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On Hole Cards, Or, “Drill, Baby, Drill”? Why? Is Canada Out Of Sand? May 25, 2011

In America, today, there are three kinds of drivers: those who look at the other gas pumps down at the ol’ gas station and think: “Oh my God, I can’t believe how much that guy’s spending on gas”, those who look at their own pump down at the ol’ gas station and think: “Oh my God, I can’t believe how much I’m spending on gas” – and those who are doing both at the same time.

Naturally, this has brought the Sarah Palins of the world back out in public, and once again the mantra of “Drill, Baby, Drill” can be heard all the way from the Florida coast to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

But what if those folks have it exactly backwards?

What if, in a world of depleting oil resources, the last thing you want to do is use yours up?

To put it another way: why isn’t all our oil part of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve?

Consider the inexorable logic of the Big Lie. If a man has a consuming love for cats and dedicates himself to the protection of cats, you have only to accuse him of killing and mistreating cats. Your lie will have the unmistakable ring of truth, whereas his outraged denials will reek of falsehood and evasion.

–From the book Ghost of Chance, by William S. Burroughs

So here’s the thing: we produce a surprising amount of our own oil right here in the USA (in fact, we’re the world’s third-largest oil producer), but we don’t produce enough to cover our current use, and that’s why we import about half of the roughly 19 million barrels of oil we use daily. The vast majority of that is used in vehicles or for heating; almost none is used to generate electricity.

Our largest suppliers of oil, despite what you might think, are not all from the Middle East: instead, it’s Canada, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Nigeria, and Venezuela, in that order.

(Perhaps you’re thinking: “Canada? Oil?” Yes. Canada and Oil. They provide us with more than twice as much as Saudi Arabia from huge “oil sand” resources, primarily in Alberta; the exploitation of those resources has created a huge environmental controversy.)

Now if you ask me, an ideal situation would be one where we decided to get out of the business of using oil altogether – and to help make my point, we have some helpful numbers from a guy that you pay every day to figure this stuff out: Mark Doms; he’s the Chief Economist for the US Department of Commerce, and, to paraphrase Little Feat, he’s always handy with a chart.

According to Doms, 60% of our 2010 trade deficit (about $265 billion) represents the cost of imported petroleum products, and if things continue through December as they did the first three months of this year, in 2011 every American, man, woman, and child, will pay a “tax” of about $1000 to import all that petroleum.

Do you know what we, individually, spend on gas? In March of this year, the average household spent just over $300 on that month’s gasoline; 5 months ago that number was $56 lower. The way it works out, every time gas goes up 10¢ a gallon, it costs the average household another $7 a month.

And that’s not all: less than half of the total cost of imported oil is paid at the pump: about 44% of imported oil is used by businesses; another 15% is used by governments across the USA, and that means almost 60% of the cost of imported petroleum is “folded into” the price of everything else.

(A quick author’s note: you’ve seen the words “oil” and “petroleum” used liberally in this story; the exact literal reality is that in each instance we should really be referring to “petroleum products”, and that’s because we import and export not just crude oil, but a variety of other petroleum products. I get tired of using the phrase “petroleum products” over and over, and I’m probably using “oil” and “petroleum” more interchangeably than I should.)

So get this: if we were out of the importing oil business, we’d save about $300 billion a year – and as it turns out, over a 10-year period we could actually convert the entire US auto fleet to electric cars powered by windmills by providing $15,000 cash “buy-outs” for today’s 135,000,000 gasoline cars and building the wind generation and “smart grid” we’d need to support the effort…and doing all that would cost…wait for it…about $250 billion a year.

If I get the math right, 20 years after we first started building windmills and subsidizing cars, everything would be paid off; and every year after that the US economy would generate a $300 billion “profit” on our investment – unless the price of a barrel of oil goes up. If it does, the amount of money coming back to our wallets every single year from then on, obviously, also goes up.

And if we were out of the “using oil for driving” business, once everything was paid off we could put almost $4000 a year (in today’s dollars) right back in the pocketbooks of every family in this country – which, if you ask me, represents a pretty good “tax cut”.

Let’s also keep in mind that any new oil drilled on our public lands might not necessarily end up in the US; that’s because even if oil companies were 100% free to “Drill, Baby, Drill” in our waters to their hearts’ content…they’d also be perfectly free to sell as much of that same oil, anywhere in the world, to whatever entity might end up being the highest bidder – and today, our friends in places like India and China are desperate to be that high bidder.

Put all of this together, and you get back to the question I posed at the top of the story: why in the world would we be in a hurry to “Drill, Baby, Drill”, when we could, instead, put all our efforts into getting out of oil, which would save us so much money that the conversion pays for itself?

