advice from a fake consultant

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

Saturday, August 30, 2008

A Fake Consultant News Flash: Sarah Palin...What's The Dirt?

The Media will be abuzz today with the surprise of John McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin as his Vice Cheney candidate.

But there’s some dirt hiding under the rug...

What is the history...who does she support...and when she talks about “open and transparent” government, what does that mean?

Put your snow boots on, people...and let’s have a look...

Let’s start with the milk business. Matanuska Maid, the State’s largest dairy, was owned and operated by the State from 1985 to 2007, basically to provide an outlet for the State’s eight dairies and to provide a local source of milk.

Unfortunately, the Dairy has been losing money, requiring the State to basically subsidize the industry by operating a money-losing buyer for the locally-produced product....and providing loans to the local dairies.

In a radio conversation, Governor Palin stressed the importance of the dairy to the State’s citizens, reminding them that “a local food supply is very important”. She wanted the public to know that they had nothing to fear about the future of the Dairy. She was excited, at the time, and was looking forward to the prospects for the Dairy in private hands, as it was at the time being readied for auction.

As it turns out, the “local” supply is anything but local. For years the dairy has been buying the majority of its milk from out of state (60% of milk processed by Matanuska was imported in 2006)...and as it turns out, there was something to least there was if you were one of the State’s eight “Class A” dairy farmers...or one of the Dairy’s two senior managers, who were racking up about $50,000 a year—each--in travel and entertainment costs (including multiple “working lunches” on the same day...), based on this unusual business standard for what are, more or less, State employees:

“Long standing practice is that we are allowed to use our judgment when determining whether an activity has merit for travel purposes. We do not have limits established for these costs.”

Nobody was interested in buying the money-losing operation.

The State has signed a lease agreement for the dairy’s equipment that seems to have foreclosed any chance that the facility would ever return to that business; and in the summer of 2008 they tried again to sell the asset, lowering the price from $3.5 million to $1.5 million...and there was success...and as a result the State of Alaska’s citizens can patronize a new heated storage facility that, obviously, cannot process the local food supply that is apparently no longer so important. (By the way, that imported milk the Governor worries about: $3.99 a gallon in Anchorage...the average price in Seattle--in 2003? $3.52).

So that’s let’s talk about gas.

Alaskans are anxious to develop resources in the State, and to that end there have been various proposals to build a gas pipeline that would link the extremely remote North Slope to the rest of the world.

You would think in a time of historically high petroleum prices that this sort of project would be a self-supporting business...but the Republican, theoretically free-market supporting, Governor Palin (and the majority Republican Alaska Legislature) convinced Alaskans to pay $500 million in subsidies to TransCanada Corporation, not for an actual pipeline, but to allow TransCanada to find partners and additional financing...and beyond that, there’s tax relief for those who use the pipeline. (Just a guess...but you wanna bet this will not be the last subsidy to Big Gas/Big Oil before this Big Deal is done?)

Subsidies to the builders, subsidies for the customers...and a commitment to the Free Market that “Uncle” Ted Stevens would love...that seems to be energy plan Vice Cheney nominee Palin endorses.

John McCain is famous for his pledge to eschew “pork-barrel” spending in Arizona...and in what seems to be an effort to get back to “average” he has chosen as a running mate the Governor of the State that’s Number One in earmarks...and as much Federal spending within its borders annually as it has private payroll.

Palin ran on a platform of “open and transparent government”...but those days are now, apparently, over.

Palin’s husband, Todd, seems to be unusually involved with State personnel decisions...and conversations about “blogger management”...despite not having any formal role in State government.

Which brings us to “Troopergate”.

You’re probably already hearing that Commissioner of Public Safety Walt Monegan was fired by Palin for refusing to fire an Alaska State Trooper (the equivalent of a State Police Officer).

If Andrew Halcro, the former Republican State Legislator who ran as an Independent for Governor against Palin in 2006 is to be believed, the backstory is full of dirt (and budget intrigue)...and now we know there’s at least one thing the Governor and her running mate have in common—nasty divorces.

The story, as Halcro tells it, goes something like this:

First, according to Halcro, Moneghan would not agree to cutting the budget for the Troopers, despite the Governor’s insistence. Moneghan, it’s reported, felt that the Troopers had been shortchanged for several budgets in a row—and he felt that it would be imprudent to cut the budget, again, in a time that calls for service were increasing...and the price of fuel is increasing...and the Troopers often have to respond to calls in airplanes because of the size of the State.

He reminded the Governor that social trends—like the price of heating oil in cash-starved communities—had the potential to increase the demand for service on the Troopers...and he felt that if the budget was cut further the Troopers might not be able to respond to every citizen call.

(“Reforming” a budget by cutting essential services. Sound familiar?)

The other issue: Governor Palin’s sister and her very nasty divorce.

