The real economic freedom in America

bo-inaug-2013

On Monday, Barack Obama delivered his second Inaugural Address. While the Right and the Left will argue over what was said there, here is the passage that I think embraces the struggle over not only “entitlements,” but of wages and unions, the dignity of work and the value of one’s life over another.

We, the people, still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity. We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit. But we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future. For we remember the lessons of our past, when twilight years were spent in poverty, and parents of a child with a disability had nowhere to turn. We do not believe that in this country, freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few. We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us, at any time, may face a job loss, or a sudden illness, or a home swept away in a terrible storm. The commitments we make to each other – through Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security – these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.

Systems that take care of our common needs free us to contribute more deeply. Teachers just want to teach, welders want weld. They do not want to be fighting their employers for job security, a livable wage or decent working conditions. That is why we need unions. The energy teachers spend fending off the barbarians nipping at their heels is energy that saps them from being outstanding teachers. Same with artists, poets, writers, musicians, journalists and philosophers. They just want to create, not worry and fight about making enough to make a living. When we rob them of their work, we rob ourselves of our own cultural advancement.

Doctors want to treat patients, not fill out forms, run small businesses and fight insurance companies. Every battle with an insurance agent robs us all of that doctor’s potential contribution to advancing health care to its exception.

Most of us will get old. Most of us will need medical care. All of us need education. When we free ourselves of that worry of how we will gain an education, survive our old age and our health, we free ourselves to live and contribute more deeply. This is not a liberal idea; this is a community idea. This is one area that our government can and should help us achieve.

It is not about cost. It is not about socialism. It is not about creating a nation of takers or Welfare Queens. It is about extracting excellence from citizens by freeing them from the anxiety of old age, student loan debt and bankruptcy due to ill health.

We should keep in mind that when the Founders drafted those documents Conservatives claw back to some almost two hundred fifty years ago, they were looking toward the future and seeing us as we are today. Perhaps we should honor them by looking forward to the country the United States of America will be in the next two hundred fifty years instead of pining to get back to the good ol’ days of the Founders.

Mitt the painter

While all the cable news shows are struggling with how to balance the odd appearance of Clint Eastwood and covering Mitt Romney’s speech, I went back and looked at the transcript and watched the video more times than one dog should be allowed. I nearly went deaf with all the dog whistles, but I soldiered on, trying to get to the essence of what he was saying.

The speech kinda rambled, trying to cover too many things too quickly, but one phrase popped out that lays bare the Romney thinking. It’s at about minute 33:50. So far, I think all the “analysts” have missed it. They may have been too busy focusing on the applause in the house instead of the words being said on stage.

President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet. MY promise…is to help you and your family.

For months, we have been told the GOP was the party of big ideas, of bold and brave decisions. I think this one statement — buried right after the five-part jobs creation plan that appeared to be ripped out of a freshman economics textbook — crystalizes what a Romney presidency would really be like. It is the one thing in the speech that is consistent with his life and his campaign.

While President Obama works to solve the structural problems that creates the symptoms, a President Romney would focus on solving the symptoms. What does it help your family if they are in a nice house that is being swallowed up by the rising tides?

In short, we will paint over the water stains, flip this country and sell it to the highest bidder. Romney’s America is not a country that needs the foundation shored up and invested in, it is a 1 1/2 story bungalow with a crumbling foundation that just needs a new coat of paint.

This is the essence of what Romney did at Bain Capital. He found a fixer-upper, leveraged it to suck wealth out of it for a few owners at the top and discarded it or sold it off to the suckers who thought they were getting a good deal. That’s not a bad thing, that is what private equity is supposed to be good at. But I’m pretty sure it is not the skill set a president needs.

America needs infrastructure investment like health care, modern railways, education, roads, bridges, communications, modernized banking, environment and power. She also needs help with the intangible infrastructure like happiness, relief from chronic anxiety and a boost of confidence. And yes, she needs more hope and change.

America does not need more paint on her walls.

Seventeen minutes that changed the world

Like many Americans, I stayed up late last night to listen to Governor Chris Christie deliver the keynote address at the Republican National Convention. I wanted to hear how Mitt Romney will transform the stagnant economy, how he will inspire us all to get up each morning and work; not because we have to, but because we are eager to build something our children and their children’s children can be proud of.

I was disappointed. What I heard was a tirade about how we need to quit whining, walk it off and get back into the coal mine. You haven’t yet lost all the fingers on your hands and your back is not yet broken.

