Thursday, May 31, 2012

Whisper Campaigns

The vetting of candidates is getting more thorough all the time. The press misses nothing.

Special to MSRP:

In a stunning development, Mitt Romney today addressed rumors that he was once the governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.  That he was once chief executive of this liberal enclave had been part of a whisper campaign in the press for years, but his public admission that the rumors exist was unexpected and sure to confound the horse race for the Presidency even further.

Romney has staked his candidacy on his successful business career, completely ignoring any experience or record within government.  He has positioned himself as the classic outsider ready to step in and shake up the status quo while painting government as “incompetent”.  The fact that he might have been a governor means that his personal narrative would need to include his record of public service.

The announcement came before his Las Vegas fundraising dinner with Donald Trump and Newt Gingrich, and both men were not ready to accept this new “alleged” information.

“Records can be forged,” said Donald Trump.  “The media will do anything to besmirch Gov. Romney’s good name with salacious innuendo about some so-called government job.”

“It is fundamentally wrong,” chimed in Mr. Gingrich.

Not every Republican was ready to defend the party’s nominee.

“We always sensed that he was not one of us,” chastised professional agitator Sarah Palin.  “Massachusetts is not part of Real America, you betcha.  They force people to have health care there, and that makes me sick.”

Democratic consultants were certain that Romney hid his role in state government to avoid defending an abysmal record on job creation.  Romney has promoted himself as an expert at creating jobs during his Bain Capital career, although the word “jobs” does not appear in the mission or values statement of that venture firm.  During the 4 year term that Romney is rumored to have served, Massachusetts ranked 47th in job creation nationally and public debt rose.

“That’s not a problem, even if it was true.  The private sector creates jobs, not the government.  Can’t blame us for something we weren’t supposed to do in the first place,” defended Bryson Xavier Oxford III, Romney’s newest campaign strategist focused on inner city outreach.  When a follow up question was shouted asking how Romney would help create jobs as President if the government has no role or accountability in job creation, Oxford III railed against the “well-documented liberal media bias”.

Political consultants not affiliated with either campaign were not surprised that Romney might have kept his term as governor a secret from conservative primary voters.  The conventional wisdom held that he could have been embarrassed during the campaign by some of the results of his tenure, most notably his signature health care program.

“Everyone knows that once Romney was associated with RomneyCare, his standing among severe conservatives would plummet.  Sure, Massachusetts now has the lowest infant mortality rate in the nation, and sure, it ranks first in the percentage of women receiving prenatal care, and sure, it boasts the lowest rate of uninsured people in the country.  Sure, the residents of Massachusetts when polled favor the program in significant numbers.  One problem – it’s socialism, and we are against that red menace,” offered Karl Rove, an unaffiliated fair and balanced consultant.

The most damning statistic however does not relate to health care.  It has been alleged that thanks in part to Romney’s stewardship, per capita income in the state was 2nd highest in the country and the wealth gap between rich and poor children was the smallest in the nation.  “How can Romney win if he can be defined by the opposition as a radical redistributionist of wealth?” moaned Oxford III. 

In other news, it is rumored that Barack Obama, after consulting with Bill Ayers and Rev. Jeremiah Wright in the 1990s, actually served as President of the United States for the past 3 years.  Sources have yet to confirm or deny this latest rumor, but David Axlerod, Obama’s chief campaign strategist, said unequivocally that these kinds of distractions are taking away from Obama’s life affirming mantra of “hope and change”, and he vowed to remain on message until mid-November. 

Significantly, Mr. Axlerod made no such assurance about Joe Biden.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A Taste of Armageddon

The best diplomat I know is a fully activated phaser bank. – Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott of the Starship Enterprise

On Stardate 3192.1, the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise encountered two warring planets fighting the interplanetary equivalent of the Hatfield and the McCoys feud (not Dr. McCoy).  These futuristic enemies did not settle their differences with muskets and pistols however.  In order to save costs, the planets had agreed not to use real bombs during their assaults, which tend to be messy and loud.  Instead, the two planets would launch virtual attacks and the leaders of the two factions would then voluntarily vaporize those citizens and combatants who were deemed to have been killed in the simulation.  No fuss, no muss.  War goes on without the inconvenience of rebuilding and the visceral repulsion to bloodshed and dismemberment.

Captain Kirk witnesses this madness and chastises the leadership of Eminiar VII for making war too antiseptic, too neat:

Death... destruction, disease, horror, that's what war is all about, Councilman.  That's what makes it a thing to be avoided.  You've made it neat and simple, so neat and simple that you have no reason to stop it.

Here is an excerpt from Kirk’s monologue brilliantly reenacted by Seth MacFarlane:

It is fair to ask whether or not President Obama’s expansion of the unmanned predator drone program is leading us to a similar place of permanent virtual wars.  While the general population in the U.S. sits comfortably behind their keyboards and remote controls, our fighting soldiers are sitting behind their keyboards and remote controls and playing judge and jury overseas.  It spares us the inconvenience of rebuilding and the visceral repulsion to bloodshed and dismemberment. 

Obama’s expansion of the drone program, while not without its successes, has made war easier for us to stomach.  Should war be easier for us to stomach?  His expansion of the program has also given birth to an expanded definition of a combatant.  Apparently, an enemy combatant is now defined as someone “we kill, either on purpose or accidently.”  Sounds overly broad, but the program is cost-effective and during these trying times of high deficits, surely this is as important a consideration as the lives of a few suspected terrorists and those who are standing near to them.

The expansion of the drone concept is not saved just for deployment in foreign countries.  It is closer to coming to the homeland than you might think.  On Tuesday, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell said he supports the use of unmanned drones over the United States to assist law enforcement.  In his words, the use of these drones over Virginia would be “the right thing to do.” 
“I think it’s great; I think we ought to be using technology to make law enforcement more productive, cuts down on manpower and also more safe, that’s why we use it on the battlefield,” McDonnell said on radio station WTOP.

