advice from a fake consultant

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

Friday, February 26, 2010

On Assigning Blame, Or, “So, You Think I’m Retarded?”

LANGUAGE WARNING: Today’s story is uncharacteristically blunt, and from this moment forward we will be using lots of inappropriate language in making our points.

Gentle Reader, you have been officially...warned.

With that in mind, if you take offense when confronted with language strong enough to knock a fuckin’ buzzard off a shitwagon, please stop reading now.

It is by now fairly well known that Rahm Emanuel, President Obama’s White House Chief of Staff, had a bit of a blow-up with liberals who were ready to start running ads against “blue dog” Democrats who were working very hard to shut down the health care reform effort.

Now we’re not gonna get in the middle of that argument today; instead, since we’re finally getting a chance to talk, I figured me and Rahm could get a few other things out of the way that have been on everyone’s mind for the past year or so.

“...What the ancients called a clever fighter is one who not only wins, but excels in winning with ease.

Hence his victories bring him neither reputation for wisdom nor credit for courage.

He wins his battles by making no mistakes. Making no mistakes is what establishes the certainty of victory, for it means conquering an enemy that is already defeated.

Hence the skillful fighter puts himself into a position which makes defeat impossible, and does not miss the moment for defeating the enemy...”

--Sun Tzu, The Art of War

So...Rahm,’s the thing:

In January of 2009 you came into the White House having just beaten down both the Republicans and Hillary Clinton, and baby, y’all were on a roll.

Reforming health care was the top priority of 59% of the population, you had a 75+ seat majority in the House...and of course, to quote your boss, there was that “largest Senate majority in a generation”.

Y’all were appointing smart people to take over agencies, and the President gave that speech in Cairo—and even though people had their misgivings about the way the bailout and the stimulus came together, we were still right there with you.

And then, in May...remember when y’all promised to get a heath care vote done by August? If I recall correctly (and I do), the President said:

"...We've got to get it done this year. Both in the House and the Senate. We don't have any excuses. The stars are aligned."

And then for some reason, you decided it would be a smart idea to spend a couple of months letting Ben Nelson and Charles Grassley, who were both happy to let you know they were against this thing from the beginning, run the show.

“...When you engage in actual fighting, if victory is long in coming, then men's weapons will grow dull and their ardor will be damped. If you lay siege to a town, you will exhaust your strength.

Again, if the campaign is protracted, the resources of the State will not be equal to the strain.

Now, when your weapons are dulled, your ardor damped, your strength exhausted and your treasure spent, other chieftains will spring up to take advantage of your extremity. Then no man, however wise, will be able to avert the consequences that must ensue.

Thus, though we have heard of stupid haste in war, cleverness has never been seen associated with long delays.

There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare...”

--Sun Tzu, The Art of War

“...and then the C.H.U.D.S. came at me...”

--Homer Simpson

And then came the Tea Parties. For a solid month we were bombarded with images of uninformed people carrying signs demanding we protect Medicare while at the same time demanding Government stay out of health care, people who see Obama as the new Hitler, and people who apparently think Socialism, Fascism, Communism, and Vegetarianism are all different flavors of the same political junk food.

In other words, fuckin’ retards.

And just to make things perfect, the Republicans couldn’t wait to jump on the retard train: Sarah Palin quit being a Governor so she could turn her interest in “Death Panels” (and her desire to never be a quitter...) into a gig at Fox—and Rick “Goodhair” Perry, the Governor of what might be the most “Rah Rah America!” state in the Nation, suggested that making Texas into its own country might be the smartest way to save these United States.

I loved it.

I knew what was about to happen: the classic “pincer move”, where you let the enemy race into the trap, and then slam the door behind them, locking them in a box from which they cannot escape.

And the best part was, they had made it so easy that a politician with even a moderately high degree of mental acuity could spring the trap. All the President had to do was to go to the States where these politicians live, stand up on a platform, with cameras running, preferably in the early part of the daily news cycle, and do one of these two things:

--Either put his arm around [insert politician’s name here]’s shoulders and tell the giant crowd how the President and [again, insert name] are going to fight the insane Republicans and the evil insurance companies together, “No matter how much they try to stand in our way...”

--Or go to the same podium and give this speech: “I’m going to fight for you, all the way, and I want you to call [insert name here] and demand that they join the fight, too.”

For extra effect, you could have sent him to one of those free clinics the viewers of Keith Olbermann’s “Countdown” were paying for.

Repeat this process a dozen times or so, and the next thing you know you own the news cycle, and the enemy is crushed and disorganized.

This is Politics 101, and it’s just as effective at moving along reluctant Democrats as it is reluctant Republicans.

But that never happened, Rahm, did it?

Instead, as far as I can tell, you let the fuckin’ retards kick your ass for the past eight months.

