Sunday, January 29, 2012

An Indecent Proposal

In the forgettable movie, An Indecent Proposal, Robert Redford offers Woody Harrelson $1 million to sleep with Demi Moore.  In our politics, the indecent proposal is that our politicians are offered millions to screw us.  Let’s say no, and walk away.

The latest revelation from the 2012 campaign trail is that Mitt Romney is rich.  Actually, that’s not sufficiently descriptive.  He’s filthy rich.  Scrooge McDuck rich.  Brewster’s Millions rich.  Doctor Evil rich.  Not Trumpian, but he’s comfortable.  All Americans below his income level are envious, and now that his tax returns are public record, we know how envious we really should be.

Of course, while Romney is channeling Thurston Howell III, he is not alone on the debate stage representing the 1%-ers.  Newt Gingrich is Tiffany comfortable.  We have learned that Newt (his company) was paid $25,000 per month for services as a historian for Freddie Mac.  If Newt doesn’t think he was paid for who he knows instead of what he knows, he knows nothing, you know?  Most history professors would write a series of full length books on the history of world housing for Freddie for the princely sum of $25,000.  $25,000 buys a lot of tweed blazers at the campus bookstore.    History lessons are free on Wikipedia.  Congressmen and Senators cell phone numbers are in Newt’s Rolodex.

President Obama, best-selling author and spouse of successful corporate attorney Michelle, is not a 99%-er.  He wasn’t living in the same neighborhoods he was organizing.  Low net worth individuals need not apply for a place in the halls of government.  That is sad but true. 
The existence of all these wealthy pols flies in the face of the dreams of our forefathers who envisioned a government made up of a motley collection of Joe the Plumbers, driven only by their love of country and lack of anything else to do.  It is not practical given the size of our country and our modern problems to expect someone to milk the cows before dawn and entertain the dairy lobby at night.
At the risk of shattering the mythology of the rags to riches candidates taking turns as President, the Founding Fathers by and large were 1%-ers in their day.  Have you been to George and Martha’s compound?  They had a sweet piece of real estate right there on the Potomac, on the good side.  It’s the Graceland of American politics.  Jefferson had a cozy little crib at Monticello, too.  Money helped, even 250 years ago.  Money was the political plantation master, then and now.
Let’s be honest.  Despite the heroic efforts of some well-intentioned urban campers with drums, money will remain the driving force in our politics and therefore our government policymaking for the foreseeable future.  The best we can hope for is transparency.  We deserve to know from whence the money comes so we can decide for ourselves what influence it might buy. 
Unfortunately, nothing creates more clutter and less clarity than a tsunami of transparency.  We could drown in transparency.  Telling the average citizen that full disclosure of all campaign money sources is on the Internet is no answer.  I mean, who has time to surf the Internet for facts?  There’s a You Tube video of a squirrel in a paper bag out there somewhere, and we’ve got to find it.

So let’s clothe transparency with some simplicity.  I recommend that our politicians follow the model of the NASCAR driver.  We know who sponsors Danica Patrick.  It’s  It’s right there on the front of her skin tight coverall, and we can see her in the uncut video version with a few clicks of the mouse.  It’s time for our politicians to wear similarly obvious corporate logos on their clothing, although we can dispense with the skin tight requirement.  Financial transparency, yes; Newt Gingrich in a skin tight one piece, no.  (When it comes to Newt, I don't need to see "what happens next.")

Even future debate answers would demonstrate the new commitment to financial disclosure:

Newt on the economy: “As Capital One put it so succinctly, ‘What’s in your wallet?’  Not enough!  It’s time we join Apple and its brand of innovative products and dare to ‘Think Different’ on this issue.  I favor a Fox News ‘Fair and Balanced’ approach to economic growth.  As your candidate, I ask you, just as America’s premier home improvement company Lowe’s asks you – ‘Let’s build something together’.  'You’ll be in good hands’, with Newt…and with Allstate.”

Ron Paul, trying to interject a comment during the debate:  “…Can you hear me now?”

Mitt Romney, on tax policy:  “I would propose a plan much like American Express – 1% cash back on every dollar of personal income tax paid.  We’ll be the ‘country that pays you back’.  And taxpayers would earn points, for travel, entertainment, college tuition, and parkway toll credits.  Romney – don’t leave home without me.” 

NASCAR fans are never left to wonder who footed the bill for Darrell Waltrip’s overhead cam or Tony Stewart’s dual exhaust.  Now the voting public will know which corporate sponsors are responsible for our politicians’ exhausts, without the inconvenience and monotony of reading.

I think my plan makes more sense than driving around in a circle making left turns all day, don’t you? 

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Eric Stratton, GOP Debate Coach

Much has been made of Mitt Romney's debate performance over the past 2 made-for-TV events.  What we political junkies know is the secret of his new found success.  Mitt hired Michelle Bachmann's former debate coach, and the results are obvious in the recent Florida polls.  Apparently, debate coaches work. 

Newt Gingrich, who has staked his candidacy on his legendary self-proclaimed debating prowess, will not go down without a fight, however. For Mitt, there will be "no more fun of any kind" now that Newt has found a debate coach of his own.

