advice from a fake consultant

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On Doing Better Than 50%, Or, Could More “Made In USA” Mean More Jobs? August 16, 2011

We gotta grow some jobs, and that’s a fact, and we probably aren’t going to be able to do it with big ol’ jobs programs funded by the Federal Government, what with today’s politics and all, and that means if this Administration wants to stay in the jobs game they’re going to have to find some smaller and more creative ways to do it.

They are also going to have to come up with ideas that are pretty much “bulletproof”, meaning that they are so hard to object to that even Allen West and Louie Gohmert will not want to be on record saying “no no no!”; alternatively, solutions that work around the legislative process entirely could represent the other form of “bulletproof-ery”.

Well, I have one of those “maybe bulletproof” ideas for you today, and it has to do with how “Made in USA” the things are that our Government buys.

The archer sees the mark along the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows might go swift and far.

Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;

For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so he loves also the bow that is stable.

–From The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran

For the rest of the story to make sense, we’ll have to define a term; specifically, “Made in USA”.

Most manufacturers in the US have to meet a very stringent standard before they can refer to a product as “Made in USA”; here’s how the standard is described by the Federal Trade Commission:

Traditionally, the Commission has required that a product advertised as Made in USA be “all or virtually all” made in the U.S.

There are special rules, most notably for automobiles (also textiles, wool, and fur), but for the most part everyone else goes by the “all or virtually all” standard when they claim something is “Made in USA”.

With one giant exception.

When the Federal Government “Buys American”, anything with over 50% US content is considered “Made in USA”; this according to the provisions of, naturally enough, the Buy American Act, 41 USC 10a – c. (Beyond the law, there are also certain Federal Regulations and Executive Orders involved; for now we’ll just call it all “the law” and let it go at that.)

Now there doesn’t seem to be anything immediately evident in the law that would prevent the Federal Government from purchasing more than 50% US content if we wanted to, and the Big Idea here today is that if government at all levels began to purchase more than 50% US content, we could create more US jobs, now and in the future, and we could do it with a minimum of muss and fuss.

Obviously, there are practical limits as to how far you could take such an approach (for example, good luck buying a Made in USA laptop), and the current law has exceptions that reflect that reality.

But consider this: there are about 450.000 vehicles in the Federal inventory (that does not include military combat vehicles), with roughly half of those belonging to the Postal Service; the General Services Administration buys about 65.000 vehicles a year (they run the Federal motor pool, and that’s the other half of the inventory).

Beyond that, think of all the billions upon billions of dollars of more mundane things the government buys every year: janitorial supplies, paper and toner, desks and chairs…well, you get the idea; now imagine if more of all of that was made right here.

One example of how we can do better can be found in Celina, Tennessee, where a garment factory that was doing work for the Air Force found itself unable to compete for a subcontract on $100 million worth of uniforms being made for the TSA; that’s because the uniforms were being made in Mexico instead.

If the work was being done here, it could mean about 300 jobs in a town that could really use ‘em. (By law, military uniforms are supposed to be made in USA; that’s an imperfect process.)

Some things already are restricted: if we don’t have a reciprocal trade agreement with a country, they generally can’t sell to the US government; China and Taiwan fall into that group.

I’m often guilty of running stories too long, so we’re going to cut this short today with a summary…followed by a cliffhanger that should keep you looking forward to Part Two:

Government buys a whole lot of stuff, and we could be buying more of it in the USA, and if we did, it could translate into jobs in places like Celina, Tennessee.

But it’s not as simple a picture as you might think, and when we get together next time, we’ll talk about the impact of free trade agreements on “Made in USA” purchasing, we’ll get the AFL-CIO’s reaction to all of this, and, if all goes well, we’ll see if we can provide official reaction from the Obama Administration.

And even though you’ll be sitting in your seat…you’re only gonna need the edge…

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On Organizing Anger, Or, Could Olbermann Primary Obama? August 6, 2011

It was just a couple of nights ago that Keith Olbermann was challenging us, in one of his “Special Comments”, to rise up in the streets and take back this country.

He pointed out that the only way those on the left were going to be able to fight against those who are looking to get all “Tea Party” is to be as angry and as organized and as aggressive as the Tea Party community, and if we’re smart, we’ll take him up on that challenge.

But if you really want to push “professional” Democrats to the left, most especially this President, and you want to do it in time to impact the ’12 cycle, the only way to do it is to run a candidate in primary contests that either moves the conversation your way…or leaves you with a surprising new Candidate.

And right here, right now, we actually have a chance to do exactly that – and that’s why, in today’s discussion, I’m going to challenge Olbermann right back.

“Then white men began to fence the plains so that we could not travel; and anyhow there was…nothing to travel for. We began to stay in one place, and to grow lazy and sicker all the time. Our men had fought hard against our enemies, holding them back from our beautiful country by their bravery, but now with everything else going wrong, we began to be whipped by their weak foolishness…”

–Pretty Shield, of the Crow Nation, quoted in the book The Native Americans: An Illustrated History

So imagine, if you will, how the political conversation would be different right now if this President was facing a primary challenge from an unabashed Lefty.

Let’s go further: just imagine how things would be different over at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue or over at the Capitol if someone announced they were running against this President from the left – and on the day that person announced, they had 15-20% of the Democratic electorate in their pocket, with an increasingly unpopular President on the other side.

Now imagine if that person had no qualms about “pooping in the Democratic pool”, and was willing to call out the Party establishment for having let the Nation down in so many different ways these past couple years, which would presumably make that candidate very interesting to those who support the interests of Labor, just to give one example.

And most importantly of all, imagine if this President, having just caved, again, for a second, and, soon, a third round of Republican hostage-taking (and facing a fourth in January of 2013), had to face a riled-up and articulate opponent on a debate stage.

Of course, for that to happen, you’d need a credible figure with national recognition, and in this environment, it wouldn’t hurt if that person wasn’t too closely associated with either Washington or the existing political parties.

(All of this would also make that candidate interesting to centrist voters as well; you’ll recall that the ’08 Obama Campaign appealed to many centrist voters for many of the same reasons.)

It also wouldn’t hurt if that person looked like a President, and even better, if that person was entirely familiar with the world of television.

So think about all that for a minute…and after you do, consider this: is there anyone else out there that you’d rather see primarying this President than Keith Olbermann?

Now let me take a minute and talk directly to you, Mr. Olbermann:

I know you said that it’s time for us to get organized and angry, but in this media world, if you don’t have Astroturf to get your movement off the ground, you need a celebrity with respect in all the right places, and that describes you pretty well.

Movements need to raise money, and if you were to go out there and do a week of hustling, I’ll bet you could raise seed money from both the “Left Coast” and “Upper West Side” communities (and you might even be able to hit your boss up for a donation); you could also draw a lot of PAC money (Labor, for starters, the gAyTM, for another) and lots of individual, enthusiastic, Internet contributions – and what happens to the political conversation if the Olbermann Campaign begins to raise money at a pace that puts The Fear on the Obama Campaign?