You didn’t even really try to organize your friends: for example, where was the coalition-building process while all of this was going on? Did it ever occur to you to try to get gay activists and youth activists and healthcare activists together to help move this process along?

Had you been on the ball here you could have organized a “Counter Tea-Party” for every single one of those stupid “patriotfests”...and now, when you need support to move issues that matter to the gay community, you haven’t built up the kind of trust that would have been enormously helpful in keeping the GaYTM open and available, as it was in 2008.

Only in the past ten days or so have y’all finally figured out what Alan Grayson seems to have known all along: an aggressive, in-your-face Democrat will not only survive, but thrive—even in Florida.

And that’s the part I don’t get: you came in here enormously popular, with every advantage, with Republicans who were falling all over themselves to make your life easy, with the facts on your side, and a public who wanted to go along with the program.

And despite that, you let yourself get beaten down by idiots, you failed to spring the obvious trap, you never tried to really engage with your friends at critical times, and now you find yourselves in a tough election environment having to play catch-up, when it’s the Rs who should be running for cover while your guy is pulling a 65% approval rating, or something similar, and Democrats expand that Senate majority to 63 or 64 seats.

And if all that wasn’t enough, now you have to sit here and listen to people like me, the proverbial “overfed, long-haired, leaping gnomes” of politics, tell you something you should have known all along.

Which finally brings me to the part I really don’t understand: how did our situation get so turned upside down that you are viewed as the big-time highly-paid political genius...and somehow, the people who thought you would be easily digest the pre-chewed political snack food that was being served up to you on a silver platter became the fuckin’ retards?

It’s a question I can’t answer, Rahm...but you better figure it out, and fix it—quickly—or the next three years are going to suck a lot more than this one did.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

On Our Wacky Weather, Or, Did The Olympic Torch Stop In Oklahoma?

As most of you are well aware, last week was a snow week in Washington, DC, and the odds are pretty good that there's something like that going on for you as well.

Our good friends in the conservative community have seized upon the moment as proof that this whole "global warming" thing is just a big scam perpetrated by the likes of Al Gore and his Legion Of Weather Nazis; their mission being only to deprive the American people of their Constitutional right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of a Ford Super Duty F-450 King Ranch Edition with the Heavy Service Suspension Package, Snow Plow Prep Package, Transmission Power Take-Off Provision, dual alternators, and supplemental cab heater.

To drive the point home, last week Senator James Inhofe's family went to the time and trouble to build a little igloo on the National Mall for our amusement.

But here's a question: just what has the weather been like in other places--for example, in my part of the world...or in the Senator's home State of Oklahoma?

It's a good question--and the Senator won't like the answer.

What's Up With The Olympics?

"As I said on the Senate floor on July 28, 2003, "much of the debate over global warming is predicated on fear, rather than science." I called the threat of catastrophic global warming the "greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people," a statement that, to put it mildly, was not viewed kindly by environmental extremists and their elitist organizations..."

--Senator James Inhofe, January 4, 2005

Are you watching skiing and boarding events at the Olympics this week?

If you are, you're probably hearing about the difficult conditions, which are affecting operations to the point that, even as I'm writing this, events are being postponed in order to work around the conditions.

Basically what's happening is that lots of snow is falling on the upper portions of the Whistler Mountain complex, but at lower altitudes temperatures just above freezing are causing that same moisture to fall as rain, which turns snow to slush, or to hang in the air as fog, which is making it hard to judge ski performances and for competitors to see the runs.

Cypress Mountain Resort, the location of the Freestyle Skiing and Snowboard events, is also located at a relatively low altitude, with the result being similarly choppy conditions.

(It's predicted that a high pressure front currently moving up the West Coast will cause clear and cold nights for the next few days, freezing--and thereby preserving--the snowpack each evening. My guess: this won't improve conditions on the lower portions of the mountains; instead, expect the already rain-soaked and "concrete-like" snow to develop a gnarly crust of ice as it remelts and refreezes over each of the next several 24-hour cycles.)

"Would You Like To See The Video?"

This is much different than the weather last year--and I would know, as I live just about 200 miles south of the Olympic venues, in the foothills of the same mountains that wind their way along the North American Pacific Coast until they eventually find their way up to Alaska's Denali National Park.

This time last year I was shoveling snow every day, and the sides of my driveway had snow walls four feet high. This year, absolutely no snow at all.

Snoqualmie Pass, the local ski area, is about 25 miles farther east and about 2000 feet higher in altitude than my house, and I have some video that will help illustrate the difference between this year and normal years.

The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) reports that only 171 inches of snow have fallen at the Pass through January 31st of this year, which is only about 40% of the five-year average.

