advice from a fake consultant

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

On Happy-ing Their Gilmores, Or, Will Body Bags Be The New Gold Watch? April 26, 2011

We are continuing a recent theme here today in which two of my favorite topics are going to converge: Social Security and in-your-face political activism.

I have been encouraging folks to take advantage of the recent Congressional recess to have a few words with your CongressCritter about the proposed Death Of Medicare and all the proposed cuts to Social Security…and you have, as we’ll discuss…and now we have an opportunity to do something on a national scale, just as we did a few weeks ago in support of Social Security.

This time, we’re going to concentrate on fighting the idea that retirement ages should go up before we become eligible for Social Security and Medicare (and elements of Medicaid, as well), and that Americans should just keep right on working until the age of 67 or so—which isn’t going to be any big problem…really…trust us.

Now that just makes no sense, and to help make the point we have a really cool video that you can pass around to all your friends—and your enemies, for that matter, since they’ll also have to worry about what happens to them if they should ever make it to old age.

“…Art can create a climate of sensitivity in which it is possible for change to occur…”

Shabana Azmi, on Riz Khan’s Al Jazeera program One on One

Members of Congress are at home this week, and they love to go out and meet the voters—but it hasn’t been as much fun all of a sudden for some of them, and there are several videos out on the Web right now where it looks like Members wish they hadn’t been hanging out where the public could see them so easily.

Now some of these videos are loud and boisterous—but the one that should really scare Republicans was Charlie Bass’ appearance in Hillsboro, NH on the 4/20 holiday.

If you look at the crowd, they’re older, for the most part—and for the most part they came to the meeting with their own information, meaning that they weren’t so much looking for the Congressman to tell them what was up as they were looking to tell Mr. Bass (who represents the State’s 2nd District) that they weren’t too happy with him about this “entitlements reform” deal.

Now they weren’t there with pitchforks and torches by any means, and a lot of them were supportive of many of the Congressman’s other positions—but they were extremely unhappy about the idea that Medicare would become a voucher system (just so you know, Bass would insist that it’s a “premium support system” whenever the word “voucher” came up), and they did not find the argument that “this won’t affect you” very convincing, either.

In addition to the obvious question (basically, “why would the plan be better if it only sticks it to our kids and grandkids?”), a woman from the crowd asked a question I don’t think Karl Rove ever thought would come up: you might not be sticking it to senior citizens today…but she wondered what’s to prevent conservatives from coming back in a few years and asking those under 65 why they should be supporting those old people and their “Cadillac plans”—at which point it will be “stick it to the old folks” season, and Medicare will officially die, along with a lot more old and disabled people, sooner than they should have.

And he wasn’t the only one to have a bit of a tough week at what used to be really friendly Town Halls: Pat Meehan (PA-07) got himself into a shouting match with his putative employers, so did Lou Barletta, he of Pennsylvania’s 11th…and so did Catfood 2.0’s architect, Paul Ryan, who had to face what he politely described as an “enthusiastic” crowd in Milton, Wisconsin.

“Happy learned how to putt! Uh-oh!”

–Adam Sandler, from the movie Happy Gilmore

To put it bluntly, the Members are hating it, big-time, as it appears that their 2009 “Town Hall Goose” has suddenly become just a little too good for the gander.

And if we’re already making life hot for these folks…why not just keep on pushing?

That’s the idea behind “Don’t Make Us Work ‘Til We Die”, which is an effort of the fine folks at Strengthen Social Security to highlight the fact that a lot of people right now are proposing to raise the retirement age; either to 67, or to something north of that…for the good of America, of course.

After all, if you’re a firefighter, or a nurse, or maybe you work in the trades, or a restaurant kitchen, or you drive a gasoline truck…or maybe you’re a smokejumper for the Forest Service…why would working until 67 be a problem for you?

Here’s a video that makes the point very nicely:

(By the way, they would love for you to spread this video far and wide; grab the embed code and just go nuts—or, if you prefer, email the link—and in the interests of Full Disclosure: I’m associated with the Campaign for America’s Future and they’re one of the members of the Strengthen Social Security coalition.)
.
On Wednesday and Thursday all of this goes outside and hits the streets all across the country, and to make it easy, the same website can help you find an event near you—or, if you live in Wyoming or something, you can attend the “virtual event”—either way, just visit the handy website and go from there.

So there you go: we have Republicans feeling mighty uncomfortable all of a sudden, we have a chance this week to get out in public and make the point in a bigger way—and now you even have the perfect video to send to that one relative who always forwards you Michael Savage’s latest missives.

