advice from a fake consultant

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

Friday, July 29, 2011

On Running Your Own Government, Or, Why Pay The Military?

I have not been talking about the insanity around the debt ceiling and debt and deficit and the efforts of Republicans to drive us all off the cliff, but I am today – and I’m going to do it by allowing you to grab ahold of this problem and see for yourself just how unbelievably bad this manufactured crisis is going to be.

You will hear a lot of conversation about the consequences from others; today, however, you are going to get the chance to be both the President and the Secretary of the Treasury, and you will get to decide for yourself exactly what bills the Federal Government should and should not pay as the cash runs out if a deal is not made by the time borrowing authority runs out.

At that point you’ll be able to see what’s coming for yourself – and once you do, you won’t need me to tell you what ugly is going to look like.

“…no state has the right to secede unless it wishes to…[and] it is the President’s duty to enforce the laws, unless somebody opposes him…”

--William H. Seward, deprecating President James Buchanan’s efforts to preserve the Union, as quoted in the book Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era

So before I go sending you off to take the reins of power, let’s fill you in on a few things that you’ll need to know.

If no one has explained it to you yet, the Great Big Fuss that is going on right now is set around two issues: there are those who feel that the best way to make this economy better is to ensure that the Federal Government is a smaller player in our economy and not running on a deficit; many of these folks feel the way to achieve this is to make immediate, drastic, cuts in Federal spending.

At the same time, the United States has run up against its “debt limit”. That means the US will be unable to borrow money to fund ongoing government operations, and as you’ll soon see, right now we borrow a lot of the money we need to run today’s Government.

So if you are one of those who seeks to immediately cut Federal spending, you could force that to happen by refusing to allow the Federal Government any more borrowing authority; the fear of what could happen after that is presumably going to force the opposition to accept any deal, no matter how draconian, just to obtain that borrowing authority.

Naturally, the bigger a hostage you’re holding, the more draconian of a deal you hope you can make, and holding the “Full Faith and Credit of the United States” hostage is about as big as it gets; that’s why the Republicans are pushing for everything right this very second, from the end of Medicare and Medicaid to the right to mine uranium right next door to the Grand Canyon.

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

In the month of August, the Federal Government is expected to take in $172.4 billion.

There will be a mess of bills that are coming due during the month; that amount totals $306.7 billion, and that means about 44% of the bills must go unpaid.

Where’s that money go?

The Big Five are interest on current debt, which must be paid to avoid a default, payments due to defense contractors, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid; the five of those, alone, will be just about $160 billion.

And that leaves $12.4 billion to fund everything else the Federal Government has to do.

That would include the remaining cost of supporting our several wars, the entire Federal law enforcement establishment (for example, the FBI, DEA, ATF, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the TSA, the Border Patrol, the Federal Marshals’ Service and the Bureau of Prisons), the National Parks Service and the Forest Service, the Centers for Disease Control, the Weather Service…well, just about every single thing the Federal Government does, except the Big Five.

So that’s the situation – and now it’s time for you to become the boss and make the choices:

The fine folks at Bloomberg Government have created an interactive tool that allows you to point and click your way to figuring this stuff out.

You will find your spending choices, and you just click on what you want until you run out of money, which the handy bar on the left will manage for you. When the bar turns red…you’re out of money.

“…Each month, I put all my bill collectors’ names in a hat, reach in, and pull out a name. That’s who I pay. If you keep calling here, then your name is not going in the hat next month.”

--Steve Harvey, quoted in October 2003’s Vibe magazine

OK folks, so now you know where to go, and you know what to do, so let’s make something happen.

Take this tool and use it to create a conversation about just what really is at stake, and watch the look on your friends’ faces when you point out that the entire Federal Government is about to go out of business if Republicans have their way.

I’d tell you the looks on their faces would be priceless – but that’s not true.

Absent a debt ceiling deal, the price is actually going to be about $134 billion, which is the money we’re just not going to have next month, when we’re not doing things like paying for the salaries of active-duty servicemembers or food inspectors or the guards out there at the Supermax.

It should be a fun time, all the way around – unless, of course, you’re one of the 300 million or so of us who are gonna get screwed over by it all.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Hitler Holds News Conference, Blames Balanced Budget Amendment For U.S. Defeat

(FNS - Washington, New Germany, April 17, 1947) America’s new F├╝hrer, Adolf Hitler, announced today that his official War History would in fact acknowledge that one of the biggest contributing factors to the defeat of the Allies was the insistence of the former United States of America on sticking to its Balanced Budget Amendment, which left them unable to fund the wartime conversion of the US economy for the benefit of the Alliance.

“All those ideas Mr. Roosevelt spoke of”, said Hitler, “Lend-Lease, modular shipbuilding, War Bonds, secret weapons…in the end, all of them were just words, since the Americans’ Congress was never willing to allow the country to fully fund its war effort.”

