potted plant becomes an official political entity.

Along the way, we had an encounter with the Federal Election Commission that involved misdirection, extraordinary irony, and a phone call that could well have cost $1.99 a minute – and the scary part was that, for a minute, it all made actual sense.

We have a lot to talk about this time; we better get right to it.

For many ladies the victor cuts a ridiculous figure because he is swelling with importance and yet cannot cope with the never-ending handshaking, saluting, bowing, and waving, while the defeated keep their mouths shut and casually pet the necks of their whinnying horses.

--From the storyReflections for Gentlemen-Jockeys, by Franz Kafka

As we’ve mentioned in a previous story, it’s impossible to be a political candidate or committee without handling the money issues first (did you need direct evidence that money rules politics? Here it is…); that required Rosemary to obtain from the IRS a Taxpayer ID Number which then allowed her to open her bank account, and that will allow her to file her FEC Form 1, which is the document announcing to the Federal Election Commission your plant friend’s intention to form an “independent political expenditure committee”.

The IRS helpfully provides an online and a telephone service to issue Taxpayer ID Numbers; it took about 15 minutes to get it done, and there’s no charge for the service – and that’s pretty darn good for dealing with the IRS.

She also had to file an IRS Form 8871 to tell them that the Write In Rosemary PAC is an official nonprofit, in this case a 527(c)(4) organization, which, as with all political groups, means donations are not tax deductable (as opposed to charities, which are 527(c)(3) nonprofits; their donations are tax deductable).

When we first began to search out a bank, we tried Key Bank, but they wanted $250 to open an account, and that created an apparent “Catch-22”:

The Write In Rosemary PAC cannot accept or solicit donations without first opening a bank account, and $250 is a legally reportable donation, which, obviously, Rosemary cannot accept until after her account is opened.

The bank representative suggested perhaps Rosemary could ask for small donations to get to $250, but, again, that’s soliciting donations, which is illegal absent a bank account.

So I figured I better call the Federal Election Commission for advice, which, in their “Committee Treasurers Brochure”, they encourage, so I went to the website and dialed the 1-800 number.

The recording told me to hang up and dial the “Live Talk Line”, or something to that effect, which I thought was a bit odd, but then I figured, hey, maybe the FEC is doing some sort of phone tree reorganization to create better customer response outputs.

So I called.

The somewhat overly dramatic female voice who answered the “Live Talk Line” reported to me in no uncertain terms that I had come to the right place if I was looking to engage with one of her colleagues in some sort of live chat designed to…well, to elicit a better customer response output, anyway…and by the time she began to discuss the manner in which she intended to handle certain shafts that might come her way (a manner which, I might add, was wildly outside the context of any mining situation that you could possibly imagine), I was pretty darn sure that this wasn’t the FEC or any other Federal regulatory agency on the other end of the line – although, if you think about it, if it really was the FEC it could actually make a lot of sense, in its own weird way:

After all, there has been a real effort on the part of the Republicans in the House to cut funding for the regulatory agencies, and this is a good way to raise a buck, I suppose (a buck? How about $1.99 a minute), and there is a close connection in the minds of the public between elections and getting screwed, so I could see, conceptually, where the FEC might be going here – but it’s pretty hard to imagine, even for me, that anyone in the “No-Drama Obama” Administration would be willing to allow the FEC to turn the 1-800 number over to a performance artist in an election year, and that’s what really convinced me that something must be wrong.

Sure enough, I’d transposed two of the numbers (I’ll leave it to y’all to figure out which ones), and once the error had been corrected the again very helpful folks there at the FEC let me know that, as far as they were concerned, until I got to $5000 in either donations or expenditures they weren’t too worried about how I was taking in donations (although they did point out that, even under $5000, I still have to report certain donors, which is true within the boundaries of the Citizens United ruling).

With that advice in mind, Rosemary has since found a smaller local bank that allowed her to open a no-fee campaign account with a $100 initial deposit (no names, in order to protect the innocent, but it starts with an “S” and ends with “terling”, and so far they seem quite nice), and she will soon have all the legal “t”s dotted and “i”s crossed to allow her to accept (non tax deductable) donations from interested members of the public.

Rosemary is also about to begin her actual public campaign work, which is a subject about which we’ll have more to say shortly; for now let’s just say that Rosemary is planning a bit of political performance art of her own, and we’ll see how that goes when we get together next time – and if we get lucky, there’ll be some fun video to get the conversation going.

So that’s where we are for the next few days: the final paperwork is going into place, then we move along to the actual parts of the thing that are the hardest: getting out there and reminding folks en masse how much Reichert really does suck, and learning how to ask for money, which is something I don’t do naturally and Rosemary is going to have to learn to do fast if she wants to stay in the campaign in any real way.

Any questions? You can always email Rosemary at; if you Twitter you can also follow @ElectRosemary to keep up with all the fun.

It’ll be an interesting summer, that’s for sure, and if nothing else I’m already learning, in a real way, that there in nothing in politics before money – and if any of you ever wonder as to why there aren’t more “plain folks” in politics, I suspect we are getting a pretty good handle on one of the biggest reasons why.

Monday, January 2, 2012

On Being Petarded, Or, Michele Bachmann, It’s Time For The Fork

As we speak, the Iowa Caucuses (which, even before the deportations, had a remarkably small Ingush population) are about to take place, and while we aren’t sure who will ride the wave of victory all the way to the White House – or if the wave will crest even before New Hampshire – we are petty sure that whatever happens, it ain’t gonna happen to Michele Bachmann.