Now get out and keep the momentum going forward—and don’t forget, it’s really easy to look at the person next to you in line at the grocery store and say: “Can you believe how they’re trying to screw us out of Social Security?”

That’s about all it takes to get a pretty good conversation going…and if you repeat that process, about a million times…well, that’s how politics gets done.

FULL DISCLOSURE: This post was written with the support of the CAF State Blogger’s Network Project.

 

Social Security: Get On The Phone Tuesday And Wednesday And Help Fight Cuts March 27, 2011

So it’s been about three weeks since we last had this conversation, but once again we have to take action to try to keep Social Security from being the victim of “deficit fever”.

I know that doesn’t make a lot of sense, considering the disconnect between Social Security and the deficit—but once again it’s “Continuing Resolution” time on Capitol Hill, where some use the threat of an impending shutdown of the Federal Government to extract concessions from the other side…and some on the other side try to make points with the voters by out-conceding their opponents.

So Tuesday and Wednesday of next week, there’s a national push on to get voters to call their Senators and remind them to vote for an Amendment that is a big ol’ “I’m not willing to cut Social Security just because other people philosophically want to cut Government any way they can” kind of reassurance to the voters, and I’m here to encourage you, once again, to make a couple phone calls and do some pushing of your own.

I’ve also been storing up a couple somewhat facetious random thoughts which will be the “garnish” for today’s dish; you’ll see them pop up as we go along.

First, the I’m A Bit Confused Dept.: There’s an ad currently running on TV for a drug called Intuniv. The drug is for children who are suffering from ADHD, and the visual image features a mother coming out the doors of the school with her “now-perfectly-behaved” 11- or 12-year-old child.

What comes next is the warning that the drug might—well, I’ll just quote the Intuniv website…

“Patients should not drive or operate heavy equipment until understanding how INTUNIV affects them”

…and every time I see the ad I think that if my 11-year-old could drive and operate heavy machinery I might suggest giving the other kids ADHD so they, too, could grow up and have a valuable skill of their own one day.

As we discussed “above the fold”, the Strengthen Social Security folks are doing a nationwide Senate call-in Tuesday and Wednesday to drum up support for passage of S.AMDT.207, the Sanders-Reid Social Security Protection Amendment, and they’ve created a process to painlessly put you directly in touch with both of your Senators, even if you have no idea who they might be.

I tried it out myself, just to see what would happen, and here’s how it works:

You call the phone number (1-866-251-4044) and the friendly automated phone voice automatically determines your location and then informs you that you “are represented by Senators [insert names here]”—and all of this without your having to navigate a menu or push a button.

The friendly phone voice then tells you to choose a Senator (“…push one or two…”), and you’re then directly connected to that office. Before you go, you’re encouraged to call back and leave a message with your other Senator as well…and you’re also offered “the commercial”: a fairly precise (roughly) 10-second script for a message that you might choose to leave, suggesting that your Senator vote for that Sanders-Reid Amendment.

I have a plan to make nuclear reactors in this country safer, and to do it fast: every Member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, everyone who votes on granting or renewing plant licenses, every nuclear power plant inspector, and the top executives of any nuclear licensee…should all be required to move into on-site housing at the nuclear power plants they’re in charge of within one year.

(This idea might also be adapted to improve the lives of nursing home residents, and it’s the same kind of “enforced safety” thinking that led to the old rule that Army paratroopers had to pack their own parachutes.)

We’ve made other calls like this recently, and just like before, the goal here is to keep the pressure on, and to remind all 100 Senators that they all have voters who absolutely do not want cuts in Social Security, and that this is not the time to be trying to sneak something in under cover of “Continuing Resolution” darkness.

So there you go: on Tuesday and Wednesday call the handy number (1-866-251-4044), let the automated voice guide you to your Senators, tell them you want them to vote for the Sanders-Reid Amendment…and while you have them on the phone, don’t be afraid to suggest that nuclear power plant on-site housing idea either.

Fighting for want you want is a process, not something that happens all in one day, and you should expect more messages like this one as we go along, asking you to make your voice heard—but you should also keep in mind that we’ve been doing pretty well so far, and when we speak, we’re being heard.

So make those calls, apply that pressure…and let’s win this thing.

FULL DISCLOSURE: This post was written with the support of the CAF State Blogger’s Network Project.