Here's a WSDOT video that shows snow removal operations on the Pass. Pay attention to how much snow is on the roads, on the trees, and in the traffic median:

I was on the same road last Saturday, and in the beginning of the next video I want you to note that there is no new snow on the trees, and that there's also virtually no snow along the "Jersey barriers" on the side of the road. Near the end of the video the orange snow poles in the Pass' residential areas are only halfway buried, which is certainly not normal for this time of the year.

Here's another example of how unusual the weather has been: there are two routes that can get you between the Eastern Washington cities of Ellensburg and Yakima. One of them is US 97/I-82 (the freeway), the other is State Route (SR) 821, also known as the Canyon Road (the more twisty and turn-y, and therefore more fun, route).

For a variety of reasons related to local and regional geography Eastern Washington is colder than Western Washington, and this time of the year you'd expect the Canyon Road to have some combination of snow, slush, ice, or all of the above on the road, as well as some considerable accumulation of snow and ice on the canyon walls.

In other words...adventure driving.

In the next video you can see what the road looked like last Saturday. You'll see virtually no snow at all in the canyon, and lots of exposed basalt and brown grass.

(Fun Fact: basalt is associated with volcanic activity, which means pretty much everything you're seeing in this video was a part of one of the world's largest known and fastest flowing lava flows.)

(The blurring in the video is caused by rain on the lens.)

"Build An Igloo...That'll Distract "Em"

So that's how things are in the Pacific Northwest...but what about Oklahoma?

dust bowl.jpg

Oklahoma is a place with a drought history, and the worst times in that history were the 1930s, a time when conditions were so severe that the entire region (including parts of Texas, Colorado, Kansas, and other states besides) was known as the "Dust Bowl". The combination of poor farming practices and a four-year reduction in rain of about 25% caused more than 100 million acres of land to lose its topsoil, creating dust storms of legendary proportions.

"...Houses were shut tight, and cloth wedged around doors and windows, but the dust came in so thinly that it could not be seen in the air, and it settled like pollen on the chairs and tables, on the dishes..."

--John Steinbeck, "The Grapes of Wrath"

There is a new twist in that history playing out today: the same parts of Oklahoma that suffered the most damage in the 1930s are seeing "rainfall deficits" so severe in recent years that Senator Inhofe personally sent a letter to the Secretary of Agriculture in July of 2008 asking for...wait for it...well, you know what?

Let's let Senator Inhofe tell you what the letter said, courtesy of his own official Senate website:

"On Thursday, July 18, 2008, Senator Jim Inhofe welcomed Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer's announcement of an agricultural disaster designation for Cimarron, Texas, Beaver, Harper, Woodward, Ellis, Roger Mills, Dewey and Woods counties in Northwestern Oklahoma. Senator Inhofe, Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Congressman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) sent a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer in support of an agriculture disaster designation on July 3, 2008..."

Now here's the twist: according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), who is responsible for knowing this stuff, there's been a recent alteration in the pattern of weather in the Midwest...a "climate change", if you will.

Normally you plant a crop in the spring, and you hope that you'll get enough rain to get that crop spouted and thriving; the idea being to have corn "as high as an elephant's eye", to give just one example.

What's been happening in the 21st Century is that the spring rains, in certain areas, were far less than expected, with an excess of rain falling at the end of the season. Some places were 70% or more below their normal rainfall amounts until significant amounts of rain began falling in July and August.

"This old dust storm it's a kickin' up cinders, this old dust storm cuttin' down my wheat, this old dust storm it pushed my shack down, but it didn't get me, girl, it can't stop me."

--Woody Guthrie, "Dust Can't Kill Me"

This is not good: if you're trying to grow grasses (including wheat or barley), the crops will have a hard time getting established (and they also don't harvest well if it's raining at harvest time); if it's corn or soybeans or something similar you're growing, those crops will yield a smaller number of smaller things like soybeans or ears of corn.

That means you need more and more irrigation and fertilizer to reap harvests of the same or smaller yields--which is putting even more pressure on farmers who were already struggling just to get by.

And in fact, the entire State of Oklahoma--not just the drought areas--is feeling the effects, with yields for many crops declining again in 2009, even compared to some very tough 2008 numbers.

NASA reports that from August of 2007 until August of 2008 the Oklahoma Panhandle experienced its driest weather since 1921, and you can see the impact on vegetation, thanks to the Terra satellite's Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer.

And did I mention that parts of Oklahoma have been a bit warm lately?

If we look at the weather charts for Gage, Oklahoma (which is located just to the right of the Panhandle, and within the "disaster area"), from 2005 until today we see that 2006, 2008, and 2009 were all warmer than normal. 2010 has already been a warmer than average year, although not as much as 2006, 2007, 2008, or 2009.

So...add all this up, and what do you get?