And I feel bad for her, because she really has put in the time in Iowa, having virtually moved there some time back, and probably having shaken every available hand in the State…but it’s still never going to happen for her.

It’s not her ideology, either; those of you who follow her know she can hit all the right notes a conservative electorate (caucusate?) wants to hear, and she can do it with those crazy bug eyes that just tell you that whatever she’s saying she’ll do in office, she’ll probably try to do it.

And I have a feeling she either doesn’t know or doesn’t want to acknowledge what the real problem here might be – but I’m here to help, and we’ll see if we can’t set her straight.

At the end of their third long visit, the Butthole Surfers wanted to thank us by throwing a party, and there was a ceremonial, portentous aspect to the whole thing. First they made a huge dinner of Tex-Mex shrimp, red hot. Then came the real party, for which we cleared all the furniture from one side of the loft. They were going to play.

Early on, a friend of the band showed up with thirty-five tabs of acid. I don’t remember who took what. There were dozens of friends there. But try to imagine a band, especially this one, playing with high-powered amps in an old loft building on the Bowery. I loved it, though I knew this was the end.

--From the story, My Boyfriend Brought Home A Rock Band, by Jerry Rosco

So she really does hit all those right notes, and if you go visit her website (which first requires a visit to the donation page, and then, in a new twist, a page that sales pitches you on her new book – then you can go visit the site), and she does it that special Lutzian language we love so well. Here are a couple of examples from her American Jobs, Right Now page:




Here’s a classic from the A More Secure Nation page:

...Instead, we have a President who devalues the special relationship with our most trusted ally, Britain, even as he bows to kings, bends to dictators, bumbles with reset buttons, and babies radical Islamists. We have a President who tells our true friend, Israel, that it must surrender its right to defensible borders to appease forces that have never recognized that nation’s right to exist…

... We have a President who – in unprecedented fashion – is ravaging our military strength and structure at a time of war, while elevating political correctness over readiness in its ranks. And we have a President who is declaring a premature end to the war on terror against the advice of his own generals.

So she can throw the red meat, just the way Iowa GOP voters like, and according to her website, she’s visited every single Iowa county, just like Rick Santorum – and yet she doesn’t have anywhere near Santorum’s poll numbers.

The thing that’s really weird about all this, at first glance, is that in a State full of conservatives who are still truly distraught about the fact that same-sex couples can marry in Iowa…she really don’t like “Teh Gays”.

Consider this, from an article by Michelle Goldberg in The Daily Beast, back in June of ’11…

Lots of politicians talk about a sinister homosexual agenda. Bachmann, who has made opposition to gay rights a cornerstone of her career, seems genuinely to believe in one. Her conviction trumps even her once close relationship with her lesbian stepsister.

…or this, from Perez Hilton:

Why doesn't she just walk around with a sandwich board draped on her body, equipped neon lights flashing the words, "Homos Be Gone"? That would be more subtle.

And while they may officially deny it, it appears that the Bachmanns are able to earn a living because her husband, Marcus, actually operates one of those “pray away the gay” operations, which should be enough to out-homophobe even Santorum, who has achieved near-legendary status for his elaborate gay-themed fantasies.

Add it all up, and I’m sure Michele Bachmann wonders, right about now, why things aren’t going better?

Well, I hate to tell you this, Michele, but all the homophobia in the world ain’t gonna cover up the fact…that a lot of folks out there think your husband is gay.

And with video like this out there, it’s not really a huge surprise:

And God bless him, he is a rock for Michele: you can see him at personal appearances, right next to her, and she introduces him to almost everyone: “This is my husband, Marcus…” – but when he looks right back at the person proffering the handshake, and he smiles that big smile, and he does that “Soo nice to meet yew…” thing that he does to say hello…well, you can actually see that for some of the voters, it’s a bit awkward.

Especially when you consider that he’s running that “pray away the gay” clinic…

And it’s not just me: Dan Savage and Jon Stewart have famously suggested that Mr. Bachmann might be in the closet – and in fact, that led to a response of its own, from June Thomas, over at Slate:

In other words, the man who launched the “It Gets Better Project,” an effort to stop the bullying of gay teens, was acting like a big bully. As Savage always notes, the kind of smear-the-queer taunts that can cause so much pain to young people aren’t aimed only at kids who are gay, they’re often aimed at boys who don’t live up to some mythical standard of masculinity and girls who just aren’t girly enough. I can only imagine how listeners who happen to have the kind of lisping, effeminate speech and affect that Savage was ridiculing felt upon hearing the attack.

(For what it’s worth, I’m on Stewart’s and Savage’s sides here: that’s because they are pointing out Bachmann’s perceived hypocrisy; as Savage puts it, the effort to drag people back into the closet is Marcus Bachmann’s life work, and I don’t see that kind of attack as being really out of line.)

So, listen, Michele, if you’re out there…I don’t know what to tell ya.

You have staked your political and personal fortune on homophobia, and it worked out pretty well for awhile, but now it’s quickly become a national joke – a Field of Dongs, as it were – and all those people you were counting on to hate Teh Gay, do.

And whether it’s appropriate or not, a lot of those very same haters get kinda squeamish when they see Marcus out and about.

They wonder if maybe he, too, has a bit of a “wide stance”, if you know what I mean.

And when your anti-gay-indoctrinated voters hear him lisp his way though an entirely bizarre anti-gay rant that suggests that what gay people really need is more discipline…well, that’s not helping.