 

On Taking It Back, Or, Wisconsin Recalls, Explained March 14, 2011

News is suddenly moving so fast that it’s becoming hard for me to keep up; that’s why we’re not finishing the story today that we just began Tuesday. You know, the one about Titan Cement suing two North Carolina residents who appear to be doing nothing more than speaking the truth.

Unfortunately, other important news has forced itself to the front of the line, and it’s going to demand that we break schedule, whether we like it or not.

That’s why today we’re going to be talking about Wisconsin, and how workers there are fighting back against the State’s Republican legislators and Governor, who seem to have gone out of their way this past three weeks to govern without the consent of the governed.

It’s kind of chilly today in Wisconsin…but I can assure you, things are heating up fast—and it ain’t because of spring.

“I will tell you this: Any business where two partners don’t trust each other, any business where one party says, ‘You need to do X, Y and Z because I told you,’ is a business that is not only not run well, it is a business that can never be as successful as it can be,”

–Former National Football League Players’ Association executive director DeMaurice Smith

As so often happens, we need a bit of background:

In Wisconsin, a recall involves first, the collection of signatures, then, if you get enough, a recall election.

Once the proper papers have been filed, those who want to recall an elected official have 60 days to gather signatures for a recall petition that equal 25% of the number of votes cast in the prior gubernatorial election in that “political subdivision”.

What that means in English is that if you’re looking to recall a State Senator and the last time a Governor ran, 50,000 votes were cast in that Senator’s District, you need to gather 12,500 signatures in 60 days to force a recall election in that District.

The election is not to ask the question: “Should this officeholder be recalled?”

Instead, the incumbent will run against other candidates, and whoever has the most votes either keeps or takes over the office.

It is possible that multiple candidates will emerge from within the same Party; if that happens a “recall primary” election is held.

A primary would take place four weeks after the signatures are turned in, the recall election itself would be six weeks after, and both elections would be held on a Tuesday; all of this according to Article XIII, Section 12 of the Wisconsin Constitution.

You can’t recall someone until after they’ve been in office for a year, so the Governor can’t be recalled…today…but because the Senate elects half of its Members every two years there are a group of State Senators who can be recalled; they were elected in 2008.

If three Republicans were to be recalled and replaced by Democrats, the State Senate would change from majority Republican to majority Democratic.

If you’ve ever been to Embarrass, Wisconsin (home of The Chair That Grew), you’ve visited Robert Cowles’ 2nd District. (For the record, it’s more or less 100 miles due north of Milwaukee, and there’s some football team that plays in Green Bay that’s also in his District.) He’s been a Senator since 1987, and in ’08 he ran unopposed. His District voted 52-46 for Obama over McCain in ‘08, and chose Bush over Kerry by almost exactly the same margin in ‘04.

I do not have a feel for who might run against him, but I have some calls out to try to get an answer; if I learn more, we’ll add it to the story.

One Senator who might be in trouble is Alberta Darling (so far as I know, she’s unrelated to cricket great Joe Darling), who represents District 8, which is basically Milwaukee’s northern suburbs.

In ‘08 she only won by 1007 votes (of about 100,000 cast).

It’s worth noting, however, that her District cast the most votes for Governor in 2010; as a result her opponents will be required to gather more valid signatures than in any other District (20,343, by one reckoning).

Her opponent last time was Sheldon Wasserman; he’s a former State Representative, an OB/GYN from Milwaukee, and a member of the State’s Medical Examining Board.

(On a side note, it looks as though the Governor might be messing with the Board as well; he refused to allow two recent physician nominees selected by the Board to be seated, and he’s apparently looking to nominate his own people.)

Just as in District 2, this District voted for Obama in ’08, and Bush in ’04.

Sheila Harsdorf, who currently chairs the Senate Committee on State and Federal Relations and Information Technology, was sent to Madison to look after the interests of the State’s westernmost District, “The Fightin’ 10th”, as Sir Rev. Dr. Stephen T. Colbert, DFA, would say.

Even though she thinks State workers are taking too much from the public Treasury…her relationships with the Federal Government are so good that she had no problem taking in $195,000 in Federal farm subsidies over a ten-year period for Beldenville’s Trim-Bel Valley Farms, of which she just happened to be a 50% owner as recently as 2008 (for all I know, she may still be an owner, more current information was unavailable).

This is another one of those Districts that went for Obama in ’08 by about just the same margin as it went for Bush in ’04.