Then, when oil’s running $400 a barrel or so, let’s use our oil to pay China back the trillion dollars we owe ‘em…which, at current production rates, would only take about 400 days, assuming it were possible to divert all our production for that purpose.

To state it a bit more ironically, it may be that the smartest thing we can do right now is to conserve every possible drop of oil we have…until we don’t need it any more, and it becomes a sort of Strategic Cash Reserve that can help strengthen the dollar and reduce the national debt in the years to come, both at the same time.

Or to put it another way, the next time someone tells you they want to “Drill, Baby, Drill”…you can step right up, look them square in the eye, and ask: “Why do you hate America?”

And won’t that be fun?

 

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.)
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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.

 

On Open-Source Entertainment, Or, Today, Jon Kyl Meets Twitter April 14, 2011

So Arizona Senator Jon Kyl went and did a stupid thing the other day by claiming on the floor of the Senate that 90% of what Planned Parenthood does is related to abortions, and that, by God, we need to cut that Federal funding for abortions, and we need to cut all Federal funding for Planned Parenthood—and we need to do it today.

Of course, that 90% claim was total hooey; it turns out that only 3% of Planned Parenthood’s work relates to abortions. (The Federal funding for abortions part is, too; the Hyde Amendment made such funding illegal decades ago.)

When confronted, Kyl’s office released a statement claiming the Senator’s comments were “not intended to be a factual statement”.

Sir Rev. Dr. Stephen T. Colbert, DFA, decided to have a bit of fun with Kyl, and he challenged his audience to Tweet their own “Not Intended To Be A Factual Statement” about Kyl.

I decided to compose a Tweet of my own…and then another…and before I knew it I had an entire story’s worth; that’s why, today, we’ll be taking a taking a short break from the daily grind to have a bit of fun with a man who truly deserves it: Jon Kyl.

…I decided to celebrate Jon Kyl’s ground-breaking excystplanation last night by tweeting round-the-clock nonfacts about him:

“For the past ten years Jon Kyl has been two children in a very convincing Jon Kyl suit” and “Jon Kyl calls all Asians ‘Neil’ no matter what their name is”.

Both of which would be libelous if I hadn’t added the hashtag notintendedtobeafactualstatement.

Well, Nation, you picked this up and ran with it, using my hashtag to tweet your own nonfacts as an uprece-tweeted rate of 46 per minute!

Which, incidentally, is the rate at which Jon Kyl catapults puppies into the sea.

–Stephen Colbert, speaking on the Colbert Report, Wednesday, Apr 13, 2011

So I did a bit of math, and if Colbert is correct about that “46 a minute” thing then about 65,000 tweets went up in the 24 hours following his announcement, and they’re still going up fast; check out #NotIntendedToBeAFactualStatement at Twitter to get a feel for what I’m talking about.

Two Tweets by other writers sort of “bookmark” the types of missives that have been presented; Ben Cobb, writing as @MoltenPanther, Tweeted…

Jon Kyl started a squirrel farm to form a massive squirrel army in preparation for the coming apocalypse.

…and John Q, writing as @PencilName, wrote:

During an emergency, Jon Kyl can be used as a flotation device.

So with that in mind, here’s a few of my #NotIntendedToBeAFactualStatement submissions:

Jon Kyl’s head once served as a landing light for Senator James Inhofe at the Eufala, Alabama airport.

Jon Kyl listens to Radio Disney–and doesn’t know those are cover songs.

Jon Kyl likes KFC better than Popeye’s.

It used to be John Kyl…but he lost the “h” in 1979 after a night of drinking, and now he can’t find it.

“The KylBot AZ Mark II v.3.6505 is experiencing software malfunctions. Please try again later…”

Kyl’s head brushed against Trump’s hair on an airport runway last night. 450 passengers aboard, 0 injured.

On Saturday nights, John Kyl likes to dress up as a giant pretzel and get “stuffed in an M&M”

Why is Kyl so crazy? He gets 5 cents per page view every time he’s in The Onion–and he needs the money.

Jon Kyl once caught Larry Craig eating Cheeze Whiz right out of the can.

Jon Kyl once impersonated Flip Wilson so he could appear in the movie “Uptown Saturday Night”.

The most popular strain of medicinal marijuana in the United States today is “Jon Kyl”.

Jon Kyl can see Russia from his house.

Jon Kyl’s Malcolm X poster is covered by a Robert Mapplethorpe poster…so that no one will ever know…

Jon Kyl once snorted coke, but the bubbles really hurt his nose.