So good luck Tuesday, and I’m sorry that perception sometimes equals reality, especially as it relates to Marcus – but if things go as badly for you as they now appear they will Tuesday, I think it’s officially going to be time to stick a fork in it and call it done, because South Carolina and Florida are not going to be the bastions of bedrock conservative, LBGT-accepting voters that you’ll apparently need to get over the hump here…and after that, well, it actually doesn’t get better.

I’m not a Biblical kind of writer myself, but you can’t help but notice that sowing and reaping are surely connected in this case, and as much as I see Michele preaching from the pulpit, I hope it’s a Bible lesson she someday learns.

On Holding Down The Conversational Fort, Or, Jobs, Republicans, And Hooey

As the next Congressional fight over payroll tax extensions and unemployment benefits and pipelines gets set up in the next few weeks for either its final chapter or to be kicked down the road a bit farther, one or the other, you’re going to hear a lot from our Republican friends about how much they value work and workers; most especially, they’ll tell you, they value American jobs for American workers.

After all, they’ll say, creating American jobs is the most important thing of all.

But if we were to look back over just the last few months, some would tell us, we could quickly find examples of how Republicans promote ideas that don’t seem to value work or workers at all, much less American jobs.

Well as it turns out, “some” seem to be right; to illustrate one of those examples we’ll look back a month or two or three to a time some Republicans might wish was long, long, ago, in a galaxy far, far away.

A successful comedian usually becomes more megalomaniacal as the success barometer rises. Initial success might be achieved from stand-up but then the comedian envisions a sitcom, then Broadway, albums, extended tours, Europe, and then his or her own production company. These things are all fine. Don’t do dinner theater. Don’t open stuff, like shopping centers or bowling alleys. Don’t do fairs, especially if you follow the pig contest.

--From the book “How To Be A Stand-Up Comic”, by Richard Belzer

So…the House Republicans went and promoted and passed out their payroll tax cut plan, and within that plan was a demand that the Junkie XL Pipeline – sorry, that should be Keystone XL Pipeline – get special “expedited” approvals, despite the objections of those who are worried about their water supply, and we have to do this, right now, those same House Republicans tell us, in order to put more or less 6500 folks to work getting the thing built.

And as we mentioned above, this is because the House Republicans care about American jobs and American workers.

So…it may strike you as a bit odd that the exact same House Republicans sent to the Senate in September the “Protecting Jobs From Government Interference Act” (HR 2587), which has only one purpose: it tells the National Labor Relations Board (the “NLRB”) that if workers at a company decide to form a union, or the company even thinks a union might be coming, and the company, in retaliation, decides to move work from that plant – or, for that matter, decides to move the entire plant – then neither the NLRB nor the United States Courts shall have the authority to do anything about it.

All of this stems from an effort by Boeing to move work from Washington State to South Carolina in retaliation for union activity by the Puget Sound workforce; the NLRB has ruled that Boeing cannot move the work, and the Company and its friends in Congress have joined forces with other anti-Union Members of Congress to move this legislation.

Need a third-party expert opinion to help make sense of the NLRB’s involvement and remedies? Consider this comment from University of Pennsylvania Law Professor Ellen Dannin, via Dennis Kucinich:

The NLRB has decades of experience with cases of this sort, and the National Labor Relations Act is clear that employer actions like Boeing’s violate the law. If this were a murder case, it would be a case in which the police found a person saying : “I did it,” while standing over a fresh corpse with smoking gun in hand.

Decades of experience, did she say? Yes she did – and she was right. In 1964, the Supreme Court ruled that the NLRB had the power to order remedies that include making companies “bring work back”, the relevant case being Fibreboard Paper Products Corp. v. Labor Board, 379 U.S. 203.

The 250 law professors who wrote a letter explaining why HR 2587 is such a bad idea point out that it’s not just about Boeing: companies will no longer have any reason to even bargain with unionized workers (or those who wish they were) before closing plants and moving work overseas, as they have to do now under the law; again, that’s because no one will have the power of enforcement in these cases anymore.

As you might imagine, that’s going to accelerate the departure of jobs overseas, and it won’t take very long to get to 6500, which makes all that Republican fussin’ and fightin’ and sanctimoneoussin’ about Keystone look a bit hollow, eh?

Let’s jump to the side track, as it were, and take a moment to talk about why the question of which Party controls Congress matters: HR 2587 was introduced into the House, and if the Democrats controlled the Chamber it would have died in Committee, and that would have been that…but they don’t, and it didn’t, so the bill made it to the House floor, where it passed with no Democratic “aye” votes and six Republicans voting “nay”.

Then it went to the Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Sometimes Frustrating) has a bit more power than a Speaker of the House to kill any bill before his Chamber, if he’s so inclined; in this case the bill sits on the Senate Legislative Calendar, and unless he says otherwise, that’s where it’ll stay. Of course if Mitch McConnell (R-Hates Obama With The Fire Of A Thousand Suns) were Majority Leader, he would have that bill on the Senate Floor in a heartbeat – and it would pass with a Republican majority, unless Democrats were willing to stand firm and filibuster the thing or the President was willing to use the veto pen, neither of which seems particularly certain.

A companion bill, S 1523, was introduced by Lindsey Graham; it was referred to Committee, possibly to never be seen again – which is also thanks to Harry Reid, with an assist from Tom Harkin, who is the relevant Chair.

At this point I was going to move on to the “what have we learned today” part of the deal, but before I do, I want to take a moment to show you just what kind of legislation our GOP friends will bring to the table, given the chance:

S 1720, the “Put All Your Crazy Eggs In One Basket Act” (not the real bill title, but close enough), was introduced by John McCain just before Halloween (it’s now on the Legislative Calendar, not doing much), and it’s a classic.