When he finished speaking, I lifted my broken body from the coach, silently turned off the television and shuffled off to bed, feeling not only uninspired but a little more depressed. I prayed silently that I not wake up in the morning. Not in Chris Christie’s America.

But I did wake up. And on a whim — for the sake of comparison — I Googled Barack Obama’s 2004 keynote speech. I was reminded that life is lived in the moments, that seventeen minutes in a life can make a difference. Whether or not you voted — or will vote — for Barack Obama, would you not really want to live in an inspired America than a downtrodden and drepressing one?


On C_SPAN

I want to live there. I think many, many more do as well.

Why Mitt Romney should not be president

I don’t think Mitt Romney should be the President of the United States and not for the reasons you may think a left-leaning, socialist mutt would cite. Let’s take away the politics and look at the man running for president.

When I see Mitt, I think of the quote from Zed in Men In Black

Gentlemen, congratulations. You’re everything we’ve come to expect from years of government training. Now please step this way, as we provide you with our final test: an eye exam…

Substitute the word “government” for “upper class society” and you nailed Mitt.

The presidency is just the next step in a to-do list of things a good upper-crust American is expected to do. This is the formula for a legacy. It’s like he is fulfilling a high school résumé to get into a good college. It becomes problematic when we are watching the formula play out.

  • Private school: check
  • Missionary work abroad: check
  • Marry pretty girl: check
  • BYU degree: check
  • Create perfect family: check
  • Harvard MBA/Law Degree: check
  • CEO of a wealth-creating company: check
  • Community service (Olympics): check
  • Elected position (Gov of Mass): check
  • President of the United States: Working on it

And the list goes on to include things like become the elder patriarch, establish a Romney Foundation, etc, etc. It is the perfect data-driven life. Do that, get that result.

I think it was the late Mary-Ellis Bunim, the creator of MTV’s The Real World who once said (and I am paraphrasing because I’m not sure it was her but I’m pretty sure it was MTV) “If the audience ever sees our marketing, the show is dead.” The whole premise of the show — and why it worked the first season — is inscribed in the show’s opening narrative:

This is the true story… of seven strangers… picked to live in a house…work together and have their lives taped… to find out what happens… when people stop being polite… and start getting real…The Real World.

MTV knew they could fake real to teens only if they were successful in hiding the “man behind the curtain.” Once the curtain was pulled back, the gig was up, the magic was gone. The legacy of the 1992 The Real World is a swath of “reality” shows that don’t even pretend to be reality anymore, but rather modern day Gladiator fights.

I don’t often find myself agreeing with Rupert Murdoch*, but I agree with him when he says Mitt “lacks stomach and heart.” Americans like their president to have heart, passion and a depth of soul. Even when we disagree with them, think they are the worst thing to happen to our country in generations, feel they are illegitimate, know they are shady and shifty, we want — we need — them to have passion, fight and guts. We need them to look the world in the eye and say, “tear down this wall” or stand on a pile of rubble with a bullhorn in one hand or stand proud in the face of a plummeting economy on a cold Winter’s day and reassure us all that the only thing we ever need to overcome the deafening wail of economic darkness on the horizon is the tiniest bit of hope that can be fanned into a roaring flame of change.

Even when he attempts to stand up and connect on a visceral level with voters, Mitt falls flat. In his latest reaction to the jobs report this month, he called it a “kick in the gut.” A kick in the gut is losing your job today and your husband losing his tomorrow. A kick in the gut is surviving a spinal cord injury for several years and your wife/caregiver dies of lung cancer less than a year after you. A kick in the gut is surviving three tours abroad and getting into a car accident on your way home from the airport. A kick in the gut is not a crappy jobs report in the middle of a crappy economy. It may be a disappointment. It could be a bit of angst. It could also be a bit of an anxious moment, but it is not a kick in the gut.

Mitt Romney may have the brains; he may have the background and the connections to get things done, but he doesn’t have the heart and guts for what lies ahead.

*I agreed with Murdoch here.

Jobs

Barack Obama on Labor Day

I was going to skate past Thursday and not comment on this big jobs speech that President Obama is going to deliver tomorrow, but then @caroljsroth tweeted this morning:

I want to know what #jobs creation efforts/policies you are looking for as a small business owner. What would incentivize smallbiz to hire?

Oh, crap! I took the bait and replied:

Guaranteed customers. Seriously, that’s what I want.