She married an Alaska Trooper, Mike Wooten, and after they split up she and the family filed 25 separate complaints against him over a 10 month period. According to Halcro, 24 of the 25 were dismissed.

The 25th?

Wooten has acknowledged illegally killing a moose in 2003...which the Governor’s father butchered...after which the meat was shared with the rest of the family...including the not-yet-Governor and her husband.

In 2005 this became an issue after Wooten sought equal custody of his children...and that’s when the complaints began. Quoting Halcro:

But every time they filed a spurious complaint, the Troopers would bring in an Administrative Investigator who after seeing more than two dozen of these ridiculous and time consuming complaints stated that in all his years he had never seen such a shotgun pattern against one officer.

The custody battle began anew in 2008, and it is alleged that the Gov herself is involved in trying to get him fired...and somehow, information from Wooten’s personnel file seems to have found its way into the hands of the ex-wife—and her attorney. A more compliant Commissioner of Public Safety, Chuck Kopp, has been appointed, possibly protecting the Governor from any further internal investigations, such as the one Former Commissioner Moneghan was planning.

So that’s the story for today...Vice Cheney Nominee Palin, the fresh face with executive experience that McCain has brought to the table, is giving away half a billion dollars in taxpayer money to the Big Gas/Big Oil (for openers), has overseen the end of a “dairy industry subsidy” she couldn’t save, pulled the blinds down on “open and transparent government”, kind of “hired” her husband to be an unofficial “Personnel Director”, has apparently decided that the mantra of “anti-spending” is much more important than public safety—even while her State is the recipient of more than $11,000 in Federal spending per Alaska citizen--and she’s going after her sister’s ex-husband, and of course, there’s also that bipartisan “abuse of power” investigation she’s now dealing with...

Not bad for two years in office, eh?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

On Economic Forecasting, Or, Notes From The Golf Tournament

Once a year the professional golf community comes to visit my neck of the woods, in the form of the PGA’s Champion’s Tour.

It’s an event that changes the character of the community in several ways: spectators swell the size of the town, there’s a media focus that usually doesn’t exist…and an actual, no kidding, traffic jam might develop—on a weekend.

It’s a great economic barometer, as well. Despite the efforts of the Professional Golfers Association (the PGA), there is a lot more of an upper-income demographic attending the tournament than there is a Happy Gilmore kind of crowd.

Which brings me to the point of today’s examination: what can we learn about the state of the economy from the perspective of the tricklers, as opposed to how it looks from the point of view of the trickled upon?

The PGA’s Senior Tour has become the Champion’s Tour, these past few years, and it makes two stops in the Pacific Northwest: the JELD-WEN Tradition, which is played at the Crosswater Club, Sunriver, Oregon; and the tournament I attend, the Boeing Classic, played at TPC Snoqualmie Ridge, Snoqualmie, Washington, under lovely weather…at least on the first two days of the event. For those with a 9:00 AM tee time Sunday, it was the same, but by the end of that day the weather was more like Scotland—in the 60’s, windy, and a spattering of rain.

Spectators enter the course and immediately pass through a gauntlet of exciting commercial opportunities presented from E-Z UP booths (the “Expo Village”)…but this year the Village was missing roughly half of the booths, leaving it looking, sadly, a bit more like the Expo Dorp.

The remaining Villagers seemed a bit dispirited—perhaps because they were not giving away tons of golf tchachkes this year. In years past I personally had picked up boxes of crayons, the ubiquitous rainbow (not) Slinky ©, mini first aid kits, and some very cool tool-box shaped mint tins. A couple of years ago The Girlfriend successfully putted the big golf ball and won a sleeve of Nike Ignite balls and a subscription to Golf Digest….but even the Golf Digest booth is missing this year.

The granola bar booth was still giving away their product…but other than General Mills, no other sponsor seemed to be doing the giveaway thing.

This was especially striking as one left the Expo Hamlet and entered the Cadillac exhibit. In years past the Cadillac presentation was impossible to ignore: first, because of the large number of comely women selected to divert potential customers to see the displayed wares (at least 8, maybe even 10 last year)…and secondly, because of the high quality of the tchachke.

If you were willing to spend roughly 10 minutes and fill out a “contact card” you could leave with a lovely fleece Cadillac blanket—and in the previous three years I think I grabbed two myself…and one of those is still floating around here somewhere.

But this year, it was a bit different.

I did not see any Cadillac giveaway items, and at 1:00 PM on Saturday there seemed to be no comely women…and barely any potential customers.

In fact, I’d estimate the crowd at roughly half that of last year, which, on Saturday of 2007, was estimated to be 18,000. There are a few places on the course where I was able to compare—for example, there was very little crowd density at the 14th green, as opposed to last year when it was difficult to walk the cart path there because of the crowding. There was moderate difficulty navigating the 9th green and 10th tee complex, but nothing like years past…and even the (incredibly close) 10th tee bleachers had available seats, even though many golfers had yet to pass that point.