This one single bill calls for a Balanced Budget Amendment vote, a semi-flat income tax, repeals “ObamaCare”, repeals Dodd-Frank (Wall Street reform), says you basically can’t sue for medical malpractice anymore, says that if Congress fails to approve any Federal Agency regulation in 90 days, it’s invalid, and then says no Agency can pass any regulation, of any kind, until unemployment hits 7.7%...and there’s a lot more besides, including, I kid you not, forbidding the EPA from regulating the discharge of pesticides into water.

So now let’s get to “what have we learned?”

How about this:

We are going to hear a lot over the next 60 days about how the GOP loves you, the American worker, but at the exact same time they are looking to…well…put all the crazy eggs in one basket, if they can get away with it, and at the same time they’re looking to make it easier and easier to send more jobs to more countries than ever before, even to the point of trying to tell courts and regulators that they can no longer enforce laws Republicans can’t get repealed.

As our GOP friends stand before you, these next couple months, professing their undying love, remind them of this conversation today, and HR 2587, and S 1720, McCain’s “Crazy Egg Basket” bill, and then ask them if they think the GOP really cares about American jobs, or if they’re just getting hustled by slightly-slicker versions of used-car dealership credit managers?

Then you lean in close, look ‘em in the eye, smile just a bit, and you say to ‘em: “And hey, while you’re here…what do I gotta do to get you into a slightly used 1993 Buick Roadmaster Estate Wagontoday?”

Then you can both have a little laugh – while you take their money and run.

Monday, December 26, 2011

On Christmas 2.0, Or, Who Might Be The New Santa?

I’ve been thinking a lot about the evolution of Christmas, and I’ve been thinking that there is a lot about the current practice that we can admire.

Peace and good will, of course, and cookies and candy canes, and happy kids – and this is also the time we think the most about those less fortunate, as do Jews and Muslims, who also have holiday celebrations this time of the year that include a component of charity.

But if there is anything that I could change about the modern practice of Christmas, it would be the installation of Santa Claus as an icon of consumer spending, more or less to the exclusion of everything else.

As an intellectual exercise, I started thinking about what a different Santa might be like; today’s story lays out who a few candidates might be for “Santa 2.0” and why.

So go grab a cookie, and, perhaps, a refreshing beverage…and let’s have some post-Christmas fun.

Chipmunk Family Reunion…
…someone stole the nuts…
…squirrel jail…

--“Flo”, the Progressive Insurance Representative, in a recent commercial

To help everyone understand my choices, I’m partial to the kind of Santa who might be inclined to be a force for good in society, even when Christmas isn’t around; that concept’s central to these selections.

I also tried to pick folks who would make the gift-giving role Santa fills interesting and, above all, fun; with all that in mind let’s jump right in and see where this thing goes:

In a tough economy, you want to save where you can, with that in mind my first nomination for the new Santa is Michael Moore, if for no other reason than he fact that he already fits the suit.

He’s from Michigan, you know, so the cold weather up there at the North Pole is something he’s already used to – and you can imagine that the Elves will finally be getting the health care and retirement benefits that they’ve been negotiating for these past several years.

But beyond that, I could see Mike coming down the chimney and giving people jobs if he could apply the Santa power that way, and I figure he likes cookies and milk, too, so we wouldn’t have to change that part of the deal – and all that suggests he’d be really good for the economy.

Plus, if he had all of Santa’s powers, he’d always know where Roger is, and that’s pretty cool, too, eh?

Now our next choice is a bit unusual, but I think we’re on the right path nonetheless, and that’s Meghan McCain, daughter of the Senator from Arizona.

She seems to be a really nice person, which is a good place to start, she’s blonde, which, again, works with the red suit, and I get the impression that she’d be OK with dealing with kids all day.

As for her Santa power…she’s an outspoken critic of the Crazy Right, and it’s entirely possible that she’ll bring some degree of rationality and reason from way up North to the GOP, which would be a present we could all use.

Some of y’all might be a bit put off by the idea that she appears to be the kind of person who, if a 13-year-old boy asked, would get him a gun, but I got a Godson who was given his first rifle younger than that, and he turned out to be a nonviolent person, so, you know, maybe Santa would turn out to support the Second Amendment, but that doesn’t automatically have to be a bad thing.

For our next nomination, we’re going way off the track to select someone you’ve probably never heard of: Yetta Kurland.

Ye-who What, you say?

Yetta Kurland is an attorney in New York City, and for the past few years, if you are a member of the LBGT community, and you’re interested in civil rights litigation, Yetta Kurland’s has been a pretty good name to know.

But beyond that, Yetta’s been working as a member of the National Lawyer’s Guild as one of the on-site attorneys for Occupy Wall Street, right down there at New York City’s Zucotti Park – and that means our Santa nominee’s been working day and night, literally out on the barricades, fighting for the rights of every one of us.

Animal rights are also a big focus for Yetta, and that suggests a Santa who would be thinking about all the kids, even the ones covered in fur…and that also means a Santa who might be particularly interested in bringing good homes to abandoned animals, which is as worthy a cause as anyone could wish for.

The best part is that Kurland is already interested in the arts, as is the potential Ms. Claus (Kurland’s partner, Elizabeth Koke); that’s good news for the Elves going forward, and for anyone who would be getting presents designed and manufactured at the North Pole Workshops.

Finally, the nomination for Claus 2.0 that I consider the most serendipitous – and potentially the most interesting of all: Lady Gaga.