I know, I know, it was flippant and snarky but it was what bubbled up on my brain at that exact moment. And I just blurted it out. I think a lot of other small business people are thinking the same thing. Washington and the media keep asking the wrong damn questions.

Here is the small business reality: Yes, we know that by hiring someone, that person will then spend money into the economy and eventually, when there are lots of other small businesses hiring, that will create more demand for the goods and services we provide. We get that. We really, really get that.

Theoretically.

But on a practical level, we’re all sticking our heads out the store front, not seeing any potential customers and saying, “I’m not gonna try it; you try it.” just like the Life cereal Mikey commercial.

In the back room, the banks — who have nothing to lose because they will get bailed out — are pressuring us for personal guarantees on any loan we sign. If I am the first to stick my neck out and nobody else follows, it is MY house and MY car and MY retirement fund that I will lose. And my government will not give a puppy’s pooch about me. Same with the SBA and other government-backed loan programs. Modern-day natural selection.

But back to the original question.

The president will most likely do some tax policy deal. Ugh. Tax policy tinkering never works for small business because the only thing we hear is the ear-piercing screaming of our CFO who just got back from a workshop learning about all the changes to the tax code from the last time Congress messed with taxes. Yeah, we all hate paying taxes, but taxes are a sign of success. If you make money, you pay taxes. If you spend money, you pay taxes. If you are neither making nor spending money, taxes don’t matter; even if they are set at 100%. 100% of $0.00 is still $0.00! Congress can’t give us a big enough tax incentive to hire anyway, so just quit trying. Please quit trying.

Policy change #1: Quit farting around with the tax code. When you make these “deals” it only sounds like someone is getting screwed somewhere. And that someone be us. Leave it.

Put your money where your mouth is. US government, YOU hire people to do stuff. Start with writers, artists, sculptors, filmmakers and musicians to create works open to the public. If we see that work, chances are people you are paying will start buying our goods and services and we’ll have to hire people to staff up. Pretty soon, the private industry employees every other small business is hiring will start spending money on our stuff and Uncle Sam can quit hiring people. We’ll probably offer better wages and benefits anyway and then those government jobs will just dry up.

Policy change #2: Direct hiring. Do not give money to the states and private contractors to hire people. They will just use the cash to shore up their bottom lines and bloat their stock prices.

That’s pretty much what I want to hear tomorrow. I’m not going to, but that is what it will take.

Otherwise, it will be the same ol’ waiting game we’re all playing right now.

President Obama was a bad man on the twitter yesterday

Barack Obama tweets GOP twitter accounts

Shortly after his speech yesterday morning, President Obama started tweeting out the twitter accounts of the Republican members of the Senate and House of Representatives on his twitter stream. All in all, he sent out about a hundred tweets throughout the day.

And some people got so enraged they unfollowed him. Mashable reported that he lost about 36,000+ followers.

Seriously. A handful of ideological lawmakers are holding the faith and credit of the United States of America hostage and you are complaining about an extra hundred tweets in your twitter stream? And the “bad twitter behavior” pisses you off more than what is going on in the House of Representatives right now?

You self-absorbed bag of bones.

Look around you. Being in the United States of America is what makes something like twitter even possible. Your being incensed that the president would dare send multiple tweets to sully the purity of your twitter stream are the threads that will undo what has been built by men and women who have endured far more than the annoyance of a few extra tweets.

Seriously, have a little perspective.

I’m beginning to think that social media is bit like giving a loaded gun to a monkey.

There is no right or left, only power. The real debt ceiling crisis

us constitution article one

Before I begin, I would like to disclaim that I am not a Constitutional lawyer nor do I pretend to be. But I am an avid reader, one who has read a lot of literature surrounding the pre-Civil War through Reconstruction period. The “mood” of the country, including its values about government, is richly portrayed in these works. I can also read the Constitution, especially the plain language parts that have not been seriously mangled by case law.

Since the end of the mid-term elections last year, the media and Tea Party have been debating this issue of the debt ceiling, mostly as a taunting device against the Tea Party debt and deficit ideology. It made for a good story line of hypocrisy. Most Americans had never heard of such a thing before this, but it sounded bad. Real bad. And for the Tea Party, it also sounded like something that could be used for political leverage.

But since few Americans have ever read the Constitution, fewer still have any idea what the issue is really about. The issue has nothing to do with debt or deficits; it has everything to do with the separation of powers. Congress needs to avoid forcing the Supreme Court to “fix” a glaring hole that House Speakers have been successful at covering over since 1787.