Luther Olsen of the 14th (located about 40 miles or so due north of Madison) is another farm owner; he owns 20% of Waushara’s Riverview Farm; they also happily accepted at least $58,502 of your money and mine, because Olsen, like Sheila Harsdorf, apparently believes that’s a better use of our money than, you know, paying a public school teacher or something.

(Fun Fact: did you know Golda Meir, the former Prime Minister of Israel, used to be a Milwaukee public school teacher?)

Olsen did not face an opponent in ’08…and once again, this District went Obama in ’08, Bush in ’04—although it went about 4 points farther for Bush than for Obama.

And that brings us to Randy Hopper.

This District (the 18th, which most notably includes Oshkosh and Fond Du Lac) is another one of those Republican seats that are considered among the most “gettable”; that’s because just 163 votes separated Hopper and his ’08 opponent, Jessica King.

There’s also this:

“I have a lot of correctional facilities, a couple universities, and a couple of tech schools [in my district]. I have the second largest population of state employees in the state.”

Hopper also chairs the Senate Education Committee…and there’s also a story going around that his wife is telling people that he’s been providing some “private lessons” to his 25-year-old mistress down in Madison; this according to the MAL Contends… blog—and that’s not going to help a family-values candidate.

He owns two radio stations, one an AM-talk Ag Report and Hannity broadcaster, the other an FM station that caters to the “music at work” market; this may allow him to mitigate some of the potentially-about-to-occur bad publicity, and certainly can’t hurt at election time.

Perhaps the most unrepentant Republican during this process has been Glen Grothman of the 20th (which actually, literally, includes Fredonia, and that has to have some deeper meaning…), and he can afford to take a strong stand.

This guy might well be a mortal lock in this District: the Sheboygan area is one of the most reliably Republican-voting regions of the State over the past 30 years, and of all the Senate candidates who faced opposition in ’08, he won with a larger margin of victory than any of ‘em. (He didn’t get 61% of the vote in ‘08…he won by 61% of the vote.)

(Fun Fact #2: Our friends at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel created these two most excellent voting trend maps for your dining and dancing pleasure; they illustrates how Wisconsin can swing wildly back and forth between Republican and Democratic “electoral domination”.)

Moving on: Mary Lazich, of the 28th, occupies another seat that is going to be tough to get—her District encompasses Milwaukee’s western suburbs (a reliably Republican voting region; in both ’04 and ’08 Republican Presidential candidates won with over 60% of the vote), she did not face an opponent in ’08, and this is another District that will require more than 20,000 signatures to force an election.

“…Fate has been hounding me like a Mormon missionary with an Amway franchise…”

–A. Whitney Brown, appearing on the television show Almost Live!

We’re going to complete today’s “Recall Roundup” with one of the most vulnerable of all the Senators: Dan Kapanke, the Senate Majority Caucus Chair (and a pretty good ”get” if you’re running a recall campaign). He’s from the 32nd, which is all the way across the State from Milwaukee, on the Minnesota border, pretty much in Wisconsin’s southwest corner.

He won by less than 3 points in ’08, his District voted 61%-38% for Obama over McCain…and 53%-46% for Kerry over Bush in ’04, which is the largest margin of any of the 8 Republican Senators currently under recall threat. (Go back and have another look at those voting trend maps, and look at what’s happened to this corner of the State.)

He’s hard right on social issues, but the Farm Bureau loves him.

He is quoted as saying that he expects the signature gathering effort in his District to be successful (only about 15,400 signatures are needed) …and he’s also quoted as having the belief that there is such a thing as a Wisconsin State Senate arrest, despite the presence of an “immunity from arrest” clause in the Wisconsin Constitution.

As of March 8th, 57% of voters in the 32nd would rather have “generic” than Kapanke in a recall election, and they had to close the road outside his house on Friday to keep the hundreds of peaceful protesters gathered there safe.

Now before we close today…we need to offer “big ups” to DavidNYC, who posted a fantastic interactive results spreadsheet at the Swing State Project site; we’ve been referring to it a bunch in this story and you should have a look at it yourself.

And with all that said, that’s today’s “scorecard”, folks, and you can keep track of all the races—or volunteer to help—from one handy location: WisconsinRecall.net…so bookmark the spot, help out any way you can, and let’s start with Wisconsin…and then move on to Ohio and Indiana and Michigan next.

 

On Being A Titan, Part One, Or, See It, Say It, Sue It March 9, 2011

Got a simple little story for you today of a multinational corporation that wants to build a great big cement plant in North Carolina really, really, bad, and the local opposition to what appears to be a corrupt and distorted decision process.