The 18th green “Hospitality Village” seemed to be less crowded than years past as well, but I was not given enough access to the sponsor’s spaces to be fully certain of that comment. Call me 80% certain instead.

It was possible to easily “see through” the crowd that followed Tom Kite, and I’d be surprised if his “walking crowd” was larger than 300 people.

There were no lines for concessions or restrooms…and the racks in the “tour shop” tents seemed to be full of clothing hangers, and the racks of hats seemed nearly full as well. Less than 10% of those on the course seemed to be carrying bags of things they’re bringing home from the tournament. I did not see large numbers of guests wearing hats from the course or the event.

My ticket reads “Weekly” and “Complimentary”—and that might be the biggest problem for those seeking to make a buck on this enterprise. Virtually all the tickets I saw were either “Complimentary”, “Member-Complimentary”, or had a sponsor’s logo of some kind. I would be willing to bet that less than 25% of the tickets I saw were “sold” tickets…however, some “Complimentary” tickets might be tickets sold to corporate clients…and “Hospitality Village” tickets certainly are sold to corporate clients.

So what can we make of all this?

It could easily cost a family of four $400 for tickets, snacks…a few drinks for Mom and Dad, sodas for the kids…hats for the kids, a shirt or jacket for Mom and Dad…gas…you know, a weekend golf outing.

If my numbers are correct, on Saturday alone roughly 2,000 families that came last year chose to stay home this year—and I’m not the only one who sees Tour revenue as flat at best. In fact, it appears that revenue growth from 2006 to 2007 consisted almost exclusively of bringing in more corporate money, not growing the number of fans “passing through turnstiles” with paid admissions.

Put it all together, and it appears that even the predominantly high-income families that would normally pack up the kids and get out to the course for Tournament weekend…normally a “not to be missed” event…are not willing to make the trek this year—at least not unless the boss is buying the tickets.

I often buy gas at Costco; and waiting in the big line we still see a substantial number of large vehicles filling the tank—and I suspect that for many families the disposable income that would have paid for the golf outing is now buying gas.

Something to think about if you’re a Democrat running against the Bush economy.

Barry Commoner, a quarter of a century ago, famously explained that the environment, the economy, and energy policy are inextricably linked…and it now appears that the PGA Tour—and lots of local families--would likely agree.

Monday, August 25, 2008

On Touring The World, Or, Blogging-It’s A Collective Thing

For the past two weeks we have paid more attention to the rest of the world than usual, what with the Olympics drawing our attention to Asia, and the conflict in the Balkans forcing us to learn that Atlanta is not in danger…that indeed, there is another Georgia—and how events in that Georgia could affect life in our Georgia.

As it happens, I belong to an international blogging collective (the Blogpower community) with voices that happen to be especially well-placed and often powerful to boot…a combination that will be most helpful for today’s exercise.

We are going to take a journey, Gentle Reader, all the way from India to Australia. We’ll visit Canadian friends, then we have much to discuss in the UK…and we get to meet a friend in the Sudan—and just for fun, we’ll toss in a few discussion questions based on Russian history.

Finally, through the miracle of Facebook, we’ll meet an actual volunteer soldier from South Ossetia who will describe the Georgian attack on his city.

There’s a lot to cover, so put on your travel hat, grab your virtual passport, and let’s hit the road.

There are 61 bloggers currently associated with Blogpower, but we will only be visiting about 20 of those today. There’s a full list of the community members available, and I would encourage you to dive in to the list and visit all of them.

And speaking of visiting…

Kori Brus, publisher of “The Conscious Earth”, has been travelling India these past few weeks, from south to north, and now finds himself in Ladakh, an area of India that is primarily Buddhist…and covered by a far more extensive network of trekking routes than highways.

He tells us that despite the fact that India is a nation of more than 900 million people, it is quite solitary indeed for him on this trip…which has advantages he might not have anticipated as he visits a temple around the time of morning prayers.

We continue with the theme of culture and religion on a visit to Vancouver, British Columbia, where we find jmb’s “Nobody Important” blog awaiting our arrival.

In May of 2008 the city’s Museum of Anthropology was robbed, the object of the theft being spectacular pieces created by Bill Reid, an artist of Haida descent who trained as a sculptor and a goldsmith. (His work can also be seen at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C., should you get the chance to visit.)

Some of the objects had been recovered, but I am now happy to report (again, courtesy of jmb) that when it comes to art thievery, the Mounties get their brooch; with all the missing objects now recovered. (Well, to be exact, a fraction of one object is missing…so visit the link for details, he said, teasingly.)