As has been previously disclosed, Waffen SS historians have already located caches of documents in Washington describing plans to fund a massive military expansion in the former United States by selling War Bonds.

These debt instruments would have allowed the Roosevelt Administration to spend up to 40% of the Gross Domestic Product of the former Nation in defending itself, the former United Kingdom, and other nations against the Fatherland, but for reasons that are still not well understood Conservative politicians demanded that the former US Government never “take on debt for outsiders”, or, in the words of Mae Cadoodie, leader of the American Tea Party movement, “Never invite a foreign entanglement that raises our taxes”.

Had the Americans been allowed to sell War Bonds, or to raise taxes to fund the War, it is estimated that they could have provided tens of thousands of aircraft, millions of military vehicles, and hundreds of ships, but the Balanced Budget Amendment prevented any of that.

This represents the end of a series of political arguments that had been taking place since the 1930s, when some American economists were suggesting that a new idea called “deficit spending” could be helpful in bringing the former USA out of the Great Depression; at that time the Roosevelt Administration was unable to establish agencies such as the Work Projects Administration, which would have built public works projects throughout the USA in an effort to revive the moribund economy.

Mae Cadoodie and others fought back successfully against these ideas, pointing out that the last thing the US economy needed in a bad economy was new taxes; they made the same arguments when the Roosevelt Administration first proposed Lend-Lease as a war emergency measure.

“We cannot inflict punishing new taxes on American industry at this fragile time in our recovery” Cadoodie said in a famous speech in 1939, “and if the market is really there for this military materiel, if it’s not just some boondoggle manufactured by Roosevelt to take money out of the pockets of the American people, then I’m sure the British will be able to find the funding they need from the markets or from charitable donations”.

Cadoodie was unavailable for comment, as she and most other former American politicians are still serving on the Eastern Front, and will be for the foreseeable future.

In a related story, the conversion of the remainder of the American industrial base is underway for the fight against the Russians, and millions of otherwise unemployed Americans are being drafted into the military services in preparation for the final assault.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

On My Last Weekend, Or, Wanna Save A Few Trillion On Health Care?

So I disappeared for a full week, right in the middle of what should have been a busy writing schedule, and I have to claim some “personal days” to cover the time we missed here at the blog – but it won’t be time entirely wasted.

Instead, I’m going to jump into my own personal life for today’s story, and I’m going to do it so that we can stimulate some thinking about where we really need to go to if we ever hope to make some sense out of the crazy way we deliver health care in this country.

Since this appears to be the weekend that a lot of decisions are either going to be made about the future of our “social safety net”…or they wont; we’re entirely unsure…let’s talk about how it actually works for a lot of us – and how it could work a lot better.

But the worst part of the Industrial Revolution – and the part that has never been documented – is what happened to the role of managers. The owners of factories realized they needed a layer of insulation between themselves and the people they were exploiting. They needed the type of people who were incapable of understanding the workers’ pleas for common sense, decency, and safe working conditions. The owners wisely chose managers for these roles.

--Scott Adams, from the book Dogbert’s Top Secret Management Handbook

So as most of you know, I am a blogger, and that means, for better or worse, that this is how I’m trying to make a living – and as a result I, along with about 50,000,000 other Americans, find myself on the DGS Health Plan (never heard of DGS? It’s the “Don’t Get Sick” Health Plan).

So what do I do? The same as a lot of you: I don’t get sick.

And up ‘til now, it’s worked out surprisingly well, even though I weigh more than I should and I have a coke addiction that can see me consuming as much as 2 liters in a single day…but by last Friday I had one of those tooth twinges building up that you know is not going to end up well.

By Friday night things were getting bad enough that I had to tell The Girlfriend that we were very likely to be going to an Emergency Room, if not that night, certainly by morning – unless things cleared up on their own, which, if you’re an optimist, could happen.

So much for optimism.

Midday Saturday we’re in downtown Seattle and I’m waiting in line to be seen by an intake clerk, then a triage nurse, and then a financial counselor, because there’s no way I can really take on a big medical bill.

I’m lucky that Washington State has a “Charity Care Law”; that law requires Washington’s hospitals to accept all comers at the Emergency Room, regardless of ability to pay – and there’s been a considerable increase in demand over the past four years.

(The Department of Health reports that $591 million in such care was provided in ’07, and in the last year for which numbers are available, ’09, the same cost had run up to $846 million; that’s a 43% jump in just two years. The odds are pretty good that the ’10 and ’11 numbers will also show an increase that’s well above the rate of inflation.)

Anyway, after that they showed me to a sort of mini-Emergency Room facility, I was examined by a Medical Student and his Instructor, and they decided that maybe a CAT scan would be a good idea, just to determine exactly how badly and how widespread this infection might be.

I rode the ride, an assessment was made, and it time to offer up my various elbows to my Medical Student, which left me with a couple of bruises that are still healing, and him with a couple of experience points.