Two local activists in particular have drawn the ire of Titan Cement, the Grecian corporation who seeks to build the plant—and because the Company doesn’t like what the activists have been saying about what the impact of that plant will likely be or how the deal’s going down…they’re suing Kayne Darrell and Dr. David Hill, residents of North Carolina’s New Hanover County, and the two folks who are doing the complaining the Company dislikes the most.

The Company further claims that they were slandered and defamed by the damaging statements that were uttered by the two at a county commissioners’ meeting and that they have lost goodwill and the chance to do business with certain parties as a result of these statements.

But what if everything the Defendants said was not only true…but provably so—and the Company was, maybe…just looking to shut people up by sending teams of lawyers after them?

As I said, it’s a simple story today—but it’s a good one.

We have tomorrow
Bright before us
Like a flame.

Yesterday, a night-gone thing
A sun-down name.

And dawn today
Broad arch above the road we came.
We march!

–From The New Negro, by Alain Locke

So here’s the deal, as it sits today: for a number of years now Titan Cement has been looking to build this great big cement plant near the environmentally sensitive North Carolina coast (part of the site includes 600 acres of “pristine wetlands”), and part of running a cement plant is running cement kilns.

Ya gotta cook limestone, sand, and clay, along with some other ingredients, at very high temperatures (above 2700 degrees F), which sort of fuses everything together; that makes “clinker”, which eventually becomes cement, and that’s why you need giant kilns and, often, pre-heater towers.

You need fuel for those really hot kilns and towers, and our friends at the Army Corps of Engineers advise that, in the kiln fuel game, you can actually kill two birds with one limestone by burning hazardous waste as a substitute for anywhere from 20% to 50% of your original “fuel of choice” (which is often coal).

According to the Corps, you can burn 12 tons of fuel an hour in one kiln, and that means up to six tons of…

byproducts of pharmaceutical, cosmetic, and electronics manufacturers;
solvents and inks used to print newspaper and other publications;
solvents used to recycle paper;
dry-cleaning solvents;
paint thinners and paint residues;
sludge from the petroleum industry;
used motor oil;
agricultural wastes;
and scrap tires.

…might be going into the mix every hour—and as it turns out, that stuff might contain:

…arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, nickel, thallium, and zinc.

Now if you’re burning that stuff, it’s either going up the smokestack or out the door as a component of the clinker you just made, and if you live anywhere near this plant, you’re going to be at least a little concerned…and if you have the impression that the people who are trying to get the permits are running a big ol’ hustle to get those permits, you’re going to be even more concerned…and it looks like that’s what’s been going on…and if you put all this together, and you lived in the neighborhood, you might show up at a local County Commissioners’ meeting and say something like this

“From lawsuits for price fixing and court-ordered mine closures of Titan’s Florida plant, to allegations of corruption coming from Raleigh, to emails raising suspicion whether Titan was ever even considering any other location, which would make incentives completely unnecessary, the clouds of corruption grow dark as new controversies emerge almost daily.”

…or this…

“The bottom line is we know from numerous studies that if we build this thing, more children will get sick, a handful of them will die. We also know from the adult studies that more adults will get sick and quite a few more of them are going to die as well. Which ones? Can’t tell you. That makes it difficult, but there will be some.”

…which are the two utterances which are today at legal issue. (Ms Darrell is being sued for the first statement, Dr. Hill, the second.)

The reason we are all gathered here today is to figure out whether either of those statements are truthful or not…because if the statements are truthful, they cannot be either slanderous or defamatory.

So let’s break it all down, one clause at a time:

Ms. Darrell talked about lawsuits for price fixing, and sure enough, CemWeek (“Global Cement Industry. Knowledge”) ran a story in October of ’09 entitled “Nine US cement companies accused of price fixing”, describing a lawsuit filed for price fixing in which Titan was one of the Defendants.

Court-ordered mine closures? Coffey Burlington, attorneys at law, recount their success with a certain case on their website (Sierra Club v. Army Corps of Engineers, Rinker Group, Tarmac America, Florida Rock Industries, APAC-Florida and Miami-Dade Limestone Products Association), which did in fact result in a court-ordered mine closure of Florida facilities operated by Tarmac America, which is a Titan subsidiary.

