advice from a fake consultant

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

On The Question Of Virginity, Or, “Starter? I Can’t Make Her Stop!” December 11, 2011

I got a weird little story about my friend Blitz Krieger to bring to you today.

He’s had a crazy car problem, he has, and over the past few months he thought he had found a solution – in fact, he thought he had found the solution of his dreams – but in the end, he’s discovered that the things you dream about often don’t go according to plan.

The way it’s worked out for him so far, it’s been a lot of anticipation followed by a sudden wave of frustration, but I feel like he’s a lot better off having his particular problem with his car…because if he’d had cancer instead, he’d surely be dead by now.

The community is always embarrassed by the drag queens because straight society says, “A faggot always dresses in drag, or he’s effeminate.” But you got to be who you are. Passing for straight is like a light-skinned woman or man passing for white. I refuse to pass. I couldn’t have passed, not in this lifetime.

–Sylvia Rivera, describing the founding of Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), quoted in the book Becoming Visible: An Illustrated History of Lesbian and Gay Life in Twentieth-Century America

So here’s what happened to Blitz: he waited forever to buy his first car because he wanted, more than anything else in life, to drive his “perfect” car: a 1982 American Motors Eagle SX/4.

It’s a wild car: it was designed as a small hatchback…with a V-8 engine…and “switchable” 4WD…which allowed it to travel easily in snow in a way that virtually no other passenger car at the time could manage.

So he waited all this time, and two years ago, in California, he literally found a little old lady from Pasadena who sold him his “Dream Car”, which, ironically, was the same brown color as Al Bundy’s Dodge.

It drove great for about six months, but it’s been suffering from a strange malady that presents as a horrible grinding noise when he tries to start the car. He has no idea what to do – and standing in the way of a solution is an obsession that I find a bit strange:

He is absolutely determined that he is not going to go to just any mechanic.

Instead, Blitz told me that since it’s the first time the Dream Car needs to be repaired, he intends to go to a mechanic who has never worked on any car before his – and he says he wants to do this because he feels the experience of having the work done this way will make it more “special” for the both of them.

It took him almost a year to find someone, but when he did, it was truly perfect: he met a woman named Jenna Talia who wanted more than anything to be a mechanic.

She’d been studying through one of those “learn at home” programs, and, amazingly, she had an attitude similar to my friend Blitz’s: she knew about how to fix a car from what she’d read in a book, but she refused to actually repair one until she got the chance to work on her Dream Car – and even more amazingly, her Dream Car…was a 1982 American Motors Eagle SX/4.

They actually met on the bus (Blitz, naturally, refused to drive any other car except the Dream Car), and after a few months of knowing each other, Blitz proposed that Jenna might work on his car in his garage, and she agreed.

Fun Fact I Just Made Up: In a recent poll, 32% of voters thought the Iowa Caucuses were a country located near the former Soviet Georgia.

So we’re going out last Saturday night, and I get a call from Blitz asking if I could come by and pick ‘em both up there at his house, and I’m OK with that, because with two drinks in a night being a big evening for me I’m more or less a permanent designated driver.

I was wondering how it was going with the car, and what I saw was stunning: the upper half of the engine was sitting in the living room, entirely disassembled. There were rockers and rods and all kinds of stuff there, neatly arranged for easy reassembly, and it looked like they had really put a lot of effort into the thing, but it was clear that they just couldn’t get it quite figured out…which isn’t surprising, considering it was the first time for both of them.

And you could see, in just that first second, that the two of them were some kind of frustrated. But it gets worse: Blitz told me that this was her third “diagnosis”, and that, now that she was actually face-to-face with a real car, she seemed to be entirely confused about exactly what to do.

Apparently things had gone so bad that Jenna wouldn’t even leave his house at night to go home until she could get things figured out…and, from what he’s telling me, he’s ready to throw her out, buy a different car, and get that car fixed by a mechanic who’s been there and done that – a lot.

To put it another way, he’s ready to dump his virgin mechanic…for a slut.

Now here’s the really crazy part of the story: I’ve had a bit of experience with cars breaking down over time, and I knew what was wrong from the beginning, as many of you probably did, too: the starter was bad – and that’s located on the very bottom of the engine, not the top, which means everything they’d been doing was pretty much pointless.

But I couldn’t tell them that in the beginning…because, again, it would’ve just spoiled the experience…and I sure wasn’t gonna say “I told you so” now…so even though I could have offered them both useful advice about how ignorance ain’t bliss, they surely didn’t want to hear it.

So look, folks, we could have a lot more fun following out this comic premise, but there’s a bigger point: I don’t want a virgin mechanic, and surely not a virgin doctor – and they don’t even allow virgin pilots to carry passengers.