She’s already known, loved, and admired around the world, which is exactly what you want in a Santa, she’s bound to do something interesting to the costume every year, which seems like a “great leap forward”, and she’s already used to dealing with great volumes of fan interaction – and if Lady Gaga were the next Santa, you could expect social media to become a big, big, deal at the North Pole.

It was entirely coincidental, but I happened to catch Gaga by Gaultier the other night, and as it turns out Gaga is looking to recreate The Factory, the storied workshop and studios of Andy Warhol…which could not be more perfect for a Santa with artistic ambitions, since the North Pole Workshops are full of skilled technicians who have been cranking out a mixture of art and fun as long as there’s been a Santa Claus, for Goodness sake.

As for her Santa power: imagine if someone could visit all the bullied boys and girls, all in one night, just to let them know that things can “get better”…and leave coal and access to social services for the bullies…well, that’s a pretty good power, and if Santa could do all that while singing “I Was Born This Way” – then I think we may have a winner.

So how about that? Four alternative Santas, each with a set of unique qualifications, all of whom could make things fun even as they’re stirring things up a bit, and all of whom bring their own interesting personality characteristics to this thought exercise.

Toss it around in your head a bit, see what you think, and let’s have a bit more fun fleshing out the thinking here in an effort to see who might really be the best choice for Santa 2.0.

In other words, now that I’ve reported – you decide.

Monday, December 19, 2011

On Helping Republicans, Or, Next Time You Need A Bad Idea, Try These

I have spent a number of years complaining about the interactions between Democrats and Republicans, but after the recent events involving the Keystone XL and civil liberties cave-ins, I’ve decided it’s time to stop complaining and embrace the madness.

But I also feel like there’s an ugly edge to all this…that hasn’t really been fully exploited.

I mean, Republicans have tried to force through a lot of disgusting ideas this Congress as they’ve held various bills hostage, but it seems like, if they really tried, they could do so much more.

But I’m not here to complain, I’m here to help; that’s why today we’ll be trotting out a few ideas of our own that Republicans can attach to bills throughout 2012, with the assistance of certain errant Democrats.

It’ll be fun, it’ll be festive, but most of all…it’ll be an exercise in Civic Responsibility, and in these difficult times, that’s something we could sorely use.

1) Above all, the needs of the army need to be taken into consideration. For instance, it will scarcely be possible to avoid, here and there, leaving behind some trade Jews who are absolutely essential for the provisioning of the troops, for lack of other possibilities. But in each case the proper Aryanization of these enterprises is to be planned and the move of the Jews to be completed in due course, in cooperation with the competent local German administrative authorities.

--From a planning document written in 1939 by Reinhard Heydrich, as reported in the book Documents of the Holocaust, edited by Yitzhak Arad, Israel Gutman, and Abraham Margaliot

So let’s start with the economy: the Census Bureau tells us that nearly half the population is now poor or near-poor, and something needs to be done. With that in mind, I’d propose the “Economic Freedom and Upward Mobility Act” (HR 4377), which would establish a series of military catapult sites along the US border where carefully selected poor folks would be given, literally, economic freedom and upward mobility, even as we instantly reduce the number of impoverished persons in the United States.

Civil rights are important, but not at any cost; that’s why the “Election Cost Control Act” (HR OU812) would allow States to empower local officials to preselect winners in various elections, saving the taxpayer the time and expense of having to count the votes for all those losing candidates.

Messaging matters, and there’s no reason Republicans have to be the bearers of all the bad news: Mississippi Congressman Hatesem Lotsabunch confirmed to me in a phone call yesterday that he will take my suggestion and introduce the “Voter Education Act”, which would require President Obama to wear a giant red, white, and blue dog whistle on a thick silver chain every time he appears in public between the date of passage and November of 2012. (For the record, I actually suggested a gold chain; he thought that was a bit “uppity”.)

We have a serious immigration problem, but I think we can take a page from the Newt Gingrich playbook and introduce the “Guest Worker Protection and Identification Act” (GWIPA).

Here’s the idea: Gingrich has proposed creating a class of persons (“worker residents”?) who are allowed to live and work in the USA, but are never going to be allowed to have US citizenship. The problem is that it will be impossible to quickly tell who is a legal worker resident and who isn’t. Under GWIPA, government-issued armbands would be provided for all legal worker residents to hold their photo ID; as long as they always wear the armband, they’ll be protected from having to show papers to law enforcement officials as they go about their daily business.

Governors as diverse as Rick Perry, Jan Brewer, and Robert Bentley have demanded that the Federal Government finally get serious about “securing the border”; the “Nuclear Assault Mine/Border Legislation Act” (NAM/BLA) is my “if you’re crazy enough to support Rick Santorum, why not this?” proposal to make that happen. The new law would order the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense to work together to develop, manufacture, and deploy small “assault-sized” nuclear land mines along the Mexican border as a way to deter illegal immigration.

"Well you look perfectly idiotic in those clothes!"
"These aren't my clothes!"
"Well, where are your clothes?"
"I've lost my clothes!"
"Well, why are you wearing these clothes?"
"Because I just went GAY all of a sudden!"

--Cary Grant, as David Huxley, from the 1938 movie Bringing Up Baby

Finally, let’s take a moment and consider one of the vital social issues of the day.