Allegations of corruption? How about this, reported in January of 2010 by the Wilmington, NC, StarNews:

A corporation that shares an address and president with a Titan America subsidiary bought a Wilmington office building for more than twice its tax value from Democratic fund-raisers under scrutiny by state and federal prosecutors.

To add to this element of the story, the current Governor, Bev Perdue, has asked the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) to look into Titan’s permitting process, which is something that usually follows allegations, if I recall correctly.

Let’s move on: the folks in the Wilmington, NC, area have a private economic development committee that has negotiated secretly with Titan for some time; the result of that effort was the decision to provide $4.2 million in local government incentives to Titan.

But here’s the thing: if Titan never meant to build anywhere but on that one site, and they still hustled the community for the incentives by using the threat of building somewhere else…well, that’s why Ms. Darrell was talking about:

“…emails raising suspicion whether Titan was ever even considering any other location, which would make incentives completely unnecessary…”

In 2008, Keith Barber, he of Wrightsville Beach Magazine, documented Titan’s multi-decade interest in this particular location:

Titan has made very little effort to conceal the fact it plans to move forward with construction of a cement plant and limestone mining operation on the banks of the Northeast Cape Fear River. In a 2005 interview with Titan CEO Aris Papadopoulos in Cement Americas magazine, Papadopoulos confirmed the Greece-based company had been considering building a plant in Castle Hayne for nearly two decades…

… In addition, even though the permitting process is 18 months to 2 years out, the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) Web site reveals that CSX Railroad is already constructing a new spur track at the site of the proposed Carolinas Cement Company.

The Charlotte News & Observer documents the existence of those pesky emails in a January 2010 editorial:

…[Titan lobbyist John] Merritt said he would talk to then-Commerce Secretary Jim Fain. Earlier, he had advised a company spokeswoman on how to respond to questions without raising suspicions that Titan might not qualify for a state grant.

“It is very important that the company not do anything that suggests that this is the only site you are looking at,” Merritt e-mailed. And sure enough, in its application for incentives Titan asserted that it was considering sites elsewhere.

Let’s jump in for just a second and take a look at where we are:

Ms. Darrell made this statement…

“From lawsuits for price fixing and court-ordered mine closures of Titan’s Florida plant, to allegations of corruption coming from Raleigh, to emails raising suspicion whether Titan was ever even considering any other location, which would make incentives completely unnecessary, the clouds of corruption grow dark as new controversies emerge almost daily.”

…and based on what we’ve seen so far, every single word of that statement turns out to be absolutely, provably true:

–There was a price-fixing lawsuit.
–There was a court-ordered mine closure of Titan’s Florida plant.
–It’s alleged that something funny was going on with that office building, and North Carolina’s SBI is investigating.
–We did in fact discover that emails exist raising suspicions as to whether Titan was considering any other location.
–And here we are, talking about one of the new controversies that emerge almost daily.

Today’s tale of legal bullying is running pretty long already, and we still have half of the story to go…so let’s take a break for today, and we’ll pick this up by looking at the statement made by Dr. Hill when we get together next time.

In the meantime, if you’re keeping score…I’m thinking that after Round One, it’s Defendants, 1, Titan, 0.

 

On Contradiction, Or, Will Obama Lose An Argument With Himself? January 16, 2011

There have been many unlikely things that have happened this past month or so: some of them appearing as legislation, some of them appearing in the form of Republicans who set new records for running away from the words they used to get elected—and some of them appearing in the markets, where, believe it or not, many Europeans finds themselves wishing for our economic situation right about now.

There are even improbable sports stories: our frequently hapless Seattle Seahawks, the only team to ever make the NFL Playoffs with a losing record, are today preparing to knock the Chicago Bears out of their bid to play in the Super Bowl, having crushed the defending holders of the Lombardi Trophy just last week before the 12th Man in Seattle.

But as improbable as all that is, the one thing I never thought I would see is Barack Obama getting into a political argument with himself over Social Security—and then losing the argument.

Even more improbably, it looks like there’s just about a week left for him to come to a decision…and it looks like you’re going to have to help him make up his mind.

“He who was prepared to help the escaping murderer or to embrace the impenitent thief, found, to the overthrow of all his logic, that he objected to the use of dynamite”

–From The Dynamiter, by Robert Louis Stevenson and Fanny Van De Grift Stevenson

So we’ll keep this all just between you and me, but I’ve been hearing a few things this past week, and I figured we’d start by filling you in on the inside dirt:

The State of the Union address is coming up fast (January 25th, in fact); obviously Social Security could become a hot topic during the speech. If it does, here’s what’s potentially going to occur:

–The President will announce a spirited defense of the program, and tell the world that he will not support any cuts in your benefits, and that we’ll clear up the funding issues by raising the cap on the payroll tax.

