advice from a fake consultant

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

Saturday, March 31, 2007

On Immigration, Or, How To Turn Purple Blue

Those of you who have been reading my work for a while have likely observed that my interest in electoral politics extends beyond this electoral cycle; and that my focus is often three or more cycles distant.

With that in mind, let’s talk immigration.

The face of immigration in America has changed the past generation or so, the Pew Hispanic Center tells us in their new report “Growing Share of Immigrants Choosing Naturalization”.

Here are the four biggest changes:

--Immigrants are more likely today to become citizens than at any time since World War II ended.

--Hispanics and Asians are the largest groups of immigrants today, replacing Europeans and Canadians.

--Immigrants today are more likely to be less educated, and therefore lower on the economic ladder than in the recent past.

--A larger proportion of immigrants are eligible for deportation (the “illegal immigrants”) than in the past.

These changes, combined with the recent expansion of immigrant communities into new parts of the country, means the Democratic Party has an opportunity to change purple, and even somewhat red states, into blue states for years to come.

These changes also create a “worst of both worlds” situation for Republicans-a population becoming more and more defined by immigration; and a base not supportive of immigration-at least not when it’s from Mexico, or points south.

So who are the immigrants?

Today, naturalized citizens represent about 12.8 million of our population. Another 11.8 million are legal permanent resident who are not yet citizens. The total of all foreign-born residents, including temporary visa holders and “deportable immigrants” totals 36 million.

Where they come from, however, has changed dramatically. This “fourth wave” of immigrants is not based primarily on European and Canadian migration. Today about 2/3 of immigrants are Asians and Hispanics.

There is a greater diversity among Asian immigrants than Hispanic-about half of all Hispanic immigrants are from one country (Mexico), which is not true of Asian immigrants.

Legal status? In 1995:

--about 20% of immigrants were undocumented (“deportable”).
Today that number is 33%

--47% were legal permanent residents.
Now that’s down to 33%.

--30% were naturalized citizens, and today that’s up to 35%.

Economic status? Trending downward, even amongst legal immigrants. 38% of today’s newest citizens earn income below 200% of the poverty level. That number rises to 52% of residents eligible for citizenship, but not yet naturalized; and 58% for those eligible in the next six years.

Immigrants are becoming less educated, as a community.

--37% of naturalized citizens hold college degrees, and 15% are not high school graduates.

--Eligible, but not naturalized citizens graduated 22% of their number from college, and 38% did not graduate high school.

--There is an improvement in this trend for legal residents not yet eligible: 35% college graduates, and 27% not high school graduates. These numbers are still below the levels for naturalized citizens, however.

It is important to note that immigrants from Mexico (as opposed to other Hispanic immigrants) have a major impact on these numbers-over 60% have not graduated high school, and 37% of Mexican immigrants are under 18.

It may also be surprising to learn that Asians are also, in large numbers, working at the bottom of the economic ladder. C.N. Le, at Asian Nation, offers an excellent examination of the data and explains that even entrepreneurial immigrants often work long hours at relatively low hourly wage self-employment, or have unpaid family employees, or both, which can depress family incomes.

Le’s data shows about 60% of Hispanics work in “Skilled Blue-Collar” or “Sales, Operations, and Support”. With the exception of Asian Indians, a plurality of all Asian immigrants also work in one of those two categories, but there is wide ethnic variability-for example, over 70% of Cambodians, Laotians or Hmongs fit into these two categories, but only 37% of Chinese work in these fields. (The plurality of Asian Indians, 25.8%, are computer workers, with the two categories we’ve been discussing being second and third.) The Census Bureau tells us janitorial, maintenance, and laundry workers, receptionists, and jail workers are included in the category.

Here's another fact that matters:

Hispanic households are more likely than non-Hispanic White households to be single female parent households.

What is required to become a citizen?

Generally, the Pew Center tells us, legal permanent residents must do the following to become citizens:

--be 18 years old.

--live in the US for five continuous years.

--demonstrate the ability to read, speak, and write basic English.

--pass the background check.

--demonstrate attachment to the US Constitution, and take and oath of allegiance to the US.

--pay a fee that can range from $225 to $330, but which may increase to a range of $460 to $595.

Which immigrants are most likely to become citizens?

About half of foreign-born residents become citizens today (52% in 2005), which is a trend that has lasted about 25 years. It is a decline from the peak of 79% in 1950.

Without going into a lot of facts and figures, it’s fair to say the longer you’ve been in the country, and the higher your income, the more likely you are to move from legal permanent resident to citizen. You may recall that Mexican-born residents tend to be less educated, and as data from 1995 to 2006 suggests, they are also about half as likely to become citizens. This trend is also affecting Asian immigration, as the ethnic mix of immigrants grows to include all Asian nationalities, as opposed to times past, when Japanese and Chinese nationals represented most Asian immigration.

So now to the good part-how do we apply this data to expanding the Democratic voting base?

First, look to the population distribution:

Here’s an excellent map, again from Asian Nation, showing, county by county, the change in pattern of Asian immigration from the 1990 to 2000 Census tabulations.

Note that areas of greatest increase are in Western States, and in States along the Atlantic Coast.

Over half (54.7%) of all Asians live in six US cities: LA, New York, San Francisco, Honolulu (with 64.9% of the total US Asian population), Washington DC/Baltimore, and Chicago.

This map shows that areas of the US where Asian populations are above 2% in a county include Iowa, Ohio, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and a belt of real estate that stretches south from Nebraska to the Gulf of Mexico (Eastern Texas!)

90% of Hispanics live in or near metropolitan areas.

Here’s a map from the Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service showing Hispanic population distribution outside metropolitan areas. Note that the areas of greatest population gain are, again, in the West and the Carolinas-but note the increases in the Midwest.

Ironically, greater geographic dispersal does not equal greater integration. There is a phenomenon known as “residential segregation” that points to the tendency of this community to create enclaves, if you will.

So let’s recap.

At this point we have the two most important immigrant groups, well dispersed in purple States, and representing potentially 10% of US population; who might be disposed to vote Democratic more or less forever with a lot of outreach and an introduction to D Party values-helping America’s poor become middle-class, and more, through education and economic opportunity, fighting discrimination, and a concern for the dignity of all of America’s citizens.

How do we take advantage of this situation?

Here’s the tough part: finding a way to engage insular communities with language issues. Here are some ideas...

--Help citizens become citizens. Find a way to involve prospective citizens in Democratic Party politics that doesn’t involve fundraising (remember Al Gore’s Buddhist Temple incident?)-maybe sponsor a mock Convention with immigrant groups, or mock primaries. Actively seek the advice of immigrants before platforms are set. Find ownership opportunities for new citizens in the Party-then let the fundraising begin!

--Do what Democrats have done for 70 years-look out for the American worker. Promote worker rights, continue to push minimum-wage legislation; continue to advance efforts to educate more Americans.

--Democratic candidates come to unions for support, and now it’s time for payback. Make unions and the help they provide workers a daily conversation on the campaign trail. Today the Party is reaching out to help the efforts of the SEIU in organizing. Why not run voter registration and union awareness campaigns in coordination with each other?

Every Democratic event should be a Union awareness event, as well. Help a worker make the job better, and that worker remembers you at election time. For decades, if you handle the relationship well.

--Economics matter, and home ownership and education matter most in American’s personal economics. That means we need to help immigrants buy that first house, and find the education they and their kids need. Suggesting expanding adult education could pay big dividends.

--Continue to reinforce the perception that D candidates will support immigrants-and that R candidates want to deport them.

To wrap all this up, Democrats have an historic opportunity to “lock in” a voting bloc for a generation or more-a bloc that equals about 10% of US population, is theoretically inclined to vote D anyway, and who, with outreach, would likely be happy to come along for the ride.

So let’s look around, find Hispanic and Asian communities in these purple States, and help them find their way to the American political process; then let’s welcome them aboard, now and for the future.

To quote Dr. Peter Venkman: “Lenny, you could be saving the lives...of millions of registered voters...”