John Boehner knows that. So does president Obama. And by sending a letter to the Speaker in January asking for a clean debt ceiling vote, Timothy Geithner demonstrated that he also supected how the markets would react if it were ever seriously brought to their attention.

And the Tea Party has done just that. Oops. Really, really big oops.

The Constitutional issue:
Article I, Section 8 gives Congress the “Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts” and “To borrow Money on the credit of the United States.” In short, it gives Congress and Congress alone the power to tax, pay debts and borrow. Despite what the Republicans would like all of us to believe, the president has no taxation, spending or borrowing power. Zip, nada, nothing.

Article 1, Section 9 says specifically, “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.” That means that not even one dollar can be spent that is not appropriated by Congress. The president may have a discretionary budget for the various executive branches, but all of them exist and get paid for through the laws Congress passes.

The US Treasury is responsible for managing the money and cutting the checks, but it can only do so under the authority of the Congress. Blaming the president for spending is like beating up the newspaper boy for bringing me a paper with bad news in it. It is dumb and misdirected. But, since he is right there, he’s smaller than me, and there is only one of him, not 535, it is easier to focus my rage. The bottom line is the president has no legal authority to spend money the Treasury does not have.

Or does he?

The Constitution makes no mention of what to do if the Federal Government has run up bills because of laws enacted by Congress for which there is no money to pay. The Constitution says that only Congress can borrow money, but it does not obligate them to make sure money is there.

But then along came the Fourteenth Amendment that cemented the obligation of the United States to pay its bills for laws enacted by Congress. “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.” Still, it does not spell out specifically what to do if the United States Treasury runs out of money.

That, specifically, is the glaring hole raising the debt ceiling covers over and has for a very long time. Neither the Congress nor the President really wants the Supreme Court to decide how to fix this Constitutional issue. For each branch, it would be ceding power to the third branch; something that is even more loathsome to Republican legislatures (actually, all of them regardless of their party) than taxes.

More than likely, the Supreme Court would rule to compel Congress to act by either raising taxes or borrowing money to cover the shortage. And the debt ceiling approval from Congress would be lost forever as leverage. The House does not want to risk that.

But the Supreme Court could also rule that the Treasury Department can continue cutting checks without the approval of Congress, adopting the Gephardt Rule that had long been in place as law. Basically, the Gephardt Rule says by default, Congress is authorizing an increase in the debt ceiling when it enacts a new law. (More complicated than that, but you get the general notion. Google has more info.) That would put the president in the undesirable position of being responsible for increasing the debt and deficit of the United States of America. No more blame game. It would also destabilize the “borrow” powers, much like “declare war” and “wage war” is right now. Congress does not want to risk that.

The effect of pledges
I always found it somewhat perplexing that George W. Bush did not advocate to raise taxes after 9/11 to fund the War in Afghanistan when he clearly had the political capital to do so. Instead, Congress opted to borrow the money, mostly by selling US Treasuries to China. As it turns out, since most Representatives and Senators signed Grover Norquist‘s Taxpayer Protection Pledge, raising taxes was not politically possible. But borrowing money was. The pledge allowed for drunken spending by incurring unsustainable debt, but not increased taxes.

That was the first major step in plunging the United States into the debt it now finds itself. Add another unfunded war, Iraq and Medicare Part D on borrowed funds coupled with revenue reductions that Bush tax cuts created , the largely unregulated banking and mortgage industries and in short order, you clearly have a growing debt issue that is not easy to hide.

Follow the money
The first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton understood the United States of America was only as powerful as its ability to pay its debts. As a new country, the States could bluster all they wanted about life, liberty, pursuit of happiness, blah, blah, blah, but if it could not pay its debts, none of that mattered. The policy has held up well throughout history. We are after all, a market-driven race, sprinkled here and there with altruism. Sparingly.

But times have changed. The stock markets have gotten more global. There is no patriotism in corporations, only profit. The goal is to make money, whether you bet on or against the US Government. From what we have learned with the collapse in 2008, a lot of people can make a lot of money betting against the United States.

What has held and made Congress blink first in years past when the debt ceiling card was played with the threat of the Constitutional hole being exposed and the ability of the president to be able to clearly articulate the issue to the American people. Newt Gingrich tried it and quickly learned how skilled Bill Clinton was in talking plain language with ordinary folk. George Bush was never really challenged on raising the debt ceiling as he operated mostly with a GOP Congress, bound by the Norquist pledge.