–He’ll announce that he has decided to support cutting your benefits by backing proposals that would again raise the retirement age and would cause the annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to go up by less than the actual cost of living…which is just another way of sneaking in a cut to your eventual benefits.

I’m told that option number one is the least likely of the two…which is something you might not expect—especially if you were paying attention to what Obama was saying about Social Security when he was out looking for our votes in 2007 and 2008.

Here’s a good example: in November of 2007 he appeared on Meet the Press

“…and when you look at, how we should approach Social Security, I believe, that, uh, cutting retire–, uh, cutting benefits, is not the right answer…I meet too many seniors all across the country who are struggling with the limited Social Security benefits that they have…that raising the retirement age is not the best option, particularly when we’ve got people who ware [sic] still in manufacturing…”

There’s more: Candidate Obama wrote an op-ed piece (Fixed-income seniors can expect a tax cut) in September of 2007 for the Quad City Times that was designed to influence the way Iowa voters thought about his chances of being President one day. Here’s what he had to say then:

“Second, I do not want to cut benefits or raise the retirement age. I believe there are a number of ways we can make Social Security solvent that do not involve placing these added burdens on our seniors. One possible option, for example, is to raise the cap on the amount of income subject to the Social Security tax. If we kept the payroll tax rate exactly the same but applied it to all earnings and not just the first $97,500, we could virtually eliminate the entire Social Security shortfall.”

This is what he told the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) on the occasion of the group’s 50th anniversary, just about two months before the ’08 election:

“…but John McCain’s campaign has gone even further, suggesting that the best answer for the growing pressures on Social Security might be to cut…cost of living adjustments or raise the retirement age. Now let me be clear: I will not do either.

…I think that’s why the best way forward is to first look to adjust the cap on the payroll tax. 97% of Americans will see absolutely no change in their taxes under my proposal. 97%. What it does allow us to do is to extend the life of Social Security without cutting benefits or raising the retirement age.”

Naturally, if you looked at all this and said: ”Well, what’s the big deal, exactly?” you’d be making a reasonable point…but the problem, from what “background” conversations are suggesting, is that there is an effort afoot to get the President to agree to these cuts as part of a “Grand Bargain” that might include an extension of the debt ceiling, which is going to have to be voted on before March, and possibly other elements of dealmaking as well.

And naturally, if you watched how the President negotiated issues like the “public option” and the tax cuts last December…well, a reasonable person might worry that the same kind of deal is about to be made right now.

To make things worse, there are stories afoot that suggest this President is looking to cement a legacy here—and a legacy that consists of “I rescued Social Security” would be a fine narrative for the ’12 campaign…as long as the “rescue” isn‘t accomplished on the backs of those who can afford cuts the least.

“But what I’m going to continue to insist on is that the reason we need to fix it now is precisely to protect our senior citizens and maintain not only Social Security as a social insurance program, but also make sure that the benefits are sufficient so that we don’t have seniors in need.”

–Barack Obama, on Meet the Press, November 11, 2007

So what’s to be done?

As you can imagine, this is the time to start flooding the White House switchboard (202 456 1212) to let them know that you want the President to listen to his own best arguments and stick with raising the payroll tax cap.

This is also the time to get your Members of Congress and Senators on the phone—and whether they’re Republicans or Democrats, it’s not going to be hard to remind them that if they screw this one up…they’re going to make permanent enemies out of…millions of registered voters.

So get to it.

We have about a week—and if you want to save your own Social Security future…you better get up and make it happen.

 

On Starving In Prison, Or, Who Gets Pardons In Florida? December 30, 2010

If you were with us on Christmas Day you heard the story of Betsie Gallardo, who, unless something changes quickly, is going to be intentionally starved to death in a Florida prison after being convicted of spitting on a cop.

In fairness, the State did not decide simply to starve her; instead, the Department of Corrections (DOC) first chose to withhold any further treatment for her inoperable cancer…and then they decided to starve her to death.

Her adopted mother is trying to get her released on humanitarian grounds; the DOC recommended in October that she be allowed to go home and die, the Florida Parole Commission refused.

Governor Charlie Crist chairs the Executive Clemency Board, who could also agree to let her go…and so far, they’ve also refused to take action.