Editorial Note: A great deal of today’s discussion was based on the work of the fine folks at the Pew Hispanic Center (and big thanks to you!), and comments unsupported by other links are based on data derived from the Pew Center’s report.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Advice From A Fake Consultant: Is "Plaza Fiesta Carolinas" Senator Dole's Kryptonite?

Much like the entertainer at a piano bar, I’m taking a request today.

James Protzman, who’s known as “Anglico” at the BlueNC site (for those of you not reading this at the BlueNC site) asked me to offer some ideas for NC Senate ’08.

What I’d like to do is bring some thoughts to the table, and see if the community might help flesh the thing out. So here we go…

Is Elizabeth Dole vulnerable in the ’08 Senate election?

I think she might be.

Here’s why:

First, it seems North Carolina has experienced a considerable growth in urban population, and that a substantial portion of that growth is Hispanic population.

Who goes to Carowinds?

Lots of folks.

Who goes to that outlet mall across the street?

As it turns out, no one does.

That’s why the same company that developed the Plaza Fiesta mall in Atlanta is going to redevelop the place into Plaza Fiesta Carolinas.

Confirmation of Hispanic population growth is found in Census Bureau data sets. Check out the data for Mecklenburg, Union, Chatham, and Wake counties as examples-each has much higher than average population growth, and higher than State average Hispanic populations. In 1980, Hispanics represented 1% of the State’s total population.

Dole seems to be vulnerable to an “anti-immigrant” attack-based on her own website, for starters. Go to the site, and search for “Hispanic”, and this is what you get: a visit to a credit union and efforts to make sure illegal immigrants get out faster. There’s nothing about education or health care or the minimum wage legislation efforts, which are issues that matter to Hispanic families. (Searching for “Latino” only yields the last two results from the first search.)

This comment from unique at the BlueNC site is a tiny bit of anecdotal evidence to support the new voter point as well.

Another point of vulnerability seems to be the war and the treatment of veterans. Because of the issue of “Democratic ownership” that may appear as a result of efforts to end the war, I would concentrate on the treatment of veterans. As it turns out, there is an excellent geographic dispersal of VA facilities in the State, suggesting voters in rural Eastern and Western counties, who might not view Latino immigration as a positive for the State, could be captured with a “Why wasn’t Dole looking out for our troops?” argument.

How would a D candidate respond to an anti-immigrant voter segment, especially in a county such as Madison? An answer might be found in the Census data.

Did you know there seems to be an association between having a larger Hispanic population in your county and your county having a better economy? Check out Madison County’s income measurements, and percentage of persons in poverty, which are underperforming the State as a whole. Is it because of the geography? Perhaps. But look around the State: Bertie, Columbus, Buncombe (especially the city of Asheville), and Macon counties all reflect the same trend.

Which brings us back to Plaza Fiesta. The response to anti-Latino voters is that immigration is how you bring new jobs to your dead-broke town. Yes, it is going to change the community. But Latino families are often churchgoing, just like rural NC’s current residents; and in a family values State, Latino families with kids have the potential to be a strong voting bloc who share similar values with the folks who already live in small town North Carolina.

Check out Thomas Brock’s comments regarding NC’s House Bill 91, which would allow Election Day registration and voting. As he mentions, this will garner youth votes in the college and military communities-but it should also be effective at empowering Hispanic voters in the State as well.

What about Black voters? About 15% of NC's population is Black and of voting age. There seems to be a good possibility that the Rs will not carry a huge number of voters in this community, so participation in voting seems to be the way to harvest the most votes from this group.

Black folks tend to be represented in the military, especially the infantry, in disproportionate numbers to the general population, and they will soon be a growing proportion of the VA client population as well. Remind mothers that their kids need them to vote. Remind black churches to turn out for their kids. Dole has not been there for the veterans, and they need to look out for their family’s veterans now. Mothers Opposing Bush, an organization referenced by Thomas Brock, is an example of a group for a D candidate to associate with.

There seems to be a Katrina problem for Dole as well.

Her management of the Red Cross, in 2002, was not successfully exploited as an issue. But since Katrina, the opportunity has reared its ugly head again.

How many who suffered after Katrina from an inadequate Red Cross response are aware her development of an unwieldy board has hurt the agency to this very day?

Since 2006, she also apparently has a fundraising problem. The New York Times ran an article titled “In G.O.P. Fund-Raising, Dole's Star Power Dims” in July of last year, and I’ll be digging deeper into the question as we move along in this process.

So let me suggest some strategy we might apply.

First, association with Veteran’s and Latino organizations; with the goal of attending the Labor Day picnics of these new friends as a strong supporter.

Next, hit the returning college students with voter registration, using the Election Day option only as a fallback. Try to get them to volunteer to join other activists in rounding up unregistered Latino and Black voters.

This puts you in a position to enter the end of ’07 hustling votes, and from here you can begin to talk about Dole’s record to an ever-widening audience. The ’08 Presidential primaries will be heating up in a big way, and the War (and its effect on Veterans) will be a giant issue for Dole to have to explain away.

Economic opportunity, and why NC is falling behind, is the next issue to exploit, and you have 7 to 9 months of ’08 to build the discussion before the last push to the debates, and then the voting.

So there’s my first attempt at a strategy.

Feel free to add some ideas to the conversation, and let’s see if we can develop something that can take Dole out in this cycle.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

On A Cracked Rib, Or, America, Meet Courage

“Every event I attended, somebody cried on my shoulder…”
--Elizabeth Edwards, March 22nd, 2007.

Before we go any further, a couple comments:

I barely looked at John Edward’s face during the press conference today.

But what a story Elizabeth’s face told.

I saw her smile, and I saw her courage, and I saw her fear.

I cannot thank both of you enough for allowing us to share this moment.

Elizabeth commented that she was glad to be able to tell her family first.

If you didn’t know it before, you have a bigger family here, and we are right here with you.

Just like you, we’re scared.

But just like you, we’re ready to take this thing we have forward together.

I’m a big fan of IZ Kamakiwiwo’ole. Who the hell is that? He’s the Hawaiian singer and player who does that hauntingly beautiful ukulele version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “What A Wonderful World” merged together. Which is a fantastic musical choice for the moment.

But not the best. There’s another song on that album: “Henehene Kou 'Aka”.

Unlike the other song, this one is lighter, happier, and looks to the future.

As we should.

So reassure the kids for us, let’s all have a little cry together, load up the ipod with happy music, and let’s move this thing along.

And with that said, let’s talk politics.

As is my custom, the remainder of this analysis is very much a “just the facts, ma’am” examination of cold, hard realities.

First, in an outcome unique to American politics, I think this is going to push the couple into the top tier of this race, if it’s handled well.

And oh my God was it handled well today. The Edwards couple has given us a lesson in family values that ends any R candidate’s chances of grabbing that issue for this cycle, if that already hadn’t occurred.

This event will be an opportunity to advance the discussion around national health care. What more powerful driver is there than Elizabeth representing all Americans with an uncertain health future and unsure how they’ll get the kind of care the Edwards family expects?

Here’s the tough one. DO NOT DO NOT DO NOT attempt to campaign fundraise over this.

It will appear cold and heartless.

If money will come from this, let it come of its own accord.

On the other hand, a “pink ribbon” link, to support cancer research, or to help the American Cancer Society provide wigs and prosthetics for those who can’t afford them would be a magnificent gesture that would carry the imprimatur of truth, coming from this family in this situation.

Tell George and Jonathan to step away from the keyboard for today and let this one develop naturally.

One more thing-accept the invitation from “ellen”.

It will be an iconic event that will deliver woman voters better than any other campaign appearance you will make this cycle. Bring your doctor, and be just as open and loving as you were today, and you will not go wrong. (Be polite, too. Bring Ellen a present.)

Right now there isn’t much else we need to say.

And that’s good news in itself.

The fight goes on, and the fighters are all still in place.

The problems haven’t changed, but the way Americans perceive the ability of the Edwards’ to solve those problems may have. In a good way.