More assessment followed the return of the lab results; as a result I was given a prescription of a rather unpleasant antibiotic that I’ll be taking for a few more days, but all in all, for me, things worked out pretty well.

That said…imagine if I lived in Canada.

First thing, I waited longer than I should have with this infection, and if I had a General Practitioner with whom I had an ongoing relationship, I would have gone there at least a day sooner.

That delay imposed a few costs: I had that CAT scan, took up ER time and a mini-ER suite; instead I could have made an office visit, and probably walked out with a prescription for the same antibiotic with a quick exam or just a blood test.

There is no financial counselor in Canadian healthcare – instead, you present your Provincial insurance card, and that’s that. For those not aware, Canadian healthcare, for the most part, works like American care, except there’s only one insurance company, and that’s each Province; they also collect taxes to fund the services.

That means providers only deal with one insurer, and all of that cuts a lot of administrative expenses out of the system. It also means patients never have to worry about whether their provider will be “in the network”.

(Fun Fact: bankruptcy is now a big part of the American medical system. In 1981 8% of bankruptcies were related to medical costs, but by 2007 that number appears to have grown to 62%, all this according to the Journal of the American Medical Association. Three-quarters of that 62% had medical insurance.

Canada does not have a medical bankruptcy problem of statistical significance.)

When you add all this together, it begins to explain how it’s possible that Canada can insure all their people for about 11% of their 2009 Gross Domestic Product (GDP) when we pay about 17% of GDP and still leave a huge portion of the population either completely uninsured or unable to pay for care even if they have insurance, due to what won’t be covered when the bill comes in at the end of the month.

(Fun Fact #2: Sweden, Switzerland, France, Germany, Iceland – in fact, any country that you can name on the face of the Earth – pays less than we do for their health care.

By a lot.

When it comes to the cost of health care, the USA is #1.)

So it’s not all skittles and beer, up there in Canada. You might have to wait a while to get some types of care, and it appears that there’s an element of “rationing by waiting period”, which is a constant source of complaints up there. (The counterargument is that rationing of some sort is required in any medical insurance scheme; otherwise, you’ll have folks at the doctor’s for no reason at all, and that’ll quickly drive a system broke.)

There are co-pays, for some services, and no coverage for others, depending on your Province, (nonemergency dental and vision are often not covered) and that can lead to some out-of-pocket, but for the most part taxes cover the bills.

And just as we in the USA are struggling to pay for medical care, so is everyone else: controlling medical costs are hard, for a variety of reasons, including the cost of paying medical professionals to do work in a dangerous environment that can often be hard to automate.

Dangerous, you say?

In healthcare, back injuries, frequently caused by overexertion, occur at a very high rate. Healthcare industry workers sustain 4.5 times more overexertion injuries than any other type of worker…According to national statistics, six of the top 10 professions at greatest risk for back injury are: nurse's aides, licensed practical nurses, registered nurses, health aides, radiology technicians, and physical therapists.

So the other reason I’m having this conversation today is because I was having a talk with a very nice gentleman just about 48 hours ago who is a bit more Conservative politically than I, and he wondered how I felt about “Obamacare” (formally known as the Affordable Health Care Act).

I’m not a big fan of that plan, I’m not, and that’s because I’d much rather do something like expand Medicare to everyone, or “go all Canada”; either choice seems simpler and easier and doable at far lower administrative costs than any plan that relies on private insurers, as the Affordable Health Care Act does.

So there you go: that’s how I spent the weekend, and a couple of days after to boot, and if we were living in Canada I could have had the same problem, but it would have cost the healthcare system a whole lot less money – and when everyone gathered at the White House today, I wish that’s what they had been talking about.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

On Anticipation, Or, I’m In Seattle, So It’s A Dennis Kucinich Story

It was a beautiful day in Seattle last Saturday, and at the unholy hour of 7:30 AM I was steering my car into the parking lot of Qwest Field, preparing to take advantage of the spectacular weather by descending into the showroom of The Comedy Underground – in order to spend the day surrounded by politics and politicians.

The only thing that could have made the irony more prefect…is if all the espresso shops had been closed.

Thank your favorite deity (or, perhaps, the power of serendipity) that they weren’t, or we might not been able to cover the events at NWroots 2011 at all.

We’ll have a lot to talk about over the next few days, and to lead things off I’ll tell you about the series of events that might – or might not – have to do with why I happened to bump into Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich as he came down from the sunlight into the same dark room as the rest of us.

Your emperor may be a great prince: I do not doubt it, seeing as he has sent his subjects so far across the waters; and I am willing to treat him as my brother. As for the pope of whom you speak, he must be mad to speak of giving away countries that do not belong to him.

--Atahualpa, the last Sapa Inca of Tahuantinsuyu, quoted in the book The Native Americans: An Illustrated History

So here are today’s “need to knows”: the Constitution mandates that the Census be used to determine how many Representatives each State sends to Congress; based on the last Census, Ohio’s losing two seats in the House, Washington’s gaining one.