Ruthie “Zaftig” offers us a tour of the morality questions present in the movie “The Dark Knight” that begins as a general discussion of good and evil, but then becomes an evaluation of how terror affects human judgment—and addresses the additional question of how much freedom should we be willing to sacrifice for security…which might be the freedom to live in fear.

For your consideration: would Peter the Great have made a good “Dark Knight” Batman? Try to include a few words regarding the “Tsar as Father Figure” mythology in your response…

Immorality also figures in a story from Khartoum: Kizzie explains how bribery is endemic in Sudan—and she tells us how a judge was apparently bribed in an eviction case that has cost her family three years of their time, thousands of dollars in legal fees…and had them wondering if hiring a few well-armed “friends” to resolve the problem “extrajudicially” might have been the better solution.

She also reminds us of the death of Levy Mwanawasa, President of Zambia—one of two notable recent deaths in the region; the other being the death of Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. Both are major events unreported in US media…so visit the links and follow these stories.

In Iran the level of repression applied to union activists is increasing…and as of now the crime of union organizing can get you 30 lashes…or 50…or 70…plus jail time. Or it could get you the death penalty.

All of this is reported to us by our man in Corkadorogha, Ireland (…”where the the torrential rains are more torrential, the squalor more squalid, the hopelessness more utterly hopeless than they are anywhere else”…), Jams “The Poor Mouth” O’Donnell. (By the way Jams: “rains more torrential”? Spend a year in the rainforest around Queets, Washington and you may reconsider that position…)

Everyone is blogging these days…including a former Deputy Prime Minister of the UK, John Prescott (fired by Tony Blair, no less!). Mike Ion, himself a former Labour candidate for Parliament (from Shrewsbury…home of Darwin and the Cartoon Festival), discusses the impact of the growth in the medium on UK politics and beyond—and for those who don’t know, there is as much reaction to political bloggers over there as there is over here…and in the UK, that makes Mike Ion a bit of a “must read”.

All citizens of England have access to health care, unlike the US, but this is hardly a perfect situation. Should we hope to adopt a national health care model we might do well to learn from their experience, and some of that insight can be found in the following two stops on our tour:

An agency of the NHS (the UK’s National Health Service) that tries to balance the costs and benefits of drugs and procedures that the NHS will pay for is the subject of a recent discussion at the “Letters From A Tory” blog.

CalumCarr has been telling us for years now about the troubles faced by those who seek help from the NHS for mental disorders (a problem that has touched his own family), and a new report from the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland describes grievous flaws in the system—including a case of “Not My Problem” culture that is so serious that the report itself is entitled "Not My Problem - The Care and Treatment of Mr. G".

Leadership is sometimes a matter of committee, and we are given the view from the other side of the table as Grendel recounts his experience on hiring and purchasing committees. We learn a bit of British slang (“…use the word “prat” in a sentence, please…”), we consider the absurdity of dreams, and we are offered a few words on unintentional non-disclosure disclosures.

Have you ever wanted to go to a job interview and tell the interviewer you’re looking for a new job because you hate your current job? You have a friend in Grendel.

The UK portion of the journey continues as we visit Sackerson’s “Bearwatch” blog. He reminds us that our desire to restrain Government through the vehicle of the Constitution is well-recognized—and well-respected—around the world…and he brings to the table a question raised in this election cycle by Ron Paul: what is legal tender?

For your consideration: what effect would a strict Constitutional reading of “legal tender” have on credit expansion? Would we, on balance, have been better off with such an interpretation? A few words on the impact of home ownership on personal wealth—good and bad—would add some “seasoning” to the rhetorical stew you could create…

Theo Spark’s friends (the “Last of the Few”) combine Conservative thought with the sorts of adult images (adult images is code for “maybe the younger kids shouldn’t be going there unsupervised…”—you have been officially warned) that one might see on Page 3 of a British newspaper; and the blog makes the point that Basra is on the road to reconstruction through the use of a striking image taken in the At Tannumah district of the city.

The great “what is mind versus what is matter?” debate, originally begun by Descartes and Hobbes (and later revisited by Homer Simpson), is one element of a conversation from Gracci at the “Westminster Wisdom” blog. Can security ever exist for the masses when the masses are ruled by anyone other than an autocrat? That question, also addressed by Hobbes, is an important second pillar of the sturdy philosophical structure presented in this piece.

For your consideration: is security worth the cost? Just how much cost might you be willing to accept for how much security? Can anything actually approaching total security be achieved, or does the effort to create total security inevitably create insecurity? Using the Russian word grozny correctly in your answer will get you extra points…

We need to take a step back from all of this deep thinking, and my friend Colin Campbell has just what we need. His “Adelaide Green Porridge CafĂ©” blog features an image of military maneuvers that make me wonder if the Australian commander might be smarter than ours. (I’d also be curious what the commander has to say about global warming…).