Al Gore took a big risk, and a made a big financial commitment besides, when he decided to bring you over to Current, and I don’t want you to have to worry about what’s going to happen over there; with that in mind I’m going to suggest that we ask Michael Moore to step in to take the wheel for a short time, at the same time you let Schuster run the actual newsgathering operation, so that we know you’ll be able to come back to something that has been in pretty good hands.

“…(baseball is) our national pastime, that is if you discount political campaigning.”

Ronald Reagan

Before you dismiss this idea out of hand, Keith (can I call you Keith?), I want you to think about one thing, and I want you to think about this very, very, carefully:

You know what happens to those lucky few who actually make it through a Presidential campaign and win?

They get to throw out the first pitch of the new baseball season – at least four times.

You could take a few months out of what you have done so well and really change the direction of this nation’s politics, and you could think of it as a patriotic duty– but it would also be an incredible learning experience, and you’d come back to your own job with an understanding of the inner workings of realpolitik that very few on television could ever match…and after it’s over, since you wouldn’t be running again, you could actually talk about “where the bodies are buried” in a way no one else can.

Maybe you’re thinking: “How can I be credible if I have no real ability to run a government?” The answer can be found, literally, right here.

The Blogosphere is entirely capable of providing the appointees who would run a Government – after all, we have experts, including a Nobel laureate, to run an economy (Secretary of the Treasury Paul Krugman? Robert Reich for Council of Economic Advisors?), and folks like Lawrence Wilkerson who could take over at State…and I could go on and on and on, all the way down to my man Marshall Adame, who, I promise you, has all the training and skills we would need to ramrod the actual physical process of withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan (you’ll find him at BlueNC; on his resume is a stint running the Basra Airport, a couple of decades as a Marine logistician, and an unsuccessful run for Congress).

And it’s not like you would be more subject to scrutiny than you are now: virtually every hard-right Conservative out there already sees you as the Devil incarnate – and that’s actually an advantage in this situation that can’t be ignored.

So…whaddaya think?

You want to go from making Special Comments about how The Fear has overtaken Democrats to being the one who puts The Fear upon them?

You wanna drive Grover Norquist and Steny Hoyer absolutely nuts, both at the same time?

You want to finally do what Craig Nettles got to do, that you never did: play baseball and join the circus?

Well, here’s your chance to do something that could change the whole political conversation – and before we’re done, President Obama might even find those “comfortable shoes” we’ve heard so much about.

So let’s take one for America, and let’s get this thing on the hump, or whatever cliché you prefer…but let’s do it now, and let’s do it well, and let’s create something that brings the “discouraged” public to bear in a way they aren’t today.

This is your chance to do something big, something profound…something that takes your “diva tendencies” and plays them to their best advantage…and I think it’s time for you to get behind this idea; before, as you suggested could happen, the window to fight back closes.

 

On Asking And Telling, Or, 115,000 LBGT Troops? How Many Is That, Exactly? December 2, 2010

I took a couple of weeks off, as Thanksgiving and snow came around (a subject we’ll address in a day or so), but we are all again occupied as lots of things we’ve been talking about either will or won’t come to pass, and it seems like all that’s happening all at once.

Today we’ll take on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT); this because the Pentagon’s top leadership just came out and reported that revocation of the policy, following a period of preparation, would be their preferred way to go.

There will be lots of others who will take on the question of what’s right and wrong here, and exactly how implementation might occur; my interest is, instead, to focus on one little fact that makes all teh rest of the conversation a lot more relevant.

That is the fact that about 70,000 LBGT troops serve in the military today, DADT notwithstanding, and, that if it wasn’t for DADT, almost 45,000 more troops would be serving that aren’t today.

And that one little fact leads to today’s Great Big Question: exactly how much military would 115,000 troops be, exactly?

“Dad, if I were you, I wouldn’t tell that story. Now I have no doubt that there might be a lot of truth in it, but you know how funny these people are. You know you always used to tell us when we were children: “Never smarten up a chump.”

–“Victoria Whipsnade”, to her father, “Larson E. Whipsnade”, in W.C. Field’s You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man

As we so often do, let’s set a stage: we use the 115,000 figure because we have the academic work of UCLA’s Gary J. Gates informing our estimate, and that estimate was updated in May of 2010.

A stage having been set, let’s move on to painting some pictures:

These days the Army organizes themselves around Brigade Combat Teams (BCT), and a BCT might normally be assigned somewhere between 2500 and 4000 soldiers, and 115,000 troops could equal more than 30 BCTs.

It appears that more or less 12 BCTs and two more Combat Aviation Brigades are on the ground in Iraq today, which works out to about 49,000 troops in total…and that means 115,000 LBGT troopers could theoretically fill every billet in Iraq, and then replace themselves after a year, with about 15,000 left over.

The Navy is organized around Carrier Strike Groups, which each consist of one of the 12 aircraft carriers now in service and the additional ships they require to complete their missions.

Those aircraft carriers require crew to operate the ship’s basic equipment, Marines who provide security and other functions, additional crew to operate the “Air Wing”, which is the organization on board responsible for flight operations, and, because carriers also serve as the “traveling headquarters” for the Admiral who is commanding the Strike Group, a few more crew to serve as the Admiral’s personal staff.

Add it all up, and a carrier can have a crew of almost 6,000 on board…and that means there are enough LBGT forces available to occupy every bunk on every carrier in the Navy, from the actual bed in the Admirals’ Cabin all the way down to the “stacks of racks” way down belowdecks for the ordinary Sailors and Marines.

Even beyond that, there would be enough people left over to crew every one of the Navy’s 100 or so submarines—and you’d still have about 30,000 sailors left over to maintain the ships and their associated aircraft when they return to port.

The Air Force, as with the other Services, is composed of components drawn from Active Duty, Reserve, and National Guard forces. As it turns out, the entire Air National Guard is 106,700 strong. Our 115,000 LBGT troopers could fill every one of those slots—and that would still leave enough personnel to completely fill the Air Force’s pilot training schools for seven years after that.

The Marine Corps’ fighting forces are designed to work with the Navy to combine a variety of capabilities into self-sustained “over the beach” units that can, if required, take and hold beaches, ports, or airfields, or build a base of their own and hold it, until a larger force can come in and expand the foothold, so to speak. (The Corps refers to one of these units as a “Marine Expeditionary Force”, or an MEF.)

To provide this capability worldwide, the Corps maintains three MEFs, one on the East Coast, one on the West Coast, and one stationed in the Pacific, based in the Hawaiian Islands and Guam.