In Ohio, the most significant population declines occurred in urban areas, particularly Dennis Kucinich’s 10th District (Cleveland’s western suburbs; Cleveland’s population today is more than 15% smaller than it was a decade ago.)

Combine that with the fact that the proudly liberal Kucinich has been a thorn in the side of Ohio Republicans, who, cycle after cycle, just can’t seem to knock him off when it comes time to count the votes, and you have a lot of rumors that all come to the same conclusion: if you can’t beat Kucinich in an election…why not just make his District disappear?

In the meantime, Washington is looking to have at least two open seats in the politically “purple” western half of the State: Democratic Congressman Jay Inslee is running for Governor, freeing up the 1st; there’s also going to be this new 10th District, the boundaries of which are as yet uncertain.

The odds are pretty good that the Redistricting Commission (two Republicans, two Democrats, and a fifth member appointed by the other four), will assemble a District from an “area of overpopulation” that would probably include parts of Thurston, Pierce, and King Counties:

--Thurston Country includes liberal, liberal, Olympia, the State Capitol, as well as suburbs for residents who work as far away as Seattle – but it also includes areas that are quite rural. Around the county there’s a wide range of incomes, but there’s also rising unemployment.

--Pierce Country (Tacoma is the big city in the County) has a healthy suburban and rural crime problem that has evolved over time as the methamphetamine business changed from a “local manufacturing” model to one based on imported Mexican drugs (there are fewer meth labs today, but meth possession and the associated auto thefts, burglaries, and family problems are still going strong…), and the street violence in Tacoma itself has been moderated. That said, the underlying economic causes of these problems are still there, which probably sounds familiar to a lot of readers around the country.

Fort Lewis and McChord Air Force Base are now “Joint Base Lewis McChord” and that large military presence is amplified throughout the region by the presence of dependants, retirees, and civilian workers. Because there’s a war on unemployment in the County is relatively low.

--King County is the place everyone thinks of when they think of Washington: Seattle’s here, and it appears, if the legends are to be believed, like a woodsy Upper West Side with high-tech campuses dotting the landscape and producing billionaires by the bucketful – and all that thanks to the gentle mists of espresso falling from the sky.

The reality’s a bit different: King County is surprisingly purple at election time, and about 2/3 of the population is located outside the city limits of reliably liberal Seattle. The 8th District, out in the eastern suburbs, has elected two Republicans to the House for almost 20 years in a row: the annoyingly effective Jennifer Dunn and the amazingly ineffectual Dave Reichert.

--Much of Inslee’s 1st District is located west of Seattle, and much of it is rural – but also included in his District are Seattle’s northern suburbs, including Everett, home to a giant Boeing assembly facility. The District is also one of the most military in the Nation; within the District or immediately next door are elements of Naval Base Kitsap (which is actually several facilities combined under one name) and Naval Station Everett (which homeports a Carrier Battle Group).

So with all that in mind, here’s the first couple of minutes of Kucinich’s speech, where he describes his connection with Seattle and his rejection of war as a concept:

Bonus Video: check out this little “Hey, how’s it goin’?” moment between Kucinich and the aforementioned Seattle Congressman Jim McDermott, who spoke just after Kucinich:

So the question now becomes: if Kucinich were to run for Congress in Washington…where and how?

To help answer that question, I’m going to fall back on the electoral results of 2009’s Referendum 71, which represents the most recent example of Washington voters making the “liberal” choice in a Statewide election (R-71 was enacted to protect certain rights of qualified domestic partners).

WA-01, Inslee’s current District, includes portions of Snohomish and Kitsap Counties; in 2009 R-71 passed in Snohomish County 53-47% with about 100,000 votes cast. More significantly, most cities with more than 2000 votes cast voted for the measure.

Kitsap County voted heavily in favor of the measure; the entire County voted 65-35% and cast about 24,000 votes.

What about a potential WA-10?

Let’s start up north and go south: for the most part, southern King County voted against R-71, for the most part, it was somewhere around 52-48%; if you were to cut off all of King County south of Seattle and plunk it in WA-10, there would be about 75,000 votes in play.

Pierce County voted exactly 50-50% on R-71, with 110,000 votes cast – but Tacoma accounted for 40,000 of those votes, and they went 58-42% in favor of the more liberal position.

Thurston County went very heavily for R-71 (63-37%; 33,000 votes), but 15,000 of those votes were cast in Olympia (73-27%); if Olympia’s not in the 10th the rest of the County looks more like 53-47% in favor of the liberal choice.

More Bonus Video: here’s Kucinich talking about Social Security:

So if those are the apparent numbers…who might show up to help a Kucinich campaign?