What is it about sex (and politics, for that matter) that makes people think they’ll be able to simply “get it” with no experience at all? What is it that makes them think that celebrating their own ignorance is the best way to show they’re ready to take on something that, frankly, requires a bit of trial…and error…before you really get it right?

I don’t know the answer, but the next time someone tells you how their ignorance makes them a lot smarter about something, do me a favor and think about Blitz and Jenna and the Dream Car – and the living room full of engine parts – and if that person’s running for office, run the other way. Quickly.

I’d appreciate it; so will you – and if I know Blitz, he will, too.

Advertisements
 

On Protecting The Innocent, Or, Is There A Death Penalty Compromise? September 24, 2011

I don’t feel very good about this country this morning, and as so many of us are I’m thinking of how Troy Davis was hustled off this mortal coil by the State of Georgia without a lot of thought of what it means to execute the innocent.

And given the choice, I’d rather see us abandon the death penalty altogether, for reasons that must, at this moment, seem self-evident; that said, it’s my suspicion that a lot of states are not going to be in any hurry to abandon their death penalties anytime soon now that they know the Supreme Court will allow the innocent to be murdered.

So what if there was a way to create a compromise that balanced the absolute need to protect the innocent with the feeling among many Americans that, for some crimes, we absolutely have to impose the death penalty?

Considering the circumstances, it’s not going to be an easy subject, but let’s give it a try, and see what we can do.

Let’s Fix An Error Dept.: Apologies are in order, because in our last story we identified The Riverside Church in Manhattan as the place where George Carlin learned to be Catholic – and that could not have been more incorrect. Bad research was the culprit here, and it’s something that we’ll obviously be working to improve. So, once again: sorry, and my bad.

Now if all the states want to limit the imposition of the death penalty to just the guilty (and after what we just saw in Georgia, that’s no longer 100% certain), one way you could do it would be to make it a lot harder to prove guilt – and that’s what we have in mind for today’s proposal.

As you may recall, we convict today with a “burden of proof” that is described as “guilt beyond a reasonable doubt”; as we now know, it is possible to prove guilt, beyond a reasonable doubt, even when there’s a whole lot of reasonable doubt to be found.

In Davis’ case, he was given a chance on appeal to prove his innocence, and despite this conclusion from the Judge hearing the case…

“Ultimately, while Mr. Davis’s new evidence casts some additional, minimal doubt on his conviction, it is largely smoke and mirrors…”

…Davis was still executed.

So the way I would get at this problem would be to change the burden of proof in these cases: if you want to execute someone who is facing an aggravated murder or other capital charge, instead of “guilt beyond a reasonable doubt”, I would require “guilt beyond all doubt”.

If you can’t get to guilt beyond all doubt, but you can prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, then you could impose no sentence harsher than life without parole.

If this proposal had been in effect in Davis’ case, there could have been no execution after he argued that he was denied the effective assistance of counsel, because that would have erased “all doubt”; after that he would have had the rest of his life to demonstrate that he was wrongly convicted.

There are going to be a few reasons people might not like this proposal, and I’ll try to address some of them briefly:

Right off the bat, many will complain that because of the new burden of proof it will be virtually impossible to have executions at all; I would tell those folks that if that were to occur…then the system is working. The entire purpose of this plan is to make executions an extraordinarily rare occurrence and to move just about everyone on Death Rows nationwide to a “life without parole” future.

Beyond that, many will say that capital punishment is morally unacceptable under any circumstances, and to those folks I would respond that y’all make a pretty good point…but at the moment there are a lot of Americans who do not hold that moral position – and they have strong feelings too – and unless we can move them to a different point of view, then the best chance we have to prevent the innocent from being executed is to find some sort of compromise like this one.

(Don’t believe me about that “strong feelings” thing? How many of the readers here would be OK with the death penalty for Osama Bin Laden, if he were proved “beyond all doubt” to have been the person behind 9/11?)

A similar line of thought is expressed in the idea that we are seeing more and more voters who do oppose capital punishment, and with a bit of patience, this problem will go away.

After what happened to Troy Davis, I think there’s more urgency now than there was in times past, and that’s because we now see that at least one State will quickly kill a prisoner in order to “clear the case”, suggesting to me that patience is not as good an option as it was before.

Finally, I suspect many will feel that the effort to pass a proposal like this one would distract from the effort to end the death penalty, which is, again, a pretty good argument.

To those folks I would respond that we may get some states to end the death penalty today, but there are a lot of other states that are not going to want to give up the death penalty for some time to come (remember the people who cheered Rick Perry’s execution record?), and if we aren’t going to be able to end the death penalty completely, then I think we have to offer some sort of compromise; a compromise based on the concepts of “killing the innocent isn’t The American Way” or “you could still execute Osama” could appeal to voters who simply won’t give up on the death penalty altogether.