215,856 of Jon Kyl’s constituents signed a petition asking him to start smoking.

Jon Kyl’s iPhone has a dial.

Joe Arpaio is blackmailing Kyl with whatever’s on his original birth certificate.

I know where Lemmywinks is tonight–and so does Jon Kyl’s colon.

If Jon Kyl was a chicken-fried steak at Denny’s he would give you diarrhea the next morning.

Jon Kyl’s skull recently committed suicide. It was leading an empty life.

Jon Kyl never got that “Mulva” joke.

Powdered Toast Man once told Jon Kyl to go butter himself.

Jon Kyl once tried phone sex, but he didn’t have enough lube, so he had to quit.

Jon Kyl’s favorite kink is to dress up like a fence and play “Border Crossing”.

From 1977 to 1981, Jon Kyl appeared onstage as Tommy Chong. Cheech Marin was never told of the deception.

Jon Kyl used whiffleball bats for his entire Major League Baseball career.

On his days off, Kyl plays Carl on “Aqua Teen Hunger Force”.

Jon Kyl provides sanctuary for up to 800 illegal immigrants at a time in his at-home underground bunkers.

Wendy Williams’ wig head Shakeetha has a restraining order out on Jon Kyl.

Jon Kyl once had Hansen’s Disease–but then he got his “Mmm Bop” removed.

If Jon Kyl was in “Star Wars” he’d be known as Luke NotIntendedToBeAFactualStatement-Walker.

Jon Kyl’s Danny has never met its Dingo.

Jon Kyl once tried to Baskin his Robbins.

Jon Kyl’s brain has seen the news reports, and now it doesn’t want to come back from vacation.

Every defibrillator in Arizona recently signed a letter refusing to revive Jon Kyl.

If John Boehner’s tears ever touch Jon Kyl, he’ll dissolve.

So there you go: now that we’ve started the day out with a bit of fun, why not waste a bit of your boss’ time and direct a few Tweets of your own to Kyl?

And don’t forget: be smart, be funny, and be sure to add #NotIntendedToBeAFactualStatement to those Tweets—because after all, you don’t want to be out committing libel now, do you?

 

DADT Update: The Service Chiefs Report, The Republicans Fret April 11, 2011

There’s been a great deal of concern around here about the effort to prepare the US military for the full repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT), and I’ve had a few words of my own regarding how long the process might take.

There was a hearing before the House Armed Services Committee last Thursday that had all four Services represented; with one exception these were the same Service Chiefs that were testifying last December when the bill to set the repeal process in motion was still a piece of prospective legislation.

At that time there was concern that the “combat arms” of the Marines and the Army were going to be impacted in a negative way by the transition to “open service”; the Commandant of the Marine Corps and the Army’s Chief of Staff were the most outspoken in confirming that such concerns exist within the Pentagon as well.

We now have more information to report—including the increasing desperation of some of our Republican friends—and if you ask me, I think things might be better than we thought.

The Governments of the States Parties to this Constitution on behalf of their peoples declare:

That since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed;

That ignorance of each other’s ways and lives has been a common cause, throughout the history of mankind, of that suspicion and mistrust between the peoples of the world through which their differences have all too often broken into war…

–From the Constitution of the United Nations Educational,
Scientific, And Cultural Organization (UNESCO)

So let me start with the good news; I’ll do that by telling you what I though would happen, compared to what the Service Chiefs are now saying is going to happen:

My guess was that, due to all the process involved, we could be looking at a full year for implementation, and if the Services felt that they had to rotate all the overseas deployed forces back to the USA before they could complete training, you could easily be looking at 18 months.

That, as it turns out, was wildly inaccurate.

The Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, Peter W. Chiarelli, reported Thursday that his Service might be able to report they’re ready to certify by May 15th of this year; to make that happen they are going to train the troops overseas and at home, both at the same time, and they wanted us to know that they’ve already completed much of the “train the trainer” work already. They also expect to certify after about 50% of the training is complete instead of waiting for 100%, and that’s because the leadership believes they’ll know of any implementation problems that are likely to crop up by then.

The most outspoken opponent of the change in December, Marine Commandant General James Amos, says that he’s seeing far fewer problems than he expected, and he believes the move to open service won’t have any serious impact on his force.

Here’s how the Defense Department reported Amos’ testimony:

A department [of Defense] survey last year showed that about 60 percent of Marines in combat units had concerns about the repeal, Amos noted, but those concerns seem to be waning. The general visited with Marines in Afghanistan over Christmas and spoke with their commander this morning on the issue, he said.