Let’s start with Labor: I had the impression that Jeff Johnson, who is President of the Washington State Labor Council (WSLC), might like to work with a (well-known Friend Of Labor) Kucinich – but I have been warned, more than once, that the WSLC can’t endorse anyone until the Union’s State Convention debates and votes on the matter. (This year’s Convention is in the first week of August; that could be an issue if Kucinich were to announce his intentions this Fall or Winter).

Seattle’s "Portlandia", for want of a better word, will come out to help Kucinich in a big way; that would probably be true whether he ran in the 1st or the 10th.

In Washington elections, “boots on the ground” become doorbellers and phone bankers - but 100% vote-by-mail means no driving voters to the polls, and that means ensuring turnout becomes more of a messaging issue. We can probably assume that the number of volunteers Inslee was able to pull last time is gonna be about what is required if a Kucinich WA-01 run were to occur.

Beyond that, there's a lot of out-of-state help available as well: for example, if Kucinich were to get public about repeal of the Washington State Defense of Marriage Act, it seems likely that LBGT money and help would come in from around the country.

There are groups like IAVA, the Iraq/Afghanistan Veterans' group, that might step up (and they do recognize Kucinich as an ally), which would be helpful (lots of active duty and their families, civilian contractors, vets, and retirees in both WA-01 and a likely WA-10). You could expect to see Progressive PAC money and virtual “phone bank” help from folks like MoveOn as well, just as there will likely be a ton of "Crossroads GPS"-like cash and Conservative volunteering coming to any opponent.

What about timing? The Ohio Redistricting Commission (three Republicans, two Democrats) will have the first say in what happens; that process has just begun with the first meeting of the Ohio Legislative Task Force on Redistricting, Reapportionment, and Demographic Research on June 16th.

(Wanna make some money? Draw The Line Ohio is sponsoring a competition to draw the best Districts, which they intend to present to the Commission, and they’re willing to pay cash prizes for the best work: check it out at the Draw The Line Midwest website.)

I told Kucinich that I’d love to see him come out and run in the 8th, against the ineffectual Dave Reichert; his response: “I’m not here as a candidate”.

I winked, he did not nudge.

Should Kucinich run, I would expect attacks to cover ground such as: “He’s a carpetbagger!” or “He’s too liberal for the (insert name here) District” or what might become my favorite: a variation of “Vote against Nancy Pelosi: Vote against Dennis Kucinich”.

So that’s what I know: Kucinich was in town to stir up the troops, and if things don’t go well in Ohio there are several scenarios that could place him here in Washington – and there are at least two Districts where he could have a shot at winning.

And with all that seen and said, I climbed the stairs from the darkened underground political comedy lair and returned to the world of light, where people do things like knit tree cozies – you know, the normal world.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Obama Wants To Attack The Middle Class? Take Congress Hostage!

By now you have heard that President Obama has chosen to throw Social Security and the Medicare and Medicaid Programs over the side of his proverbial fishing boat as bait to see if he can get Republicans to give him another really lousy compromise, much as he did last December when he gave up billions upon billions of deficit reduction in order to help Republicans preserve tax cuts for billionaires.

And it looks like the President doesn’t really lose if you or I get hurt here: in fact, it seems that, in his eyes, it’s to his advantage to fight against his own base as he seeks to be “the adult in the room” in the runup to the ’12 election.

So we’re going to have to find a way to put The Fear on this guy – and I think I’ve got a plan to force this President to listen.

And it works like this: if this President ain’t gonna be moved by our message…we do it by holding the rest of his Party hostage.

"You've got to put the points on the board. Good effort and style aren't enough. Everyone loves the Chicago Cubs, but no one expects them to win. Be more like the New York Yankees."

--Greg Swienton, COO of Ryder Systems, advising Army NCOs at a leadership seminar, July 2009.

First things first: let me tell you how the hustle is potentially going to go down.

Republicans are going to try to force Obama to offer up 100% cuts in spending, with no new money coming in to Government at all, or they’ll let the whole “debt default” thing come crashing down, which looks like The Best Thing To The Tea Party Ever – and based on past history, this is a deal that Obama, around 11:56 PM on August 1st, will be willing to take.

The two most likely ways to cut spending and get results in the trillions of dollars are to change the connection between increases in your future Social Security benefits and the cost of living (which guarantees that you and I will forever be behind the inflation eight-ball), or to cut the payments coming out of Medicare or Medicaid, which is going to stick it, immediately, to medical service providers, the poorest of the poor, your Grandma and Grandpa (or, maybe, you), and the disabled.

It is rumored that both of these approaches have been put out as options by the President. It is also rumored that, in return, he wants some amount of revenue increases – but it’s also rumored that he went from seeking a dollar in cuts for each dollar in new revenue to something that looks more like $6 in cuts for every $1 in new revenues – with lots more time available for Republicans to play chicken and get even more.

So if the President is not going to put a stop to all this, I think we, ourselves, are going to have to step up and get it done.