America, I bring you Eric Stratton, former Rush Chairman and newest role model for the 2012 Gingrich debating style.  In the clip below, watch as Stratton (beginning from the 1 minute mark), weaves in a neat parry against claims of sexual impropriety while turning the focus squarely back to his establishment accusers, and ends with some gratuitous flag waving.  Brilliant! 

Eric, Newt is damn glad to meet you:

Friday, January 27, 2012

Space Invaders

I am coining a new word today, and I expect to be compensated when it becomes part of the cultural vocabulary:

Astro-Newts:  Those first space travelers who colonize the moon for the United States thanks to Newt Gingrich’s funding of a bold proposal to conquer the rock by 2020.

We should not be surprised.  Newt has been an unapologetic champion of re-entry for years now, and the prospect of Newt living in a weightless environment certainly has personal benefits for him.

For those not paying close enough attention to Mr. Gingrich’s steady descent from short term front runner to long term cautionary tale, while campaigning along Florida’s “Space Coast” this week, he pledged to build a moon colony within 8 years of becoming President.  So if you’d like to go to the moon, Vote Gingrich – Bang Zoom to the Moon! 
Perhaps this multi-billion dollar pander won over the undecided Major Nelsons and Major Healeys of Cocoa Beach, but state polls so far have not launched skyward since his promise.  It is clear to me that Newt was counting on the aging snow birds of Florida to imagine a new world where they could live out their days without gravity, thereby extending their lives indefinitely.  Newt actually began running the movie Cocoon as a campaign ad, and has a rally scheduled with Wilford Brimley.  “Vote for Newt…you’ll never grow old, and you won't ever die.”
In Newt’s crystal ball, he sees an interplanetary industry that will grow “precisely on the model of the airlines in the 1930s.”  That can only mean one thing – the long-awaited return of the stewardess class that was outlawed by political correctness in the 80s and 90s.  When the airlines started in the 30s, it wasn’t long before the industry learned that sex appeal sold tickets.  I am sure Gingrich envisions hot chicks serving hot meals and even hotter banter on those long flights to our newest and hippest colony in the sky.  Imagine your hot towel being delivered mid-flight by Yeoman Rand.  Forget the Mile High Club – Newt offers us the 100,000 Mile High Club!

I actually would like us to invest in space travel and enjoy the fruits of the discoveries and inventions here on earth, but only a space cadet would think this is a good proposal in the middle of a primary defined by descriptions of our empty government coffers and our impending slide towards a Grecian entitlement debacle.  This is the little fly in his ointment.  Republicans in Congress have campaigned since January 20, 2009 on the platform that we are broke as a country (which is surprising, since we were filthy rich on January 19, 2009 to afford tax cuts, 2 wars, and Medicare expansions).  No money, no space trips.  Bummer.

Obama figured that out pretty quickly.  He cancelled George Bush’s lunar landing project in 2010 because it was deemed too expensive, instead opting to fund private companies’ space exploration work.  Damn pragmatist.
No worries, GOP primary voters.  Newt promised to re-prioritize funding to pay for this adventure, and offer a cash prize to the first citizen who builds their own rocket to the moon.  It does leave one wondering, however, how this jives with Republican free market ideology.  The freedom to construct a rocket ship on your property is consistent with the libertarian segment of the base, and Ron Paul would no doubt approve, but doesn't offering government money as incentive remove money from citizens wallets because the government has decided that a lunar colony is the better way of spending those funds than the things on which the taxpayers would spend them?  Doesn't it also distort capital markets, reducing economic efficiency by artificially incentivizing less economically viable enterprises over more inherently productive ones? 
I knew it! Newt Gingrich is the Socialist from Outer Space, a sort of intergalactic Manchurian Candidate.  This would have been more obvious had Gingrich proposed a colony on the Red Planet, Mars (named after Roman warrior god who first preemptively attacked a Middle Eastern country for trying to obtain catapult weapons of mass destruction).

After yesterday’s GOP episode of Survivor on CNN, this whole debate on moon colonization may be moot.  Newt is coming back to earth in the polls and GOP insiders and outsiders are scurrying away from his “bold” agenda faster than a shooting star across the vacuum of space.  And that’s a shame.  An estimated 19,000 jobs have been lost in Florida either directly or indirectly because of decreased NASA funding.  I would have liked a longer debate on how that problem should, or should not, be addressed.
It may not be the message.  I think it’s the messenger.  As soon as the Chinese plant a flag on the moon, I’m sure it will come up in conversation again, and we will start training those Astro-Newts for the mission.

To infinity and beyond!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Pro Choice Demanded in Public Schools

The indoctrination of our youth starts early.

At age 7, my daughter Lucy has been asked to pick a team to support in the Big Game* next week (* - if I use the term ‘Super Bowl’, I have to pay the NFL a nickel for each mention).  In her classroom, there is a large poster board with Pats at the top of one column and NY at the top of another.  Students are asked to place their names under the heading that represents their pick.  Lucy has no idea what any of this means except that she needed to make a decision.  NY or Pats?  So she asked the expert.

My formative years were spent in the New York/New Jersey market, so the decision was easy for me.  I told her to pick NY.

Lucy must have been skeptical.  “What does NY mean?”

“Winning, sweetheart.  Winning.”