“I’m looking specifically for issues that might arise out of Tier 1 and Tier 2 and, frankly, we just haven’t seen it,” Amos said. “There hasn’t been the recalcitrant push back, the anxiety about it” from forces in the field.

Amos said the Marines’ commander told him, “’Quite honestly, they’re focused on the enemy.’”

The Navy says they expect to complete their Tier 3 training (the final phase of training) as soon as the end of June; Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Gary Roughead told the Committee that he foresees no problem achieving a successful transition to open service.

(A quick note to the reader: I have been known to write satirical stories with crazy made-up character names, but the actual name of the actual Admiral who is tasked with leading the Navy into the era of open service is actually…Roughead. Some may consider this to be evidence of Intelligent Design; I continue to disbelieve.)

Air Force Chief of Staff Norton Schwartz, who also seemed to suggest, back in December, that trouble might be waiting on the road ahead, seemed far more confident this week; it looks like the Air Force might have Tier 3 training wrapped up by the July 4th holiday.

The Service Chiefs also announced that those who have been discharged under DADT will be eligible to petition to return to the military.

There is today a mechanism in place within the Defense Department to consider the petitions of those who voluntarily leave the military and wish to reapply; that system looks at what jobs are available, and, if it meets the needs of the Services, a job offer is extended to the applicant. (The individual might not return at the same grade or rank they held when leaving, however, and that would also depend on the military’s interpretation of what best fits military “force structure” requirements.)

At the hearing the Committee members were told that those who were discharged under DADT could reapply under the same rules that exist today for those who leave voluntarily; the same system that’s in place today will “work” those applications.

There was some not unexpected bad news: Republican Members of the House are just so over the top on objecting to this one that it’s ridiculous and funny and maddening and just awful, all at once.

There was begging (“if there was just some way the Service Chiefs could convince the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs not to certify, then we could all be saved” was the gist of that one), and fake expertise (“when I served we were all afraid of ‘em, and I can’t believe today’s troops still aren’t” is the rough outline of how that argument went and California’s Duncan Hunter was an example of one Congressman who fit into that “genre”); there was even an offer to do another survey so we can “do what the troops really want” (I can save y’all the time and trouble: what they really want…is to get the hell out of Afghanistan).

If the Grim Weeper had been in the room, I’m sure he would have had a big ol’ blubbery cry over the tragedy that’s befallen the Nation on this somber occasion—and it’s a good thing he wasn’t, because I have no doubt such a display would have once again caused Tonstant Weader to fwow up, just like that time back at Pooh Corner.

Among the Republicans there was a lot of preoccupation with the potential for men, in combat, in those close, confined, spaces…men who are depending on each other, night and day…to be subject to the advances of other strong, powerful, muscular, men in a variety of manly uniforms—I mean, as far as I can tell, there are Republicans who see this as some kind of eventual “Livin’ La Vida Loca” kind of situation, only, you know, a bit more butch, and I would love to know what in the world they think life aboard a Ballistic Missile Submarine or on a Forward Operating Base in Southeastern Afghanistan is really like?

Oddly enough, the predominantly male Committee didn’t seem as concerned about the possibility of female same-sex relationships impacting military readiness and unit cohesion in a negative way; if anyone has a guess as to why that might be the case I’m sure I’d love to hear it.

The military, to their credit, did a lot of pushing back against the Republicans. For example, at one point there were questions as to whether this would cause an unacceptable number of troops to leave the all-volunteer military. The response: right now the real problem is that as we withdraw from Iraq and troopers come home to a bad economy, too few want to leave.

They also spent a lot of time pointing out that “standards of conduct” already exist to manage sexual contacts and harassing behaviors between opposite-gendered persons, and that those very same rules will be used to manage issues of conduct in a same-sex context.

Risk mitigation is suddenly very important for some Republicans, and they do not want to repeal if there is any risk at all that the move could impact combat readiness or pose a hazard to the force.

That line of logic led to one of the most stupid questions I have ever heard asked in a hearing, ever, in decades of actually paying attention, and it came from Republican Vicky Hartzler (MO-04).

What she was trying to do was to show that the Generals would not want to recommend policies that add to the risk facing the troops. What she had been told was that the future risks of open service were as yet unknown (hard to know today with 100% certainty what the future holds), but that, based on progress made so far, the risks seemed to be low and that mitigations seemed to be in place for currently identified potential problems.

But what she asked the commanding officers of four military services was…wait for it…whether they had ever recommended sending their troops into heightened risk environments?

They actually all kind of seemed a bit stunned by the question—but they kept their poker faces—and then they reminded her that sending troops into combat is actually a bit of a high-risk activity.