But Barack Obama was something new. The GOP leadership — while apprehensive about going to the mat on the the debt ceiling issue — gambled that Obama would not be able to articulate the issue clearly enough to get the American people on his side. And they are kinda right. But what the “mature” GOP leadership did not understand fully is how cancerous and ideological the Tea Party would be.

I’m not sure if the legislators the Tea Party got elected are oblivious on the Constitution, are singularly focused on debt, deficit and taxes to the exclusion of their other responsibilities or are just stooges for the greater monied bosses that got them elected. I don’t believe in conspiracy theory, but I do believe in the power of mobs and the infectious contagion of simple ideology in favor of nuanced, reasoned thought. We are, after all, the country of fast food, the sound byte, CNN Headline News, Twitter and Snooki.

But the markets have become spooked, whether by sheer stupidity brought on by ignorance of the Tea Party-backed legislators or a long-formulated master plan I don’t know. And since we have ceded power of our credit over to the world-wide credit rating agencies (and kinda pissed them off with things like Dodd Frank) the great power of the United States of America is no longer really in charge of its own destiny.

What I do know is to follow the money and to ask who is likely to profit exponentially from the credit downgrading of the United States of America. I’m sure that is where we will eventually find our answer to what is really motivating the Tea Party, whether they are complicit or not.

The killing of Osama bin Laden

As the media launches it’s way into the play-by-play analysis of the Osama bin Laden raid, I’m left here struggling to figure out how I feel about the whole thing. I have come to the conclusion that I feel the same about bin Laden’s death as I do about the towers coming down on 9/11.

Brace yourself; it’s not anything an American living in a Red State will ever admit in public.

I do not feel fear. I do not feel joy. I do not feel any great swell of Americanism that compels me to rush out into the street shouting “U-S-A, U-S-A!” at the top of my voice or run to WalMart to buy the largest flag I can find and fly it from the highest flagpole.

I do not feel like anything life-altering has happened.

I do feel a bit ashamed that we are celebrating the death of someone, even if that someone chose to live his life committing evil and fostering evil and hatred. I do not feel happy or sad that Osama bin Laden is dead but I do feel sad that we are celebrating it with the same sort of cheering one reserves for the Super Bowl.

I feel dismayed that we have created an entire generation that has grown up in fear of terrorism and suspicious of each other instead of steeped in optimism and hope. Osama bin Laden did not do that to us; we did that to ourselves to win elections and to grab the reins of power.

I feel a massive tug of manipulation as the media work desperately to shape the “national mood” to fit a narrative instead of reporting it. I feel this event — like the 9/11 event — is being treated by the media like a book tour, a movie premiere or a CD drop complete with PR spin. They raise questions and then answer them, then treat the answers as if that was the news. Then, they report on what they heard based on what they said.

I feel like we’re being told how to feel by the warm-up guy in preparation for an upcoming election show. If we play our part, we’ll be rewarded with attention. If not, we’ll be ignored as fringe. Problem is, there is a lot of “fringe” out here.

I wish media would have stuck to a headline “Osama bin Laden Dead” instead of “Killed.” “Dead” states a face whereas “killed” injects opinion, conjecture and value judgments.

On Sept 11, 2011, the rest of the world was besieged by earthquakes, landslides and massive flooding. I know this because I had access to the AP Newswire all day at the Dayton Daily News. I had to ignore those stories and search instead for some angle, some news on the 9/11 story. These other stories went almost unreported for nearly a week as media crafted new narratives each day around the 9/11 story. And when that failed, CNN ran taped loops of the towers coming down and reconstructed timelines, much as they are doing now with the raid plans.

On May 1, 2011, tens of thousands of citizens in the South are still homeless as a result of horrific tornados. Fires rage in Texas. Oil still washes up from the Gulf. Gas prices are out of control at $4.19/gallon locally. Health care cost continue to rise at twice the rate of inflation. Housing prices continue to fall. Wages are stagnant. Unemployment is still high.

I think we need to start not only thinking for ourselves, but feeling for ourselves as well. I think we need to start embracing real feelings about things that matter more deeply rather that co-opting boogie-man feelings media report we should have.