To sum up, in one sentence: medically, not so good; but politically, unbelievably good.

And finally, slipping out of the “fake consultant” character for a moment…

…if we should meet in person, you can borrow my shoulder anytime.

On Unexpected Opportunities, Or, Wanna Win Texas?

Every logical bone in every D body tells us Texas is enemy territory.

Texas voted for Mr. Bush over Kerry 61% to 38%. The state is so R they didn’t even bother to count Ron Paul’s votes in Texas 14, as he ran unopposed.

The Governor is primarily known for his ineptitude and that classic nickname: Rick “Goodhair” Perry (modified by Molly Ivins to “The Coiffure” in 2006).

Texas Lege veteran Warren Chisum has recently been linked to the “Non-moving Earth” movement (all Copernicus, no Galileo on that site, I might add), which may or may not be an effort to distract from his record, and he’s not even on his best form here.

In this story Chisum proposes diverting cash the State currently gives to poor families (the TANF program) into a “Healthy Marriage Initiative” that hopes to solve the biggest problem facing impoverished Texas families-poverty-through an ad campaign promoting marriage.

Texas does things big, and so it is with Legislative redistricting. You’ll recall D legislators actually fled the State to try to prevent the important votes on the issue.

None of this looks good for Ds who want to chalk up a big “W” in the ’08 Presidential. But perhaps all is not lost.

sarantx, over at the John Edwards site, points us to a trail that leads to State Senator Eliot Shapleigh’s “Texas On The Brink” report. A quick look at sarantx’s post and you see the troubles with Texas might just be self-inflicted.

Interestingly, it’s a particularly tough place to be living and female-near highest birth and cervical cancer rates, yet near the bottom in health care and wealth (only 6 other states had more women below the poverty line).

Now here’s the good news. Voter registration for Texas women is 43rd of the 50 states, and turnout is 49th (41.7% average turnout 1998-2000). The State estimates that in 2005 there were 11,513,750 Texas women, which suggests 6.7 million females of voting age did not vote. What was the difference between Mr. Bush and Kerry in Texas in 2004? 1,692,768 votes. That’s pretty good news.

That’s potential.

How might we harvest some of those 6.7 million potential votes?

I have some ideas.

Anyone here following the story of the Texas Youth Commission raise your hands. OK, for the rest of you, I’ll work backwards. The Superintendent of the Ayers halfway house was arrested for shredding documents March 9th. On March 7th the Texas Rangers, among others, had to be called in to take over another State agency’s jail operations, and this seems to have occurred because the employees of that agency were a danger to the minors in their care (that’s right-the inmates were happy to be involved in a police raid).

There are more than 750 allegations of sexual abuse, and they emanate from every single one of the State’s juvenile detention facilities. Apparently these folks adopted a unique interpretation of “No Child Left Behind”.

A Lege-appointed committee asked for the resignation of the Board of the Commission during their first meeting. When the Board declined, Senate Bill 1921 was introduced to do it for them. The Governor has a representative involved now as well.

It appears there were at least two years of warnings which were ignored by the TYC management and the Governor's Administration.

And much like Mark Foley in ’06, there’s a huge R hypocrisy issue here that can be used to start a dialogue.

How many mothers would support abusing a child?

How many mothers want their State abusing children?

What “Messes With Texas” more than an ongoing policy of covering up child rape?

And there’s the first opening to get the Rs out of office.

We need to change-for the kids.

“How long do you want to keep paying taxes to have our kids abused in our town/county/State?” “Don’t our kids deserve not to be messed with again?”

There’s a national issue that can be addressed, as well. This is where you point out that unless we treat our veterans (and Texas is a State full of current and future veterans) better; it will be the husbands and children of Texas women who will suffer.

These are two great issues to rally around.

Start targeting women Sunday after church. Start going to the beauty parlor, and grocery stores and getting women registered. Are you a Texas high school student? Why not do a registration drive at the football games this fall? Target the moms in the crowd particularly, as women are the group least likely to be registered.

Get the female seniors in your school registered as well, now and next year. They likely know someone who can tell a story just like the stories in the news, and they probably want change.

The message here should be empowerment-invite women to take control of the process of creating their own power, to organize the campaign; and (are you listening D Party?) that Ds will spend the money now to get this on the way, for the sake of Texas women. And their kids.

Just as the Hillary/Apple internet ad was cheap and amazingly effective, a few copies of Final Cut Pro and access might get this movement even more push, with a neighbor to neighbor element that will play well in the State.

By the way, any fellas reading this? You could be improving the lives of potential woman voters at beaches across the State as a Volunteer Deputy Registrar bearing a message of empowerment this summer. How’s that for doing a public service?

Remember-there is more effort involved in getting non-voters to the polls, but the results are worth it. A recently empowered voter will likely vote again-ask D voters from ‘06 if they are likely ’08 voters. I’ll bet the “yes” answer is well above 50%. I submit you’ll see the same here-if women feel they can really make a difference in the lives of their kids, it makes a committed voter.

So let’s sum it all up.

Texas is a tough nut to crack, but the chance may be there at last.

Capturing 25% of non-voting Texas women would have changed the ’04 results to a D victory, with no other changes in voting patterns.

There are two issues that could create an outrage vote-just as in ’06. (Unless Tom DeLay runs again-then there’s three…)

Investment in tools to get Texas women and their neighbors registered to vote, and involved in D campaigns, could pay off big time-but the effort needs to start now. A D victory in ’08 will be based on success in ’07.

If we get lucky, we just might get another Ann Richards out of the deal, too.

If we can pull that off, even the Dixie Chicks will be proud of Texas again.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

On Oversight, Or, Reality TV Was Never Better

For the past several seasons, the Fox Television Network has been the dominant supplier of “reality television” in this country, even to the point of establishing the “Fox Reality Channel” (which, for those unsure, is a separate operation from the Fox News Division) to support the further expansion of the genre.

This season, however, there’s a new sheriff in town. Outrage-they got it. Big drama-they’ve got the biggest. Giant confrontational egos on public display? Donald Trump would be competing as an apprentice in this league.

These guys got so much reality TV they need not just one, but three channels to carry it all.

Who am I talking about? Only the best reality on TV...C-Span!

For the first time since the Republican Congressional majority stopped, well...anything that might represent oversight, the C-Span channels and live viewing streams have been virtually glowing with the “disinfecting light of sunshine” and Administration representatives have been trying to dodge the beams like ants under a magnifying glass.

As I write this l have House Judiciary’s hearing with the FBI’s General Counsel and Department of Justice’s Inspector General playing. They’re discussing how the Patriot Act applies to “National Security Letters”, and I’m hearing questions much like this: “Why did the Inspector General only find 1 terrorism prosecution that (developed) from the 143,000 letters that were issued?.” I am witnessing the suddenly no longer unique situation of the DOJ Inspector General telling Congress the FBI General Counsel has failed the country. And let me tell you, the General Counsel and Inspector General are both looking as unhappy as scorpions on a dinner plate on “Fear Factor”. Even Republicans Darrell Issa and Dan Lungren are shredding the witnesses. John Conyers has a major supporting role as well. This is some top-drawer reality television, folks.

Panel shows like this one are C-Span’s stock in trade, and here are some other Congressional classics that have been on recently:

The Altered Science Show: Quizmaster Henry Waxman hosts a lively discussion with James Hansen from NASA (the US Government’s leading climate change scientist), and a White House “managing editor”, James Connauhgton. Connaughton, fresh from fresh from lobbying on behalf of...other climate change interests, shall we say, and currently Chairman of the President’s Council on Environmental Quality (that’s right, C-Span has comedy, too!) who has been brought in to explain why scientist’s views on climate change need to be kept representative of the Administration’s (and, apparently, the American Petroleum Institute’s) point of view.

About 3 hours into the hearing you get the impression Connaguhton would prefer Kenny Blankenship and Vic Romano give him Irritable Bowl Syndrome. It’s truly a joy to watch. Hansen, on the other hand, sort of looks like a national hero.