I did question why it was so important that her first grade class spend teaching time on this annual orgy of organized violence, gluttonous eating, and irresponsible drinking (not to mention the morally offensive commercials we would endure as a family).  I know it’s un-American not to watch the Super Bowl (oops, that cost me a nickel), but she’s 7.  Can’t she remain blissfully ignorant of the whole enterprise for a few more years?  I’d like to watch the game in peace, and not be interrupted every few minutes with “Is NY winning?” or endure the tears should her father have steered her name into the wrong column on the poster board betting sheet hanging in classroom 1-B.

But learn she will, and not just about football and geography.  This is a lesson in class warfare, comrades.  Do you relate to the working class NY Giants or the Northeastern elitists represented by Tom Brady, Mr. One Percent with his supermodel wife and Bieber-licious haircut?  If you are for one team, then you are against the other team.  It’s the politics of division being supported by your tax dollars.  There is no compromise, no common ground in a football contest or a friendly wager.  The other team must be beaten.  That attitude is ruining our politics, and now it is part of 1st grade curriculum.

This is training lesson for a future in gambling.  These kids are learning early about how much more fun sports can be when there’s juice involved.  By the 3rd grade, I fully expect March Madness brackets to be handed out under the guise of an algebra preparatory lesson, and by the 5th grade, probability theory will be applied to your fantasy baseball draft.  From there, it is a short path to the hard stuff – state lotteries, scratcher games, and ultimately, Vegas baby.  Everyone can be rich and popular, but first you need to pick the winner this Sunday, Lucy.

It is the genius of the NFL that this Big Game will have millions of viewers regardless of who plays.  While the MLB, NHL and NBA worry about having teams from big markets in the mix for a championship, the Super Bowl (darn, that’s 15 cents so far) could pit Green Bay against Indianapolis and draw as many eyeballs as New York vs. Chicago.  That kind of brand loyalty to a league starts young and requires institutional support.  Thankfully for the NFL, the Fairfax County Public School system is firmly behind their product.  How?  Because the final Sunday of every football season is being promoted in every classroom across this great land of ours, and every kid who doesn’t watch the game didn’t do their homework.

While my daughter is learning about football, gambling, wardrobe malfunctions and class warfare, there is one other lesson that this exercise will provide, and for that I am glad: 
On February 5th, not everyone will get a trophy.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Missing Link

Quick Quiz – can you name the most recent Republican President of the United States?

If you guessed Ronald Reagan, then you have been dutifully following the 2012 GOP nominating contest.  If you answered George W. Bush, you are consumed with looking to the past instead of focusing on the present and the failed presidency of Barack Hussein Obama.  George W. Bush?  Never heard of him.

In fact, the name of the 43rd President, the most recent Republican to hold the office, has only received 56 mentions during the 634,714 debates so far.  By comparison, Reagan has been mentioned 221 times (and Obama 560).  Why is that?  Reagan was first elected 32 years ago and Bush left office 3 years ago.  It could be because the public still holds W accountable for the miserable economic mess that Obama inherited.  It could be that associating with an unpopular figure could impact a candidate’s favorability by association, and W is still unpopular.  It could be because the candidates would prefer that the public not take a closer look at what GOP policies mean in the real world.

Democrats (Gore) in 2000 shied away from Clinton because they did not want to be tarnished by his playboy reputation.  By 2004, the gaggle of candidates for the nomination were advertising themselves as the rightful heir to the Clinton Legacy, and for good reason.  Despite the personal failings, Bill’s policies helped create the conditions for a robust economy.  Republicans in 2012 are shying away from George W. not for his personal reputation but for his professional results.  W was the President you wanted to have a beer with (George would choose root beer, of course).  The Bush Presidency could best be remembered for proving the contention that government doesn’t work.  Yup, when Bush ran it, it sure as heck didn’t work.

So if a Republican is elected in 2012, who will fill his cabinet and other important governmental positions?  There will be plenty of relics from the last GOP administration to be sure.  Shouldn’t someone ask the candidates if there is anyone from George’s administration they admire and why?  The public has a right to know if they are buying GWB 2.0.  In the meantime, I guess we’ll keep hearing about the rightful heir to the 30 year old Reagan Legacy and the man who led the nation before the Internet, before smart phones, before the European Union, before the fall of Iraq, before 9/11.

Pretend that the Republicans didn’t run the White House from 2001 until 2008?  Mission accomplished.

Monday, January 23, 2012

A Door Ajar

If there is an upside to the ascent of formerly exiled House Speaker Newt Gingrich to the top of the weekly candidate pyramid (besides the pure entertainment value), it is the affirmation that in America, there can always be a second act.  This is a good thing.  Redemption is a core American value, and we love our comeback stories.  While as a culture we love tearing people down, we relish with equal aplomb the reconstruction of their character in the public square. 
As a noted historian, a fact Newt enjoys reminding his audience, he knows as well as anyone that his personal and political history is fraught with electability landmines.  He has a comeback path mapped however.  Instead of confronting the issues, however, he blames those who would remind us of those shortcomings, and to great effect. 
Moderator:  “Speaker Gingrich, you were ousted by your own party from the Speakership in the 1990s.”

Gingrich:  “How dare you insult the America public with your obsession with a past that has been rewritten by the Democratic media machine.  The people want us to look forward.”

Moderator:  “Speaker Gingrich, you have now made a vow of commitment to 3 different women, and broken that vow twice.  How ill will your current wife need to become before you renege on this current promise?”