Yes, this is why we are using drones over the battlefield.  It’s more productive (i.e. kills more efficiently), it cuts down on manpower (i.e. no activist judges or juries to release people we KNOW are guilty), and it is more safe (i.e. except for an uptick in carpal tunnel syndrome at home).  Somewhere, George Orwell just threw up a little bit in his mouth.

Of course, the governor added that we would need to pay close attention to the protection of civil liberties, like privacy, which is ironic coming from the guy who supported invasive transvaginal ultrasounds for women seeking legal abortions in his state.  One thing I can safely say after reading about the military use of the drone program.  The program appears to be specifically designed to eliminate civil liberties and privacy, not protect those rights.  A domestic drone program would naturally accomplish the same mission.  What would the Founders say? 

Killing bad guys who are intent on harming innocent people is good.  The real question becomes identifying the bad and sparing the good.  I believe that we would all be better served in the long run if such a program had more transparency and those who made these life and death decisions had some accountability for their decisions.

Eventually, once the inhabitants of Eminiar VII and Vendikar experience a taste of real warfare, they quickly negotiate for peace.  It must then be true that War is Peace.  The MADD theory is cost-inefficient, but at least on Star Trek and in the Cold War, it worked. 
Maybe reining death from above by warriors without risk from planes without pilots is a bit too safe and a bit too easy.  Doesn’t it bother you just a little?  I think it should.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Waiting for Bulworth

Nothing like breaking bread to raise campaign bread.

Mitt Romney is offering new contributors to his presidential campaign a chance at winning a seat at the dinner table with him and Donald Trump.  Hopefully cocktails and appetizers won’t be served in Trump’s reality TV Boardroom.  That place can get ugly, and there is no guarantee that it was fully sanitized since Gary Busey and Meatloaf sat in there last season.

America’s favorite game show host and birther aficionado will happily regale you over tossed salad with stories about his superior qualifications to be President should Romney stumble.  After all, if business success is a major qualification for the office, then The Donald could be overqualified.  Add to that his status as a U.S. citizen over the age of 35, and I think he believes he is ideally suited.  Trump personifies the Bully Pulpit, so why not make it official and give him the job of Bully in Chief?  “Melania, please pass the Trump ketchup - NOW.”

Obama recently offered a chance for contributors to win an invitation to meet him at George Clooney’s place for Hollywood schmoozing.  If you pony up for Obama’s reelection, you may be one of the lucky contestants that involuntarily agrees to be vetted by the Secret Service before moving into the final selection round.  Better hope they don’t find that Netflix customer review you wrote about Clooney’s lackluster performance in One Fine Day after an especially painful break up.  Clooney dislikes negativity and he can afford to keep such vibrations outside his personal compound. 
Next up in the email trolling for dollars campaign to one lucky Obama contributor is a dinner date with Bill Clinton.  The email solicitation did not mention whether or not a recent photo was required to enter this contest.  I guess that is just assumed.  There is a 50/50 chance that after a few cold ones, Clinton will lower his rhetorical guard and relive his jealous anti-Obama rage of South Carolina circa 2008.  Seeing that red-faced rant first hand could be worth a $10 lottery ticket.

Political fundraising has become an amalgam of reality TV, state lotteries, and Publisher’s Clearinghouse mailers, and for some lucky donors, it is a shot at 15 minutes of near-celebrity fame or a shot at being a pawn in a game so cynical that you can’t possible fathom its depths.  The distance between ‘celebrity’ and ‘pawn’ is getting narrower every day. 
“You may have already won!”, but first you’ll have to send in $10 to Obama for America to claim your chance at the Big Prize.  When solicitations from the campaign arrive featuring a bigger picture of Ed McMahon than the candidate, we should question where this orgy of direct e-mail (aka spam) is leading us.

I’d like to see a request for cash that mentions that fact that the candidate will also be in attendance.  In the Romney appeal, Trump gets top billing.  In Obama’s appeal, George Clooney was clearly the A-List attendee above the incumbent Leader of the Free World.  Clooney could spice up the meal with firsthand accounts of Pitt-Jolie squabbles; Obama would regale diners with stories of the Euro Crisis and last G-6 Summit.   Which stories would you rather hear over some foie de gras?

I get plenty of email solicitations for campaign cash, and I believe that the first time I ever saw this contribution raffle was from the Obama campaign in 2008.  “Win a trip to meet me backstage at the convention”, or “Win a trip to travel on my campaign bus for a day” or something like that.  I think there was even a “Watch the GOP convention with Bill Clinton” prize 4 years ago.  The people love to gamble, and the technique must have worked because politicians are all doing it now in both national and statewide campaigns.  I thought I saw an email solicitation from Sen. Orrin Hatch’s SuperPAC with the headline, “Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!”  It’s silly season.

I look forward to one day receiving a solicitation from a politician that reads something like this:

If you agree with me more often than you agree with my opponent, I could use your financial support.  In this day and age, without voluntary contributions from people like you, your government will continue to be run by assholes.  I offer no meals, I offer no celebrity meetings, I offer no signed memorabilia.  I only pledge to listen to both sides of every issue, research the facts, and make the best, most informed decision I can.  Some of you will disagree and some of you will agree.  That’s my only promise – someone will be disappointed.

I’d pay to have a chance to sit with that candidate.  I am sure that I would not be disappointed.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Puppet Show

A new take on an old fable:

Once upon a time in America, an aging woodworker named GOP-to (pronounced ‘Geo-peeto’) was lonely for companionship, anyone who would give him a feeling of relevance again.  GOP-to spent time in his creaky old Establishment creating wooden marionettes for public entertainment (you may recall his W-43 clown model), and one day he whittled himself a fine new wooden puppet.  He named his new puppet Mittens.

Mittens would do or say anything whenever the clever GOP-to pulled the strings.  Mittens would sway and dance in whatever direction the wind blew him.  Over a period of years, GOP-to learned to tolerate and almost accept Mittens as one of his own.  He would never love Mittens, but Mittens was all that poor GOP-to had left to carry on his legacy.