To view this performance, go to this page and look for the link to the “House Hearing on Climate Change Research”.

Waxman (who is fast becoming the Chuck Barris of the medium) hosts still another primo offering: the Valerie Plame Wilson hearings. This is the stuff Hollywood dreams of. The heroine, an actual spy, lookin’ all glamorous, gets to confront the question of how she came to be outed as a secret agent by, not some foreign enemy, but her own government. Except for the fact that she doesn’t admit to torturing anyone, this could be an episode of “24”-we got nuclear weapons, secret plots, and a real American heroine betrayed by rogue elements in the highest levels of the Administration.

You’ll find this “must see” presentation on the same page as the episode above.

Click on the “House Hearing on Disclosure of CIA Agent Valerie Plame Wilson's Identity” link.

Two more “do not miss” programs: “Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing on Conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center” and the reality classic “Senate Hearing on Hiring & Firing of U.S. Attorneys”.

In addition to “ensemble” presentations, C-Span offers fantastic “one-man shows”, including a daily presentation that should be called “Schaddenfreude”, but is instead known as the “White House Press Briefing with Tony Snow”.

If you have not previously viewed this spectacle, basically the way it works is the White House Press Corps, who recently discovered a new word called “cojones”, ask questions of Snow regarding the thoughts and actions of the Administration. He then twists and turns in the wind attempting to explain the various misdeeds of his bosses.

If such a thing as the “Chinese Contortionist Hall of Fame” exists, there is no doubt Tony Snow will have a prominent place of honor, and I encourage you to watch this at least twice a week.

You’ll find it on this page-look for the several “White House Press Briefing with Tony Snow” links.

Just like Fantasia, this venue creates its own reality stars, which travel from show to show, providing us entertainment at their expense. This week that star is (not yet former) Attorney General Gonzales, who has had, and has on tap, several outstanding appearances. Gonzales is exceptional at this sort of theater-when answering questions, his deadpan delivery combined with the absolutely absurd things he says is reminiscent of a young Bob Newhart, minus the phone.

Watch this week for his Clinton-esque “bob and weave” defense before both the House and Senate...for example, this gem, referencing the 4th Amendment...

“I meant by that comment, the Constitution doesn’t say, “Every individual in the United States or every citizen is hereby granted or assured the right to habeas.” It doesn’t say that. It simply says the right of habeas corpus shall not be suspended...“

...and his press conferences (Link: “Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales Press Conference”) have become instant classics. This one features him denying and accepting responsibility simultaneously for the US Attorney situation. Better catch this act soon; however-rumors are he’s about to be kicked off the island, as it were.

The rest of this season looks great as well, and I anticipate the not-yet-scheduled, but highly anticipated “Katrina Show” will be one of the best presentations we’ve seen in years. Of course, the only thing that could make it better would be Michael Chertoff sitting as Attorney General, and that’s a real possibility.

If this season’s exciting lineup isn’t enough to get you watching C-Span, consider this: it’s paid for by the cable company you probably hate anyway-and it brings them no commercial revenue. That’s right-all this and no commercials!

In conclusion I’ll say just this: if you plan on watching American Idol this week because you like watching amateurs sing, try one of these C-Span presentations and see if it isn’t fun to watch professionals try to sing a believable tune as well.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

On Suckers, Or, How To Buy A Car

Note: your friendly fake consultant believes after several serious diaries in a row, it’s time for a different take. More serious writing will be returning tomorrow.

I write today as a car buyer who was actually called “cold hearted and mercenary” by by a car salesman who couldn't actually "beat any price".

Let me tell you my story.

The girlfriend’s (25 years and she hasn’t killed me yet!) 2001 Subaru Forester died with 259,000 on the odometer, and it fell to me to negotiate the price for the new one.

Have you seen the movie “Suckers”? It’s a two-part movie. The first part is a fictional story that revolves around a car dealership-but the second part is a tutorial by Joe Yanetty, the actor / screenwriter / actual car salesman in real life that explains the economics of buying a car, and offers these three pieces of advice:

--Never fill out a credit application. Just as with the Miranda warning, “everything you say can be used against you”. Yanetty says the car dealers will use the answers on the credit app to decide how much to charge you, and the contact information to call you back.

--Do a “clean” deal. No trade-ins or financing. This allows for an apple to apple price comparison across dealers.

--Dealers will try to apply time pressure (“What can I do to get you in this car today?”). Resist.

With this advice in mind, I was on my way.

We identified exactly the model, and the options, and the retail price of the car by going online. I already knew that getting about 15% off of retail would be doing well, so that was our goal price.

In order to make it as fun as possible, I went to my friend’s house with my laptop and a cell phone.

I then called every Subaru dealer in the State to get a quote for the exact same car. As I called each, I’d tell them the lowest price so far, and challenge them to beat it. I’d also tell them the exact invoice price associated with that quote, just so they knew I was being honest.

My friend Lee suggested I lie a bit about the quotes. I told him there was no need-the combination of Yanett’s advice, and the natural desperation of car dealers would be enough.

Are you a “South Park” fan?

Eric Cartman is trying to sell fetuses in an epic episode of the show. He calls each stem cell research lab in Colorado to get the best price, and as each one gives him a quote he says: “You’re breakin’ my balls here-breakin’ my balls…”

I thought, “I could do that…” So I did. The sales rep would quote me a price, and I’d say to them (and I can prove it-I have witnesses) “You’re breakin’ my balls-c’mon, can’t we do better? Breakin’ my balls…”

At the end of the first day I had 4 finalists-the dealer that quoted me the lowest price, and the three dealers who swore they could “beat any price”.

So the next day I called the first dealer-the “low price” dealer-and told them I would be calling the other 3, getting their best price, and allowing him the courtesy of making the final offer after they had their chance.

He told me his price quote was already as low as it could go, and that when I called back it would not change.

So I called the next dealer. I explained to him that I would be calling the other two next, then the first dealer for his best offer. Only now there was a twist. I was not going to divulge the lowest offer, and he would have to guess at the best price.

Oh yeah, one other twist. Remember how dealers use time as pressure? I told him he had exactly five minutes, and then I would call back for the best price. He flat out declined to make any offer, after hearing the quote from the first dealer.

On to dealer number two. Told him the same story, and the current price on the car. And that he had five minutes to beat the price. At this point he told me he didn’t like the “cold-hearted and mercenary way you do business”, and also declined to make an offer.

My heart has rarely been as swelled with pride as it was at that moment. A song played in my head, rainbows danced in the sky, and I think if I had died right there I could have died a fulfilled man. But I still had a car to buy.

So there’s now one dealer left to call

I tell him that we’re heading to the bank to get a cashier’s check, and we need his offer. We’ll be calling back in five minutes. Five minutes later, he says he can beat our current best offer by $150.

My response: “So you’re telling me that I can bring you a check for $21,200, and I will be driving off the lot with the car?” His response: “Let me check.”

For us, having to check after saying he could make that price equaled immediate disqualification.

It took about 90 minutes to drive to the winning dealer, do paperwork, and hand over a cashier’s check. In that time there were seven missed calls.

All from the salesman who had to check to see if he could really deliver the price he said he could deliver. Only now he was undercutting his own price. Call number four was a $21,250 offer. Call six: $21,200.

Even though we didn’t get the lowest price, 2 of 4 dealers could not beat the price, and the third couldn’t really be trusted, so we considered the extra $150 a good investment. Plus, we actually respected the winning dealer for giving us the best quote the first time.

And as far as I'm concerned, that's how to buy a car.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

On Pushing The Envelope, Or, Let’s Meet The Neighbors

Over the past week or so, we’ve discussed the likelihood that the “who’s getting nominated” question will not be decided for a few months yet.

We assume that, at least through summer (“you don’t introduce new products in August”), D candidates will concentrate on reinforcing the D message generically, while fundraising for their own causes. We assume the real dog-eat-dog “pick me, not them” part of the battle waits till Labor Day and beyond.