Funny thing is, the Governor and his Board have been more than willing to step in when other Floridians requested pardons and commutations, even in situations that seemed a lot less dire.

Today, we’re going to look at that history—and to be honest, as with many things in the Sunshine State, from the outside…it all looks a bit bizarre.

“Forgiveness, particularly at this time of year, is a very worthwhile message for all of us to be reminded of…”

–Florida Governor Charlie Crist, December 9, 2010

So right off the bat, if you’re 21 years old and you’re having sex with a 15 year-old, you’re looking at some trouble if the police find out. In fact, you’re going to be regarded as a sex offender in the eyes of the law if you’re doing something like that and you get caught.

But as it turns out, in Florida, if you marry the young person in question, you can get a pardon. In fact, it comes up often enough that they’re called “Romeo and Juliet” pardons, and the Executive Clemency Board actually handed out a couple of them in 2009 to John Kemp and Virgil McCranie, who were dating 14 and 15 year-olds when they were originally convicted.

Actually, you don’t even have to marry the minor in question if you can obtain their consent for the underage sexual encounter and demonstrate a reasonable degree of remorse: that happened to Gregory Allen, who was 40 when he was convicted of having sex with a minor.

Describing the events that led to Allen’s conviction, Alex Sink, who was not elected Governor to replace Crist:

“…later expressed frustration with the state’s classification of people as sex offenders even though they may have been convicted of having consensual relations.”

Suzanne Squires killed her own daughter and seriously injured another woman while driving drunk, and just this month the Board commuted 12 years of her 23-year sentence so that she could return home to her family.

18 year-old Jennifer Martin was driving way too fast, and in the eventual crash she killed one of her passengers, and injured another, although she was sober when she did it; she received the second commutation granted by the Board under Crist’s chairmanship when her 16 year sentence for manslaughter by culpable negligence was cut in half in 2009.

The Doors’ Jim Morrison, who is not at risk to die in prison, was posthumously pardoned by the Board just this month for an indecent exposure “event” that took place in 1969. Reached for comment, Morrison suggested that these were strange days indeed when he could be pardoned in death and Betsie Gallardo can’t be pardoned in the final days of her life.

Donald Keehn lent a neighbor $7,000. When she couldn’t repay the debt, he drove by her house and shot up the place—five times.

He was 88 at the time, she was 66, but instead of starving him to death because of his cancer, congestive heart failure and kidney failure, the Board chose to commute half of his five year sentence in 2009 and set him free.

Remember when I suggested that Florida, to the outside observer, seems a bit bizarre?

Well…consider this:

If you date underage girls in ”Chain Gang Charlie’s” Florida you can get a pardon or a commutation. In fact, if you do…they even have a special name for it.

If you kill someone drunk driving—or even driving sober—there might be a commutation for you, too.

Did you ever wag your penis onstage 40 years ago, then die, and now you’re having trouble finding a job because of your besmirched reputation? Governor Crist wants to help—and the Board has his back.

Have you ever committed a series of drive-by shootings, and then developed a series of serious physical problems that make you seek a commutation so that you can go home and die? Florida will find a way to let you out.

On the other hand, if you spit on a cop, and then you develop inoperable cancer…and your name’s Betsie Gallardo…Florida not only won’t let you out of prison to go home and die—they’ll starve you in prison, just to make your death come a bit faster.

Wanna discuss any of this with the Board? Here’s some handy contact information for Crist and the other three members:

Charlie Crist, Governor of Florida
(850) 488-4441
E-mail: charlie.crist@myflorida.com
http://www.flgov.com/contact_governor

Bill McCollum, Attorney General
(850) 414-3300
Click here to e-mail Mr. McCollum
www.myfloridalegal.com/contact

Charles Bronson, Commissioner Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
(850) 488-3022
commissioner@doacs.state.fl.us
http://www.doacs.state.fl.us/

Alex Sink, Chief Financial Officer Florida Department of Financial Services
(850) 413-3100
Alex.Sink@myfloridacfo.com
http://www.myfloridacfo.com/

I don’t know how many of you remember the show “Daria”, but all of this reminds me of an episode of Sick Sad World—except that in this case the application of outside pressure is having an effect on the DOC…and that means we need to keep the pressure coming.

If we drag them to it, kicking and screaming, I’m sure the State of Florida will be just as compassionate and humane toward Betsie Gallardo as they were to all the other fine folks you read about here today—and with your help we’ll be able to write a happier ending to what has been, so far, a rather unhappy story.