It is apparently still possible to lock down some GOP votes by going “hard negative” on the LBGT community, if what I’m hearing from the candidates is to be believed (I was particularly struck by Mitt Romney’s ability to twist on this issue: in the last GOP debate, in one single sentence, Romney said he felt there should be no discrimination against the LBGT community…but that there should be no same-sex marriages), and I have a proposal that allows the GOP to appear to be moving to a better place while ensuring that nothing ever changes at all:

The “Mitt Romney Legal Access Beyond Intimidation Act” (MRLABIA) would do two things: it would repeal the Federal Defense of Marriage Act – and, in the Mitt Romney tradition, it would also add a new provision into law that prevents same-sex couples from entering into contracts for the purposes of marriage, thus ensuring “a perfect flip-flop, every time”, as they might say on an infomercial somewhere.

So there you go: instead of relying on the usual “poison pills”, I’m challenging the GOP to try out a few of these ideas – and I’m also challenging much of the American media to try and tell the difference between some of these ideas and the present reality; just at the moment that won’t be easy, and, all humor aside, I think that might actually be the saddest part of this whole exercise.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

On The Question Of Virginity, Or, “Starter? I Can’t Make Her Stop!”

I got a weird little story about my friend Blitz Krieger to bring to you today.

He’s had a crazy car problem, he has, and over the past few months he thought he had found a solution – in fact, he thought he had found the solution of his dreams – but in the end, he’s discovered that the things you dream about often don’t go according to plan.

The way it’s worked out for him so far, it’s been a lot of anticipation followed by a sudden wave of frustration, but I feel like he’s a lot better off having his particular problem with his car…because if he’d had cancer instead, he’d surely be dead by now.

The community is always embarrassed by the drag queens because straight society says, “A faggot always dresses in drag, or he’s effeminate.” But you got to be who you are. Passing for straight is like a light-skinned woman or man passing for white. I refuse to pass. I couldn’t have passed, not in this lifetime.

--Sylvia Rivera, describing the founding of Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), quoted in the book Becoming Visible: An Illustrated History of Lesbian and Gay Life in Twentieth-Century America

So here’s what happened to Blitz: he waited forever to buy his first car because he wanted, more than anything else in life, to drive his “perfect” car: a 1982 American Motors Eagle SX/4.

It’s a wild car: it was designed as a small hatchback…with a V-8 engine…and “switchable” 4WD…which allowed it to travel easily in snow in a way that virtually no other passenger car at the time could manage.

So he waited all this time, and two years ago, in California, he literally found a little old lady from Pasadena who sold him his “Dream Car”, which, ironically, was the same brown color as Al Bundy’s Dodge.

It drove great for about six months, but it’s been suffering from a strange malady that presents as a horrible grinding noise when he tries to start the car. He has no idea what to do – and standing in the way of a solution is an obsession that I find a bit strange:

He is absolutely determined that he is not going to go to just any mechanic.

Instead, Blitz told me that since it’s the first time the Dream Car needs to be repaired, he intends to go to a mechanic who has never worked on any car before his – and he says he wants to do this because he feels the experience of having the work done this way will make it more “special” for the both of them.

It took him almost a year to find someone, but when he did, it was truly perfect: he met a woman named Jenna Talia who wanted more than anything to be a mechanic.

She’d been studying through one of those “learn at home” programs, and, amazingly, she had an attitude similar to my friend Blitz’s: she knew about how to fix a car from what she’d read in a book, but she refused to actually repair one until she got the chance to work on her Dream Car – and even more amazingly, her Dream Car…was a 1982 American Motors Eagle SX/4.

They actually met on the bus (Blitz, naturally, refused to drive any other car except the Dream Car), and after a few months of knowing each other, Blitz proposed that Jenna might work on his car in his garage, and she agreed.

Fun Fact I Just Made Up: In a recent poll, 32% of voters thought the Iowa Caucuses were a country located near the former Soviet Georgia.

So we’re going out last Saturday night, and I get a call from Blitz asking if I could come by and pick ‘em both up there at his house, and I’m OK with that, because with two drinks in a night being a big evening for me I’m more or less a permanent designated driver.

I was wondering how it was going with the car, and what I saw was stunning: the upper half of the engine was sitting in the living room, entirely disassembled. There were rockers and rods and all kinds of stuff there, neatly arranged for easy reassembly, and it looked like they had really put a lot of effort into the thing, but it was clear that they just couldn’t get it quite figured out…which isn’t surprising, considering it was the first time for both of them.

And you could see, in just that first second, that the two of them were some kind of frustrated. But it gets worse: Blitz told me that this was her third “diagnosis”, and that, now that she was actually face-to-face with a real car, she seemed to be entirely confused about exactly what to do.

Apparently things had gone so bad that Jenna wouldn’t even leave his house at night to go home until she could get things figured out…and, from what he’s telling me, he’s ready to throw her out, buy a different car, and get that car fixed by a mechanic who’s been there and done that – a lot.

To put it another way, he’s ready to dump his virgin mechanic…for a slut.

Now here’s the really crazy part of the story: I’ve had a bit of experience with cars breaking down over time, and I knew what was wrong from the beginning, as many of you probably did, too: the starter was bad – and that’s located on the very bottom of the engine, not the top, which means everything they’d been doing was pretty much pointless.

But I couldn’t tell them that in the beginning…because, again, it would’ve just spoiled the experience…and I sure wasn’t gonna say “I told you so” now…so even though I could have offered them both useful advice about how ignorance ain’t bliss, they surely didn’t want to hear it.

So look, folks, we could have a lot more fun following out this comic premise, but there’s a bigger point: I don’t want a virgin mechanic, and surely not a virgin doctor – and they don’t even allow virgin pilots to carry passengers.