Our little blogging community has also seen a couple of recent examples of the power of shared effort. Our muscles are being flexed, and it feels pretty good.

We have an entire summer ahead of us, and potential power to direct.

So I have a suggestion: why don’t we spend some time over the next few months, each of us, personally, visiting the internet towns and villages where Rs gather. Let’s politely introduce ourselves, let’s respectfully address issues of concern, where we find them; and let’s start the process of reminding purple voters we find there that reason, common sense, and good government are more likely to be achieved by choosing a D candidate over any likely R candidate.

To put it another way, rather than waiting for our candidates to begin rustling up votes for the D side, let’s do it ourselves.

This may not be as impossible an idea as you might think. There is a huge sense of Republican concern that the Party does not have what it takes to win in ’08, and this is our chance to take advantage of it.

Unlike Dick Cheney, I will not tell you that we will be greeted as liberators.

Instead, don’t be surprised if you encounter something more like this...

“I feel that ‘fake consultant’ s concerns are shared by a lot of people. I live in California where we have a large amount of illegals. It sounds like a bad idea to deny schooling to the children. In reality over fifty percent of the Hispanic kids drop out of school by the ninth grade here in California. Girls become pregant quite frequently at twelve or thirteen years old. The males are usually members of a gang by the time they’re fifteen. As ‘fake consultant’ mentions “idle hands are the Devils’ playground” and yes — these idle layaround Mexican kids love to kill people and rape and drive drunk and kill innocent people. They’ll have three generations of off spring going while a normal White couple is still contemplating their first child.

If the illegal parents were rounded up and deported back to Mexico or Central America where they came from, they would probably take their children with them — although there is a big market now on having teenage girls in Central America ‘make’ babies so their pimps (for lack of a better word) can sell the baby to parentless Whites here in America. Possibly some of the deportees would raise extra cash by selling their ‘ninos’ before they were deported.”

...which was a response from a comment I made on

When something like this is posted on TPMCafe, or Kos, or (insert your favorite community here), it’s considered trollism, and is quickly removed.

You will, if you decide to visit the neighbors, have to adjust to a different definition of polite behavior. Don’t despair. There is also an opportunity to engage with more moderate citizens of the villages as well.

That engagement, and the opinions of those who read but don’t post-there is the value of making the social effort.

We are in a battle for purple voters in this cycle, and every one will matter.

Let us now begin to visit those voters where they collect, and let’s-again, politely and with respect-start a conversation about what makes more sense for our shared country.

If we are met with responses like the one above, it’s a bonus. Purple voters who see this are more likely to consider our reasoned response. If we instead, are met with more calm responses, let’s tell our story, let them tell theirs, and let the purple voters decide.

Again, this too can help to move more purple voters into looking at any D candidate in a better light.

So where are these Conservative-leaning purple voters?

Redstate is important enough that it has become the...well, the Redstate of Conservative communities. Just like your home village, there are diarists who bring attention to the news as they see it. You’ll find interesting articles and links, just as you would expect, and a full recitation of the R talking points.

I posted and responded here in ’06, and at the time I was surprised at how often moderate voices would appear. I was not all that surprised at how often immoderate voices would appear, however. Questioning the patriotism of dissenters is a common practice. So consider yourself warned.

Visit You will be surprised with the strident disagreement these Conservatives have with this Administration. The site is not enormously active, but it is highly informative in showing not all Rs move in lockstep.

I have not become a member here or really visited, but if you wish to reach deep within the beast, here’s the Ann Coulter chat room. I anticipate few real purple voters here, but I’m often wrong, and this could be another example.

In an effort to induce audience participation, I’ll leave this list incomplete, and give you reader/participants the chance to fill it in a bit.

You might be surprised, should you wander in the Republican woods, not only how diverse opinions can be, but how much of what I perceive as a sense of desperation you’ll note in your interactions over there.

If you don’t have a good feeling about ‘08 now, it’s likely that after a few visits, you will.

So let’s sum up.

We have power, we have a summer to kill, and we have the ability to lay the groundwork for the ’08 election, so that any D candidate can hit the ground with a running start.

We can gain education, inspiration, and maybe even some of those highly desirable purple votes by taking a trip to the home of the neighbors.

Here’s the best part-by comparing our experiences, we gain a roadmap for the time ahead.

So go meet the neighbors-it’s good for us, and good for them, too.

Then let’s all get together and talk about it.

Now get out of here-and we’ll see you back with a report real soon.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

On Why We Blog, Or, America's 244 Greatest Words

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that "all men are created equal"

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of it, as a final resting place for those who died here, that the nation might live. This we may, in all propriety do. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow, this ground -- The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have hallowed it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here; while it can never forget what they did here.

It is rather for us, the living, we here be dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that, from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here, gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve these dead shall not have died in vain; that the nation, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people by the people for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

--the nicolay draft of the gettysburg address; courtesy library of congress

Government by the People, for the People, and of the People.

The kind of government where you grab it with your own two hands and run the darn thing.

For the first time in my life, and probably yours too, and maybe for the first time in history, you can speak to the world-and the world listens.

Just ask Ann Coulter.

Or George Allen.

Or even better, ask Darcy Burner.

A complete political unknown with no name recognition, Ms. Burner ran for Congress in ‘06 in Washington’s 8th, a traditionally Republican district previously represented for 12 years by Jennifer Dunn, who was succeeded after the ’04 cycle by Dave Reichert, the former King County Sheriff who gained his name recognition from directing the hunt for the Green River Killer.

In a 51-48% outcome that must have left Republican hearts feeling as stressed as Dick Cheney’s, Burner lost.

And now she comes before us, as more and more elected officials are choosing to do, for the announcement of her intent to run again.

But that’s not the point.

The point is: look at the response.

Ordinary citizens are offering direct advice to a candidate who is reacting in real time.

As I say, this is hardly unique.

And that is my bigger point.

We live in a time where the real potential of the People to “be dedicated to the great task remaining before us” is at hand.

Those who seek to represent us, more and more, seek our wisdom, and our support, by coming to us directly. They are finding success in those efforts, and when the People give direction to the Candidate, or the Elected Representative, the dream of Government by the People is, for that moment, realized.

The greatness of the vision set forth by Lincoln, realized in a way he never could have imagined.

And with the potential to be repeated again and again, until this is the way politicians “talk” to their constituencies as a matter of natural practice.

There are those who benefit from a disengaged People; and in fighting them we, today, are engaged in efforts to end a great civil war.

That victory is not yet achieved, but one year ago the world was so much different. At last the People have found our voice, and our leaders seem...scared, suddenly.

And if our leaders are scared, what about those who lead them?

It’s as if the professional political control community-the Microsoft of politics, if you will (sorry, Darcy Burner, can we still be friends?), is suddenly facing a robust open-source challenge for which it was completely unprepared.

It’s not just “message” consultants looking over their shoulders-here’s an example of highly professional open-source graphic consulting.

Focus groups? Will blog communities become the new open-source focus group, or will pollsters start focus group blogs? A nod is as good as a wink to a blind horse, if you ask me; and the only difference seems to be the degree of targeting needed and the desire to restrict the results.

Experts? If a candidate wanted to learn about Iraq, they might read Marshall Adame over at BlueNC, who has personally been doing the work of rebuilding that country; and I suspect he would be happy to offer advice.

For that matter, a candidate needing pretty good free advice need only post a page to Kos, or TPMCafe, or any of the entire community of communities that can offer direct communication from the electorate at large-and good advice will be found-quickly, too. There is a “wheat from chaff” element to the process, granted, but paying for advice has the same problem.

Fundraising?  Connecting to your favorite candidate is more direct than ever and eventually I suspect entire online communities will begin to donate as a group, creating “open-source PACs” that are controlled by the electorate more than the “money aggregators” of today.

The development of “open-source” campaigning may lower the barriers to entry for candidates. It also creates the chance for candidates to reach across the nation for assistance that might never have been available before.