Gingrich:  “I am frankly disgusted that you would bring this up during a presidential debate.  You should be ashamed of your behavior.  Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.  Next question.”

The crowd roars.  The polls puff with pride.

Yes, a second act can be exciting particularly when you ignore or forget the entire performance of the first act.  To forgive is divine; to forget is uniquely American.  Newt Gingrich was once one of the most disliked figures in politics.  Today all we remember is that he was famous in the 1990s.  The details of why are sketchy, and besides, there are always two sides to every story.

I marvel at Newt’s ability to scramble in the pocket as the rush comes.  He could be more slippery than Bill.  Notice that the attention is now on Jon King and his ill-conceived debate question, and no longer on the underlying behavior of the former Speaker.  Jon King’s opening debate question was “deplorable” while Newt’s actual behavior towards women who trusted him is merely “regrettable”.  Brilliant!   A short memory is Gingrich’s co-pilot, and time is on his side.
Which brings me to former Sen. John Edwards, one of the more recent in a long line of powerful political figures with his finger on the pulse of his constituents (and his hands on their nicer parts).  (For the record, I was never an Edwards supporter.)  As everyone already knows, Edwards cheated on his cancer stricken wife (Elizabeth has since passed) with his paid campaign videographer, Rielle Hunter, during his 2008 run for the Democratic nomination.  Edwards denied the affair, denied that he fathered a love child, denied that he was in any way a ‘bad’ person, and then changed his tune once confronted with video, DNA, witnesses, etc.  Edwards resides in exile preparing for another trial, but this time not defending the little guy against Big Industry.  This time, it’s his own posterior hanging in the balance.  Sweet justice.

Eventually, the public may forget what happened and only remember that Edwards was famous back in the 2000s, mostly for being rich and good-looking.  His kids will have grown and become well-adjusted citizens.  They will defend their daddy when asked.  He will look distinguished and contrite.  His fiery populist rhetoric will still move activists.  Trial lawyers will help him raise money.  If anyone mentions Rielle Hunter during a public debate, Edwards will condemn the questioner as a hypocrite and voyeur anxious to distract the public from the real issues of his campaign.  His mistakes will be between him and his God.  Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.  Next question.  The crowd roars.  The polls puff with pride.

If Gingrich can overcome his sordid personal and professional past with a few well timed snipes at the media, perhaps Edwards could follow his lead 8 years from now.

Edwards 2020?  If Newt wins the 2012 nomination, anything is possible with the passage of time.  Any noted historian could tell you that. 
Also Paul Reubens.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Keith Stone Pipeline?

Obama Rejects Keith Stone Pipeline

President Obama, in a move certain to cause political headaches in the swing state of Pennsylvania, rejected the Keith Stone Pipeline project favored by blue collar drinkers across the Rust Belt.  The Obama administration had argued for months that it would be irresponsible for Keith Stone to lay some pipe without further studies into the potential impact on society.

Keith Stone, the popular redneck promotional character for Keystone beer, was disappointed by the announcement.

“I thought Obama and I had a certain synergy.  We both made our names with the same catch phrase, “Always smooth, even when you’re not.”  I had considered Barack my brother from another mother.  Instead he rejects my Keith Stone project like I’m Billy Carter or something.”

Republicans were quick to pounce on an issue that they believe will resonate in November.

Rick Santorum, former Senator from the Keystone State until his 18% drubbing at the polls in 2006, said, “Barack Obama claimed in 2008 that the fine residents of Pennsylvania cling to “their guns and their religion” in times of economic distress.  The truth is that a great majority of them actually cling to their Keystone beer, and that just shows how out of touch this President is from the lives of everyday Americans.  You can never restrict the supply of that cold filtered fuel that working Americans need.  Keith Stone cannot be disrespected at a time when we need his pull top refreshment.”

Reince Preibus, head of the Republican National Committee and once prefect to Marcus Aurelius in ancient Rome, views Keith Stone as a martyr for disaffected working class Americans.  “Mark my words.  Keith Stone will be the ‘Joe the Plumber’ of 2012.  Obama’s callous rejection of his pipeline project will highlight the struggles of average citizens to afford cases of brewskis after a long week at work in the mines.”

Keith Stone was circumspect in the face of this setback.  “What’s so wrong with laying a little pipe, that’s what I always say.  Maybe my synergy is with that Gingrich fellow.  That guy can lay some pipe.” 

He remains focused on the future.  “I’ll just sell my beers to China in that case.  I’m Keith Stone.”
Oh, did you mean the Key-stone pipeline project?  Well in that case, never mind.

Friday, January 20, 2012

No More Monkeys Jumping on the Bed

In trying to explain the political history of the last 8 months of campaigning to my youngest child, I felt it best to couch things in a language and cadence that she could relate to:

The historic opportunity to unseat the Obama
Took a grave hit when he took out the Osama.
Still it looked worth the long days and the hard work
Since he was unquestionably a Socialist jerk.
How many crazies would jump into the fray?
Only time would tell how many and who may.

Trump, Daniels, Barbour and Huck
Decline to enter the primary muck.
Palin hovered on a One Nation bus nearby
But she leaves it to others to saddle up and try.

Ten egomaniacs visit Iowa towns
Romney is the preference when choosing among the clowns.
But voters prefer someone who could have more clout
Too bad – Chris Christie confirms he is out.