One night before falling asleep, GOP-to made a wish upon a star.  He wished that Mittens could be magically transformed into a real Leader.  During the night, the star, in the form of a Blue State Massachusetts Fairy, visited the GOP-to Establishment to grant his wish.  She made Mittens come alive, but not as a real Leader.  Mittens would walk and talk, but he was still only a puppet at heart.   The fairy told Mittens that if he wants to become a real Leader of flesh and blood he must prove himself to be brave, truthful and unselfish.  Mittens would have to learn to tell right from wrong by listening to his Conscience. 
Mittens did not understand what a Conscience was since none of GOP-to’s puppets had ever had one.  After all, GOP-to’s puppets had heads made of solid wood.  Never fear, said the Fairy.  She assigned Quinnipiac Polling to him as a Conscience so he could know how to think and how to act.  If Mittens could learn to obey his new Conscience, Quinnipiac, everything would be fine.

When GOP-to woke up from his 8 year slumber, he discovered that his wish had come true.  Mittens was alive, but not yet a real Leader.  He was still a puppet, which suited GOP-to just fine.  He was filled with restrained joy and resignation at his good fortune.   GOP-to put all of his other puppets into the closet for another 4 years, and placed his hopes and dreams in the marionette named Mittens.  

The next day, he sent Mittens off to school.  Mittens did not know how to interact with 99% of the people he would meet, and he did not know how to answer questions without GOP-to’s help.  This is one of the reasons that the naive Mittens was led astray by the conniving Tea Party Bandits, who convinced him to join Cable’s puppet show instead. Mittens became Cable's star attraction as a Magic Marionette, but when Mittens wanted to go home to Massachusetts…or Michigan…or Utah…for the night (though promising to come back in the morning), Cable locked Mittens in a birdcage built from his own previous statements and positions to prevent him from leaving or flip-flopping.

During the night, the Blue State Massachusetts Fairy came to ask why Mittens disobeyed GOP-to’s directions and did not stick to the script he was provided. Despite Quinnipiac 's urgings, Mittens tells an overblown story to hide his shame, but with each lie his unfavorables grew and grew until it was like the branch of a tree. The Blue State Massachusetts Fairy explained that "a lie will keep growing and growing, until it's as plain as the nose on your face." Mittens vowed to do better from now on and the Blue State Massachusetts Fairy changed his nose back to normal and set him free from his past position statements, warning that this will be the last time she would bail him out.

Unfortunately, on his way back to GOP-to's house, Mittens was once again led astray by Tea Party Bandits, who convince him that he was weak and in need of their help.  The only cure, they told him, was to go to Scorched Earth Island.  On his way he befriended Jim DeMint, Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, three misbehaved and destructive Leaders.  Mittens and the other Leaders began to enjoy slash and burn politics, destructive ultimatums and intractable positions, much to Quinnipiac 's dismay. Then it was discovered the island harbors a terrible curse which turns Leaders into real Asses, who are then sold to work on the speaking circuit and in talk radio.  Eventually, his new friends on Scorched Earth Island were revealed to be complete Asses.  Mittens managed to escape as only a partial Ass.

Upon returning to GOP-to’s Establishment, Mittens found the workshop empty and learned (from a letter by the Blue State Massachusetts Fairy) that GOP-to, while venturing out to rescue Mittens from Scorched Earth Island, had been swallowed by a monster whale named SuperPAC.  SuperPAC had the power to eat and destroy anything in its path.  Determined to rescue his benefactor GOP-to, Mittens jumped into the fray.  However, Mittens was soon found and consumed by SuperPAC, where he was reunited with GOP-to inside the great beast. Mittens devised an escape plan by inventing his very own Sister Souljah Moment in order to make SuperPAC spit him out.
After SuperPAC's defeat, Quinnipiac reported that Mittens was dead in the water based on all available polling.  He would never become a real Leader.  At home, GOP-to mourned for Mittens, and in halting state-sanctioned prayers, begged for Mittens to be revived and reborn as a real Leader before November 6th.   


That’s all I can tell you.  You’ll have to watch the tale unfold yourself.  I don’t want to ruin the ending, but I can tell you that “brave, truthful and unselfish” is a pretty high bar for this particular puppet.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Privacy Breach

Pam Broviak is going to teach a lesson about personal accountability like a responsible parent should.  Her method may be unconventional.  Pam Broviak is suing her daughter’s school district for violating her daughter’s privacy, and the mean old adults at the middle school will learn the hard way about accepting personal accountability for their actions.  Don’t mess with the privacy of a 13 year old Broviak. 

Here’s the back story.  After an incident at school, administrators asked the student to pull up her Facebook page so that they could view the contents.  Broviak’s daughter complied; however, the daughter became “embarrassed and very upset” by the perceived invasion of privacy and is traumatized by the entire experience.

The mother explains that because of this breach, her precious child has learned the painful lesson that “you can’t trust anyone”.  As we know, that is a lesson most of us don’t have to learn until we buy our first used car, and by that point, we are emotionally equipped.  Poor little Broviak is barely a teen.

During an investigation, officials at this middle school admit that they do ask students to show them their Facebook postings or text messages from their cell phones.  They do not ask for passwords for future access.  They do not randomly search all electronic media looking for students who may have strayed from the path of righteousness.  During the course of an investigation in which they have reason to believe the student might have knowledge, they request to see what’s on their personal wall.

Yes, there is a risk that information beyond the scope of the school administrators’ investigation could be revealed during such an event.  The girl’s Facebook page could have details of a personal or family illness or other personal activities that while legal, are of a morally questionable nature.  That is certainly possible although school administrators are not the student’s employer or a disinterested party.

Ms. Broviak has referred to these incidents of Facebook viewing by school officials as “abuse”.  I respectfully disagree.  The only abuse here is being perpetrated by the mother.  Failure to teach a 13 year old child that Facebook postings are not private is abuse.  If Ms. Broviak was caught passing a note from one desk to another back during her heyday in the 1980s, would she have claimed privacy as a reason not to hand over the note?  Hmm, come to think of it, she probably would have.