There are candidates who are willingly adapting to this new experiment in direct Democracy, John Edwards, at this stage of the game, being the prominent example so far in the ’08 cycle.

Darcy Burner, on the other hand, represents a new development-the candidate who seeks the “open-source” solution from day one of her campaign. Who openly asks the People to be a part of governing again.

She is not the first, I am sure, to seek the People. Nor will she be the last.

And that’s why, every day, with every candidate who seeks us out, we get a little closer to the dream expressed at Gettysburg. The dream that we will truly be our own Government, a dream that seems to have gotten away from us recently, but all of a sudden, is starting to feel close enough to touch.

If Abraham Lincoln is watching this, I bet he’s proud.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

On 800 Pound Gorillas, Or, Wanna Win This Thing?

I don’t usually make direct statements without some qualifications, but I believe I can safely say that unless Gore gets in the race, we have our 3 choices on the D side, and that’s about it.

I’m looking at a March 8th American Research Group poll suggesting no candidate other than Clinton, Obama, and Edwards currently attracts more than 2% of likely D primary voters. That same poll shows Clinton and Obama statistically tied (34 and 31%, respectively, with a 4% margin of error).

Rasmussen reports 34/26/15% for the same three, in the same order, on March 5th, and reported a 3% Clinton slip from the previous week. (Most likely voters, 4% margin of error.)

An average of polls shows about 36/25/12, with Obama moving sharply upward.

Unfortunately for Hillary, her trend is going the wrong way-a Quinnipiac poll taken February 13th-19th, asking “for whom would you vote today?” showed her at 38%/23%/6% (Clinton/Obama/Edwards, 3.8% margin of error).

Unless somebody does something more severe in their lives than Giuliani has done so far, the top three seems pretty much in place.

Our conversation yesterday addressed the Puppy Factor (for those who missed it, I posit that a percentage of the voting public will not, for any reason, vote for Clinton), and its effect on Hillary. The entirely unscientific poll connected to the diary suggests the Puppy Factor is real, and, if in any way applicable to the larger public, that big trouble lies ahead for the Senator.

John Kerry had to lose a Presidential election before he realized he was of more value in the Senate, and I worry that Clinton’s lack of electability could put us in the same boat in ’08.

Ds have a unique advantage this election cycle-gap voters are falling into the D camp in far stronger numbers than ever before.
Don’t believe me?
Here’s Charlie Cook:

But the real jaw dropper is when independents are asked which party they lean toward. This is important because historically, independents who lean toward a party tend to vote almost as consistently for that party as those who identify themselves with the party. There are just some people who like to call themselves independents but, functionally speaking, are really partisans.

In this category of leaners, Democrats had an advantage of 1.3 points in 2001. The parties were within the margin of error in 2002, when four-tenths of a point separated them and in 2003, when there was just a one-tenth of a point difference.
In 2004, Democrats had a 2.7 point advantage, and it grew to 4.4 points in 2005.

But in 2006, this category exploded to a 10.2-point advantage for Democrats: 50.4 percent for Democrats, 40.2 percent for Republicans. The remaining 9.4 percent did not lean toward either party.

This 10.2-point advantage is the biggest lead either party has had since Gallup began tracking the leaners in 1991.

And there’s the 800 pound gorilla-the candidate with the most money, the deepest connections, and a politically brilliant President to offer her counsel is not likely to win, nor is she likely to go home quietly.

Why do I think Hillary is in so much trouble, besides this very rudimentary polling analysis? Because I saw both the Selma speeches. In their entirety. And to be blunt, Clinton looked disconnected, forced, and, well...fake.

Obama, on the other hand-comfortable, strong, accessible-he just looked exactly like a President. And his ability to “preach” better than Hillary will get him a piece of the “Joe Wood” vote. And it’ll drive Conservatives nuts.

Edwards, who I admire, has yet to take off. But he is a white male, and history suggests white males win, so I wouldn’t discount him too quickly. Unfortunately, while trending upward currently, he’s less popular now in the average of polls than he was in 2005.

So these days, here’s what I’m wondering: there will come a point, if trends continue, where it will be time for Hillary to go. This poses two questions:

1) How can Hillary be convinced to gracefully step aside and let Obama and Edwards work it out? Options include Hillary as a Vice President (then run in 2012 or ‘16?), or convincing her to become an activist Senator in an all-D Executive and Legislative environment.
2) Edwards and Obama, or Obama and Edwards?

I’d prefer Hillary in the Senate more than VP, but that’s mainly because of math- Clinton, Edwards, and Obama, all in office, is better than any two of the same group being in office. And then there’s the Puppy Factor. Even as VP-which I’m not convinced she wants-she has a good chance, in my opinion, of hurting the D opportunity to win this thing.

Her Senate Committee memberships currently are Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee; the Environment and Public Works Committee; the Special Committee on Aging; and on the Senate Armed Services Committee. Her biography also reports she’s the only Senate member of the Transformation Advisory Group to the Joint Forces Command.

So a deal to convince her to stay in the Senate might include a juicy Armed Services Subcommittee chairmanship, and more juice in force transformation (10th Mountain Division is New York based, so it helps her long-term at home); and additionally, a conversation about term limits and how they don’t apply in the Senate, but do at the White House.

With a good deal in place, Clinton should still remain a motivated D evangelist, and might choose to fundraise and spend in support of D causes.

The Clinton supporters will want to see what the February “national primary” has to say, but the current trends suggest next year may be too late-that opinions might have hardened before votes are cast.

So what about question 2?

At this point, I suggest more people around here can articulate an understanding of Edwards’ positions more easily than Obama’s, but I suspect that will become more even as Obama’s campaign gets into gear.

Obama, on the other hand, has come out of nowhere, quickly, in a way Edwards has not. He’s, ironically, filling the “Great Looking Guy” brand that Edwards occupied in ’04, and he has a great television presence. His lack of specificity on issues might or might not hurt him-we shall see. (No positions means fewer enemies, but I suspect he’ll want to express himself, and that often leads to positions, which leads to opposition...)

Perhaps the best answer to question 2 is: wait and see.

If Gore stays out, I would suggest that, just like Iraq, Edwards probably has 6 to 8 months to move into a position to seriously consider Obama as his VP. Otherwise, Obama/Edwards could be pretty tough to beat.

So there we are. Sometime between now and January we might have to have a deal in place, and by the third week of February the nomination race might well be over.

Let’s hope this time it’s the Republicans who tear each other apart.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

On Unknown Languages, Or, Nuclear Is Bad, Mmm' kay

For those not yet aware, the US anticipates an energy shortage, and the Administration means to fix it.

This is why Mr. Bush told America:

"It is in our vital interest to diversify America's energy supply — and the way forward is through technology. We must continue changing the way America generates electric power — by even greater use of clean coal technology ... solar and wind energy ... and clean, safe nuclear power." (my emphasis)

As usual, those far more learned than I will debunk the “clean, safe” part.

They will probably explain the issues associated with plant operations and decommissioning, and as I said, I will leave that to them.

Reactors, once started, might operate as long as 60 years.
But let’s look beyond that.

After the 60 years, there are huge decommissioning issues.
But let’s look beyond that.

As a result of the Energy Tax Incentives Act (EPAct) of 2005, Michigan and Texas are amongst the various sites being considered for new plants.

But even after the taxpayer subsidies are hand delivered to the utilities, it still might not be economically feasible to build the plants.
Let’s look beyond even that.

A long, long, long way beyond that.

Because even after the plants stop operating, and the reactors have been buried, or removed, or whatever, there’s still the matter of the fuel.

The fuel will be a problem for a long time, to say the least.
You might be a bit fuzzy on my meaning of the word “long”.
Perhaps you require more specificity.

Have you ever heard of 40 CFR (Code of Federal Regulations) Part 197?
You might know it as the “Million Year Regulation”

That is not a rhetorical description-it is a literal one.
The Environmental Protection Agency has asserted that they intend to regulate the nuclear waste exposure of humans, the environment, and groundwater for the next million years.