Photo source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Osama_bin_Laden_portrait.jpg

Ask, Tell is not the opposite of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Since the Senate vote of 65-31 to repeal, I’ve been seeing people shouting “ASK, TELL” on twitter and in blogs as if removing the “Don’t” in front of each verb means the opposite. It’s a cute, catchy little marketing thing the masses can easily shout but it is woefully misguided.

The point of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal is that your sexual orientation did not matter concerning your ability to serve in the military. What matters most are your skills, abilities and attributes regardless of your sexual orientation. Using catch phrases like “Ask, Tell” is not only an incorrect representation of what the issue is about, but it gives fuel to the homophobic crowd to think that gays are claiming special rights instead of the fair and equal rights they should have been given all along. Throwing fuel on the fire is just continuing the fight after it has been settled.

Words have consequences. Even slogans have consequences. Think before you use them. Think before you hop on a bandwagon of chanting or retweeting. Just think.

Part of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal was also about rational thought trumping fear and prejudice. Make sure the scales are even, not swung wildly to the left.

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What Barack Obama is doing right or how he is navigating a room full of teenagers

I listened to President Obama’s press conference yesterday. I watched Chuck Todd ask questions and look really confused as he was getting a pretty straight-forward response from the president. Then, I watched as Todd was asked about the press conference later by the afternoon and evening “MSNBC Dog and Pony Show” hosts and how he went into editorial-hyperbole mode and got everything all wrong like he always does. Let’s remember, I watched the same press conference. I know what I saw and heard.

Then I watched the late night MSNBC hosts Olbermann, Shultz, O’Donnell and Maddow rip President Obama a new one for capitulating to the Republicans. Olbermann may have a point, but Maddow kinda glossed over some facts, like not every Democrat is on Obama’s team. Most are on their own “I have to get re-elected in 2 years” team so they are not really thinking clearly.

And I’m trying to figure out what the heck is going on that these otherwise really smart people just are not seeing. And here is how I can best explain it.

It is like being in a family of teenagers. The GOP is the teenager who is defiantly against anything mom and dad do. It doesn’t matter what it is, they are going to say “no” if mom and dad say “yes.” Just as simple as that.

The “professional left” is like an “entitlement” teenager who just found out that mom and dad are not really her best friends but her parents. And sometimes parents say “no” to things. Entitlement teens lash out at their parents by saying things like “you don’t love me” or “I hate you,” etc. Their “love” for mom and dad is rooted in what they can manipulate them into doing.

Now here is the kicker: The teenager is not capable of seeing past the end of their nose. They are not responsible for making the mortgage payment, keeping the water and heat on, making sure the gutters don’t leak, making sure the tuition is paid and there is food on the table. For most teenagers, food is magically produced when they open the fridge door. In short, they can afford to have me-centric opinions of the world. Someone else is paying their bills.

Parents can’t afford a me-centric view.

The GOP absolutely, positively, without a doubt would have blocked all unemployment benefits to over 5 million unemployed citizens with impunity. They are incapable of seeing beyond their own noses and view themselves as defiant for a cause, just like the defiant teenager sees his actions as noble and principled.

The Left wants it all right now and is really pissed off at her defiant brother whom she sees as manipulating mom and dad more effectively than she can, even though she is just as manipulative and devious with her false love.

Someone had to be the responsible parent, even if it meant that the defiant teen would gloat in victory and the entitled teen would be screaming “I hate you!” at the top of her lungs. And I think that is what we saw; a parent trying to do the best thing from a crappy list of options, who would risk the scorn of one teen and the vilification of another to keep the lights on for the family. At least for one more month.

Or not. You decide and comment below. I assume you care.

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Serving red-staters only

Three things of significance have happened in the past year that has made me pause and think that perhaps we may be on a trajectory that should reverse course.

1. The Supreme Court has ruled that corporations have the right to free expression, which enables them to give freely to any candidate they choose.

2. I made a visit to Jim’s Donut Shop in Vandalia, Ohio. There were a bunch of old men sitting around the counter and I jokingly remarked to the counter lady that this must be the place where all the political talks take place. “Just don’t be supportin’ Obama in here,” she candidly remarked.

3. I participated on a New Media Dayton panel about content and the question of identity online was asked. I made a joke about how we will see businesses force customers into Red State and Blue State lines depending on their political views and the ones in the line the brand supported would be served first. I was immediately taken aback by how true that is becoming.

Eventually, someone at a client organization will find this blog and connect it up to my real life person. There will probably be some discussion around a board table in which a comment like, “That boy leans too far left to be able to represent our brand with integrity. All in favor of firing that liberal, socialist commie, say ‘aye'” will be made.