So that’s what we have for you today: even though I personally would prefer that we end the death penalty and just go to life without parole for all these crimes, I don’t think we’re going to achieve that in a lot of states; with that in mind I’m proposing a compromise that would protect the innocent by ending virtually all executions, even as it allows an extraordinarily difficult to reach exception that could satisfy those who absolutely do not want to see the application of the death penalty come to an end.

It’s an imperfect compromise, I’ll admit – but in a big ol’ swath of America that runs from roughly Florida to Idaho, it may be the best compromise we can make right now, and right now, in those places, that might have to be good enough.

Entirely Off The Subject Dept.: We are still trying to get signatures for the petition to change the name of Manhattan’s W 121st St (one block from Seminary Row) to George Carlin Street, and we need your help; you can sign right here. The goal is to reach 10,000 signatures by Monday, so…get to it.

 

On Bilking The Sophisticated, Or, Check It Out: We’re Suing Banks! September 6, 2011

Filed under: Economics — fakeconsultant @ 9:54 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

I took a break to enjoy the holiday, as I’m sure many of you did, but my inbox kept busy, and on Friday came a doozy, courtesy of the Washington Post.

You remember that little bit of a banking crisis we had a couple of years back, where banks around the world might have possibly, maybe, just a little, conspired in a giant scheme to package toxic mortgage loans into Grade A, investment-ready securities instruments, which then blew up in everyone’s faces to the tune of a whole lot of taxpayer bailouts?

Well all of a sudden, it looks like an agency of the Federal Government is looking to do something about it, in a real big way.

Last Friday the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) announced they’re suing 17 firms (I’ll give you a list, bit it’s pretty much all the usual suspects); depending on who you ask the Feds are seeking an amount as high as $200 billion.

As Joe Biden would say, it’s a big…well, it’s a big deal, anyway, and that’s why we’re starting the new week with this one.

“An artist is only answerable to himself. He promises nothing to the centuries to come save his own works. He stands caution only for himself. He dies childless. He has been his own king, his own priest, and his own god.”

–Charles Baudelaire, as quoted in the book Cezanné and Beyond, edited by Joseph J Rishel and Katherine Sachs

So what do we know?

As we said, on Friday the Washington Post and others reported that there were a series of lawsuits filed by the FHFA in their capacity as Conservator of the assets of Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac against darn near everyone.

The FHFA is alleging, to make a long story short, that everyone involved misled Fannie Mae or Freddy Mac (the “Entities”, in the words of the lawsuits), to some extent, and that the misleading involved making representations to the Entities about the various metrics related to what Fanny and Freddy were buying from these banks.

For example, it’s alleged that when certain banks sold batches of mortgage loans to the Entities, they lied about how many of the owners were actually living in the homes; that makes a difference when you’re trying to figure out how likely a borrower is to pay back a loan.

It appears that a defense the banks will offer is that Fannie and Freddy were “sophisticated investors” who should have known the risks buried in the batches of loans they were buying (and they were sophisticated investors: they bought, literally, trillions of dollars worth of loans) – but if it can be proven that the banks were lying about what was in the loan packages, that defense might not do so well in front of a jury.

Everyone involved” includes Bank of America (B of A), Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase, Countrywide (which means B of A is actually being sued twice), Deutsche Bank, Credit Suisse, the UK’s HSBC and Barclays Banks, France’s Société Générale, the Royal Bank of Scotland, Nomura Securities (representing Japan), and GE and GM (GE Capital is a surprisingly large and varied business; GM got in the banking business to finance auto sales, and you may today know them as Ally Bank).

Of course, Wall Street is also part of “everyone”; that’s why the list also includes Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and Merrill Lynch (which means, thanks to acquisitions, that B of A is actually getting sued three times). The City of Memphis also proudly makes the list, thanks to First Horizon.

Some notable names not on the list? Key Bank and Wells Fargo, who seem to have escaped action so far; there’s also UBS (Union Bank of Switzerland), who was already served with a similar lawsuit in July.

It is difficult to determine exactly how much money is involved, as various sources disagree, but we know that Deutsche Bank is being sued for about $14 billion, all by itself. (B of A is being sued, all told, for a bit over $50 billion; they’ve already paid out more than $12 billion this year to settle another similar claim.)

Felix Salmon, at the Seeking Alpha website, has created a chart that seeks to measure who is in the most trouble here; by his measure JP Morgan Chase is far and away at the top of the list…except that the current incarnation of B of A represents three of the top eight spots on his list, which suggests the FHFA is targeting them for the most recovery. (Salmon used the number of individual defendants, how many pages were in the lawsuit, and whether the suits seek punitive damages as his yardsticks; from there he calculated a score that makes up his rankings.)