What I’m going to propose is brutal, unfair to many of our friends, and vindictive to the point of risking an even worse situation than we have now…but these are desperate times, and I suspect it’s now time for desperate measures.

So here’s what I think we have to do:

Now, today, before this gets any farther, we have to call every single Democratic Member of Congress, House and Senate, friend and foe, and deliver this message:

“I don’t care what you ever did for us before, we are not going to let you do this to us now. We cannot stop Barack Obama directly – but we can do this.

We can target Congressional Democrats.

Each and every one of you, as a group.

And with that in mind, you are now on notice: if you allow this President to make a deal that includes any cuts, adjustments, alterations, or anything else, to Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security, and you don’t get at least a dollar of new revenue for every dollar of cuts…then you are done.

We will immediately stop giving any Democratic incumbent even one dollar of donations, we will not help you win elections by volunteering – and we will vote for any candidate that’s running against you in the next primary.

Even if it’s not your fault.

That’s how serious we are, and that means you better figure out, right now, how to stop Obama from caving…because now, it’s all on you.

If Obama slips on the stairs and his pen accidentally signs the bill…it’s now your fault.

If Obama puts his pen back in the desk set upside down, and there’s an open window in the Oval Office, and an errant breeze drags the bill across the upside-down pen… it’s now your fault.

So what you better do is you better go make sure there aren’t any roller skates on the stairs at the White House, and go close the windows, and do whatever you have to do, because now, you, and every other Congressional Democrat…all of you, together…are going to be held responsible for what happens.”

And then we gotta stick to it – even if it costs us Jim McDermott and Raul Grijalva and Barney Frank, all on the same day.

We have to show that we will bring even more wrath and destruction than the Tea Party – and we have to be ready to support new Democrats who rise up to oppose the current ones.

And consider this: Labor is already making the effort to recruit and train Progressive candidates, and there are lots of opportunities to partner with unions who would presumably love to have some new partners of their own.

The next negotiating session between the President and Congressional leadership is Sunday, and that means we need to move fast if we want this to work – but Sunday is unlikely to be the last day of negotiations, and after that is when we can really crank up the pressure on Democrats.

Is this unfair to our friends?


But that’s too bad, because we have been unfairly taking hits from our friends and Republican bullies alike for three years now - and the only thing that’s going to make it stop is if our friends fear us more a whole lot more than they fear Republicans.

And if you don’t think this can work…well, guess what? The LBGT community got “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal passed when Republicans said they would never let it get through Congress – and then the LBGT community told Democrats that if repeal didn’t pass…the gAyTM was gonna be forever closed.

And then, mirabile dictu, repeal passed, in a lame-duck Congress, even when virtually all observers had said it had no chance.

That is the power of The Fear, and if we want to win this fight, we need to be the ones putting The Fear on our Democratic friends, not the other way around.

So get up, grab the phone, and start reminding the nearest Democrat that unemployment, in this economy, really, really, sucks – and there’s no reason in the world why they can’t be just as unemployed as anyone else.

It’s time for hardball, folks – and in this fight, we need to be the ones with the hardest balls.

Because if we’re not…the terrorists win.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Do Washington State Democrats Have A Labor Problem? Let’s Ask Jay Inslee

OK: so I’ve been working what is, on one level, a Jay Inslee story (Inslee is the Congressman from Washington’s 1st District, now running for Governor in ’12), and, on another level, a story of why Democrats are having all kinds of problems with what should be “natural” constituencies – and why those problems might not be going away anytime soon.

I thought the two elements of this narrative would come together last Monday, when I attended the “announcement event” that marked the beginning of the Inslee Gubernatorial Campaign, and in fact they did…but it wasn’t in a way I would have expected, and that’s why we have something to talk about today.

I reached out to some helpful outside voices, including Inslee himself; all of that will be brought to the discussion – and as another news organization famously offers to do, I’ll report, and leave you to decide.

Krusty the Klown: Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Good evening. Tonight my guest is AFL/CIO chairman George Meany, who will be discussing collective bargaining agreements

George Meaney: It's a pleasure to be here, Krusty

Krusty the Klown: Let me be blunt: is there a Labor crisis in America today?

George Meaney: Well that depends what you mean by crisis...

--From “The Simpsons” episode S06E01, Bart of Darkness

So here’s what I know: Jay Inslee brings to the contest for Governor a Congressional voting record that could be great news for Washington State’s Progressive community: he’s generally supportive of LBGT and other civil rights issues, he seems to support the sort of elections I like (clean ones), he’s very much interested in a “next generation” energy and environmental policy, and he voted against the TARP Program (that’s the bank bailout that was passed in the last months of the Bush Administration) and the extension of the Patriot Act.

All good stuff.

But I also know this: if you are a State worker in Washington State, you are under attack, and you have been for some time now – and among the attackers are members of the Democratic Party – and the reason I’m so personally familiar with this fact is because The Girlfriend is one of those workers (she’s a nurse working within the Division of Developmental Disabilities, and she has been for more than 15 years), and I’ve seen it with my own two eyes.