Is Wales a part of the UK? Or is it, like the Duchy of Cornwall, destined to be an independent nation? “Miss Wagstaff Presents” this issue, and others, in her ongoing quest to analyze the question of whether the political relationship with the UK is serving the Welsh people…or instead, serving only the political needs of the Labour Party. (For those unsure, Wales is located roughly 20 miles east of Dublin, just across the Irish Sea. It’s the same Wales that has a famous Prince.)

Tesco, the UK’s largest retailer (and fifth in the world in 2006), is the source of the next bit of humor, thanks to “Sally in Norfolk”…and I will consider this story every time I freeze a grill. (She also visits a lead mine…another fascinating story.)

“Hercules” notes the considerable resemblance between the current Governor of Virginia, Tim Kaine, and the only current resident of the Meadowlands end zone, Jimmy Hoffa.

Which brings us to the final stop on our tour.

Ellee Seymour wants us to visit the “ProActive PR” blog and meet Alan, a 26 year-old student who was in Tskhinvali, the largest city in Georgia’s disputed South Ossetia region when Georgian forces advanced on the city.

Power had been mostly cut off, as had water, but Alan was able to send messages by cell phone which Ellee’s friend Katarina was able to translate into English. The story begins August 4th, where he describes seeing three dead bodies, victims of either Georgian mortars or artillery fire.

The diary gives an hour-by-hour recap of the events of August 7th, including a street battle just a few blocks away—and a description of being so tired that grenade explosions up the block could not wake Alan up.

The diary includes pictures taken on scene…and no matter what you may think of the positions of either side, this is a soldier’s story in the end…and that makes it a very human story, indeed.

Well there you go: we’ve seen a bit of the world, we have some things to think about…and we had a few laughs to boot.

If you have nothing to declare, continue through Customs to catch your ride home…and thanks for flying Blogpower.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

On Washington’s Primary, Or, It Might Be Time For Republicans To Worry

I’m supposed to be finishing another story tonight, but I’ve just come from Darcy Burner’s primary night party…and I have in front of me the results of the important races tonight in Washington’s newfangled “top two” primary.

It is unfair to extrapolate the results of elections in the “People’s Republic of Washington” directly onto a national map, but as I look as these results it seems fair to say that if any Republican strategists aren’t sweating bullets this morning it’s because they’ll be hustling for votes in towns like Maggie Valley, North Carolina (don’t forget to stop by Saratoga’s for the Wednesday night jazz…)…or, perhaps, Bessemer Bend, Wyoming.

For the rest of the Republican community, tonight’s events are not good news.

We have a fair amount to cover, so let’s get to it.

First, a few words on the unusual new primary system. The “top two” primary was brought to law through the initiative process after the United States Supreme Court declined to rule on the constitutionality of the old system.

How does the new primary work? Simple. The two candidates with the most votes in any primary election move on to the general. (There is an exception: judges are elected in this State; and candidates with “50% + 1” votes in the primary automatically win the election. They do not appear on the general election ballot.)

Odd results could occur. For example, there can be occasions where two Democratic or two Republican candidates are the top two finishers in a primary (or two of another party, theoretically…), which could leave either no Democratic or no Republican candidate—or potentially no Democrat and no Republican--in the general as a candidate for that position.

This will in fact happen in Washington’s Legislative District 7, Position 1 race, as four Republicans square off against each other today, with the top two Republicans making it to the general election ballot.

There is also great controversy over who can be a Democrat or a Republican; the current law allows the candidate to self-identify party affiliation, much to the frustration of both the Democratic and Republican Party establishments, who see the potential for considerable mischief in the arrangement. They also cite First Amendment “free association” issues and “branding” concerns.

All that controversy notwithstanding, about 75 well-wishers have shown up on a rainy night to see Darcy Burner, who is running for the second time against former Sheriff Dave (“I investigated the Green River Killer”) Reichert; each hoping to serve as the Representative from Washington’s 8th Congressional District in the 111th Congress.

She lost by about 7,000 votes to Reichert two years ago (out of 250,000 cast), and this race has attracted national attention as Reichert, naturally, is perceived to be vulnerable…and she is no longer perceived as unknown.

And judging by the results as they came in, she was again close…but she could not crack the 3% difference that was keeping them apart (47%-44%). In the King County voting she was only 462 votes behind Reichert, and the remainder of the difference is Reichert’s 2,100 vote lead in Pierce County.

Here’s the bad news for Reichert:

He’s a two-term incumbent from a district that has sent Republicans to Congress the past 8 elections—and he’s only leading by just those 2,600 votes—with lots of media money yet to come to the fight on the Democratic side and a public apparently ready to vote for change.