Will business ever get to the point where they start thinking “your money is not green enough for us to take from you?” They did once upon a time in this country when no matter how much money a black person was willing to spend, business did not care to take it or treat him well based solely on the color of their skin. Still happens, but we’re less likely to put up signs.

Business is not nameless and faceless. Business is people. People have emotions, opinions and points of view that are not necessarily in line with their long-term best interests or survival instincts. Most times, they are not.

Will we get to that place where business refuses to serve you based on the color of your politics?

I hope not. But I have not been back to Jim’s Donut Shop since.

And never will.

Photo source: http://loc.gov/pictures/resource/fsa.8a33793/ Does using a photo in the public domain, stored by the US Government in the Library of Congress make me a socialist? I dunno.

You can prove anything with a good map and a few facts

Take a good look at the map below. It is a county-by-county accounting of the 2008 presidential election. The red counties are Republicans; the blue are Democrats. The map is widely available to anyone on the Internet and if you want to dig deeper into the numbers, you can visit the board of elections website for any county. Fascinating stuff really.

2008 Election results map by county

The map was recently used by Chip Wood on the ultra-Conservative web site PersonalLiberty.com as a way to explain that the Democrats really did not win the election by land mass or by population and that the United States of America is being governed by a minority voice. Fair enough.

Here is what is really going on. Rush Limbaugh uses this technique, so does Glenn Beck. So do many other Conservative bloggers and commentators.

They first start out by presenting a map or chart or even a single fact that can’t be disputed. You can look up the election results by county and you would see that Wood is 100% accurate. And then they slide in another fact that can’t be disputed like a calculation of county by land mass per each side. Here is where this all gets a bit fuzzy, but since these are still verifiable facts, you don’t see the slight transition of “truth” happening. To make sure their map or chart sticks, they use an exact number that is truthful, but misleading. In this case, Wood uses population to cement the fact that 143 million people were cheated out of their rightful place by 127 million people. Here is the little, itty, bitty flaw in that last statement.

While it may be true that 143 million people live in the red counties (I didn’t look it up, but I could easily verify it) it assumes by inference that all of those people living there were eligible or chose to vote and if they did, they would vote red. The assertion by inference was that 100% of each red county voted red and 100% of each blue county voted blue. That is not the case. It could have been 51% red and 49% blue, which means it was a red county. But the vote only counts people who actually got out and voted. Had 100% of the people voted, chances are good that the vote still would have been split about the same. But, there is really no way to tell.

What we probably should count in square acreage is not the actual acreage the county claims, but the amount of ground underneath each voter’s feet that a vote claimed. But then, counties with voters who have larger than average feet would throw off the numbers. I digress.

But the really good commentators who use this method know they are getting a nod from their audience at this point because they have used facts that are indisputable and a couple that stretched a conclusion based on the indisputable fact. Emboldened by their ability to mesmerize their audience, they now are free to assert their own assumptions. In Wood’s case, he asserts that the “overwhelming majority of voters in the red areas pay more into government than they receive; while … The majority of people [in blue areas] receive more in government benefits than they pay in taxes.” He goes further by saying that 45 percent of adults pay no income tax, inferring it is those blue area deadbeats who are not paying their fair share.

Wait a minute. How does he know that? There is no data provided in his article that allows his to make such a sweeping generalization. Besides, taking government comes in many forms. I offer this as an example. Yet few would argue that police and firefighting are government that is being doled out. But it is.

Let’s take a look at another example, and in full disclosure, I admit I did not do the research on what I am about to posit; I only offer it to get you thinking about alternative ways data can be presented and interpreted. If anyone wants to do the research, please have at it!

Let’s overlay a map of Walmart’s expansion on our political map, not Walmart locations as they are now, but as they expanded from Bentonville, AR. What we likely to see is an expansion into red areas on the political map. With each store location, Walmart negotiated tax incentives from the local governments in exchange for promises of jobs. In return, the citizens were promised lower prices for their goods and services. Explain to me how this is not deriving a government benefit? It may be convoluted and the check certainly does not arrive in the mail, written on a US Treasury account, but it is a benefit of government taxation nonetheless. And one of the worse kind; negotiated by a corporation whose primary interest is in making as much profit as possible at the expense of the government and the community.