The deer then jumped out of the way of the headlights, and the hearing resumed.

Look, folks, I am not passing along any news when I tell you that DADT still scares the loose buttons off a bunch of suits in Washington and that they still want to have this out anyplace they can—but it is news to find out that they are ahead of where they could have been over at the Pentagon, and that all the Service Chiefs do really seem to be on board, at least publicly, and that they are all reporting fewer problems than they expected as this process moves forward.

In a tough week it’s nice to report good news, and I think this qualifies—and if things continue at this pace, we could see certification and full open service before Labor Day.

Now I know we don’t usually give Labor Day presents, and to make it worse, we’re hard to shop for…but if there’s one thing everyone loves to get, it’s a More Perfect Union—and I bet once we try it on, there’s no way it’s going back.

 

Social Security: If You Can’t Kill The Program, Screw The People March 5, 2011

There’s a lot of ways to be petty and cheap and stupid, and a lot of ways to stick it to a program you don’t like, and by extension, the clients of that program…and this week the House Republicans have embarked on an effort to combine the two into one petty, cheap, and stupid way to stick it to the clients of Social Security and the workers who administer the program.

They’re going to sell it to you, if they can, as a way to “lower the deficit”, or words similar…but what this is really about is making the actual Social Security program work less well—because, after all, if a program is popular today, the best way to make it less so is to apply a bit of “treat ‘em like their cars were impounded” to every interaction customers have with the system.

And what better way to make sure that happens…then to aggressively demoralize everyone who works down at the ol’ Social Security office?

The foot less prompt to seek the morning dew,
The heart less bounding at emotion new,
And hope, once crushed, less quick to spring again.

–From Thyrsis, by Matthew Arnold

So here’s the deal, short and sweet: Social Security is amazingly efficient at running an annuity and income support program, both at the same time; in fact, in 2009 the Social Security Administration Old-Age and Survivors’ Benefit Program took in not quite $700 billion and disbursed $564 billion, writing checks to and serving millions of customers at the same time…and they did this with administrative expenses of about $3.4 billion—and that’s just about .6% of the distributions, all of this according to the Report of the Social Security Trustees for 2009.

In the private sector, companies who provide annuities have administrative costs that range from 50% to 500% higher. (Of course, Social Security doesn’t have to pay sales commissions.)

The Social Security folks are similarly frugal with the Disability Insurance Program (expenses run 2.3% of distributions), and if you combine the two the total is .9%.

Nonetheless, the plan from the House Republicans, who want to return to balanced budgets right now, if they are to be believed, is to cut $1.7 billion of those administrative costs from a budget of just under $12 billion in the remaining 7 months of the fiscal year, and, according to the involved union, that means in those next 7 months workers will have to take three weeks worth of furlough days to make that work.

If my quick math is correct it means they hope to close the office about 10% of the time while expecting the same amount of work to be done, which is probably not going to happen.

The likely end result will be callers who can’t get through without more of a struggle, checks that may or may not get out on time, an angry workforce, and a general result that equals more and more people saying “Social Security sucks”—and if you ask me, that’s the real goal of this effort: to make Social Security unpopular, thus setting the stage for more cuts to come later.

And just to put all this in perspective, we today give subsidies totaling about $4 billion a year to oil companies, apparently because gold-plated caviar is really, really, expensive, and the same budget-conscious House Republicans…every single one of ‘em…voted to protect that subsidy just a couple of days ago.

Social Security workers were out yesterday handing out leaflets to describe what’s going on, although as far as I know the leaflets didn’t say that this is just one more part of a giant plan that’s already raising its ugly head in places like Wisconsin and Indiana and Ohio and New Jersey: start a war against one group of American workers by claiming they’re not “real” workers or that they’re “special, extra-privileged” workers…and try to drag down all workers in the process.

A cut like this is a shot at these workers, and, by extension, all workers who might, you know, like a raise some day—and it’s also a shot at you, or your parents, or your grandparents, who will eventually have to deal with the results of all the cutting.

But in the end, it’s important to look at the bright side: the gold-plated caviar market will still be protected, thanks to that $4 billion a year in cash we’re donating to oil companies—and if I had to guess, BP’s senior management will not be looking at longer wait times the next time they call Louie Gohmert or Joe Barton or any one of a few dozen other Members who evidently represent Big Oil first…and Americans last.