Nine pols tight on money, chasing frontrunning Mitt
Fighting one another to be the next Big Hit.
Tim Pawlenty had a chance, but attacks Mitt too late,
A bungled opportunity, and we’re now left with eight.

Eight folks debating every single day
None making sense with anything they say.
More Cain accusers (I think you get the gist)
Consults with his wife, then seven on the list.

Seven desperately vying for the nation’s top job
Newt steals some votes with a well-timed diner sob.
Iowa caucuses and Bachmann takes her licks
Goes home to her district – and then there were six.

Six GOP contenders slogging through the snow,
“After New Hampshire votes, then we’ll really know.”
Huntsman hopes the final votes will keep his candidacy alive,
New Hampshirites feel differently – and then there were five.

Five remaining candidates fighting on the stump
Rick Perry running last, looking like a chump;
While in Carolina, he sees an exit door,
Decides to endorse Newt, and then there were four.

Four lonely Republicans leaning too far to the right
Bashing the incumbent President with all of their verbal might.
All that’s left are Mitt, Paul, Newt and Rick,
So now the competition is who’s the biggest….

Could someone save us from political despair?
Someone with humor and perfectly coiffed hair?
Someone who would run on a whim and a dare?
I give you President Stephen Colbert! be continued after the South Carolina primary this Saturday…

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Firing Squad

In 2003, the residents of the Socialist Republic of California elected Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger as Governor.  Prior to this campaign, Arnold was best known as The Terminator, and this playful moniker enhanced his tough guy image. After all, a Terminator gets things done.  Nothing stops a Terminator. 

Listen, and understand. That terminator is out there. It can't be bargained with. It can't be reasoned with. It doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever,...” 

8 years since The Governator took office and put his cybernetic policies in place, the GOP is rallying around the Terminator franchise all over again, this time in the person of Mitt Romney, Employee Terminator.  Earlier this month, poor Mitt Romney uttered one of the dirty little secrets of the HR profession when he admitted that he likes terminating people when they deserve to get canned.

“I like firing people,” he said with enthusiasm, as his political staff hid under their desks, partly from fear, partly from embarrassment.  The quote is admittedly without context here, but a national front runner needs to be more careful with his phrasing, particularly when unemployment is hovering in the 8%+ range and he is being accused by his own party of being a “vulture” capitalist.
Romney may love firing people, but not solely for the reasons he stated.  Romney explained that when he receives bad service, he enjoys firing people, thereby creating an incentive for service providers to treat him nicely or else.  Fear of being poor is a positive motivator.  During his private sector life at Bain, however, Mitt didn’t fire the employees of the acquired firms in order to teach them a valuable customer service lesson.  He fired them to increase his profits.  He was not a selfless educator on the affects of capitalism.  He was a selfish practitioner of the Art of the Deal.

Mitt created this perception problem for himself.  He built a rationale for his candidacy on his job creation experience with Bain Capital.  Putting aside for a moment that his job creation claims cannot be substantiated by any independent group, or by his own campaign for that matter, there is another issue.  As Ezra Klein put it, his work at Bain was never really about job creation.  It was about “wealth creation” for his small group of investors.  There is nothing inherently wrong with that, unless you claim that this was not the singular goal of the venture capital enterprise.  When you campaign that your work at Bain Capital was about job creation, and it wasn’t, you’re going to have “some es’plainin’ to do”.

There is a difference between firing someone because they can’t do the job or won’t do the job, versus firing someone to increase profitability for the few.  The former is part of life and business.  The latter is a campaign messaging disaster.

One of his leading competitors for the nomination sounds like he enjoys a good firing, too.  Newt, however, has a different rationale for firing people.  His concern is not profit.  His concern is conformity.  Gingrich loves to fire anyone who disagrees with his singular political world view.  He has come out publicly, without remorse, to state that he would actively work to remove judges who ruled against his opinions in court.  An independent judiciary, in Newt’s reality, is so 20th century at a time when we need “bold ideas” (translation: Gingrich’s ideas).  He has also vowed to fire federal employees that have a liberal point of view.  There’s a word for a government that does not allow dissension or contrary opinions and threatens those that do.  It’s the same words wrongly used by Newt to describe the current administration.  I’d tell Newt to look in the mirror, but odds are he already is.

Gingrich would fire an individual from a position for thoughts.  I’ll go out on a limb and say that his plans for our government are “radical”, and quite 20th century.  1984 specifically.
Even Santorum has joined the fun and praised conformity by bashing its natural opposite.  Rick stated that diversity was bad because it led to “conflict”.  Now, a smart capitalist would know that conflict can lead to creativity, and creatively and new ideas can lead to profit, but that isn’t Santorum’s goal.  The elimination of dissenting opinions is the goal.  Convert everyone to your way of thinking!  Conflict can easily be avoided, Rick.  Fire anyone who thinks differently, looks differently, and acts differently.  Sweater vests for everyone, without exception! 

Since firing people is the new theme of the Republican primary (replacing Morning in America, I presume), the GOP voters might want to reconsider the King of Firing, Donald Trump.  The man has made a reality television career for himself firing people.  He could personify the newfound passion within the GOP to terminate “others”. 

I guess we shouldn’t be surprised.  Once they elected The Terminator as governor of California, no one was safe. 