Facebook has been very clear about their company mission.  In a word, it is “openness”.  Openness and their fealty to the concept and benefits of openness are why it has 900 million members and a company valued anywhere between a gazillion and mega-gazillion.  Sure, Facebook has a privacy policy, but “you can’t trust anyone”, as Pam Broviak knows all too well.

The three lessons that her daughter should have gotten at home are as follows: choose your friends carefully; respect authority figures in school; before you hit ‘send’ on any electronic device, imagine the words on the front page of the New York Times.  If you would be ashamed, don’t send/post it.

Privacy is a 20th century construct.  The Internet of the 21st century is a public forum.  Young Broviak needs to learn that lesson now before it’s too late. 
Protect children, yes.  Coddle them, no.  That is my free lesson for parents, and if you know Pam Broviak, feel free to pass it along to her.  This posting is not private.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Belief Systems

During the GOP presidential debates a few months back, Newt Gingrich referred to Mitt Romney as a “vulture capitalist”.  During those same debates, Mitt Romney claimed that his work at Bain Capital was responsible for the creation of “100,000 private sector jobs”, and he was proud of that record.  He in fact touted that experience as making him uniquely qualified to be the President of the United States.  He did not response to claims by his competitors on the debate stage that during his only stint in a government role trying to create jobs, his state ranked 47th in the nation.

Today, if Obama mentions Romney’s years at Bain Capital and its woeful record of helping American workers, it is labeled “off limits” and a “distraction”.  Huh?  Romney not only brought it up in the first place, he has used his business experience at Bain to bolster his unique qualifications for the presidency.  So forgive me, everyone, but Romney’s tenure at Bain is not only germane, it is at the core of his raison d’etre.

Romney’s job was not to create jobs – it was to create wealth.  In that role, he clearly excelled.  In the one job he has held in government, where his role was to create jobs, he failed.  That is not only relevant.  It is critical to highlight.  It is not an attack on “free enterprise” to mention that when Romney claims he was a job creator at Bain, not everyone agrees.

But enough about Bain Capital.  There will be plenty of time for that legitimate path of inquiry over the next 5 months, and most of it will take place on MSNBC no doubt.

What I want to know is how far into GOP orthodoxy has Mitt Romney committed himself.  When confronted with what the GOP has become and what the modern GOP believes, does Romney agree or disagree?  I want to know how Etch-A-Sketch this guy is before November.  Don’t you?

The Iowa Republican Party released this week its draft state party platform.  Iowa is where presumably “real Americans” live.  It made news with its “all in” birther plank, demanding that all candidates for federal office produce proof of citizenship (which the state party leader went out of his way to point out that this is aimed specifically at Obama, whom he considers illegitimate despite evidence to the contrary).  Here are the rest of the highlights from the platform, as reported by Ed Kilgore at Washington Monthly:

“…the birth certificate requirement is far from the crankiest of provisions. It calls for the abolition of the federal Departments of Agriculture, Education, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Health and Human Services, Energy, Interior, Labor, and Commerce. It demands a phase-out of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid and immediate provisions to make Social Security voluntary. Though it’s a bit confusing on this point, it seems to call for the abolition of public education, or, as it often refers to them, “government schools.” It calls for U.S. withdrawal from the United Nations and the repeal of all hate crimes and non-discrimination legislation. It endorses a Fetal Personhood Amendment. It demands permanent restriction of total federal spending to 10% of GDP (the draconian right-wing Cut, Cap and Balance Act would limit it to 19.9% of GDP), and reversal of the Supreme Court precedents that made possible the New Deal and civil rights laws.”

The whole platform draft can be found at

As Kilgore points out, the platform writing was heavily influenced by Ron Paul supporters, but nevertheless, contains plenty of specific, Republican base red meat that is not just idle rhetoric.  It is a specific outline of plans that many GOP candidates have advocated publicly for months and in some cases years.

So I ask the Republican nominee for the Presidency of the United States – which of these platform planks do you support?  Which ones do you reject?

Richard Cohen in the Washington Post wrote this week about Romney that the “forces that shaped him in the primaries and caucuses will not go away. He has been clay in the hands of the political right, and this will not change.”

If Richard Cohen is correct, and the Iowa platform draft reflects the direction that Romney may lead the nation (or be led by Congress in this direction), then discussing Bain Capital would be a distraction – a distraction from the radical agenda that Romney will either implement or allow to be implemented by his Congressional Tea Party masters.

There is much to consider before Election Day, so don’t let yourself get distracted.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Great Moments in Commencement Speeches

For years, I thought that commencement was synonymous with the end.  After all, commencement occurred at the end of a segment of schooling.  When high school ended, you went to commencement exercises.  When college ended, you had commencement ceremonies.  I am certain that on the English section of my SATs, I answered the question “Orientation is to beginning as Commencement is to…” with letter B for “Ending”.

I was wrong.  Commencement apparently marks the beginning, and for thousands of college students this month, commencement marks the beginning of being pandered to by politicians of all stripes.  The old guard, the young guns, the senior statesmen and the radical revisionists all line up to receive their phony honorary degrees and troll for votes from that part of the voting age population least likely to actually pull the lever.  They might be better served speaking to a class of 3rd graders during career day for all the votes they’ll earn, but college commencement speeches do offer free media coverage and the chance to pretend to be smart, if only for a few hours.