For the rest of Republican America…well, have a look at the Governor’s race:

Chris Gregiore (recently shortened from Christine) has the distinction of winning the closest gubernatorial election in American history (her margin, after two recounts and a lawsuit: 133 votes out of 2.8 million votes cast). She faces Dino Rossi, her 2004 opponent, again in this election…and you might expect the race would be just as tough for her. Rossi, and many others, certainly felt that was the case on August 14th.

It wasn’t. At the moment, with more than 98% of the primary vote counted, she’s leading by a 49% to 45% margin…suggesting the Don’t Know Dino ads are hitting the mark…and that the “fact check” response from the Rossi campaign is not.

Rossi issued this statement:

“We had a strong showing in the primary tonight. Current returns show we have received over 45 percent of the vote. To put these results into perspective, during the 2004 campaign I received just 34 percent of the vote in the primary and the General Election turned out to be significantly closer.”

Rossi’s name recognition will not be growing in this campaign, as it did during the ’04 cycle, and as a result he may have trouble growing his vote. Let me tell you, if your friendly fake consultant was working for Rossi, there’s a good chance that Prilosec might become part of the daily armor.

This is not the worst news for Republican strategists.

The worst news is found in the statewide “State Executive” positions that are partisan elected offices. For example…

…consider the State Treasurer position. “Treasurer-For-Life” Mike Murphy is not running for re-election, pitting two “zero name recognition” candidates against each other…and right now the Democrat, Jim McIntire, is losing by 29,000 out of 772,000 votes (44% to 40%), with only 24% of the voters showing up.

To make things a bit worse, the State’s three largest counties, with nearly 50% of the electorate between them (and counties that are often fertile ground for Democrats) are voting at less than the statewide average, suggesting turnout in Democratic-trending counties will be higher in November than it was today…especially with Obama at the top of the ticket.

…more downticket trouble for the Rs can be found in the Commissioner of Public Lands election, where Peter Goldmark (who might have been director of the State’s Department of Agriculture but still has no Statewide name recognition…) is running pretty much neck-and-neck with longtime incumbent Doug Sutherland, 50% to 49%.

Just so you know, Eastern Washington is fire engine red, electorally…and Western Washington’s more rural counties often provide the swing vote…which makes Goldmark’s success more surprising, as he’s an Eastern Washington Democrat.

…Democrat Jason Osgood, who previously worked with Washington Citizens for Fair Elections, pulled 33% of the vote in a Secretary of State race against the Republican incumbent Sam Reed, despite having no Statewide presence of any kind…or any name recognition, for that matter.

Of the nine Congressional Districts, the primary results suggest two safe Republican seats (WA-04 and WA-05), one uncertain race (the aforementioned WA-08), and at least six Democrats (WA-All The Others).

If Obama can raise turnout by an extra 3,000 new voters in WA-08, the resulting Delegation would be 7-2 Democratic…which would represent raising turnout by only 1% of the currently registered voters in that District.

…Spokane has two zero name recognition State Legislative candidates running for an empty seat, and the Democrat and Republican are running nearly even in a part of the State that should offer natural advantages to the Republican.

John Ahern, a 4-term Republican State Representative, also from Spokane, is also running in a near dead heat (50%-49%) against John Driscoll, who would be the first Democrat elected to this position since 1938.

In a Benton County race with no incumbent running (Conan O’Brien in the sun red, demographically), Carol Moser is stomping the Republican 40% to 18% in her Legislative race.

Incumbent Republican Jim Dunn is losing badly to Democrat Tim Probst (49% to 18%) in a Vancouver Legislative race that also would seem to favor Republicans.

I could go on and on, but this gives us a few general trends to examine:

Without Obama at the top of the ticket, Democrats are either staying close in Statewide elections—with no “name recognition” candidates—or grabbing the apparent lead in previously reliable Republican Legislative strongholds. In my quick search of the State Legislative results I could not find an incumbent Democrat who has fewer votes than a Republican challenger.

If Obama can bring enough new voters to the polls to raise turnout 1% WA-08 likely goes to Darcy Burner.

And finally, a Governor’s race that should have been much closer…ain’t.

There are several states (North Carolina, Virginia, Colorado…maybe even Indiana) where this trend could be a harbinger of very good things to come--and as I said at the top, outside of Maggie Valley and Bessemer Bend, the Republicans—especially downticket Republicans--might just be in a lot more trouble than they ever imagined.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

On Vetting McCain, Or, Even Satan Needs Contractors

For those who did not know, I’m a contract worker; and as a result I’m a direct beneficiary of the trend toward outsourcing.

And let me tell you, everyone’s doing it. At different times I’ve worked for school districts, a company that makes tax preparation software, agencies of State Government...even the Navy.

So it was no surprise when I found out from the agency that I was to be assigned to a Human Resources Department to help with the overflow of employee evaluations that needed to be completed—and it was no surprise when they told me the job was like working in Hell.