Listen, and understand. That terminator is out there. It can't be bargained with. It can't be reasoned with. It doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever,...”

After all, the Terminator did say “I’ll be back.”  Well, he's back and on the ballot.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Government for Sale - Literally

During the 2008 presidential campaign, much was made of Sarah Palin’s decision to sell a state owned aircraft on eBay.  Beyond the beneficial financial details of the transaction, the move rang a bell for self-proclaimed common sense conservatives.  Government should act like a business, they said.  Why own a plane when you can rent one whenever you needed it, without the overhead and burden of ownership?  Makes sense, and could be one of the few things Sarah did right before quitting to join the talk show circus. 
The state of Arizona in 2010 took the privatization express to a new level and actually sold the state capitol.  No, this is not a joke.  The always imitated but never duplicated half-witted governor of the state, Jan Brewer, signed off on the deal, and the government of Arizona became a renter instead of an owner of its own capitol building.  Far Right conservatives praised the creative approach that would, we were told, save the state and its taxpayers lots of money.  Private business now owned the state House, the Senate and a nine-story executive tower.  With profit as its guiding beacon of hope, private business would better manage the property and everyone would win. 
Fast forward to 2012, and suddenly, privatization might not be all it was advertised to be.  The state negotiated the sale-leaseback arrangement for $81 million in 2010.  Today, lawmakers are preparing to buy back the capitol building.  Two years after selling it, they will pay $105 million.  Now, without a calculator, I estimate that’s a $24 million loss in only 2 years time.  Brilliant! 
From Gov. Brewer’s State of the State speech:  “Most of our Capitol complex, including the building we gather in today, is not ours,” Brewer said. “So … to make all of our Capitol truly ours once again, I’m asking that you send me a bill by Statehood Day that allows me to buy back the Capitol.”

Memo to knee jerk conservatives:  Just because it sounds good doesn’t mean it is good.  Think about that next time your favorite politician rails for a “part-time citizen legislature” or a tax plan with only 3 numbers (all identical), or a foreign policy that consists of bombing others as the first line of defense...or an oil pipeline that cuts through the drinking source for 1.5 million people.  The citizens of Arizona saved money in 2010.  The citizens of Arizona lost more money in 2012 than they saved in 2010.  That would be a bad deal, for those keeping count at home.

Bonus content:
My favorite Jan Brewer clip of all-time:

and here is Jan Brewer doing her impression of Rick Perry (extra special bonus):

Monday, January 16, 2012

Oh No - No Ho Hos!

It's time to support bakers and manufacturers with our wallets and our mouths.

To the Editors of Size Matters Magazine:

The anti-business bias of the Obama administration reared its ugly head again this week.  Has there ever been an administration so committed to the destruction of American free enterprise and the elimination of our God-given right to unregulated girth as this one?

Conservatives looking for an argument to support the theory that the liberal policies are destroying America as we know it and simultaneously shrinking our exceptional individual profiles can look no further than this stunning business announcement out of Texas this week:

Hostess, baker of Twinkies, Ding Dongs, Ho-Ho's and Wonder Bread, said Wednesday that it filed for bankruptcy protection in an attempt to shrink a pile of debt amid soaring labor costs.
If the liberals weren’t so preoccupied with shrinking everyone’s waistline in this country, Hostess wouldn’t have to be preoccupied with shrinking its debt.  Our physical stature in the world is being reduced, and I blame Obama.  I read the Internet.  I watch the TV.  Obama can be directly linked to the exploding debt that is shackling this business.  Hostess didn’t have this problem during the Bush years.  Their debt was smaller because our bellies got larger.  We were exceptional and satisfied.  Now, we are hungry for leadership and baked goods.

If Hostess was allowed to continue its successful business model of expanding Americans, its debt would be shrinking.  The company is forced to do belt tightening because health conscious Americans are doing less belt loosening. 
 As I see it, I blame Obama and all his healthy eating propaganda. If he wasn't so busy indoctrinating our kids with fairy tales of fruits and vegetables, those Hostess angels would still have jobs deep frying Twinkies and decorating Ho Hos.  This President, with his shameless pandering to the fruits and vegetables lobby, has played a key role in putting this iconic brand on a crash diet at a time when the people need jobs and the distraction of eating sugary goodness.  A little processed sugar never hurt anyone.

First of all, it is universally accepted as fact that the Twinkie and Ho Ho food groups represent a flavor sensation unmatched in modern pre-packaged baked goods era.  If it tastes so good, what is keeping the buyers away?  One reason – this President.

No one cared about the ingredients in a Twinkie until liberals and their fancy “food labels” started advertising the manufactured content of those fluffy desserts on the side of the package.  Ignorance is bliss, I say.  Let us eat freely.  Nothing ruins a baked treat more than knowing the ingredients, and we deserve the freedom to eat without forced education.

Hostess blamed the current move on troubles with its pension and medical benefits obligations, increased competition and tough economic conditions.  They were being politically correct.  Without Obama pushing exercise and fitness, demand for these yummy desserts would continue to rise like yeast in a damp basement.  Tough economic conditions were created by an administration more concerned with skinny appearances than fattening America's bottom line.