And I know that for these workers, each year the question becomes: “This year’s wage cuts: in cash, by jacking the cost of health care, or through furlough days?”

This sort of problem extends to workers all across the State, as business interests target the State’s Unemployment Insurance (UI) and Industrial Insurance programs for attack, to give just two examples of recent legislative battles.

And the State’s Unions are reacting: I had a back and forth with Kathy Cummings (she’s the Communications Director for WSLC, the Washington State Labor Council), who confirmed what I thought I’d been seeing: that since 2009 there has been an effort by the WSLC to bring the fight to Washington State Democrats, including a successful effort to unseat State Senator Jean Berkey, who was targeted, according to Cummings, because of her votes on UI, public education and health care, pollution laws, and tax policy, which the WSLC viewed as favoring corporate interests.

2009, by the way, was a watershed year for this State’s Labor unions, as that was the year Washington Democratic leaders actually called in the State Patrol to investigate whether internal discussions about whether to withhold future campaign contributions if those Democrats didn’t get more cooperative was some sort of criminal act.

As a result, the WSLC formed the DIME PAC (DIME, of course, is an acronym; Don’t Invest in More Excuses, to be specific); this and other Labor-associated PACs are apparently acting as any PAC can, much to the chagrin of Democrats and business interests alike, including what appears to have been a controversial decision to promote a Republican in Berkey’s primary in order to knock her out of the contest early. (Washington uses a “top-two” primary system to determine who gets to the general election, and Berkey came in number three.)

And sure enough, Democrats do appear to be less than supportive: Unions held two rallies this spring at the State Capitol in Olympia, both of which I attended – and I couldn’t help but notice that Washington State Democrats weren’t up on the dais talking about how much they supported those workers gathered just outside.

In fact, the only elected Democrat I saw on either stage, in March or April, speaking to the crowds was State Senator Spencer Coggs…who is a Wisconsin State Senator. (Kathy Cummings helpfully points out that, despite what I thought, about 20 Democrats were introduced by name and were somewhere around the stage at various times during the April event to show support – and you’ll want to keep that in mind as we go along.)

So here’s what I’m thinking as I’m on my way to attend Jay Inslee’s announcement and presser last Monday: Inslee is presumably aware of this history, and if he were to become Washington State’s top elected Democrat he would presumably want to act in a manner that heals that rift…which would be a pretty good story to report to a Progressive audience.

That is not how it turned out.

ME: "I attended two Labor rallies in Olympia over the past couple of months; the only Democratic elected official who seemed to be able to get out and speak to the crowd was from Wisconsin, Spencer Copps, State Senator [which was an error; I should have said Spencer Coggs]. I wondered what you think about that and what are you going to do to try to change it?"

INSLEE: "Well, I'm not sure what you're referring to..."

ME: "Well, you mentioned honoring unions..."

INSLEE: "I'm sorry..."

ME: "Well, you mentioned honoring unions, these folks were out trying to promote union rights, but Democrats don't seem to want to get out and support union rights in person. Do you see that as a problem; how would you like to change it?"

INSLEE: "I don't see this as a problem, because I believe as I said I fundamentally believe in work, I fundamentally believe in workers, and I fundamentally believe that people have collective bargaining rights as an organized group, and I think what has gone on in Wisconsin is a travesty, and the reason it's a travesty is that, uh, Governor Walker, if he wanted to be angry at someone, he shouldn't have been angry at the first grade teachers, he should have been angry at the Wall Street investment bankers whose greed was responsible for the economic collapse, and yet I saw the Governor turn his sights on the middle class, and I don't believe an assault on the middle class, which is what happened in Wisconsin, is productive for economic growth, of anyone in our State, or our country. Now I've been pretty forthright in that regard, and, uh, I'll maintain that position."

Here’s the video:

Now let me be the first to say that I did not ask the best possible question. What I should have done was be more specific about how much of a rift there is between Labor and Washington State’s Democrats, and then specifically asked what steps Inslee would take, to, as I said earlier, heal the rift.

So normally what you do in a case like that is you go back to the campaign staff and send a follow-up question, and some helpful person who is doing the Candidate’s communications work will get you an official response.

But that’s where it gets weird.

If you try to go to the campaign website to locate the contract information, it is literally nothing, except for three links: give me money, get on the mailing list, or click through to facebook.

I posted a note “on the wall” at facebook, asking who the contact person was for the campaign for media inquiries, and not only did that get no response, the request was removed from the wall within minutes.

I sent follow-up questions to the originating address of the email that invited me to the Inslee event in the first place and to his Congressional office; those also went unacknowledged.