What is it about sex (and politics, for that matter) that makes people think they’ll be able to simply “get it” with no experience at all? What is it that makes them think that celebrating their own ignorance is the best way to show they’re ready to take on something that, frankly, requires a bit of trial…and error…before you really get it right?

I don’t know the answer, but the next time someone tells you how their ignorance makes them a lot smarter about something, do me a favor and think about Blitz and Jenna and the Dream Car – and the living room full of engine parts – and if that person’s running for office, run the other way. Quickly.

I’d appreciate it; so will you – and if I know Blitz, he will, too.

Monday, November 28, 2011

On The Emergence Of China, Or, Zhou Knew This Was Coming

After doing a bit of mountain hiking a few days back, I had a chance to get involved in a great afternoon conversation with the Alliance for American Manufacturing’s Mike Wessel, who also serves as a Commissioner with the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission; the conversation was about how we’re doing when it comes to our relationship with China.

As it turns out, the two events went well together, because what I’m hearing from these guys is that we have a great big ol’ mountain to climb if we hope to get back to a level playing field in our interactions with this most important country.

There’s news to report across a variety of issues; that’s why today we’ll be talking about trade, human rights, cybersecurity, poverty and development, and the methods by which you can apply “soft power” to achieve hard results.

The entirely unanticipated result: all of this will reveal the naïveté of Ron Paul when it comes to foreign policy; we’ll discuss that at the end.

The King of China's daughter
So beautiful to see
With a face like yellow water
Left her nutmeg tree

--From the song “The King of China’s Daughter”, by Natalie Merchant

So let’s start with the background stuff: the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission exists today because of the legislative wars surrounding China being granted Most Favored Nation status back in the day.

At the time, there were concerns about the way China does business on the international stage, and the Commission provides a follow-on monitoring program to examine questions regarding the Chinese human rights record, issues related to economics, cybersecurity issues, the intentions of the Chinese military, and lots more.

The Commission issues annual reports to Congress, and this year’s report has just been released.

Now normally I would present a point of view, followed by a counterpoint; today, we’ll do the opposite: there are folks I listen to out there, including Thomas P. M. Barnett, who would tell you that you are not going to be able to keep spending $900 billion a year on the defense budget if you can’t find an opponent worth $900 billion a year, and China looks like that kind of opponent, in a number of ways that Al Qaeda never could…even if, in Barnett’s opinion, China is a great big paper tiger.

Al Qaeda will never build aircraft carriers, or intercontinental ballistic missiles; they’ll never put to sea in submarines or build a stealth fighter, and they darn sure aren’t going to be mounting military operations in space or engaging in cyberwarfare.

And yet, if you’re a defense contractor, a General, or an Admiral, that’s where all the money is; naturally, if the money goes away, some of those Generals and Admirals are not going to have the chance to “graduate” from the military and become defense contractor representatives themselves.

Put it all together, and some would tell you that the biggest battle facing the Military/Industrial Complex today…is making sure we’re always nervously looking under our beds at night, just to be safe.

You should also know that our first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, convinced his brand-spanking-new country to put in place a series of protective tariffs. The intent was to foster manufacturing in the then-agrarian United States; this was intended to create a climate favorable for non-farm businesses and to allow a far more disparate group of immigrants to come to the new Nation than what would have occurred if the only major business activities around the country were farming-related.

So with all that in mind, let’s talk China.

The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission (the USCC) wants you to know that China is very much on a knifedge: the country is ruled by the Chinese Communist Party (the CCP) and the People’s Liberation Army (the PLA).

The USCC would tell you that the primary goal of the CCP and PLA leadership is to “protect their phony-baloney jobs” and the corruption that goes with ‘em (thanks for the line, Mel Brooks), and that they have to do a few things to keep those jobs safe: they have to find a way to make 900 million near-peasants into a middle class, quickly, because the peasants have seen how the other 300 million live, to secure markets and resources China has to begin to project power around the world, by military or other means, and they have to make extra sure that nobody in China, except the CCP, gets the opportunity to take over the political conversation – in other words, ensure that the “Arab Spring” doesn’t become the “Jasmine Spring”.

There’s more: in a country without something like Social Security, China’s population will age faster than any in history, and many of the 900 million seem to want to move from the country to the city in numbers so large that they literally can’t build cities fast enough.

So how does the Chinese Government deal with all this?

What China has been doing is seeking internal “quietude” by growing the economy through manufacturing, and they have decided to choose certain industries as the linchpin of “valuing up” that growth, so that China’s low-tech manufacturing becomes more high-tech. (Think computers and telecommunications, space, alternative fuel vehicles, aviation, green energy technologies, that sort of thing.)

China has decided that virtually the only way a foreign company can do business in any of the “chosen” areas is to mandate technology transfers that allow Chinese companies to obtain the methods and tools needed to compete with the foreign supplier down the road. (This is officially against WTO rules; China disputes that assertion. The USCC says they now make these demands in subtle ways that are less “enforceable”.) Chinese buyers are told to give preference to “state-innovated” technologies.

China also uses their currency as a way of “preferencing” the local economy. The Renminbi (RMB) is, according to most observers, deliberately undervalued in order to make Chinese goods cheap overseas and imported goods expensive at home. Mike Wessel would tell you it’s about 40% undervalued, and that that “trade tax” (my term, not his) costs the US budget about $500 billion a year, with a similar impact on State budgets. Despite much USA pressure and some recent upward valuation (roughly 6% last year), it looks like China is not going to move much on the RMB anytime soon.