The most difficult waste to be stored will be the spent fuel rods, which are highly radioactive, as opposed to lower-level wastes-things like the coveralls worn by workers or the tools they use.

At the moment, the likely disposal site for the high-level wastes is Yucca Mountain, Nevada, where the Department of Energy’s Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management will, apparently for the next million years, prevent unintended releases.

There are huge obstacles for the repository-for example, water leaching.
The Department of Energy reports they can keep the water from seeping into the Repository, and then to the water table, for “many thousands of years”. Since “many thousands of years” are considerably less than a million years, you can see the difficulty there.

But let’s say for a moment that nuclear power does turn out to be safe and clean, despite our concerns. And let’s say vitrification can be accomplished effectively and economically, and that the facility is actually sealed after the waste is in the tunnel, and there is no failure of the waste containment.

After all that, there’s still one ore potential problem: the meddling humans of the future.

NPR reports: “The trefoil radioactive symbol was doodled on a notepad at the University of California Radiation Laboratory in Berkeley in 1946.”

This means we have 60 years of familiarity with the symbol.
We know, today, that if we see it, we better get away.
But what about 10,000 years from now? 50,000? 500,000?

Since humans practice archaeology (and probably will in the future), and Repositories need warning signs-well, now here’s a problem.

So how do you warn Earth residents who likely will not understand any current language, or iconography, who are thinking about doing an archeological dig on the site in 563,455 years?

Remember the “Million Year Regulation”?

Let me introduce you to the “Billion Dollar Door

What you would see is an outer barrier of stone pillars-20 feet tall and 25 feet apart-with hundreds of "marker signs" scattered on the ground around the site. There are four “monuments” that contain additional information about the site. It is also proposed that magnetic and other types of indicators of human activity be placed at the location.

It is estimated it could take 30 years to complete the project.

Seems like a pretty good design.
Also seems a bit like Stonehenge.

And there’s the trouble.

Stonehenge, due to its mystery, is a premier archeological site, and there’s no reason to believe this won’t be either.

And when we discover a pyramid, or a Henge, or a longhouse, what do we assume? Religious significance.

So imagine some future university decides to send archeologists to this site that is obviously covered with thousands of religious symbols, and the very warning we designed turns out to be the attraction that undoes our relatives in the future.

Or the sharks with lasers on their heads that will probably take over after we have gone.

Mr. Mackie would tell you the message here is very simple:

“Nuclear is bad, mmm’kay.”

If a million year regulation doesn’t make you want to stop building nuclear reactors; and the costs of construction and decommissioning don’t make you want to stop building nuclear reactors; and a billion dollar door doesn’t make you want to building nuclear reactors either, well... least do it for the frickin’ sharks with the lasers on their heads.

Monday, March 5, 2007

On Purple Crayons, Or, Thank You, Ann Coulter

If you look in the 24 pack of Crayola crayons, here’s what you find:

The Red community:
Scarlet, Red, Red Violet, and Red Orange.

The Blue Community:
Indigo, Blue, Cerulean, and Blue Green

And in the middle-the Purples:
Violet, Blue Violet, and Violet Red.

Even the crayon box mirrors the electorate-both sides have their “base” and both are fighting for the middle.

And so it is with the Republican Party, America’s voters, and that most delicate of feminine flowers, Ann Coulter.

For those recently reincarnated or otherwise missing, Ms. Coulter “went a little funny in the head” to quote President Merkin Muffley. Ten thousand voices, all smarter than I, have rendered their disapproval, and I suspect she hasn’t heard one of them.

Or at least I hope she hasn’t.
Why would I say such a thing?

Because I want those purple crayons.
I want ‘em bad.

And every time Coulter does one of these (and we all know this ain’t the first...) I think happy thoughts. Thoughts of November, 2006. A time when many, many purple crayons, indeed, saw the Rs as the scary choice, and voted D.

In fact, I suggest that if Ann Coulter didn’t exist, we might have considered inventing our own, as a satire of reality. But lucky for the Ds, her truth is stranger than our fiction, and the work has been done for us.

Just consider the 110th Congress’ seven new Senators: Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). At least two of the States represented (Ohio and Missouri) tend to lean R, and Casey took out Santorum.

I don’t suggest Coulter is responsible for the majority of this, or even a lot; just that she ain’t hurtin’ the process, and every little bit helps in a race that might have less than 5 points separating the winner and loser.

OK, so, a confession: I’m basically lazy.
I do a fair amount of research for a post, but sometimes, even after all that work it’s sometimes hard to raise outrage over the retooling of a regulation, or the award of another non-competitive contract.

But finding something that Coulter did which can be described as outrageous is like reaching in a really full pickle barrel-it’s just so easy. This, truthfully, has a lot to do with why I’ve never taken up this issue before.

Besides, why would I want her to quit?
Here’s five more reasons I love Ann Coulter:

1) Ann Coulter makes Dennis Kucinich look like Allen Greenspan.
2) Ann Coulter gives Al Franken something better to talk about than Rush Limbaugh for a day. Maybe two.
3) For an analyst, she’s not so good at analyzing. Check out this brilliant prediction on the ’06 Senate race:

COULTER: Those are the three of about six or seven that are highly contested that I actually think we're going to win. In Talent's case, I just can't believe he is in trouble. He is a magnificent senator. If anyone should be in trouble, it shouldn't be Jim Talent, though Missouri is a very weird state. It seems to be like half Tennessee, half Massachusetts. They voted for Adlai Stevenson in 1956. It is kind of a nutty state. They voted for Clinton twice and but they also voted for John Ashcroft.

Allen I think is ahead and Ford I think is also an interesting case in Tennessee because I hate to say this but Ford is my favorite Democrat and I wish he were running in Rhode Island against Chafee and I would support him. If he were running in Connecticut I would support him.

4) Ann Coulter books, when purchased at discount bookstores, can actually be cheaper than toilet paper, per square inch. And just as useful.
5) I have an Ann Coulter policy. If she comes on TV, since she’s clearly living in some mystical dream world, I listen to music from a mystical dream world instead of her audio. As a result, I get unexpected opportunities to listen to “IZ” Kamakawiwo’ole I wouldn’t have otherwise.

And so I say to Indigo, Blue, Cerulean, and Blue Green:

Don’t hate Ann Coulter.
Love her.
Embrace her.
Even if she doesn’t mean to, she’s working for us.

Violet, Blue Violet, and Violet Red?

Well, if you weren’t smart enough to see through all of this, you wouldn’t be Violet, would you?

So let Crazy Ann be Crazy Ann, and let the purple voters watch, and we’ll have another reason to look forward to ’08.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

On Saving Louisiana, Or, Send Me Your Mud, Yearning To Be Free

Let’s begin today’s discussion with a quick thought experiment.

What is the single most important thing necessary to ensure the survival of the State of Louisiana?

Improved government administration?
More and better levees?
The success of the “Road Home” project?

I submit it is none of these.

The single most important factor determining the future of the State of Louisiana is mud.

That’s right, mud.

Were you aware that the entire State consists of mud? When you look at a geologic map, there is nothing to be seen but sedimentary deposits dating back to the Cambrian period.

And the mud, it is a-sinking.

Katrina took out more than 57 square miles of land in Plaquemines Parish alone. That former land is now the Gulf of Mexico.

The Army Corps of Engineers has maps of the Mississippi river from 1998. When you get to the page, click on map 141. What you see is a portion of Plaquemines Parish. (Here’s the same place on Google Maps.)

Notice almost the entire map area consists of water, canals, and marsh. There’s only two narrow strips of solid ground evident. Now let’s pull out a bit. There’s just about nothing in the image but sinking ground. Now pull out just a little bit further, and guess what-there’s New Orleans.

This was the area of Louisiana most affected by Katrina.

It’s now time for you to meet Professor Oliver A. Houck. His essay “Can We Save New Orleans?”, published in the Tulane Law Journal, will be central to the remainder of this conversation, and I would encourage you in the strongest terms to take the time to read the document.