I was a bit surprised, however, when it turned out they were telling the literal truth...and that’s how I came to spend last week as a temp in Satan’s HR Department—vetting John McCain for his annual evaluation.

As surprising as it might seem, Satan’s actually not a bad boss. The dress code is casual—in fact, shorts are just fine: “on hot days”, as the joke went around the office.

Dirty jokes at the office? Oh, they were all over that...and I don’t mind telling you that having been in that environment, I understand how flinging around the “C-word” can bring a sudden end to the lunch conversation.

But the work criteria here are weird. On any other job, throwing around the C-bomb could get you fired (except in stand-up comedy, of course); but here I was told any evidence of such behavior actually gives the worker three preference points on his evaluation.

I logged onto Satan’s network (it’s slow, by the way...I must have waited three minutes for my roaming profile to load) to see if he qualified—and sure enough, in ’92 he laid a C-bomb on his wife in front of two members of his campaign staff. It turns out there’s an extra point to be awarded if the wife is involved—so I wrote him up for the full four preference points.

That’s enough for an “attaboy” letter, according to the manual—but I needed to see if there was more.

There was a time in the 80’s when he opposed the Martin Luther King holiday—a time when even Dick Cheney supported the holiday—and he actually had the juevos to show up at this year’s Anniversary of Dr. King’s death to make nice...while making a black man hold his umbrella during the speech. Three more points.

He even told the media he voted against MLK Day because he didn’t exactly know who Dr. King 1983...and 1987. The manual says that’s two more points “for enhanced dissembling”.

Nine points already...that’s the attaboy letter plus a pair of tickets in the company box for an Oakland Raiders game (oh, don’t act so surprised...who else would it be—the Jets?). This guy’s gonna do great if nothing bad turns up.

“My dad told me there is one thing McCain’s are good at and that is not giving into pressure, and honor – keeping our honor regardless of what happens...He then said, ‘Don’t lie, cheat or steal – anything else is fair game.’”

--Jack McCain, describing his father John McCain’s advice.

“Keeping our honor”? That’s gonna cost him big-time if I can’t find a way to get him off the hook...but wait...look at how he got into politics in the first place. Oh, this is going to get him a raise, it’s so good.

OK, so he managed to marry a swimsuit model...well, to be accurate, the files here suggest he snatched her away from another man in the ‘50’s...and during the entire time he was in a Vietnamese prison camp she did the Tammy Wynette thing...but get this—she managed to get in a car accident (it wasn’t my current boss...I asked around at lunch), so McCain decided to replace her because she wasn’t hot anymore.

Now that should get him back to where he was...but get this: he cheats on her numerous times, and then sues her for divorce—and then, a month later, marries the daughter of the largest beer distributor he can find.

And all that’s not the best part.
The best part is, he’s managed to keep the ex-wife from really unloading on him while he’s running for President; this being her description of what happened:

“...My marriage ended because John McCain didn't want to be 40, he wanted to be 25. You know that just does...”

Imagine what you would have to say to your ex to get that kind of acceptance after dumping her for another young blonde...this guy might be SatanCorp management material! Maybe I’m getting too enthusiastic about this job...but I’m starting to love this McCain.

He's just so...evil.

Let’s add up the points for this one: three points for the first wife snatching, three more for the second—plus lots of “enhancement” points—including the big points for the “blame it on the war bride” move and two more for the new wife’s Daddy being a liquor distributor. That’s only takes twelve for an automatic raise—and according to the manual, twenty total points for the evaluation is an automatic nomination for Employee of the Month and lunch with the Big Boss in the Executive Pit of Fire.

And guess what: McCain has a total of 24!

And I didn’t even need to use the “McCain doesn’t speak for his own campaign” material to bump up his score.

I sent in the report and they were so impressed that on our last day they gave us pizzas, Cuban cigars, and Italian beer (it’s Hell, after all...) for the entire crew for lunch. They even sent over Simon Cowell’s caseworker to shake our hands to commemorate a job well done.

They told us they’re planning a big party for McCain in Minneapolis next month to present him with his award—and the Big Boss’ Number Two Guy, Dick Cheney, is scheduled to appear on Earth in his human guise to confuse children and celebrate the occasion.

So that was my week in Hell: great dirty jokes, decent parking, casual Friday everyday, the real inside dirt on McCain...and I even got to meet Simon Cowell’s “handler”.

And as long as the paycheck doesn’t bounce, it was a better work experience than the School District contract.

Monday, August 11, 2008

On Outlining The Republican Future, Or, You Are The Company You Keep

Across my desk recently came the news that the Republicans have chosen the members of their Party’s Platform Committee.

The Party Platform being an aspirational document that represents the hopes and dreams of a Party; we should be able to look to the framers of that Platform for an idea of who the Republicans think are the hopers, the dreamers...the aspire-ers, if you will, of a Bright and Shiny Republican future.