Let’s look at another example. Few farmers are being paid to not plant. That once may have been the case, but it is really not true any more. What is more likely is huge expanse of farmland has been bought up by companies who mechanize farming and food production. Many of these companies take government subsidizes to plant corn for Ethanol production or corn syrup that enables us to keep food production costs and prices low. Without subsidies, farming companies would most likely sell the food to the highest bidder, many times this might even be a foreign nation. Subsidies to American farmers ensures the food will be used here first. Again these subsidies are not written out to individuals from the US Treasury as personal checks so it is easy for them to believe they are not getting any benefit for their tax dollars.

Or I could be making all this up as I go. Does it really matter? You’d believe anything cause I have a map.

By now, the commentator has wrapped himself in the flag and the duties, rights and responsibility of patriotism and inferring that anyone who doesn’t agree with his set of “facts” is a traitor. Having been grifted of their sense of logical argument faster than Addie Loggins passed twenty dollar bills in Paper Moon, the masses all nod in agreement. Having established credibility with the audience, the commentator continues making more and more outlandish claims, pointing to his established arguments just proved moments ago as proof.

Stay critical of anything you are told; left, right or center. Verify your own facts and make sure you draw conclusions from the long view, not just from a snapshot of history such an election map.

You are now free to pummel me with unsubstantiated facts, your grossly warped opinion or here-say you heard over the back yard fence from Aunty Mabel. Fair warning though, if you have not seen Paper Moon and are unfamiliar with the reference, you are disqualified as being too young to have a long enough view of history to be taken seriously.

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How health insurance companies gave Obama’s health care reform it’s second wind

In November, the Democrats were on the ropes. The GOP had just elected themselves a golden child with Scott Brown and tilted the scales back below sixty votes in the Senate. They had won two gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey. The media was calling the Health Care Reform bill dead. Time between now and the next election cycle was getting shorter and the drums of defeat were beating loudly.

But then the bill got the biggest shot in the arm from the insurance companies. They increased their rates 39% in California, cut off cancer-survivors in Youngstown, Ohio, jacked up rates all over the country and even sent this poor puppy a letter that increased his health insurance costs by 21.8% over last year.

That was the second wind.

Had the health insurance companies instituted a premium freeze for 2010, not cut off existing customers regardless of circumstances and sent letters out with the message, “We’re all in this recession together, so we’re not going to increase your premiums,” they could have taken the wind right out of the sails of the Reformers. They would have convinced the average American they were not greedy, money-grubbig heartless bastards, but caring, warm folks who only had your health in their hearts.

They would have gained the entire GOP and most independents as free PR agents for their industry. “They get it, we can make a difference!” would have been the rally cry and the Obama Administration and progressive Democrats would have been left fighting an enemy that simply no longer existed. By August, the country and Congress would have been embroiled in a mid-term election with Democrats fighting to explain why they spent so much wasted time fighting the benevolent insurance companies. Most likely they would have lost a few seats and the balance of power would have tipped a bit. President Obama would have then had two years of accomplishing nothing and the insurance industry would have been healthy for the next several decades, free to plunder and pillage recklessly while Obama’s successor’s successor worked up enough public passion to start another health care reform movement.

But they didn’t. They rushed hard toward the profit line, cutting off aunt Sallie who had cancer and facing a home foreclosure. They dropped health insurance for residents in Flint, Michigan where unemployment is 27%. They continued to increase premiums an average of 22% across the country, claiming it was necessary because of rising health costs. They tightened their grip on the wallets of those lucky enough to remain employed and even tighter on the small businesses and entrepreneurs trying to weather the economic downturn and tight credit markets. And yet, they continue to post record profits.

Sometimes you have to retreat back a few steps to advance forward.

But they didn’t.

Bad business, bad public relations. On that account alone, the health insurance industry deserves to go the way of the horse buggy, passenger train and telegraph industries.

WSJ photo change-up

I understand regional differences in editorial selection for newspapers and different editions based on a kind of soft “stop the presses,” but really WSJ, are you pandering to us in the “Pro-America” parts of the country?

At least we should be grateful the cadet wasn’t reading “Goin’ Rogue”

The national edition on WSJ.com. Notice the four stars which usually indicates a later edition.
The national edition on WSJ.com. Notice the four stars (three on the OH edition below) which usually indicates a later edition.
The edition I got this morning. Wondering how wide the circulation of that photo is.
The edition I got this morning. Wondering how wide the circulation of that photo is.