Here are some of my favorite excerpts from recent commencement addresses (plucked from my vivid imagination):

“In conclusion, graduates, I offer you the best advice my daddy ever gave to me – stay in school, Rick.  You need it.” – Gov. Rick Perry, addressing the graduates of Texas Christian University

“You snobs.” – Despondent Rick Santorum, addressing the graduates of West Point

“Do you know the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull?” – Carnival barker Sarah Palin, addressing the graduates of Franklin Pierce Day School

“OMG.” – Presumptive nominee Mitt Romney, addressing the graduates of Liberty University

“I would like to apologize to you on behalf of the United States for the miserable Bush economy that makes your post-graduation job prospects so dim.” – President Barack Obama, addressing the graduates of Soros Community College

“I learned on the campaign trail a valuable lesson that you graduates already know – never drop out if you want to succeed.” – Living fossil Ron Paul, addressing his immediate family at their annual reunion picnic and potato sack race

“I would like to thank you for this honorary degree.  I hope I earned it.  I’ll be coming back down this way again as often as possible, at least until Hillary is off the road.” – Player Bill Clinton, addressing the graduates of Beaver College

“Is it getting warm in here?” – Media mogul Al Gore, addressing the graduates of Cal Tech

“Never stop working hard, or else some overqualified 10 year old with a scrub brush will take your job, you lazy rabble.” – Historian Newt Gingrich, addressing graduates at NYU

“Congratulations, graduates.  You should never be ashamed of your Harvard education, and you should affix it as a badge of prestige on every job application you ever complete.” – Mitt Romney, addressing the graduates of Yale

“I fondly remember my college years at Delaware, and my only regret was that I never lost the Freshman 150 I gained after a few too many helpings of those delicious cheesy spinach squares in the Russell Dining Hall.  I am such a numb nuts.” – Gov. Chris Christie, addressing graduates at his alma mater, the University of Delaware

“Hey, did I ever tell you the story of that toga party at Lane Hall my Junior year?  Caesar had nothing on me.  Epic!” – Vice President Joe Biden, addressing the graduates of Scranton College of Liberal Arts and Administration

“If you take one thing away from this address, remember – 9-9-9.  Multiplied together, that represents the 729 months that it will take to complete your student loan repayment.” – Herman Cain, addressing the graduates of MIT

"Make no mistake about it, you are dumb.  You’re a group of incredibly well-educated dumb people.  I was there.  We all were there.  You’re barely functional.  There are some screw-ups headed your way.  I wish I could tell you that there was a trick to avoiding the screw-ups, but the screw-ups, they’re a-coming for ya.  It’s a combination of life being unpredictable, and you being super dumb." – Screen writer Aaron Sorkin, addressing the graduates of Syracuse University (OK, this one is real.  I hope the grads were listening.)

After reviewing these, I think commencement means the beginning of the end.

Monday, May 21, 2012


I overheard a conversation this weekend about the general limitations of the standard GPS.  A group of gentlemen were sharing war stories about trips gone wild when trust was given to the little voice from the car dashboard without reservation.  There was the time that the authoritative voice demanding that the driver “Turn Left…Now” was given the benefit of the doubt over the driver’s survival instincts to avoid plunging off the road into a ditch.  There was the panicked cell phone call from a spouse who ignored the “Road Closed” signs in favor of strictly following the GPS order to “Continue .4 miles to destination”.  All the guys related to the Allstate commercial that humanized the fickle nature of the GPS with a man on the floor of the front seat yelling “TURN…NOW!” just to enjoy the crash.  
Ever since KITT in Knight Rider started barking directions to his mount, we have done what we’ve been told as long as it was the dashboard talking.  After all, computers know best, and we grew up thinking that the voice from our car had our best interests at heart.  To ignore the GPS voice is to reject sanity in favor of anarchy.  The GPS knows more than we do, and we ignore it at our peril.

(For the true television addicts of another generation out there, this fascination with following disembodied voices from  automobiles traces further back to the 1960s short-lived series, My Mother the Car, in which Jerry Van Dyke’s mother, Gladys, tells him what to do and think from the used station wagon’s car radio speakers.  Today, we have Dr. Laura to play that role for us.)

There are problems with relying exclusively on one voice to get to where we want to go.  Sometimes the information in the GPS software isn’t updated quickly enough to match conditions on the ground.  Sometimes the GPS directs us on the most conventional route, while we know from personal experience that there is a short cut with fewer traffic lights that will get us to our destination with fewer stops and starts.  Sometimes an alternative route is just more fun for us and we accept that the car will shout its disapproval with regularity.  “Make the first available U-turn!!!” 

The fact is that a GPS is just one of many requirements in modern America to get to where we are going.  We still need a paper map to expand our perspective and to pinch hit when satellite reception is weak.  We still need to ask locals for the easiest way to get to where we are going with the fewest traffic delays during peak hours.  We still need to keep our eyes open for detours that were not anticipated.  We need to accept the advice of our GPS with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Beyond just listening to omnipotent talking cars, there is a wider phenomenon of people blindly accepting conventional wisdom like it’s being shouting from a GPS.  In particular, the field of education is filled with directions and instructions for success that may require a software upgrade before it can safely guide our kids to success on 21st century roads.  The school day must end by 3 PM.  High school must be 4 years long.  Kids need the summer off.  Without Standards of Learning tests, we’ll never know if kids are learning.  Kids must graduate from a 4 year college.  Really?

School ends at 3 PM so farmer children can help in the fields before sunset, a schedule that worked when we were an agrarian society.  High school lasts 4 years because…it always has.  The school structure of today was built for the society of the 1950s.  Maybe like the trusty GPS, the educational system needs a reboot to challenge assumptions and identify new routes. 

America’s GPS is barking orders that 4 years of traditional college is the correct and only path to success for our kids, and I am starting to become skeptical as the brochures come rolling in.  The educational GPS has been programmed to give us this 4 years of college answer, and in many instances, it is correct.  A college degree will get our kids to the destination of a good job and the opportunity for upward economic mobility.  The statistics are clear on this point. 
But are there other routes to the same destination of economic success in life?  When will online colleges at half the cost become the favored route to the American Dream?  Could there be another path that is less expensive, less stressful, and provide better outcomes?  Are we being marketed advice as incontrovertible fact?

That’s what the GPS provides, by the way – advice.  We can take it or leave it.  Sure, it is often correct, but not always.  When it comes to preparing our kids for the 21st century global workforce, maybe the conventional wisdom on college is wrong.  Maybe the conventional wisdom on the value of 4 years away from home at a cost of $150,000 isn’t pointing us in the right direction.  Maybe that exorbitant price for a little academic learning and lots of invaluable life lessons needs to be challenged.  The landscape of 2012 has changed quite a bit since 1984.

(Maybe I’m just cheap.)