And that, right there, is pretty much the entire story as I know it: there is a significant and growing rift between Labor and Washington State’s Democrats, I tried to bring Inslee out on the issue (albeit clumsily), which he did not seem to want to address – and, oddly enough, there appears to be no desire on the part of the campaign to take the opportunity to follow up and affirm that an Inslee Administration would be a friend of Labor when it comes to things like protecting UI, and not balancing the budget while exempting corporate interests from taxation, and protecting workers from environmental hazards on the job.

Except there is one more thing.

I asked the WSLC’s Cummings this question…

Since the 2010 election cycle, have Democrats become more reliable partners, in the estimation of the WSLC?

…and she gave me a bit of a “tease”: the WSLC will release their 2011 Legislative Report, which will address that very question, just in time for their Annual Convention, which begins on August 4th – and we are told to stay tuned.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

On Being Bumped, Or, Let’s Have Another Roundup

So I thought I was going to have another Jay Inslee story for y’all today, but it turns out that I’m going to have to do more research before we can “come to press” with that one.

But that’s OK, because the world’s been busy doing a lot of other things – and while many of them get media coverage, some don’t get a lot of notice at all.

And of course, there are also those stories that look one way at first glance…but look a lot different when you dig a bit deeper.

We’ll hit a few of those today, have a bit of fun doing it, and get ready for what promises to be another busy week of strategically not doing things in Washington.

To make things even better, some of the stories will be real, and some won’t.

We’ll see if you can tell the difference.

Wat baten kaars en bril, als den uil niet zienen wil?
(“What use are candle and glasses, if the owl does not want to see?”)

--Traditional Dutch saying quoted in Peter Tate’s book Flights of Fancy: Birds in Myth, Legend, and Superstition

Let’s begin by closing out some business from our last story: I mentioned that I received a parking ticket from Seattle Parking Enforcement Office J. Hell, on Republican Street, while attending an event hosted by a Democratic candidate for Governor, and I suspect that some of you think I made all that up.

For proof, I was going to copy the ticket and post it for folks to see…but, instead, check this out: Officer Hell actually made the “Seattle Times” back in June, and you can see her hard at work in that story booting a car, which Seattle does after four unpaid parking tickets.

And now, on to the new business:

Have you seen the Viagra commercial where the guy is driving his horse trailer, and it gets stuck in the mud, and he uses the horses to pull himself out?

Well, think about it just a minute: he’s a guy, and he already has a great big pickup truck, a cowboy hat, and horses…which he’s actually using to pull his great big pickup truck…and you’re telling me he doesn’t already have a boner?

If he can’t achieve an erection at that point, what the hell good is Viagra gonna do?

And speaking of erecting new things…

In what I consider to be one of the best things to happen to politics (and the financing of television productions) in years, Stephen Colbert has been given permission to form his own SuperPAC.

Colbert indicates that he intends to use any money donated to the PAC to produce certain campaign commercials, among other things – but according to the FEC advisory opinion, he is not allowed to expend any of his unlimited corporate contributions to run another effort like 2008’s “Hail to the Cheese” Campaign, which was intended to merge corporate money and politics in an obvious and highly visible way.

By the way, that FEC advisory opinion is available for viewing, if you’re so inclined – and in a most fascinating footnote, it unintentionally explains the existence of Fox News as a legitimate press entity:

A news story, commentary, or editorial that lacks objectivity or is satirical can still be considered part of a press entity’s legitimate press function, even if that news story, commentary, or editorial expressly advocates the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate for Federal office.

And speaking of unlimited corporate money…

Monaco was the location of a Royal Wedding this weekend, with Monaco’s Prince Albert, resplendent in his military uniform, taking up the role of groom.

Military uniform?

As it turns out, tiny little Monaco actually does have a military, and the Prince represents 1/113th of the entire force – which means if they ever try to invade the Vatican, the Swiss Guard will outnumber ‘em by about 19 guys.

(By the way: the Prince is reported to have some DNA testing in his near future to determine the paternity of what could be his third and fourth illegitimate children…which is presumably going to make for a bit of a frosty honeymoon.)

What else is going on?

Well…I was watching CNN and they suggested that people bearing retirement age should try making a budget that would reflect how they’ll be living after retirement and try living on that now.

And I though to myself: “I should try that”.

So I did…and now I’m wanted for bank robbery in four states.

Thanks, CNN.

And finally…

In a story that is exclusive to Your Erstwhile Reporter, I am now able to report that Ohio Governor John Kasich, in an effort to simultaneously reduce unemployment and “send the proper message” to his workforce, will announce on Tuesday that he intends to hire 6,000 new state employees who will have only one duty: to travel around and visit all male State employees, at random, once a month…and kick them in the balls.

In order to help female employees really “get a feel” for the new work environment, former Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann has been brought back to reform and “restock” the Dannettes; he’ll then be employed as the “Charlie” overseeing Ohio State Government’s newest “Angels”.

So there we are, with this weekend’s Roundup, and we should be back shortly after Tuesday with either the Jay Inslee story that was supposed to be here today - or a substitute, depending on how our research goes.