Twinkies fans shouldn't fret, however. The privately held bakery company says it will be able to maintain routine operations thanks to a $75 million financing commitment from a group of lenders with fat wallets.  Thank goodness someone understands the nutritional necessity of a Twinkie breakfast to start the day off right. 

Hostess said that it will look to restructure into a "strong, competitive" company.   It will continue to run bakeries, outlet stores and distribution centers and deliver its goods during the process.  We hope that its future lean operation will not translate into lean customers.  Our strength is in our size, and we are a big deal around the world because of it.

Save the Twinkie and the Ho Ho from the scourge of liberalism.  We need our daily fix of freedom that can only come from a thriving pastry industry.  A middle class without a big middle is unacceptable, and cannot be stomached any longer.

Marvin Disgruntled
Food Critic and Competitive Eater

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Bain of His Existence

Yesterday on The Today Show, the program actually produced 5 minutes of news within their 4 hour format.  Among the cooking demonstrations, the fashion analyses of red carpet necklines, and the debate over the best pet grooming shears was this exchange between Matt Lauer and Mitt Romney, the GOP nominee for the Presidency (can we say that yet?):

Matt:  Let me ask you about the choice of words last night when you said with we already have a leader who divides us with the bitter politics of envy. I'm curious about the word envy. Did you suggest that anyone who questions the policies and practices of Wall Street and financial institutions, anyone who has questions about the distribution of wealth and power in this country is envious? Is it about jealousy or fairness?

Mitt:  You know, I think it's about envy. I think it's about class warfare.  When you have a president encouraging the idea of dividing America based on 99% versus 1% and those people who have been most successful are in the 1% you have opened up a wave of approach in this country which is entirely inconsistent with the concept of one nation under God.  I believe in the final analysis, the American people with will reject it.

Matt:  Aren't there questions about the distribution of wealth without it being seen as envy?

Mitt:  I think it's fine to talk about those things in quiet rooms and tax policy and the like. But the president made it part of his campaign rally.  Everywhere he goes we hear him talking about millionaires, billionaires, executives and Wall Street.  It's an envy-oriented, attack-oriented approach and I think it will fail.

First of all compliments to Mr. Romney.  In two responses he managed to fit in God, class warfare, dividing America and attack-oriented approach, pure red meat for the Far Right crowd he has to win over.  Well played.  You rang the bells and should be commended for staying on message.

Your response to Lauer’s actual question about envy, however, exposes a fatal flaw in your candidacy.  The more off-script you go, the more likely that you’ll say something that will haunt you. 
Every cycle, candidates say something dumb that is taken out of context and gets hung around their necks like an albatross.  Obama talked about people “clinging to guns and religion” and “spreading the wealth”, McCain said the “fundamentals of the economy” were fine right before the bottom fell out, Kerry voted “for the bill before he was against it”.  These offhanded comments were used to define something about each candidate’s core beliefs.  Obama was a socialist, McCain didn’t understand economics and Kerry was a serial flip flopper.

This cycle, we have Mitt giving his competition priceless quotes practically every time he abandons his stump speech for a few moments: 
  • “Corporations are people.”
  • “I like firing people.”
  • “I’ll bet you $10,000.”
  • “I know what it’s like to worry whether you’re gonna get fired. There were a couple of times I wondered whether I was going to get a pink slip.”
  • I’m unemployed, too.”
Now we add to the list “I think it’s envy”.

Are these comments out of context?  Of course.  Unfortunately, the Romney campaign has already approved and endorsed the concept of using quotes out of context as an acceptable tactic in modern political contests.  In November, Romney ran an ad using a quote from Obama in which he is quoted as saying “if we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.”  This quote could be devastating to Obama, except he was quoting his opponent, John Mc Cain, at the time.  Romney and his campaign defended this misleading tactic as “politics”. 
That same attitude is going to bite poor Mitt in the ass this fall when all the above-mentioned quotes get strung together and paint a portrait of an out-of-touch plutocrat whose wealth and success has been at the expense of others, not a result of helping others.  The problem will only worsen since Mitt seems to spit out these nuggets regularly.  Maybe he is the one who needs a teleprompter, for his own protection.

Mitt, I do question whether or not the growing income inequality in this country is healthy for the nation – everyone in the nation.  I believe that the rich and the poor do better when there is a thriving middle class, and your tax and economic policies seem geared to exacerbate the gap, not allow for it to narrow.  When your policies seek a greater division between the haves and the have-nots, those are the weapons of class warfare.  Recognizing it for what it is is called thinking.  I understand that you would prefer that dissent be confined to “quiet rooms”, but that would be un-American.  Being loud is our birthright.

Mitt, I am not envious of you.  I am particularly not envious of your condescension or your inability to express a core value for longer than a few days.  Not everyone wants a fair tax policy because they want to steal your money.  Not everyone wants to have your life and your things without the hard work it takes to earn them.  What everyone does want is an open discussion of those policies that will either raise all boats or raise the big boats at the expense of the little boats.  That is a legitimate line of inquiry.

Let me be clear and balanced.  I think some of the attacks on what Bain Capital did as a business have been unfair (and started from your right flank, btw).  Creative destruction is completely legitimate.  I would differentiate that from using money and influence to game the system in your favor at the expense of working people who do not have the same access to power brokers.  It’s why people unionize.  It’s the only way they can fight the status quo – pooling their resources and their voices.