115,000 Marines would equal almost half of the entire Corps, Active Duty and Reserve, and that’s more troops than two of the MEFs combined, which might typically comprise 45,000 Marines each, more or less…which means if the LBGT Marines needed to, they could most assuredly take and hold some serious real estate, more or less anywhere in the world—and if they ran into trouble, they could send back home for another 25,000 LBGT troops to help make their point.

So there you go: the next time someone’s talking about how much national security might be threatened if we change DADT, you can tell them that there’s a cost to national security from keeping DADT as well.

How much of a cost? If you pulled those 115,000 potentially affected troops from the Army, DADT could cost us two Iraqs worth of troops, with 15,000 reinforcements left over, and if it was just the Navy, it could affect enough sailors to crew every aircraft carrier and submarine and 30,000 more besides.

If you removed that many personnel from the Air Force it would affect more people than the entire Air National Guard and seven years’ worth of new pilots combined—or, if you prefer to look at it through the prism of a eagle, globe, and anchor, it could be enough LBGT Marines to take and hold darn near anything, from the halls of Montezuma, to at least somewhere near the shores of Tripoli.

I don’t want to pay that price, and apparently the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff don’t either…so hey, John Mc Cain…why don’t we just get over this imaginary Great Big Deal and move on to some real ones?

 

On Selling Paranoia, Or, Conservative Emails, Examined March 20, 2010

It seems that many of those who are regular guests of this space are committed to a worldview based on some degree of reason and rationality.

That’s a handy thing if the “Covert Alarm Locator Apparatus” in your Isaac Daniel® Compass Global 1000 GPS sneakers should happen to fail and you need to find your way back to where the rest of us are; sadly, not all voters are equipped with such a helpful worldview.

Luckily for them, there are lots of conservative “mouth organs” ready to fill the “information gap”.

They send out lots of emails every day, spreading their Word, and as a public service I receive several of them; this to help keep track of just what’s out there, exactly.

If you ever wondered why otherwise normal people believe some of the craziest things about “Obama’s Secret Death Care And National Virgin Sacrifice Program”, have a look at some of the things I get every single day, and it might all make a bit more sense.

Pithiatism [G. peithein, to persuade + iatos, curable] 1. Hysteria induced by suggestion. 2. Mental disorder cured by suggestion.

Taber’s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary, 11th Edition

It is my friends at Human Events (“Leading Conservative Media Since 1944”) who seem to be the most assiduous in keeping my inbox full, and every day a weird combination of political missives and “exiting promotional opportunities” are arriving out of the ether.

Who is Human Events?

Human Events is an offshoot of Eagle Publishing (as is RedState), and they’re performing several functions in the Conservaverse: they help spread The Word by gathering all the usual suspects, all in one place (the contributor list at Human Events includes Michelle Malkin, Pat and Bay Buchanan, James Inhofe, “David Feherty, Civilian”, and the Wango Tango guy himself, Ted Nugent), they are a daily reinforcer of the Daily Talking Points, as evidenced, again, by my inbox…and they are also one of the reasons Conservative books always seem to jump to the top of some bestseller list or another upon their release, a topic to which we’ll return shortly.

Additionally, they’re a source for others, both political and commercial, who seek access to a mailing list, which is why, from time to time, I also receive emails from Ann Coulter and Chuck Norris–and why I recently received the insider scoop on how gold is being accumulated by Central Banks and that I better get some too…before it’s too late.

Here’s what else has been coming in:

The Tea Party Express sent me an email just this morning to let me know they would be “on tour”; this action taking them from Searchlight, Nevada (read: Harry Reid) to Washington, DC:

“…Since the Democrats in Congress are so determined to ignore the will of the voters, and force a government-run healthcare fiasco down our throats – as part of the step-by-step slide towards socialism – then we here at the Tea Party Express will “Just Vote Them Out” one-by-one.

So fellow patriots, here’s an update on the launch of Tea Party Express III and the “Showdown in Searchlight.”

First, we want to thank you all. You’ve taken a lot of pressure off. In just the past two days we’ve raised over $15,000 and now have only $65,000 left to raise by March 27th.

We have just 10 days until the launch of “Tea Party Express III: Just Vote Them Out” national tour, and the kickoff event: the “Showdown in Searchlight” mega rally…”

Fun Fact: The Tea Party Express has apparently been making enemies and influencing people among the Tea Party activists themselves, based on a perception that the group is a front for the Republican Party and that the extreme behavior of some members of the group is bad for the larger Tea Party movement.

My take on this: if they’re supposed to be raising money for the Republicans, and they’re having trouble raising $80,000 for themselves…well, it would appear that the Republicans are going to need unlimited corporate donations (thank you so much for that, Supreme Court…) if they hope to stay in business.

An Action News Update!

Even as I’m writing today’s story, this just came in:

“ObamaCare Vote Imminent, Pelosi May Have Votes

He’s Pledged To Shove ObamaCare Down Your Throat Even If It Kills Him…

…Barack Obama may have given Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid a deadline to ram ObamaCare through Congress, but knowledgeable sources in Congress are telling us that Pelosi will push the Senate-passed bill to the floor of the House of Representatives the very second she believes she has the votes to shove it down our throats… or maybe even sooner…

…And we don’t need to tell you what’s at stake. You already know about the extreme cuts in Medicare… the rationing… the crippling taxes… and the long waiting lines that we may all be forced to endure for substandard medical care.

“… bankrupting the insurance industry and undermining the free market is a stated goal of some healthcare reform advocates. … the goal of healthcare reform is to create a system that bankrupts private industry and leads to socialized medicine. And that is a goal shared by Barack Obama.”…”

(Emphasis is original)

The email goes on to suggest that a donation of up to $1000 would be very helpful to enable the sender to “Blast Fax” every Member of Congress…et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

You may have already noticed a recurring theme in these messages: the fear of things being shoved down throats is ever-present among Conservative Messengers–which, to me, either suggests something about the lack of imagination over there these days…or the lack of a fully-developed sense of joie de vivre; something that may have impacted folks like Larry Craig and David Vitter and John Ensign, all of whom, on certain occasions, have presumably done a bit of throat-shoving themselves.

(For extra credit, discuss amongst yourselves: Is all this throat-shoving talk having an effect on some people’s attitudes about the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” issue?)

Ann Coulter wrote me today to let me know that:

“…I have a plan!

… We can’t have a free market in health insurance until Congress eliminates the antitrust exemption protecting health insurance companies from competition. If Democrats really wanted to punish insurance companies, which they manifestly do not, they’d make insurers compete…”

We interrupt Dear Coulter’s message for a quick Fact Check: the House did indeed vote on February 24th to remove that antitrust exemption, with all 19 dissenting votes coming from…wait for it…Republicans; the bill, known as HR 4626, is now on the Senate’s Legislative Calendar.

We now return you to Coulter, still in progress:

“…The very next sentence of my bill provides that the exclusive regulator of insurance companies will be the state where the company’s home office is. Every insurance company in the country would incorporate in the state with the fewest government mandates, just as most corporations are based in Delaware today.