Online colleges may provide a smoother and cheaper path to the same destination.  A 2 year trip around the world all expenses paid may less cost than 4 years of college and ultimately make my child more marketable in the business world.  The best road for my child may differ from the conventional wisdom, and may still help her arrive at her destination. 

The GPS doesn’t always give us the best advice, and skepticism is good.  Four years of college may not be the better route for every child, and skepticism is good.  Maybe it’s time to update our software, cross-check the results with a map and ask friends for some alternative directions to the American Dream.


Friday, May 18, 2012

A June Wedding

With all this talk about gay marriage in the politisphere, one particular marriage of recent vintage is getting overlooked.  I am referring to the arranged marriage of Mitt Romney and Congressional Republicans.  The Establishment Fathers demanded this union with a shotgun full of cash, and what the Fathers want, the Fathers get.    

Once Romney earned the nomination, he became bridegroom to the existing Republican Congressional leadership.  Their accomplishments (or lack thereof) and their general hysteria on a wide range of issues are his new platform.  The GOP leadership for its part is willing to overlook any of their new political spouse’s shortcomings because as we all know, this Massachusetts mate comes with a heck of a dowry.  Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.

This recent open letter from John Boehner to the nation spells out what Romney has vowed to love, honor and obey.   Its contents should provide fodder for one hell of a toast at the reception.

An Open Letter from House Speaker Boehner on the Accomplishments of the 112th Congress
June 2, 2012

Dear Fellow Americans and Democrats:

Now that Campaign Season 2012 is upon us, it’s time to look back and bask in the glory of our legislative accomplishments.  You voted for us to take action and we did.  In our first 2 years in power, we:   
  • Repealed the Kennedy Center Honor given to Barbra Streisand in 2008.
  • Renamed California “New Reagan”. (HR 1984, approved by voice vote)
  • Defined personhood in the law as beginning with “the twinkle in your father’s eye.” (HR 1973, sponsored by Michele Bachmann)
  • Significantly reduced the red tape associated with Medicare and Medicaid benefits by eliminating many of these program payments.
  • Privatized the Food and Drug Administration (“If a company produces food that kills the consumer, that company will not be in business for long – the survivors will take their food purchasing power elsewhere.  That, my friends, is the market at work!”  Rep. Paul Ryan, during the memorable floor debate.)
  • Required that activist judges wear a scarlet letter “A” on their robes during public hearings.
  • Added the first 5 of the Ten Commandments to the Constitution (unfortunately, we couldn’t get the second 5 Commandments out of Rep. David Vitter’s committee).
  • Lowered the tax rate for individual earners making over $500,000 per year to 0%. “These are the small business professionals, the entrepreneurs, the plumbers who took the risks to create jobs in this country.  They deserve the reward and the incentive to continue their pro-growth ways.  Anything more would be anti-success.” - Rep. Mike Pence
  • Designated the months of March through December as White History Months.
  • Voted to send the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution back to the states for one more vote, just to be clear.
  • Repealed DADT (Don't Ask, Don't Tell) in a demonstration of bipartisanship, and replaced with “Let Me Be Frank with You”, named after outgoing Rep. Barney Frank.  The new regulations allow openly gay individuals to serve their country with honor, assuming they agree not to make eye contact with fellow soldier and only participate in peace-keeping assignments.
  • Defunded the National Endowment for the Arts, and reallocated funding to where the money can work for the middle class - the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
  • Made self-deportation easier for illegal immigrants by empowering the local authorities to supply suspicious looking individuals with maps and other ‘incentives’ to leave the country.
And our signature achievement: Construction of a border fence along our Southern and Northern borders has been completed.  The fences are 15 feet high, topped with barbed wire and fully electrified, guaranteed to keep out global warming from the south, and global cooling from the north.

The deficit continues to rise, unemployment remains dangerously high, and spending has grown these past 3 years, but we will not take the low road and blame President Obama and his Socialist agenda for destroying the very foundation of capitalism and freedom and replacing it with his version of Sharia law.  While we fully recognize that economic conditions in this country are still below our lofty expectations, we also acknowledge that things will continue to deteriorate until the GOP has control of the Senate, White House, Supreme Court, and quite possibly Mexico.  We can say with pride, “We took your country back", just like you asked. 

We look forward to more political power in the future so we can to help you, the little people who do all the work in our great nation, do more for yourselves while we help ourselves.  We call that individual responsibility.

That's America to us.  Thank you for giving us your votes, and your freedom.


John Boehner
Speaker of the House of Representative

Please forward your comment and ideas to improve America to our website,, and don’t forget to Like Us on Facebook! 

Now if Mitt Romney can’t win with this kind of a legislative record to stand on, there could be an ugly divorce in November.  If the marriage goes south, I wonder who gets the House…

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Fight Club

There is nothing scarier than a bigot who doesn’t recognize his own bigotry.

Virginia delegate Robert Marshall has led the effort to block an openly gay man from becoming a district judge.  Marshall argued that a gay person on the bench could show bias when ruling in a case involving a gay and a straight person who got into a fight. 

“If you have a bar room fight between a homosexual and heterosexual, I’m concerned about possible bias,” said Marshall.

I like how his mind immediately goes to a fight between the representatives of morality and immorality.  He doesn't consider an employment case or a contractual dispute.  He goes straight for two men getting physical.  How telling, Mr. Delegate.

In the world of Robert Marshall, heterosexual judges would have no such bias when ruling in such a case.  The hetero judges would never be biased against gays.  Only gays possess the genetic predisposition to discriminate against heterosexuals.
In the world of Robert Marshall, membership in a group equates to a natural bias towards other members of that same group.  Blacks will favor blacks in all judicial proceedings, particularly if they have ever advocated publicly for the equal treatment of blacks in public policy (like Thurgood Marshall).  Women will have a bias towards other women, and in the case of domestic violence, will be too quick to blame the man and accept the testimony of their sisters.  They too must be stopped from becoming judges.

Marshall might argue that it is the potential judges former advocacy for gay rights that disqualifies him.  I doubt given his next statement that he would vote against a judge for advocating against gay rights, but judge for yourself.