Here's what: a Senator who denies that there is such a thing as "climate change" has the in-laws building an igloo on the National a time when the city should be preparing for the National Cherry Blossom Festival.

Meanwhile, the Olympics are impacted by unusually low amounts of snowfall--and the Senator himself has recently been asking for emergency relief for his home State...because of a disastrous change in climate.

Of course, if I had to go out and explain to farmers in Cimarron County that there is no weather problem, and then promise to ask for aid for that weather problem, both at the same time, I might decide that hiding in my igloo was the smart move as well--and if he can keep it up just a bit longer, he may actually beat out Scott Brown for the tile of "First Truckin' Senator In History To Ever Traverse An Ice Road Up Denial"...which, as everyone knows, is not just a River in Egypt.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A Quick Word About Traditional Values

We all need a good laugh these days--especially if it involves a bit of skewering the other side at the same time--and I want you to take just a second and have a look at this important message from the Traditional Canadians for the Preservation of the Traditional Definition of All Things Traditional, courtesy of the CBC's Rick Mercer Report:

Now, isn't that better?

Monday, February 8, 2010

On Health Care, Vegas-Style, Or, Figure It Out In The Ambulance, Chump

I was supposed to begin the long-delayed series of PTSD stories I’ve been planning, but before we begin, I need to tell y’all about something that just happened in my house.

For us it wasn’t a matter of life or death, but it is the kind of story that explains, perfectly, why we need to reform the health care system we have today—and for that matter, it’s also a great explanation of why a single-payer system would be a giant step forward for everyone in this country, whether you’re insured today or not.

It’s also hilarious and sad and frustrating, all at the same time—which makes today’s story a pretty good allegory for the current American way of doing health care.

So follow along, have a good laugh…and at the same time, take a minute to consider what could be, and how much less irritating things should be.

“There was never any thing by the wit of man so well devised, or so sure established, which in continuence of time hath not been corrupted.”

--Charles Pratt, 1st Earl Camden, Concerning the Service of the Church

Several things have been happening over the past couple of months to prevent me from writing as much as I would like; among those a series of quite painful medical events that caused The Girlfriend to have to visit the emergency room three times.

Nothing life-threatening, as I mentioned above, but painful nonetheless.

She is a State employee, so she has insurance; the emergency room benefit calls for a $50 co-pay for an ER visit.

The bill has now come in…and much to our surprise, the “patient responsibility” is a bit over $300…for only one of the three visits.

As you can imagine, a phone call to the insurer followed…and this is where the story gets weird.

The customer service rep told us that the emergency room cost is, indeed $50, as we expected—but the services of the ER doctors are not paid at all.

How is this possible, you might wonder?

The customer service rep explained that while the ER itself is “part of the network”…the physicians who work in that ER are not a part of the network.

It takes a minute to make sense of that, so if you want to pause to allow the whole thing to sink in, I’ll understand.

Ready to move on?

The Girlfriend asked the obvious next question: how are you supposed to know, on your way to the emergency room, exactly who might be in the network and who might not?

The customer service rep came back with the obvious answer: there is no way to know…you just wait for the bill, and then you find out.

Our reaction, as you might expect, was something like this:

As of this moment we do not know how this is all going to turn out, but here’s the point:

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Canada manages to get patients in the front door and through the billing process with far fewer administrators, far less hassle, and at far lower cost than the system we have here—and that was the big attraction of a “near single-payer” approach before it was driven out of the reform discussion. (To be technical, a “Medicare for all” system could accomplish the same thing.)

Of course, it’s not just our family that would benefit from reform.

Think about what a hassle keeping track of all of this is for employers.

The State of Washington has an entire corps of workers who do nothing but manage the insurance coverage for State workers…and I suspect your State does as well.

In a time when every State is trying to put as many dollars as possible into maintaining basic services (such as keeping the State Patrol fully operational), wouldn’t it be nice to redeploy some of that money to someplace like the Office of Support Enforcement or Adult Protective Services?

Private employers would obviously benefit as well, as their own no-longer-required health insurance administrators could also convert to jobs that are “bringing revenue in the door”—just as they have done in Canada and the UK and…well, everywhere else in the developed world, more or less.

And that’s today’s story: a moderately serious problem has led to the kind of absurd situation that causes wolves’ eyes to nearly explode; in the process, however, we’ve had a chance to think about how health care reform could make things much better, not just for those who have no insurance, but also for everyone who has insurance, for every one of our employers…and, on a larger scale, for the Nation as a whole.

Unless, of course, you’re lucky enough to have the mythical health insurer whose approach to business truly incorporates the motto “the customer is always right”, in which case you may go ahead and ignore all of this and return to your normal low-altitude recreational hang gliding over the cactus fields.