That’s the only way to bypass idiotic state mandates, requiring all insurance plans offered in the state to cover, for example, the Zone Diet, sex-change operations, and whatever it is that poor Heidi Montag has done to herself this week.

President Obama says we need national health care because Natoma Canfield of Ohio had to drop her insurance when she couldn’t afford the $6,700 premiums, and now she’s got cancer.

Much as I admire Obama’s use of terminally ill human beings as political props, let me point out here that perhaps Natoma could have afforded insurance had she not been required by Ohio’s state insurance mandates to purchase a plan that covers infertility treatments and unlimited OB/GYN visits, among other things.

It sounds like Natoma could have used a plan that covered only the basics — you know, things like cancer…”

Again, a quick interruption: if I had the power to know in advance what diseases I was gonna get in the future…and whether fertility might or might not be an issue one day…why would I waste my money on health insurance premiums when I could do a whole lot better in Las Vegas–and get free cocktails at the same time?

“…Of course, an insurance company has to be able to refuse NEW customers with “pre-existing conditions.” Otherwise, everyone would just wait to get sick to buy insurance. It’s the same reason you can’t buy fire insurance on a house that’s already on fire.

That isn’t an “insurance company”; it’s what’s known as a “Christian charity.”…

Right now, insurance companies are protected by government regulations from having to honor their contracts. Violating contracts isn’t so easy when competitors are lurking, ready to steal your customers…”

(Emphasis is added)

I assume that that last paragraph will become an important Talking Point for Republicans looking to blame Democrats for recent insurance company behavior, and I’ll be looking for this argument to appear in debates from now until November.

Wanna hear something even weirder than the idea that Democrats are what’s making the insurance companies deny their customers’ claims for care related to their pre-existing conditions?

Even as these groups are trying to either reinforce or get me to change my worldview, they’re also constantly trying to get me to buy stuff, including the Swivel Sweeper G2, a certain set of “As Seen On TV” knives, and, ironically, EcoCanteen stainless steel water bottles.

“It’s Free, But We Make It Up In Volume”

Finally, a few words about Conservatives and their books.

I get, on a regular basis, the chance to have important works of Conservative literature sent to me at rock-bottom prices, assuming I either subscribe to something or join some club that’s planning to save Our Great Nation from…most likely, from people like me.

So how can so many people make money giving away books?

It works like this: groups like the Conservative Book Club purchase thousands of copies of a book by [insert name here], using money that appears to be donated from private sources and PACs.

Since the bulk purchases are timed to occur as the book is released, it’s possible to create “Number 1 Best Sellers!” more or less on demand…and then I begin to get emails offering me the book for a price far below the cost of production.

A perfect example: Dick Morris sent me an email, just today, to let me know that I have only have a few days left to take advantage of Newsmax’s offer to get my free copy of Aftershock: Protect Yourself and Profit in the Next Global Financial Meltdown, a book that seeks to help me profit, as you might have already guessed, from the Next Global Financial Meltdown.

Check out what the Newsmax email says about how bulk purchasing works:

“…I knew that YOU should have this information too. So at great cost to Newsmax, I purchased more than 10,000 copies of this book to GIVE AWAY – completely free (just pay shipping)!

They were gone in a matter of days . . . so I purchased another 10,000. Those, too, were snatched up just days later. So, I arranged for another shipment.

Only a few copies are left . . . and this is your last chance to claim one for yourself. If you were to go to Amazon or Barnes & Noble, you would pay around $28 retail for this book. (By the way, both of these retailers are out of copies!) …”

(Emphasis is almost original: underlined words were changed to italics.)

(Quick Fact Check: As of March 18th, Barnes & Noble and Amazon are both selling the book, new, for $16.34, down from the $27.95 retail price, and both appear to have the item in stock…along with Wiley and Borders and a1Books and papamedia and even the UK’s Book Depository.com, who will let you have it for the apparent lowest price anywhere: $15.99–with “free shipping worldwide.”)

As you can see, Newsmax acknowledges they purchased more than 20,000 copies of the book, and possibly as many as 30,000…and I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that’s a big part of the total sales for this title. In fairness, however, I could not locate BookScan or other sales data for this book, so that’s just a guess, and I could be wrong.

Sarah Palin added an interesting new twist to the process: SarahPAC (and, yes, Virginia, there really is a SarahPAC) spent more than $60,000 to purchase copies of her own book, allowing her to convert campaign donations into ordinary income that she can spend any way she wants; the books were then given away, at no charge, to donors…and now the cycle begins anew, as a second book has been announced.

All of this is reflected in how book sales are reported, with the New York Times adding a dagger to the description of certain books on its bestseller lists, which:

“…indicates that some bookstores report receiving bulk orders.”

For the record, Mitt Romney’s new book, currently atop the Hardcover Nonfiction list, has two such daggers.

Add all of this together, and what do you get?

How about: a combination of events that are likely associated with a lot of today’s…Pithiatism.

A never-ending vicious cycle of self-affirming impending doom and Swivel Sweepers, delivered to your mailbox every day, until you can’t remember if Buy One, Get One Free* (*Just Pay Additional P&H) refers to a consumer product or the possibility that a Death Panel will commit you–and your family–to a beyond-top-secret Conservatives-Only Gulag soon to be established at the corner of Castro and 18th; located in a fortress built above the GBLT Historical Society’s current offices and staffed by Rainbow Stormtroopers especially chosen by Nancy Pelosi herself.

It’s a scary, scary world out there, my friends…and if these folks have anything to say about it, it’ll stay that way.

 

On The Futility Of War, Part Two, Or, Twelve Times The Charm? December 15, 2009

We are halfway through a story that is about to turn winter in one of the most beautiful places in the world profoundly ugly.

Just like in a Cecil B. DeMille movie, we have a cast of millions, we have epic scenery, and we have made acquaintance with someone who will go on to perform a heroic act.

Unlike your typical Hollywood production, however, this movie is not going to have a happy ending—in fact, you could make the argument that it’s not over yet.

So wrap yourself up in something comfortable, grab something to drink…and when you’re ready, we’re packing up and heading to the Alps.

So for those of you just coming to the story, here’s where we’re at:

There has been, for as long as anyone can remember, some degree of “friendliness balanced with hostility” in the relationship between the Austrians, Italians, and Ladins who have been living in the Tyrol, a region of the Alps just to the east of Switzerland.

In the 1800s, a variety of national unification movements emerged, leaving Italy, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Germany in possession of various parts of the Tyrol.

For those unfamiliar with the geography, the Alps would represent a bit of trim extending all the way across the top of Italy’s “boot”; if the boot had a buckle, it would be where the Italian, Austro-Hungarian, and German borders come together in the center of the Alps.