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

 

Campaign Manifesto #3: On The Road, Defending Social Security February 28, 2011

So it’s Day 3 of my fake campaign for Congress, and we’ve run into our first obstacle

The Fake Campaign, as you may recall, is fake headed for Wisconsin, to show solidarity, and we’ve fake hitched a ride on a delivery truck headed for Rush Limbaugh’s Florida broadcasting studios—but we fake found ourselves caught up in the all-too-real Giant Grip Of Winter that has seized the Midwest over the past week.

We’re back on the road now, but we were stuck for darn near a half-day there at Wall…and if you know anything about South Dakota, you know there are really only two things to do in the City of Wall: you can shuffle back and forth between Gold Diggers and the Badlands Bar, partaking of numerous intoxicating liquors along the way…or you can head on into Wall Drug (the same one that’s on all those bumper stickers and signs) and partake of the finest display of Giant Jackalopia on the planet.

The Campaign, naturally, chose Jackalopia—and that’s why today’s Manifesto is all about the fake impromptu 5-cent-coffee-fueled Social Security Town Hall that we held in the Wall Drug Mall for several hours while we waited for I-90 to reopen.

Sitting quietly, doing nothing,
Spring comes, grass grows by Itself.

–From the Zenrin Kushu, attributed to Toyo Eicho

I-90, the main route from West to East (if your fake trip begins in Seattle, as ours did), was closed at Wall, South Dakota for about 24 hours this week, but this particular delivery truck just absolutely has to be in Florida by Monday…and the delivery is so important that to get us back on the road we now have a special escort of two South Dakota Department of Transportation snowplows and two 2011 “new and improved” South Dakota Highway Patrol Dodge Charger Pursuits (now with longer lasting brakes!) to make sure we get to the Wisconsin line in the shortest time possible.

With the weather being what it is, Jenna and Tendei, our driving team, have been earning their money, in a big way, this trip, and for the moment Tendei is asleep, while Jenna and I mull over the conversations we had tonight, me and the caravan of Wall Drug customers who gathered, first by the snake-oil salesman (that’s not hyperbole, either: they actually have an anamatronic snake-oil salesman), then out in front of the Western bookstore, and finally over by one of the 5-cent coffee stations.

It was my fault: standing next to the snake-oil salesman got me thinking about all the lies we hear every day about Social Security…which I mentioned to the 30-something couple standing next to me, young son in tow.

“If I didn’t know better, I’d guess the next words out of his mouth are going to be: ‘I’ll never see a dollar of my Social Security anyway, so who cares how they fix it?’.”

He looked back at me, all surprised: “We’re not ever going to see any; they tell us that all the time.”

“Yeah, I know…but it’s a big ol’ load of hooey, and I’ll tell you why: Social Security is funded by payroll taxes that are, for the most part, paid out as they’re collected, that means there’ll always be money that we will use to pay benefits, unless we just quit collecting that money altogether, which is not likely.”

We were beginning to gather a few others around us (hey, we were all stuck there—nothing else to do…); that means my gestures were getting a bit bigger—but there’s a nice echo in there, and you can be heard.

“The way things work now, if nothing changes, there will be enough money to pay out all the benefits we expect to pay until 2037. After that, if the ‘pessimistic projection’ plays out, even if nothing else changes, we can still pay 75% of what we expect to pay for about 50 years after that. We only look out 75 years at a time, so we don’t have a projection that goes out past 2084…but, pretty much, as long as we keep collecting the money, we’ll still be able to pay the benefits.”

I looked over at a 40-ish couple that had come over to listen: “What about you two? Right now there’s a lot of talk about ‘fixing’ Social Security by making you wait longer to retire or by making sure cost-of-living increases don’t really keep up with inflation. Don’t y’all feel like if they do that, you’re just getting screwed?”

It was almost like Parliament and “Question Time” in there for a second (which is not a George Clinton reference) as the 15 or so folks listening began to “harrumph” in agreement.

“Well how about if I were to tell you that I could fix this problem, and that I could do it without raising the retirement age or messing with your cost-of-living…and that I could do this in a way that gives every person in this room a tax cut at the same time…and that, even though I’m running for Congress, I’m not a snake-oil salesman?”

About two lives ago I used to be a failed stand-up comic (true!), and it is possible to know when the crowd is turning—and this was one of those moments.

The 40-ish husband looked at me and said, basically, that I did sound like a Congressman—and not in a good way.

“I know you don’t believe me, but listen to this: if you turn a wrench or carry a tray or do anything that makes under, basically, $105,000 a year in wages, all your income is taxed for Social Security…but if you make a million a year, you don’t pay any tax at all on the last $890,000…and if that income was taxed, we wouldn’t have a Social Security problem.