Marshall takes his bigotry a step further by adding that “Sodomy is not a civil right.”  Not only is he a bigot, he is incorrect on the legal facts.  The U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 2003 Lawrence vs. Texas decision struck down criminal sodomy laws in Texas, rendering these laws unconstitutional.  This activity when conducted in the privacy of one’s own home actually is a civil right.  Unfortunately, your bigotry is also protected, although my right to denounce you is also protected. 

Governor Bob McDonnell, in a deft display of gutless delegation, had his office release a statement in response to Marshall’s bigotry.  In part, the statement made clear that “discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is not acceptable in state government.”  Good for you, Bob.  The man certainly knows how to pivot to the center during general election season, and perhaps Mitt Romney’s people are watching.  If he is lucky, the statement from his office will help voters overlook the transvaginal ultrasound debacle when heading to the polls. 

Robert Marshall unfortunately is not an outlier in the Virginia General Assembly.  That body voted against gay prosecutor Tracy Thorne-Begland’s bid to be a district court judge in Richmond early Tuesday, against the advice of Thorne-Begland’s former boss, Richmond Commonwealth's Attorney Michael N. Herring who might have a better grasp on her actual work product.

This is 2012, Virginia.  Can we rise up and speak in one voice that someone's orientation does not disqualify him or her from public service?  The national spotlight in the presidential election will be on Virgina as a critical swing state.  Don't embarrass us with this nonsense.  Do the right thing and allow someone to be considered on their merits

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Cleaning House

As a boy, we learn that to be a man, you need to shave.  A kid who shaves is mature, worldly and in the eyes of his peers, all grown up.  Many discourage the boy from shaving too soon.  “Don’t be in such a hurry to grow up,” we are told.  We do not listen.  We do not fear the potential nicks and cuts.  Our fear is overcome by the desire to be a man.  Some boys may heed the advice and wait until the last possible second to take a dangerous sharp blade to the neck.  Not me.  I wanted to grow up.  “Let’s get on with it.”
With slightly less enthusiasm, I approach my routine colonoscopy tomorrow.  Like that first shave, it is a rite of passage, not from boy to man but from man to old man.  When I turned 50, I knew that this procedure would be on the menu, and I vowed to be ready and face it like a man.  Technically, I guess “face it” would be directionally incorrect, but you get the point.
“Mr. De Ville, I’m ready for my close up.”
I know men that put this particular rite of passage off for as long as possible and that is completely understandable.  It is what doctors call “invasive’.  I imagined that it might hurt and cause some post-procedural discomfort, but it couldn’t hurt any more than getting that AARP application in the mail.  A colonoscopy might hurt for a day or two.  That application has been causing me a slow burn, sitting in my in box, for weeks now.  My insides are cramping just thinking about those senior discounts on travel and medical aids.
It was my belief that as soon after my 50th birthday as is reasonable, I should get this procedure done.  If insurance will cover it 100% as a preventative measure, it must be good.  With the trusty referral in hand, I called the physician’s office about 3 weeks before my actual birthday for an available appointment.  I would not procrastinate.  I was kindly informed that the doctor’s office does not set any appointments until the patient has reached 50 years of age.  I had to call back in a few weeks and then schedule the date.
This concerned me a little.  I was curious as to how many appointments were made by patients before their 50th birthdays but never lived to actually show up for the appointment.  Had to be a big number of no shows, otherwise, why couldn’t I get on their calendar now?  What did they know that I didn’t?  I wondered if their scheduling system was hard coded with the option for “No Show – Deceased Before 50th”.  My sphincter reflexively tightened.
Appointment Set
The preparatory instructions had some unusual restrictions.  No vegetables or nuts 2 days before the procedure.  I hate when you’re told that there is something that you cannot have.  You’ll never guess what I spend the whole day craving.  Now I know how tough it must have been on poor Adam and Eve.  They could have eaten anything they wanted, but Yahweh had to mention that the apple was part of their dietary restrictions.  Of course they craved apples after that.  No wonder they cracked.  Today, even lima beans sound good.
While some of the restrictions played with my food-deprived mind, the specificity of the instructions was comforting.  The worksheet took me through each day step by step.  What did trouble me however were the egregious spelling mistakes.  There were two that I could not countenance (or you might say, I couldn’t incontinence).   One was the word drinking spelled “dinking”, and the other was the word two spelled as “tow”  There was even a numeric ‘2’ after the word “tow”, just to be sure.  This lack of attention to detail from an organization that would soon insert a camera into my rectum gave me pause.  If they were this casual with their spelling, could I be confident that they could handle such a delicate procedure?  I needed a focused staff that took pride in their work, not some knucklehead who couldn’t diagram a sentence.
Moving Day
Well, tomorrow is the Big Day, so today is officially called Moving Day (in a manner of speaking).       
It was important to me that I weigh myself before the fasting and then soon after the procedure, before I resume a normal eating regime.  That way, when someone tells me that I am full of shit, I’ll know exactly how to quantify that statement by calculating the difference.  This may sound silly to you, but perhaps you are not told that you are full of shit as often as I am.  I need a number.
If there is one part of the process that I was looking forward to it was the house cleaning.  I was looking forward to having a colon so clean you could eat off of it.  It’s a small benefit that I know won’t last long given the demands of metabolism, but for a few hours anyway, I’ll have that new car smell.
Since the power wash was coming, I was confident that I could indulge myself a little without guilt. I had to completely overwhelm my intestinal track before the full house cleaning.  I needed a pork roll sandwich.
If you are not from New Jersey or those parts, you cannot appreciate the culinary delight of a grilled pork roll sandwich.  I prefer mine with cheddar cheese, mustard, and Classen pickle slices.  I ate that sandwich last night and it was delicious.  I ate it with the confidence of knowing that by 6 PM today, all traces of that pork roll would be washed away in the flood.  Should (God forbid) they discover any issues during the fantastic voyage, I promise you that Cherie will blame the pork roll.
Before I drink the magic potion however and stop using this keyboard for the evening, I read this:
From MSNBC today:
Colonoscopies could be made a bit more comfortable for people if they involved lying in a CT scanner, rather than being probed with an endoscope, and at the same time didn't require drinking upward of a gallon of laxative fluid beforehand — current requirements that most consider unpleasant.
A new type of "virtual colonoscopy" that uses CT scans to construct images of the colon, as well as to virtually "clean" the organ, was just as effective as a standard colonoscopy in finding colon polyps 1 centimeter or larger in size, a new study finds. Most polyps, or growths on the lining of the colon, are benign, but some can turn cancerous.
This is better than discovering the painless convenience of the electric Norelco shaver instead of the bloody inconvenience of the facially intrusive double edged blades, but the virtual colonoscopy news comes too late for me.  Soon, the light of day will shine on my crystal clean interior, and I will finally feel my age. 
Wish me luck.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Mad Libs Candidate