As WWI approached, there was some question as to whether Italy would join the Central Powers (Germany, Austro-Hungary, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire) or the Triple Entente (Russia, France, Britain, and eventually, the United States).

Italy broke its neutrality by signing the Treaty of London and attacking Austrian and other Central Powers forces along a 450-long offensive line stretching from Lake Garda to not quite Trieste.

In May of 1915 the Italians had 875,000 troops trying to mount an attack uphill, the goal being to emerge near Zagreb, Croatia (and cover their backsides at the same time, thus the attack on the Lake Garda region), so they could wheel north and attack into Austrian territory while simultaneously moving south along the Adriatic coast; the Austrians were defending from the peaks with roughly 300,000 troops.

Among those troops were units specially trained in mountain combat; those units recruiting from the mountain guides and hunters who lived in the mountain regions. The Austrians had in their command a legendary mountain guide-turned-hotelier named Sepp Innerkofler, who had more than 50 “first ascents” on some of the world’s toughest peaks under his belt.

For those with a memory of history, Hannibal did the same thing on a much narrower offensive front, 2200 years ago, starting from roughly Nice, France and ending up between Turin and Milan, in what is today Northern Italy–a feat he performed at great cost to his own forces.

And now, you’re caught up.

“Our vigil is ended. Our exultation begins … The cannon roars. The earth smokes … Companions, can it be true? We are fighting with arms, we are waging our war, the blood is spurting from the veins of Italy! We are the last to join this struggle and already the first are meeting with glory … The slaughter begins, the destruction begins … All these people, who yesterday thronged in the streets and squares, loudly demanding war, are full of veins, full of blood; and that blood begins to flow … We have no other value but that of our blood to be shed.”

Gabriele D’Annunzio, April 25th, 1915

The first four of the twelve Battles of the Isonzo were fought, along that long front, between May and December of 1915. The main tactic, on both sides, was to use artillery as a way of “softening up” the opposition, after which somebody would have to run up a hill, under fire, in an attempt to dislodge someone else from their well dug-in position (which explains why controlling the high ground is so vitally important).

“The men rest for a few hours, trying to dry out. At noon, they form a line, dropping to one knee while the officers stand with sabres drawn. The regimental colours flutter freely. Silence. Then a trumpet sounds, the men bellow ‘Savoy!’[the name of the royal house] as from one throat, the band strikes up the Royal March. Carrying knapsacks that weigh 35 kilograms, the men attack up the steep slope, in the teeth of accurate fire from positions that the Italians cannot see. An officer brandishing his sabre in his right hand has to use his left hand to stop the scabbard from tripping him up. The men are too heavily laden to move quickly. Renato remembered the scene as a vision of the end of an era: ‘In a whirl of death and glory, within a few moments, the epic Garibaldian style of warfare is crushed and consigned to the shadows of history!’ The regimental music turns discordant, then fades. The officers are bowled down by machine-gun fire while the men crawl for cover on hands and knees. The battle is lost before it begins. The Italians present such a magnificent target, they are bound to fail. A second attack, a few hours later, is aborted when the bombardment falls short, hitting their own line. The afternoon peters out in another rainstorm.”

Renato di Stolfo, describing his view of the First Battle of the Isonzo

As the Italians attacked the Austrians were basically engaged in a slow retreat into the highest mountain redoubts, destroying the rail and road infrastructure as they went.

Among the unbelievable tales of combat from those first engagements is this account of how bulls were used as a tool of assault:

“…Realizing that Korada must be captured, if at all, by dash and surprise, the Italian brigadier in charge of the attack gathered a herd of fierce bulls, which are numerous in that part of Venetia, and penned them in a hollow out of sight of the enemy, while his artillery began to bombard the hostile trenches. When the animals were wrought to a frenzy of rage and fear by the noise of the guns, they were let loose and driven up the mountain against the Austrian positions. Their charge broke through many strands of the wire entanglements, and before the last of them fell dead under the Austrian rifle fire, Italian troops with fixed bayonets had crowded through the gaps in the wires and captured the position…”

By the time the fourth battle was over the Austrian commanders’ extremely effective defense not only had the Italians stopped cold—literally—but even worse, the few miles gained in those seven months had already cost the Italians 250,000 dead or wounded soldiers.

The Austrians were losing soldiers as well—including Sepp Innerkofler.

July 3rd had found Innerkofler under attack on the Croda Rossa early in the day, and, amazingly, deer hunting later in the afternoon a couple miles away at the Alpe di Andert:

“…We start the descent at 12 and 13.50 are the Alpe di Andert. Lieutenant Gruber goes back to his position as we head towards the Kulewaldplatz, where our 6 men, they start hunting with deer starting from the so-called Bastrich. I look forward to the post until the end of the broad valley. 5 are found deer and fox-1, I will see two but failed to hit them. He fired a total of 8 shots, but unfortunately it is the prey of a single chapter. And so, as two hours and a half ago we were engaged in a manhunt, now we are dedicated to our unique pleasure to that of the deer!…”

–From Sepp Innerkofler’s diary entry, July 3rd, 1915

July 4th, however, was a bit of a different story.

Innerkofler and five members of his “flying squad”, all top climbers, were ordered to dislodge a group of Italian mountainsoldiers (Alpini) from a mountain peak. To make this happen Innerkofler’s team was required to perform a vertical ascent upon the Monte Paterno—an ascent that was actually among his resume of Alpine “first climbs”; a feat he had achieved 19 years earlier and many, many, times since.

The climb was completed by sunrise, and with the sun at their backs the Austrians began to attack with grenades and small arms and the thud of their own artillery sending shells just overhead into the Italian position. Austrian and Italian machine gun emplacements were trading fire across the ridges at each other.

There are several versions of what happens next, including an almost Wagnerian account—but the eventual outcome of each is the same: Innerkofler is killed by a rock-wielding Alpini.

The Italians, risking Austrian fire, recovered the Austrian’s body and give him a funeral with full respect, burying him on the Paternkofel.

With four of the Battles of the Isonzo down, there were still eight to go.

The next May, after an exceptionally bitter winter and spring and with more equipment, the Italians were preparing to attack, again, from north of Milan to up above Lake Garda—but the Austrians had two Armies in the mountains, who were able to drive the Italians back into their own northern plain, stopping the Fifth Battle before it ever got started.

It’s reported that the Austrians had to fall back from that newly acquired land partly because of problems running a logistics operation through the mountains…and also partly because the Russians mounted an offensive to the Austrians’ east. The cost to the Italians was substantial, however, as they were forced to commit 500,000 troops to the defense of the Lake Garda region.

In this environment, the Italians and Austrians were not limited to the use of traditional means of killing each other—in fact, rockslides and avalanches were becoming weapons of mass destruction, as this description of an action at the Col di Lana in April of 1916 indicates:

“…so the entire western margin of Col di Lana was carefully and patiently mined, an undertaking which probably took months of hard work, and several tons of high explosives were distributed in such a way as to destroy the whole side of the mountain above which the enemy was in- trenched.