So who are these leaders that RNC Chairman “Mike” Duncan says “will be integral to ensuring that our Party creates a forward-looking platform that is rooted in our core values and principles”?

Follow along and we’ll find out.

In what might best be described as an effort to provide some sort of ongoing subsidy to comedians, the Party is proud to announce that the “Expanding Opportunity to Promote Prosperity” Subcommittee, responsible for “...economic policy, including technology and innovation, taxes, trade, economic development, labor, and related issues...” (in the words of the RNC press release) will be headed by Haley Barbour, the former RNC Chairman and current Governor of Mississippi.

What would possess the RNC to make such a choice? We can only assume it’s because Mississippi presents the sort of economic success story that they hope to see replicated across America. Is the State that sort of dynamic, exciting, success story? Well, let’s have a look.

If you measure the amount of goods and services produced per citizen for each state, it turns out Mississippi is actually 51st among the 50 States (by excluding the District of Columbia, however, they jump right back up to 50th). The State is also 51st in median family income, 51st in the value of real estate owned per person, and 45th in the value of retail trade per person.

A few words from Entrepreneur Magazine on the Mississippi economic outlook:

“A total of 56,200 manufacturing jobs were lost between January 1997 and November 2007, almost 25.0 percent of total manufacturing employment. It now appears that the rate of job losses in this sector has moderated, although further consolidation in the nondurables sector is likely.”

Mississippi is an economic leader in one area—when it comes to the percentage of their population living below the poverty line, Mississippi is number one...and (no surprise here) they’re also 48th in the value of social services provided per person.

That’s some economic vision for the future...and when you need someone to lead the way in promoting this version of the Republican Party’s “core values and principles”, apparently Hayley Barbour is the one best qualified.

So that’s one for them, I guess.

There’s a “Defending the Nation, Securing the Peace” Subcommittee as well; responsible for “national security, including foreign policy, military personnel, defense policy, homeland security, border security/immigration, and related issues”, chaired by Representative Heather Wilson of New Mexico, she of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

Rush Limbaugh quotes the transcript of “Hardball” in describing how Wilson got it right when describing our relationship with NATO during the Bush Administration:

“RUSH: Matthews said, "Are you saying the United States has a good relationship with Europe in the last seven years?"

WILSON: Absolutely, yes. The U.S. relationship with NATO, with the U.K., our relationship with the United Kingdom has never been closer and that's been spurred by common mutual interests. I used to serve at NATO when there were 16 NATO countries and we were facing the former Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. We have very close relationships with our Western European allies and I think that continues, with Angela Merkel or with President Sarkozy or with the Brits, I think very close relationships.”

Judging by her votes, her vision of national security includes total support for the Iraq War, not adopting the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission (she voted against increased funding for first responders, as just one example), and building a border fence despite the opposition to the idea from within her own State.

And a strange obsession with United States Attorneys.

Judging by her donors, it’s a vision Tom DeLay, Jack Abramoff, Northup Grumman, Lockheed Martin, and Donald Rumsfeld share.

Having dealt with the economy and national security, we now turn to the “Advancing a Healthier and More Competitive America” Subcommittee, co-chaired by that noted health care expert, Steve King of Wisconsin and the Republican National Committee (and not the obviously demented Representative Steve King of Iowa).

According to his Republican biography, his health care expertise may have come from his time helping Richard Nixon with his Watergate problems (he’s an ex-FBI agent)—but probably not from his time at the Industrial Development Committee of Milton, Wisconsin, or his time at the rather mysterious King Capital, LLC (you try to find it on the Web...), or his more than 30-year association with the Boy Scouts.

How competitive is Milton, Wisconsin? The Census Bureau tells us the city’s largest employment category is retail trade, with 145 employees, 22 establishments, and a stunning $22 million in annual retail activity (and yes, there’s a Wal-Mart). The next largest business category? Health care and social assistance, with 93 employees and $5 million a year in business. United Ethanol is present at the Industrial Park as well—but only with millions in local subsidies...and without telling the residents what the city government was up to until after the deal was done.

The expertise of his co-chair, Mary Mertz of Ohio? She’s an attorney “who has served as a senior policy adviser to Gov. George Voinovich and Lt. Gov. Mike DeWine”, according to the GOP press release announcing the appointment.

So what “core values” can we expect from the “forward looking” Republican Platform in ’08?

Economic development that will catapult us to the lofty levels of economic success today enjoyed only by Mississippi...a national security policy that tells first responders to fend for themselves...and a health care and competitiveness policy that’s apparently based on secret ethanol deals, access to generic prescriptions at Wal-Mart for $4, and lots of connections through the FBI.

All that sounds pretty Bright and Shiny...if you live in Haiti.
America? Maybe not so much.