Now you don’t hear much about this back in Washington, and there’s a couple of reasons why: right off the bat, this President and this Congress don’t want to be accused of ‘raising anyone’s taxes’; beyond that, 2012 is coming fast, and both the President and the Grim Weeper are trying to be the one who can look at the voters and say: ‘I’m The Slasher, and I will cut the deficit and balance the budget faster than the other guy’.

Lots of people think cutting Social Security will somehow cut the deficit and reduce the debt, even though it has nothing to do with it at all, and some of them figure that if they campaign around cutting everything that government does it’s gonna help their political future, and that includes cutting benefits for people just like you, instead of just funding Social Security with a flat tax for everyone…even the rich.”

This argument, I might add, was starting to gain traction.

“Look at where we are right this very second: standing in front of a Western bookstore…and if you go in there you’ll see stories of how people died of starvation and how land barons ruled counties with an iron fist and how we fought range wars with imported hired guns and shootouts in the streets.

Is that what we want to go back to?

It’s not what they wanted. The pioneers didn’t just build isolated ranches, they built towns, and towns with a schoolhouse, so that the kids on those ranches didn’t have to rely on a home school education. They had a Sheriff or a Marshal and a Town Council and a Judge, because they knew that they had to create some rules and establish some government.

Some towns in the Wild West, and you know I’m telling the truth about this, didn’t even allow guns inside the town limits…just like when Wyatt Earp was the Marshal in Dodge City and you had to check your guns if you were going north of the railroad tracks.”

You know what? This was working: the crowd began to nod with me, and I figured while I had the advantage I’d press the thing home:

“Now a lot of people probably think the fix is in, and what’s the point…but I don’t agree. There was an effort at the beginning of this Congress to force these cuts by threatening to stop providing any money for the Government at the beginning of March if the ‘Wrecking Crew” didn’t get their way, and the Tea Party folks came in here with a big ol’ war cry about ‘shut it all down’ and all that…but now that March 4th is actually drawing close, and the public is starting to figure out what’s up, the message is suddenly all about ‘maybe we can extend the funding after all’.

That tells me that the people who think cutting everything in sight because it looks good are finding out it doesn’t always look good to just go around cutting everything in sight.

Tell ya something else. A lot of the people who want to change Social Security want to change it into a system that rewards people who manage Social Security accounts, not the people who own the accounts, and if you look at what ‘privatizing’ the system is all about, that’s what it is: it’s just a plan to get more money out of you in the form of fees and charges, which is going to be a great big reward to great big political donors who have been trying to make this happen since the 1980s.

So here’s the reality: there is enough money in the system to pay for you and your kids to have benefits, even if no changes are made, and if you just make Social Security a flat tax, even for the rich, we are pretty much guaranteed to have every dollar we need until at least 2084, and we don’t have to cut benefits or raise the retirement age, or do any of that crazy stuff…and we don’t have to give up our hard-earned money to big banks and Wall Street in the form of new fees and charges on your Social Security accounts.

So I came here in a truck, and it has to be in Florida in a couple days, and my driver friend is walking over here, and that means I gotta go, but I hope I told you something about Social Security you didn’t know a while ago…and if any of you are fake voting for a fake Congressional candidate in 2012, I hope you’ll keep me in mind.”

And with that, I fake shook a few hands, jumped in our fake truck, and headed off to Wisconsin.

 

Campaign Manifesto #2: In Which We Travel To Wisconsin February 21, 2011

So when we were last together, as you all know, I announced that I’m fake running for Congress in Washington State’s 8th District—and that I’m doing it because, so far as I know, the best way to get a candidate to truly “come out Liberal” is to be a fake candidate…and to make good and sure The Campaign isn’t out chasing money when it’s being done.

Having made the announcement, we’re already making our first campaign trip—and oddly enough, our first trip as a Congressional candidate will take us to Madison, Wisconsin, where we’ll link up with a few folks who, apparently inspired by me, have taken to the streets in a very big way.

When we get there I’ll need a parka, a nice hat, a thermos of coffee, and a big fat Sharpie—so let me go get it all together, and then we’ll be on our way.

All sober enquiries after truth, ancient and modern, Pagan and Christian, have declared that the happiness of man, as well as his dignity consists in virtue. Confucius, Zoroaster, Socrates, Mahomet, not to mention authorities really sacred, have agreed in this.

If there is a form of government then, whose principle and foundation is virtue, will not every sober man acknowledge it better calculated to promote the general happiness than any other form?

Fear is the foundation of most governments; but is so sordid and brutal a passion, and renders men, in whose breasts it predominates, so stupid, and miserable, that Americans will not be likely to approve of any political institution which is founded on it.