The explosion that followed was terrific. The earth shook as if rocked by an earthquake, and the havoc wrought was so great that out of the 1,000 Austrians who held the position, only 164 survived.”

Just a few months later, on just one day (December 13th, a day which became known as “White Friday”) 10,000 soldiers are said to have died in avalanches; the problem being so serious that both sides had detachments of soldiers assigned specifically to the avalanche rescue mission.

This went on for months and months and months, with neither side really accomplishing anything in terms of territory gained. The Italians, however, were growing their Army, both in size and in the amount of materiel they could put in the field, until October of 1917, when either the Twelfth Battle of the Isonzo or the Battle of Caporetto took place (pick your favorite name; various sources use both).

The Austrians, coming down from the buckle of our boot, mounted an attack that was so successful that the Italian 2nd Army collapsed in disorganized confusion to the south, suffering severe levels of casualties; the better organized 3rd and 4th Armies seem to have lost about 20% of their forces “coming to the rescue”.

While the Italian Army under General Cadorna had begun the battle with 1,250,000 troops, in two weeks he lost roughly 320,000 of them to death or capture, along with most of his Army’s artillery—and his own job. An additional 350,000 soldiers were reportedly wandering the countryside, for the moment unattached to any military organization.

400,000 people became refugees in those two weeks.

Eventually the Austrians had to retreat back into their own territory; some of the reason for that being related to the same problems the Italians were having maintaining supply lines through mountains, some of the reason for that being that the Austrians were losing on other fronts.

This was not the end of the fighting along the Italian-Austrian frontier, nor the end of the ethnic conflict that has peppered the region’s history, but you get the idea: no one ever really won any victories that mattered, but thousands upon thousands of people died in the effort, and hundreds of thousands more were wounded—again, all for nothing, really.

“…das Schlagwort vom lebenslangen Lernen für alle – auch für Politiker – gilt…”

(English translation: “…the slogan of lifelong learning for all – even for politicians – applies…”)

Luis Durnwalder, Governor of the Autonomous Province of Bolzano

Now at some point in this story we have to answer the question of…what is the point of all this?

Folks, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the moral of this story is that there is no point.

More or less 400,000 soldiers died on both sides, countless more were wounded, and hundreds of thousands of people, if not millions, became refugees.

Sepp Innerkofler’s hotel was bombed as he and so many other of his friends, both Austrian and Italian, were killed up in those mountains.

And all of it for nothing.

Italy was not able to advance its national interests at all (in fact, things got much worse), and despite everything that happened back and forth over those years, Austria certainly saw no gains: in fact, thanks to this war, the Hapsburg Dynasty also went the way of “Cats” and the Ottoman Empire…closing, after a long run.

If it was my job to apply all of this to some war that my bosses were fighting…I think I’d be looking at Afghanistan, and I think I’d be looking at the place as a collection of tribal communities, rather than one big country; and I think I’d be telling my bosses that all those talking heads—and just plain folks—who think we should “defeat the Taliban” through some military campaign so that we can come home, having achieved some kind of ultimate victory, need to understand that you will never defeat anything up in the mountains simply be throwing a bunch of people and equipment at the problems.

Instead, you’re going to have to consider whether it’s possible to help the Afghans create something like what is happening in the Tyrol today, where protections for the various tribal and ethnic groups could be laid out in a framework that reassures Pashtuns, Persians, and Turcoman alike that they have a place in a community of interdependent communities.

This has been a long and, at times, rather depressing, look at who we are as people, and I wanted to end on a postscript that is a bit happier…and it all comes back to Sepp Innerkofler.

Despite the fact that his hotel was bombed, and he was killed, the family carried on, as did the strength of his reputation…which is why you can, even to this very day, hike the Sepp Innerkofler Höhenweg (Ridgeway, in English), and why, should you find yourself a bit tired from the hike, you can stay at Sepp’s original Hotel Dolomitenhof, rebuilt since the war, where the legacy also continues, as Innerkofler Katharina recently noted in an email exchange we had:

“…of course we are proud of our grand-grand pa. We´ve a little museum in our hotel, where we show his climbing successes and explain his destiny.”

 

On Determining Impact, Or, How Stimulative Is Stimulus? November 18, 2009

We strive to be, if anything, a participatory space around here, and I’ve had a question come to my inbox that is very much deserving of our attention.

To make a long story short, our questioner wants to know why, on the one hand, despite the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA, also known as the “stimulus”), unemployment in the construction industry continues to increase, and, on the other hand, why there is such a giant disparity, on a state-by-state basis, in the cost of saving a job?

They’re great questions, and, having done a bit of research, I think I have some cogent answers.

A few facts will help set the stage:

I post on numerous sites, one of those being Blue Oklahoma, and about ten days ago I received an email from a reader who wanted me to know that he had data up regarding how effective stimulus dollars are at creating construction jobs.

He also wondered if I would be willing to blog about his work, which is itself posted in the form of a blog, with handy charts and graphs; I’ll quickly summarize what he had to say for your dining and dancing pleasure:

Although the goal of the stimulus was to create construction jobs, today’s data suggests that roughly 10 times as many jobs were lost in the construction industry in the recent past 12 months (September 2008 – September 2009) than were created by the stimulus efforts this year to date.

“The major question surrounding the ARRA and the construction industry on this reporting deadline is: How many construction jobs has the stimulus bill actually created or retained?

–Chris Thorman, State by State: Is the Stimulus Bill Creating Construction Jobs? [emphasis is original]

In the blog he reports that if you were to go to the Recovery.gov website, download the state summary data located there, and then do a bit of quick math, you’d find that:

“…the ARRA has created or saved 73,352 construction jobs across the nation at a total cost of $15.8 billion since the bill was signed into law.

That’s $222,107 per construction job.”

He has also created a chart, that is intended to show, on a state-by-state basis, the cost per job—and there is enormous variation in the results, from a low of $47,536 in Minnesota to a high of $535,171 in California.

As a result, he’s come to this conclusion:

“Jobs are being created and saved but nowhere near a rate that will allow the stimulus bill to claim victory over construction unemployment.”

So the question for us becomes: how solid is his analysis?

In order to get a better answer, I decided to examine some of the underlying data supporting his conclusions—and to put it as gently as possible, the numbers that we’re seeing today are a bit…squishy.

There are a couple of reasons why, which, naturally, require a couple of quick explanations. (This is a “quick and dirty” education; there are exceptions to some of what you’ll see described below.)

Right off the bat, it appears that identifying exactly how many jobs are being saved is more difficult than it seems—but before we can really understand that, we need to take a moment and understand exactly how jobs are counted.