In 2012, Mitt Romney has made his work a Bain Capital a central piece of his rationale for being President.  It is legitimate ask if the nation needs George Bailey or Mr. Potter at the helm for the next 4 years.  If Mitt keeps offering up these quotes to the Democrats, Obama would be the one to be envied.  He’ll have campaign ammunition for free. 

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Dance Moms for President

Everyone has a guilty pleasure.  My public guilty pleasure for years has been politics.  I love the drama, the characters, the passions, the intrigue, the competition.  For this political junkie, there is no more exciting event than the New Hampshire primary, the nation’s last great exercise in the retail democratic process.  It’s my Super Bowl, the day when the wheat is separated from the chaff, the contenders from the pretenders, and the front runners from the also-rans.  Heck, I have immortalized my passion for the New Hampshire primary in a way that only a Virginian can understand – I have personalized car tags that read “NH PRMRY”.  That’s commitment.  

My guilty pleasure has one drawback.  The entire exercise requires more thinking than your run-of-the-mill guilty pleasures, so I should be forgiven if from time to time, I opt out of the partisan chatter and dive into some nonsensical chatter.  This past Tuesday night, my big once-every-four-years night, I must confess that I opted out of thinking exit polls for about an hour.  I opted out of New Hampshire primary results coverage on the cable news channels for my private guilty pleasure – the season premiere of Dance Moms on Lifetime.

The first step to recovery is admitting that you have a problem.  “Hi, I’m Joe, and I’m a Dance Mom-aholic.”

Before you cast any aspersions in my direction, I do not watch Dancing With the Stars, Glee, or any programming on the Oxygen network.  I don’t touch the hard stuff.  I started watching the twisted parents of the Abby Lee Dance Company to protect my own children.  My kids got me hooked on Dance Moms when I insisted that I watch it before they were allowed to indulge themselves.  I needed to monitor their viewing habits as any conscientious parent would do.  How was I to know that Christi’s insecurities, Abby’s hysterics and Cathy’s Candy Apple delusions would be so intoxicating?  Once I heard Abby Lee say that “every time a parent opens their mouth, a child is ruined”, I could not miss an episode.  That’s the kind of street wisdom you can’t get from NPR. 

Apparently, I am not alone in choosing one hour of televised child abuse over the quadrennial political rhetoric.  Dance Moms eagerly anticipated season 2 debut was the program’s most watched telecast ever and Lifetime’s best ever Tuesday season opener among Total Viewers.  It averaged 2.5 million Total Viewers in the 9:00pm ET/PT time period, with an average viewer age of only 37.  I can now argue that the show keeps me connected to the younger generation, those in their late 30s.  That’s a positive, right?  Keeps me young(er).

Political coverage that night did not fare nearly as well.  Fox News Channel won the ratings game over its competitors with its primary coverage averaging 550,000 total viewers. Its nearest competitor, CNN, averaged 401,000 total viewers, while MSNBC placed third with 245,000 viewers.  Dance Moms had twice as many viewers as the 3 major cable news networks combined.  Watching Holly explain to her daughter Nia why she wasn’t going to the big dance competition in North Carolina held more eyeballs than Newt Gingrich’s sour grapes speech.  That says something about our collective IQ, but for today, it is saying more about mine I fear.
After some soul searching, I think I now understand my attraction to the show.  The drama, the characters, the passions, the intrigue, the competition – it’s just like presidential primary politics, except for the dancing.

The similarities are striking.  Both programs offer a bevy of irrational claims, unexpected tears, secret alliances, and incoherent shouting.  Holly complains that her daughter always gets assigned the ethic dances.  Herman Cain blames the media for treating him differently because of race.  Brooke can’t stop crying.  Newt sheds a tear in Iowa to humanize himself, a tough assignment.  Melissa promises to watch Jill’s back against the mob of moms.  Santorum agrees not to go negative on Newt.  The storylines are cut from the same cloth.
On Dance Moms, each week features a new competition in another state, just like the primaries.  This week, the dancers headed off to North Carolina to compete.  The GOP candidates headed to South Carolina to perform their own versions of the two-step. 
On Dance Moms, each show begins with the audience learning which contestant will be at the top of the pyramid that week, just like just like the primaries.  The national media anoints a different candidate for the top of the political pyramid seemingly every week.

If you are at the top of the pyramid on Dance Moms, everyone is gunning for you and nothing is off limits.  Ditto for national political races.

Next week, we learn that the Candy Apple Dance Company is planning a third party charge to the top of the dance rankings.  We know from the opening episode that the Candy Apple effort is headed for disaster, but we will watch to find out how it happens.  Who knows, maybe votes for the Candy Apple dancers at the next competition will siphon votes from the Abby Lee Dance Company and provide an opening for another troupe to win the trophy.  That’s what happens when the votes get split.

Mitt, Newt, Rick S., Rick P., Ron and Jon.  Abby, Melissa, Kelly, Holly, Christi, and Cathy.  If you close your eyes and just listen, it’s hard to tell them apart.

Abby Lee Miller’s signature catch phrase is as fitting for the 8-year old ballerina who can’t dance through her injuries as it is for the 8-term Congressmen who funnels earmarks to big contributors:  “Everyone’s replaceable.”

Next week, it’s another dance competition in South Carolina.  Can’t wait for the results.