Mitt Romney is running the classic outsider campaign.  He is not a creature of Washington, he says.  He is a product of business world, the world of profit, loss and risk.  He comes from the “real world”.  He will lean upon this experience to reform how government operates. Entrepreneurs must adapt to survive.  Romney will adapt our system of government so it can survive in the big, bad global dog-eat-dog economy.  His guiding principle will be “WWBOD (What Would a Business Owner Do)?”

In one of Mitt Romney’s most recent speeches in Michigan, he said: “This is a time for new ideas, new answers and a new direction. That is the only way that our future can be better than the past.”

That is reassuring.  He is running on a platform of change and hope.  I am glad to hear that he believes that old ideas, old answers, and the old direction would not work in the new economic world order.  At least it sounds as if he would therefore reject any of the ideas that put us in this position in the first place. 

So what are his creative business solutions to the vexing problems we face as a nation?  What does his business acumen suggest would be the correct actions?  What would he do that the last GOP President and last GOP controlled Congress didn’t try?  If we decide to vote for him, we have a right to know, don’t we?

Here’s the Romney plan:  Lower taxes on the wealthy.  Deregulate.  Outsource to defense contractors.  Gut social programs.  Handicap labor. 

Not so creative and not so new.

These are the new solutions that he learned in the world of business?  I’m sorry, these sound more like empty platitudes design to win conservative votes without divulging real policy prescriptions.  At the risk of showing my age, I am wondering, “Where’s the beef?”  These prescriptions are exactly what the GOP has pushed for decades, nothing more, nothing less.  And they have been tried.  Economic success did not trickle down and deregulation ended up contributing to corporate fraud and abuse.

Maybe being a successful businessman makes you good at running a business focused on shareholder value and profitability.  It could be that being a successful businessman gives you a jaded and unrealistic viewpoint on what it takes to successfully lead a country not devoted to profit maximization at the expense of competition.  Really, if we are threatened by China, should we attempt a leveraged buyout or worse, a hostile takeover?

Paul Waldman writes that Romney’s “trust me, I’m a businessman” approach boils down to a simple leap of faith for the electorate - can you trust that someone who has been successful in one area of his life (given his wealthy head start, not to be confused with a healthy Head Start) can translate that success to another area of his life.  Is success in business a guarantee of success in government?

I don’t know the answer to that question, although Herbert Hoover ran on his business experience, and that didn’t work out too well.  George W. ran a business and he did a heck of a job running the economy…into the ground.  What I do know is that in order to consider Mitt Romney for President, we’ll need to know more than “trust me, I got this”.

From his Michigan speech:

“New and emerging small businesses and so-called gazelle, or fast-growing, businesses will spring up across the country by instituting pro-growth regulations, pro-growth taxes, pro-growth intellectual property protections, and pro-growth labor policies.”

Pro-growth regulations - Translation: Screw the environment and buyer beware; the invisible hand of market forces will protect the consumer in the brave new world of self-regulating markets (further translation – if your Ford Pinto explores upon a rear end collision, don’t worry.  People will eventually stop buying Pintos and the company will go out of business.)

Pro-growth taxes - Translation: Reduce tax rates on the wealthiest 1% even lower than they are today and convince voters that this tax savings for the wealthiest converts them into ‘job creators’ when this is factually inaccurate and wildly misleading.  Also used as a sneaky way to raise taxes on the poorest citizens and encourage them the value of work by mandating productivity increases that equate to asking workers to create bricks without straw.

Pro-growth intellectual property – Translation: I have no idea what he is talking about, and will assume that this is code targeted towards a particular class of potential campaign donors.

Pro-growth labor policies – Translation: Eliminate the right of workers to collectively bargain and return our great nation to those glory days when an employer could look you in the eye and say with confidence, “Get back into the shop, you lazy bum.  You’re lucky to even have a job.  Secretary of Labor Gingrich has millions of 10 year old kids ready to step in and do your job for pennies on the dollar so hold your water and stop grousing about that asbestos dust.”

Don’t hold your breath waiting for the details to refute my version, though.  Romney would rather remain a blank screen upon wish the electorate projects their own impressions:

“So I think it’s important for me to point out that I anticipate that there will be departments and agencies that will either be eliminated or combined with other agencies... So will there be some that get eliminated or combined? The answer is yes, but I’m not going to give you a list right now.”

His penchant for vagueness is becoming the stuff of legend.  He has put forth a tax plan, but it cannot be scored by the CBO because it lacks details.  His answer to that dodge is that Congress would work out the specifics.  He advocates a new direction in Afghanistan, but will not tell us what direction he favors.  “Before I take a stand at a particular course of action, I want to get the input from the people who are there.” 

Maybe the best description of Mitt isn’t the Etch-A-Sketch candidate.  Maybe he’s the Mad-Libs candidate.  His policies have the vague outline of a story, but it is up to others to fill in the wacky nouns, verbs and adjectives that will really make us laugh.  If it is former Bush advisors and former GOP nomination rivals throwing in those nouns, verbs and adjectives, the narrative might get out of hand.

If we’re not careful, we might laugh so hard at the result, we'll cry.