If you work 40 hours a week, which is the equivalent of a full-time job, you would equal one (warning: technical term ahead) “Full Time Equivalent”, also known as an FTE. Two people, each working 20 hours a week, are also one FTE, as are any other combinations that you can come up with that get you to 40 hours a week. From here on, when we use the word “jobs”, we also mean FTEs, and vice versa.

The rules of the stimulus program are unique unto themselves, and one of the unique rules, at least for the moment, is that overtime hours don’t count when counting FTEs; since we’re talking about the number of construction jobs the stimulus might be creating, and about 25% of construction jobs involve overtime work, this rule is probably distorting the outcome.

States are also having problems translating FTE tracking systems they already have in place into the new Federal FTE definitions being used to figure out how many jobs are being created with stimulus funds.

An example of this problem is laid out in a document from the University of Connecticut (UConn) describing how their FTE reporting is going. The State FTE tracking system uses “cumulative” reporting, the Federal system, “incremental” reporting; the only thing you need to know about the two systems is that, quoting from the report:

“…At no time would the state and federal FTE figures match.”

There’s another issue in play here: this is a brand-new bureaucracy, and everyone is still “finding their way”, on both the State and Federal sides. Here’s another quote from the same UConn progress report:

“Note #2: We have experienced challenges in reporting, primarily with formatting issues. Solutions include working directly with OPM [the State’s Office of Policy and Management] and the respective OSPs [the University’s Office for Sponsored Programs] to enhance timeliness and formatting accuracy. The reports submitted June through September 2009 were definitely part of the learning process. Currently, we are working directly with the respective OSPs to ensure the correct reporting templates are used for state reporting purposes.

Put all that together, and you have a collection of “structural” issues that will probably cause the “real” construction FTE numbers to be somewhat different from today’s “reported” numbers by some currently unknown amount that can probably be “estimated out” later on.

The biggest distortion in statistics, however, is a “timeline” issue, and it’s because trying to estimate the “cost per FTE” at the beginning of construction projects is inherently problematic.

To illustrate this point, let’s drill down to one individual project and see how things work:

Award number OK56S09550109 was granted to the City of Shawnee’s Housing Authority to modernize the HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) system at a public housing development. The current reporting is that $856,585 was awarded for the work, for which 2.5 FTEs have been reported.

However, as of the reporting date only $61,674 has been expended (or $70,084–both numbers appear on the same webpage); that money going to Childers-Childers, Architects.

The 2½ FTEs are .5 each of two administrators and 1.5 architects.

Obviously there will be more jobs created as this project moves from design to construction, and the estimate of roughly $340,000 per FTE that could theoretically be cited as accurate today will no longer be valid once a bunch of people show up and actually start installing stuff.

In fact, it could be reasonably argued that the “correct” number is $24,669 per FTE (or $28,034), based on the amount expended and jobs created to date.

This “timeline issue” is a statistical problem that Thorman himself acknowledges in his blog:

“With 73,352 jobs created/saved during this reporting period, the number will undoubtedly go up in future months as more projects begin and as more projects enter more labor-intensive phases. The construction jobs created/saved by the stimulus will likely get better before they get worse.”

(Just for the record, a third method you could use to count FTEs would be to divide total grant awards against total estimated construction employment throughout the lifetime of these projects.)

You may recall that the reason we’re having this discussion is because we are trying to come to some conclusion about what impact the stimulus is having on creating jobs—or, alternatively, creating even more geeky FTEs.

Well, having looked at the thing all the way down to the individual project level, it may be that the best answer that’s available…is that there’s no answer yet available.

With that in mind, my conclusion is that we will need some time to create a large enough “statistical universe” of completed or nearly-completed projects before we can begin to make useful extrapolations about the stimulus’ future success, and my guess is that it will be six to 12 months before that threshold is reached…which means I have no idea whether the stimulus is creating or will create a sufficient number of construction jobs relative to its budget, and it may well be summer of 2010 before we do know.

And that, my fellow political observers, has the potential to make the ’10 Congressional midterms very, very, interesting.

 

On Angst, Or, We Meet A Tea Party Protester April 17, 2009

So if you’re like me, you have been wondering just exactly what all this “tea party” stuff is about. There’s going to be some sort of protest, that we know; but beyond that the whole thing seems a little…vague.

Alternatively, it’s possible that you were unaware that “tea party” has recently become a word reborn in conservative political circles.

Well, whether you knew it or not, April 15th was indeed a day of protest, with citizens gathering for what were reported to be a series of grassroots events across the nation that was intended to invoke the spirit of the Boston Tea Party.

In an effort to find out exactly what is motivating these folks, and to find out what they are trying to accomplish, I took my handy recorder and captured a conversation with a “tea bag” protester.

We will review that conversation, and we will follow it up with a few thoughts about how this group of voters might impact electoral politics going forward.

Let’s begin by setting the stage: the city of Issaquah, Washington (population about 17,000) is more or less 15 miles east of downtown Seattle, in eastern King County. It’s a bedroom community, for the most part, with some light industrial and stores like Home Depot. The Costco corporate headquarters is located over where the old skydiving airport used to be, and I-90 bisects the city.

Seattle’s eastern suburbs have been a good source of reliable Republican voters, and the Representative from the District (WA-08) is former Sheriff Dave Reichert (R-Ineffectual), who defeated Darcy Burner in one of the more closely watched Congressional races of both the ’06 and ’08 cycles.

It was a lovely not raining afternoon (this time of the year, that’s a real treat), and the steps of the Issaquah City Hall create a nice backdrop for a gathering. At noon on a Wednesday about 120 people are gathered, holding signs, and reacting to the honks of passing traffic. A “patriot”, in blue coat and tricorner hat, was present.

After a period of standing out in front of City Hall, most of the group left to march up and down the street; and it was at this point that I approached a woman who had chosen to remain behind to see if I might ask her a few questions about the event.

Where you see quotations, they are exact transcripts from the recording.
Her comments are in boldface.
Ellipses (…) are used only to indicate pauses in the conversation, not to indicate “trimming” of the quotes.

One of the first things we addressed was her concern that her rights to gather and speak freely might be threatened:

“…You bet they are” she answered, “Obama is about, he’s more like, a, a he wants to be a leader himself, he’s the leader, OK, but he doesn’t speak for America…and he is not really, really, the President of the United States.”

I asked her how she had reached that conclusion:

“He hasn’t proven that he’s a citizen, he hasn’t proven that he’s a citizen, he’s a liar…he, he, says one thing and he does another all the time…so, you know…he is not a patriot. I was born and raised in America, even people I grew up, with, that became Americans, love America. People come to America to be free. You know what I feel he’s taking away from us? Our freedom.”