–From Thoughts on Government, by John Adams, 1776

Now for those who did not know, I am personally responsible for the marches and demonstrations that have been taking place in Madison, Wisconsin for the past several days.

What happened was that, just about two weeks ago, I posted a story at Uppity Wisconsin asking, literally, “Where’s Our Tahrir Square?”—and obviously, inspired by my posting and Scott Walker’s mad rush to power, the citizens of Wisconsin have responded to the call, and now the fight is on.

I need to get over there immediately and see what else I can get going—and if I can have this kind of impact in a State where I don’t even live, obviously my fake candidacy is off to a very, very, good start.

So the first thing I had to do was to arrange transit to Madison—as you’ll recall the campaign does not accept donations, so no private jet for this fake candidate—but lucky for me I have a few connections in “low places”.

As it happens, there’s a full shipping container of Oxycodone that arrives at the Port of Seattle every week from a certain Asian gray-market supplier, and that shipping container has to be in the back parking lot of Excellence In Broadcasting’s Network Broadcast Origination Center in Palm Beach, Florida by 6:13 AM the following Monday morning…and if it doesn’t make it, The Rush Limbaugh Show cannot go on the air that week.

I know the two drivers of that truck, and before 10 PM we were already passing through George, Washington (and, of course, the Martha Inn Cafe) and getting ready to cross the Columbia River on I-90.

It’s a late night driving across Eastern Washington, Idaho, and Western Montana, and before long the talk turned to bribery.

Tendei and Jenna (the truck drivers) wanted to know how I would get along in “the other” Washington, what with all the corruption and all, and that’s when we got to talking about my revolutionary new “corruption policy”.

“Well I’ll tell ya what” I said over the pretty much constant sound of Jenna playing “Bejeweled” from the desk in the sleeper (there’s a satellite internet connection…and I think Jenna may have stolen a few of those Oxycodones for herself) “the way I see it we already have bribery…we just call it campaign donations or soft money or corporate free speech or whatever, so what I propose to do is just make it all open and transparent.

Here’s what I mean: in the 112th Congress, Republicans are supposedly going to add statements to bills that explain where the Constitutional foundation for the bill comes from; what I’m going to do is add a statement to every bill that I introduce that explains just who paid for the bill, and how much.”

“No more moves!” Jenna started yelling from the back. “That…sucks!”

“Anyway” I said to Tendei, ignoring the sound of Jenna’s mouse smacking against the desk “in my bills, it would say something like ‘Platinum Contributors for this bill ($1,000,000) are the US Chamber of Commerce, Lockheed Martin, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Gold Contributors ($500,000) are Boeing, Xe, and the EG&G Division of the URS Corporation.’

So we’d list everyone, and that way you’d know who was paying for whatever hustle was about to be put on you.

I’m also thinking about ‘Bill Sponsorships’, which would allow naming rights for bills to be purchased by either interested corporations, private individuals, or groups.

For example, if we decided to lower the blood alcohol count for drunk driving in National Parks and other Federal Lands, we might end up with something like the…uh…the ‘Jack Daniels Cares About Drunk Driving Act of 2011”—but we’d be taking bids from all interested parties, and we’d probably need to get a least a million for something like that.

Tendei looked over from the driver’s seat: “But what about the bribes that get paid where no bill ever gets written?”

“Great question. What I’m thinking is that we set up a page on my Congressional website that works as a ‘Bribe Tracker’. When we get approached by a lobbyist who is looking to give us something, we put up a listing, and then if the bribe—sorry, ‘legal donation’—actually gets paid, we update the listing, so everyone knows who is paying what.

We could also add an EBay-like function, again, so that we can take bids on some bills when an auction looks like the best way to bump the price.

But all that only accounts for the incoming money. My voters want to know where the money is going to go after it comes in—and that’s where I’m really gonna get crazy.

I have two ideas for where the money could go. The first, of course, is right into the Federal Treasury, to lower the Federal deficit each fiscal year we run the program.

But the other idea is to let charities ‘bid’ for the money. In other words, charities would submit an explanation of what they would do with the money and how many private dollars they could ‘match’ for each one of ours…and the best bids win the money.

So what I’m going to do is let my voters decide what to do; The Campaign is setting up a poll and, as your fake humble public servant, I’m gonna let the decision be yours.”

Tendei looked impressed…but it was getting pretty late for both of us, with pretty much all of Montana yet to cross and Jenna looking to take the wheel for a few hundred more miles…so today’s Campaign Manifesto ends with Tendei taking the bottom bunk and the fake candidate taking the top.