Wessel anticipates China will spend about $1.5 trillion on anti-poverty subsidies to quell unrest over the next 5 years; that would become a lot more difficult if a revaluation were to occur.

During the 1990s China began to move to a free-market model that emphasized the growth of privately-owned businesses; Wessel says today China is going back to promoting the State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) to the detriment of a free market.

This has been bad for our own industrial strategy, such as it is, which assumed we would be selling China lots of high-tech goods, even as they sold us cheap goods. That has not worked out; in fact, China is now the largest market for cars and cell phones, among other products…and those products are not being manufactured in the USA.

It’s reported that the theft of intellectual property is the normal way business is done in China; as an example Wessel notes that something like 80% of the software on Chinese corporate computers is stolen.

We are told that the PLA is looking to create an “area of influence” that extends from the South China Sea to space; to this end the first Chinese aircraft carrier is being readied for service, a stealth fighter is in development, antiship missile systems are being upgraded, and a “counterspace” capability has been demonstrated. (The idea is that Chinese satellites explode near other satellites, thus disabling them. The USA and Russia seem to have similar capabilities.)

Chinese military doctrine, Wessel tells us, advocates shutting down the “network-centric” model of US military operations; it is believed that a significant campaign of computer-based intrusions and attacks on the USA have already taken place, including two events that took place at Department of Defense-operated satellite-control facilities that seem to have been external attacks.

Wessel anticipates that a war with China would begin with China attempting to disable various USA computer networks and infrastructure; the resulting confusion would be used to China’s advantage.

Beyond that, Wessel worries that we’re buying so much of our telecommunications and computing infrastructure from China that we may be vulnerable to being spied upon by our own laptops; he cited two examples of this problem: a computer sale to the State Department that involved Lenovo laptops and classified data, and a sale of network equipment by Huawei to Sprint that might have allowed classified computer traffic to be compromised.

Chinese spying, Wessel would tell you, is widespread and not limited to government: trade secrets are up for grabs in a big way, and even the US Patent and Trademark Office had to upgrade its security after it discovered patent applications were being snatched out of the system and appearing as Chinese products, with Chinese patents, before the applications could even be acted upon in the USA.

Wessel also wants you to understand that China uses “soft power” to advance its interests: there are lots of “hosted” opportunities to study in China, former military officers of various nations, including the USA, are recruited as “representatives”, and there are lots of “get to know us” opportunities that have been created around the world; all of this is intended to “sell” China in ways we do not.

And with all that said, let’s talk about Ron Paul.

Paul’s attitude toward China seems to be that we should allow free, unimpeded trade, and that the currency manipulations about which many complain would not exist if we went back to a gold standard. Paul stated in 2001 that:

Concern about our negative trade balance with the Chinese is irrelevant. Balance of payments are always in balance. For every dollar we spend in China those dollars must come back to America. Maybe not buying American goods, as some would like, but they do come back and they serve to finance our current account deficit.

Free trade, it should be argued, is beneficial even when done unilaterally, providing a benefit to our consumers.

If I’ve been paying attention during the recent Republican debates, this is still what Paul believes about China, and here are a couple of thoughts about how he’s got it entirely wrong:

Paul may not like it, but Hamilton succeeded when he used tariffs to jump-start a manufacturing economy in this country, and not having free trade is working pretty well for China as well. Unfortunately, it’s working very badly for us.

On the one hand, Wal-Mart and all the others who import less-expensive products from China have done a great job of masking the fact that incomes have been either stagnant or declining for about 99% of us, but Wessel would say that’s been at the cost of sending millions upon millions of jobs to a country that is working hard on every level to ensure we can never again compete as a manufacturing nation – and while we thought we would make up that difference with our high-tech advantages, theft and spying and a devalued currency and “partnerships with benefits” and protectionist “state-innovation” rules have made sure we don’t.

A gold standard won’t fix this, and simply advocating that we allow China unfettered access to USA markets while they rob us blind seems a bit like suggesting everyone leave their houses unlocked so that the market can more efficiently decide which ones are the best for burglars.

So we’ve covered a lot of ground today, and let’s wrap this thing up with a summary of where Commissioner Wessel says we’ve been:

We have a competitor in China who will do more or less anything to keep its current political leadership in power, even as that leadership is forever worried that 900 million of its citizens will discover that you can overthrow a government.

The PLA is busy as well, with the South China Sea and everything above being the “area of influence”; computer warfare seems to be the next phase.

“Soft power” is also being applied; we have former military officers and Chinese language students and lots of other folks either hearing or telling China’s story all over the world and we don’t do a good job of answering back.

All the while, the CCP is working hard to create a higher-tech Chinese economy, by hook or by crook, and that’s putting the future of our own economy at risk, not to mention the operations of our government.

We, as a people, seem to be unaware of all of this, and that plays out in the form of ignorance in our politicians, with Ron Paul being a recent prominent example.

So now it’s up to you to figure out what all this means: is this really a substantial threat that we have to defend against (and there’s lots of evidence to suggest it is), or is this an effort to find a way to keep spending that $900 billion every year?

My take: Wessel’s not a defense lobbyist, even as he is trying to promote manufacturing in the USA, and there is a lot of evidence to support his thinking; with all that in mind I’m more inclined to believe he’s sending a warning we better pay attention to than he is seeing Commies under the bed.

Nonetheless, there are lots of folks who would like to keep stackin’ that big cheddar, at your expense, and even as we think very hard about China, we better also keep in mind that Northup Grumman could be just as dangerous.