I asked her what laws are being proposed that would make her feel that way, to which she replied:

“Taking all that money and doing with it as he pleases, without confer–, letting people take a vote on it on the right to do this that’s the Constitution, the 9th and the…”

“So Congress didn’t vote on any of that…”

“He is getting them to do what he wants, people are doing what he wants, because, he has people like Farrakhan, he has a lot of people behind him that are not for America. OK, and he’s a Muslim, let’s just remember that, OK, he’s not an American patriot, he’s a Muslim—“

“He’s a Muslim?”

“Yes, he claims to be a Muslim—“

“So you’re not worried about that Reverend Wright thing, then?”

“Oh, no no no no, Reverend Wright is a radical in his own way, too…”

“But he doesn’t have any influence on Obama, apparently, because…he’s a Muslim—“

“Well, he does, you know all about it, don’t you…”

At this point she began to ask a series of questions designed to determine my organizational affiliation, to which I had to again explain that I am but a humble blogger, and not really affiliated with any organization, and that my purpose in coming was to try to gather an idea as to what was going on so that I could explain it to others.

To which she offered this reply:

“Mr. Obama’s a liar…But we’re here today…just as Americans to say we want, we don’t wanna pay for what he wants us to pay for with taking all that money away from America.”

She reports that she went to Washington, DC, “and even called the President” to express her displeasure about the growing deficits during the Bush Administration; and we found a point of agreement when she noted that not voting can be a political statement, just as voting is.

She then went on to say:

“…the people, according to our Constitution and what I’ve always known is the Government was for the people, by the people, and of the people. We the people have the right to make those decisions at State levels, each State…”

At this point I asked her if that wasn’t the function of Congress, who are our elected Representatives, and that if that was true then how is that taxation without representation? (And no, I did not mention the whole Gettysburg Address “thing”. Sometimes you just have to let someone say what they want to say, and not get in the way…)

“…well, we have voted in a lot of people who are liars; that get in there for the wrong reasons. We have to start paying attention…and learn about these politicians…”

(A point with which I wholeheartedly agree—but to be honest, I don’t think she has a desire to learn that Mr. Obama is actually a real live, no-kidding, American citizen.)

I then asked her about the 2007 Federal Budget.

My understanding of that budget is that about $2.4 trillion was spent, and more or less $2.1 trillion of that was spent on Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, and Defense, leaving roughly $300 billion for all other spending.

Since the deficit for that year was above $300 billion, my question to her was which of the three choices above was she ready to start cutting?

“They’re not gonna go anywhere, they’re never gonna be used for those things, hardly…”

I explained to her that this is not a matter of conjecture, but that this was how the money was actually spent that year:

“Obama does what he wants with it—“

“Well, what I’m saying is that—“

“That’s the way it looks—“

“That’s how the money was spent—“

“Don’t you know about…how—“

“In 2007, that’s how the money was spent—“

“Are you a Republican?”

“No”

“Are you a Democrat?”

“Not really…”

“Are you a libertarian?”

“I don’t think the idea of having no government works very well, no ma’am–”

“So you don’t vote at all?”

“I do vote, and I don’t vote based on any party…”

“You don’t?”

“No ma’am, I don’t think Democrats or Republicans have a monopoly on ideas.”

Eventually, as I tried to get an answer from her about the Budget, it came to this:

“That’s not the true issue. The true issue is we don’t want our taxes going up because they’ve taken so much money and bankrupted America…we don’t wanna pay for that, we want him to leave that money alone, not bail out AIG, and let America resolve its issues…amongst the people.

They think everybody’s stupid. They think everyone’s stupid except them.
What’s your opinion?”

At this point I tried to explain that stimulus seems to make sense, and that the Great Depression offered an historical example of why.

“You don’t mind if I spend your money then, can I take all your money and spend it the way I want to?”

“Well, I don’t think I’m going to let you take all my money—“

“But that’s what Obama did. I don’t mind paying some taxes—“

“So you don’t have any money at this point?”

“Ye-, of course I have money—“

“So he didn’t take all your money?”

“I work, OK, I, he, he, if he has taken that money because he has stolen a lot of money from the United States of America—“

“How did he steal it?”

“You know exactly how.”

“Well, I’m confused…”

“Well, if you’re confused go watch him, OK. You’re for Obama, right? Isn’t that who you believe in?”

“Well, I did vote for Obama, but I wouldn’t say I believe in him…”

“Well, good-bye. Yeah, you do believe in him, and if you’re a person who doesn’t vote, and you say you vote, I’m confused, I know who you are—“

“Who am I?”

“You’re trying to deceive, that’s why you’re here. You’re not American, you’re one of these radicals the other way. I believe that this President is not the true President, OK, I believe that he is not an American citizen, he’s a liar, he’s a liar and he’s a thief. He got homes through…all kinds of discrepancies…he has never admitted to anything, he wasn’t a good politician, all he is, is a Socialist, he’s a Socialist, don’t wanna work, just do your own thing, take what you want, do what you want, live off welfare…”

At which point the interview concluded.

So what have we learned here today?

Well, let’s start by presuming that this sort of voter is not a likely “get” for any future Democratic candidate…and with that in mind, let’s have a look at what her impact might be on a Republican candidate seeking office.

Republicans should be aware that there exists a significant community of voters who are clearly upset with Mr. Obama. These voters are upset about issues they can’t (or won’t) exactly articulate, and they are not exactly sure how to fix “what ails them”…but they are genuinely upset, and they seem to feel that they no longer have a sense of control over, or attachment to, their Government.

You might see good news for Republicans when looking at this woman, since she represents, as far as I could tell, a group seeking a leader; but I see instead a substantial group of individuals who have the potential to vote for candidates of third parties—in other words, voters who feel alienated from both major parties, which would not be good news for Republicans.

To “recover” these voters, I suspect, will require Republican candidates to go quite far to the right—and I suspect that if the woman I met today becomes the Republican “target market” Republicans will have even more problems attracting centrist voters than they have now.

If the world does not come to an end, economically or otherwise, by 2010, and there are no huge tax increases, it will be even tougher to make the arguments we heard today, suggesting the woman I interviewed will become a more isolated part of the electorate than she might be today.

If the economy actually improves, it suggests that finding a voter outside of the 15-30% of the electorate these voters might represent who will vote Republican–particularly in statewide and Federal elections–will be tougher and tougher.

What does all that mean?

It means, absent a major economic collapse, that the Republican future, at least for a few cycles to come, might be as a Congressional minority, with several States still available where they can maintain control of Gubernatorial and Legislative positions…but with a declining number of those States over time, and a decreasing chance of electing a President because of the inherent problems they face retaining centrist voters.

Of course, there is also the possibility that these voters will cleave off to support a Bob Barr or a Ron Paul or a Mike Huckabee, who might seek a third party candidacy, which, ironically, could help Republicans gain centrist voters, even as they lose this group of voters. In all probability, this would also cost the Republicans the chance to elect a President until a “centrist/rightist reconciliation” of some sort can occur.

It puts Republicans in a tough spot, and as a political geek I can’t wait to see how they approach working it all out.