Here are some of the issues he brings to light:

--There is no consensus on what is to be done-should the emphasis be on maximizing the amount of developable land; or should the emphasis be on maximizing opportunities for natural processes to replenish the bayous? These are two mutually exclusive goals, and Houck suggests development is winning.

--The Federal government is responsible for maintaining navigation on the Mississippi, but flood control is managed locally. As a result of this and the huge amounts of money that are spread around through levee and other water control project construction, politics has more influence on the management process than science and inter-jurisdictional coordination.

--Environmental pollution-especially fertilizer runoffs-kill the marsh grasses that hold the soil together. As a result, the process of saving Louisiana starts in South Dakota, and is therefore a national, not just a State problem.

--It is easier to calculate the cost-benefit of industrial and commercial activity than the cost-benefit of saving lives-and safety advocates have fewer lobbyists.

--Money spent now, on non-development rights, for example, will be cheaper than money spent later on reconstruction or remediation.

And the most important of all:

--It’s the constant movement of silt down the river that makes it possible for there to be a Louisiana-and America’s history of “taming” the Mississippi has nearly brought that process to a stop. The River carried 400 million tons a year of silt 150 years ago, Houck reports, and today carries only 80 million. Without that “new” land to deposit in the Delta, there is no way to offset the erosion to the Gulf of Mexico.

That’s not the only reason the State is sinking, however. Pumping drinking water from aquifers has an impact, and the expansion of the ocean caused by global warming does, too. Even the weight of the levees themselves on the soft soil is affecting the situation.

Professor Houck, being a “fix-it” kind of analyst, has offered a ten-point prescription for Louisiana recovery. Here’s the “Reader’s Digest Condensed Version”:

1) Draw the map-in other words, there needs to be a set of decisions made regarding exactly where humans will be allowed to control the land, and where the river will have its say.
2) With a new map, reconsider the projects-Houck reminds us that Katrina changed everything, and that projects already designed or underway are probably the wrong solutions to today’s problems.
3) “Free the Mississippi 400 million”-open dams upriver to allow the 400 million tons of silt to do its thing downriver.
4) Free the rivers-the logical extension of point 3. Open the levees appropriately, and let the rivers do their thing.
5) Cut the upstream fertilizers-we discussed this above-fertilizer kills grass, and that kills land. This is where parties outside Louisiana have to step up to the plate-the EPA, the Corps of Engineers, the various States, and maybe even private actors such as the Nature Conservancy.
6) Heal the marsh-if grass holds the mud in place, then grass we must grow. Professor Houck uses a farming analogy-one in which Louisianans would essentially become “land farmers”.
7) Quit making it worse-dredging and filling for canals and subdivisions is the enemy. As we said above, prevention is cheaper than mitigation.
8) Make room for Nature-consolidate human development within protected areas to create room for natural restoration to work.
9) Dare to think retreat-Houck advocates completely removing residential development from threatened areas, through buyouts. He makes the argument that businesses can be sustained, however.
10) Global warming is real-Professor Houck suggests denial here just makes the problem much, much worse.

We have already seen the consequences of our desire to develop every inch of shoreline, and not just in Louisiana, but all along the Gulf Coast. And we already are beginning to understand that this is truly a national problem.

But if we hope to keep South Louisiana as a functioning economy or even as an above water piece of real estate, we better start talking about national solutions that help Nature’s solutions.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

On Recovery, Or, A Tale Of Two Louisianas

There have been many stories told, and there will be many stories to tell, of how New Orleans and the communities to the southeast struggle to recover from the hurricanes of 2005.

Before I began researching this story, I assumed that pattern would be the same across the entire Louisiana Gulf Coast.

But I was wrong.

Have you ever heard of Houma, Louisiana? Houma is the largest city in Terrebonne Parish. (For those not familiar, a parish is the equivalent of a county.)

To set the stage, here’s some background information about the Parish:

--In an uncommon move, the City and Parish governments were combined some time back.

--When you think of Cajun culture, think Terrebonne Parish. The southern Parish is bayou country, and there are lots of hunting and fishing “camps” in the area. So many bayous, in fact, that the “Swamp Thing” comics are set here.

--The city of Houma officially sits 13 feet above sea level. Portions of the southern Parish are, literally, sea bottom. More about that later.

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita did affect the Parish, but not in ways you might expect. And the biggest change in the Parish might turn out to be more or less unrelated to the hurricanes.

Jean Bomvillain, the Parish’s tax assessor, told me in a March 1st telephone interview that there’s been a continuous period of growth following the storms which continues today. He also told me that since the storms:

--The tax base has gone up-assessed value in the Parish is up $40 million, in fact.

--Sales tax revenues for 2006 were $9 million higher than 2005.

--There are an additional 3000 new housing units that did not exist before the storm. Despite this, he reports a housing shortage.

--About half of the 20,000 residents of New Orleans and the other southeast Parishes that temporarily came to the Houma area have remained to become permanent residents. As a result, Terrebonne Parish’s population is about 110,000, he estimates. FedStats estimated about 107,000 in 2005.

--He does not see an enormous impact from the problems surrounding the “Road Home” program in the Parish. That’s not a unanimous opinion, however.

The reason for the difference between Terrebonne Parish and Orleans Parish (or Jefferson, or Plaquemines, for that matter) is that the hurricanes really did very little damage here. The nearby Vermilion Parish school district site has images that will give you an idea of what the local flooding looked like afterward.

There have been some permanent problems. Real estate has been affected in the southern Parish quite profoundly. Here’s what Mr. Bomvillain, the tax assessor, told me:

--There was an 8 foot storm surge, and as a result, to obtain insurance, houses in the affected area must be raised 9 feet. Let’s not just gloss over that-try to imagine raising your house and sitting it on a 9 foot tall platform sometime. Now consider what that will do to your property value.

--The coastline is sinking. Mr. Bomvillain reminded me that Louisiana loses “the entire State of New Jersey every year” to this phenomenon. I asked the assessor if this land had to be removed from the parish tax rolls.

It does not. It becomes the sea bottom portion of the Parish. The value of the land is appropriately reduced, I was told; but because the parish collects oil drilling royalties from offshore activities, they can’t just “lose” (my quotes, not his) the properties that become submerged.

As a result of all this, the character of the parish will change. Already something close to 90% of local construction activity is occurring around Houma, and it’s not likely the southern portions of the Parish will return to previous levels of hunting, fishing, shrimping, or its other businesses anytime soon, if ever.

On the other hand, if you talk to someone in Houma in a retail or service business, things are pretty good.

Particularly if you talk to Mary Strickland, over at “A Stitch In Time”. She told me that Katrina really wasn’t a big deal in Houma, and that Rita was the one that affected them. Even at that, she reported to me that she was only closed for 5 days, while Houma waited for power to be restored from other parts of the State. “50 miles makes a difference” was how she explained what happened.

How about her business? She told me that immediately after Katrina she did a substantial business in dry cleaning and restoring evacuee’s clothing and belongings. But she also told me the new residents have had a positive impact on her bottom line. There are new businesses opening in Houma that relocated from New Orleans.

She told me about other changes to the city: she mentioned that she perceives an increase in crime, especially robbery and burglary. She also noted that apartment rents have increased “phenomenally”. On the other hand, she told me her shop’s rent had not changed, remaining “$1 a square foot”.

She made two other comments that I found most interesting.

She said Louisiana “needs to do the Dutch thing” to stop coastal erosion.
In the very next sentence she said: ”if Louisiana would get 50% of our oil revenue (referring to royalties from offshore drilling) we wouldn’t have to ask the government for help” paying for shoreline improvements.

As I said at the top of the story, the recovery issues in New Orleans will, for obvious reasons, hold our attention for some time to come.

But below the surface there is a second Louisiana recovery-a Louisiana who, at the moment, has mostly escaped one disaster, and feels optimism about the future; but worries about another disaster that they know will eventually come if they can’t stop it.