All this had to happen right now, it appears, because a statute of limitations is in play; the WaPo reports that a failure to file the suits would have meant the FHFA would have lost the ability to recover those monies. (It’s also reported that pre-lawsuit negotiations were stalling, and those negotiations will presumably continue, with a series of impending court dates to help, shall we say, sharpen the focus.)

Now that is pretty much all the story I have for you today on this one – except for a bit of a “discuss amongst yourselves” to finish things up:

It has been suggested that the FHFA is in an inherently conflicted position in all these cases. That’s because the agency is acting as both the regulator of these banks and the “victim” as we seek any monies that may be due from any fraud.

So what would be a better situation?

Should the FHFA continue to regulate the banks they’re suing as a victim, or should another regulator be put in place…or should another Conservator be appointed, leaving the FHFA as “just a regulator”, and not a victim?

It’s a question worth about $200 billion, more or less – and even in these times, that’s still a lot of your money.

 

On Running Your Own Government, Or, Why Pay The Military? July 30, 2011

I have not been talking about the insanity around the debt ceiling and debt and deficit and the efforts of Republicans to drive us all off the cliff, but I am today – and I’m going to do it by allowing you to grab ahold of this problem and see for yourself just how unbelievably bad this manufactured crisis is going to be.

You will hear a lot of conversation about the consequences from others; today, however, you are going to get the chance to be both the President and the Secretary of the Treasury, and you will get to decide for yourself exactly what bills the Federal Government should and should not pay as the cash runs out if a deal is not made by the time borrowing authority runs out.

At that point you’ll be able to see what’s coming for yourself – and once you do, you won’t need me to tell you what ugly is going to look like.

“…no state has the right to secede unless it wishes to…[and] it is the President’s duty to enforce the laws, unless somebody opposes him…”

William H. Seward, deprecating President James Buchanan’s efforts to preserve the Union, as quoted in the book Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era

So before I go sending you off to take the reins of power, let’s fill you in on a few things that you’ll need to know.

If no one has explained it to you yet, the Great Big Fuss that is going on right now is set around two issues: there are those who feel that the best way to make this economy better is to ensure that the Federal Government is a smaller player in our economy and not running on a deficit; many of these folks feel the way to achieve this is to make immediate, drastic, cuts in Federal spending.

At the same time, the United States has run up against its “debt limit”. That means the US will be unable to borrow money to fund ongoing government operations, and as you’ll soon see, right now we borrow a lot of the money we need to run today’s Government.

So if you are one of those who seeks to immediately cut Federal spending, you could force that to happen by refusing to allow the Federal Government any more borrowing authority; the fear of what could happen after that is presumably going to force the opposition to accept any deal, no matter how draconian, just to obtain that borrowing authority.

Naturally, the bigger a hostage you’re holding, the more draconian of a deal you hope you can make, and holding the “Full Faith and Credit of the United States” hostage is about as big as it gets; that’s why the Republicans are pushing for everything right this very second, from the end of Medicare and Medicaid to the right to mine uranium right next door to the Grand Canyon.

So with all that in mind, let’s talk money.

In the month of August, the Federal Government is expected to take in $172.4 billion.

There will be a mess of bills that are coming due during the month; that amount totals $306.7 billion, and that means about 44% of the bills must go unpaid.

Where’s that money go?

The Big Five are interest on current debt, which must be paid to avoid a default, payments due to defense contractors, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid; the five of those, alone, will be just about $160 billion.

And that leaves $12.4 billion to fund everything else the Federal Government has to do.

That would include the remaining cost of supporting our several wars, the entire Federal law enforcement establishment (for example, the FBI, DEA, ATF, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the TSA, the Border Patrol, the Federal Marshals’ Service and the Bureau of Prisons), the National Parks Service and the Forest Service, the Centers for Disease Control, the Weather Service…well, just about every single thing the Federal Government does, except the Big Five.

So that’s the situation – and now it’s time for you to become the boss and make the choices:

The fine folks at Bloomberg Government have created an interactive tool that allows you to point and click your way to figuring this stuff out.

You will find your spending choices, and you just click on what you want until you run out of money, which the handy bar on the left will manage for you. When the bar turns red…you’re out of money.

“…Each month, I put all my bill collectors’ names in a hat, reach in, and pull out a name. That’s who I pay. If you keep calling here, then your name is not going in the hat next month.”

–Steve Harvey, quoted in October 2003’s Vibe magazine

OK folks, so now you know where to go, and you know what to do, so let’s make something happen.

Take this tool and use it to create a conversation about just what really is at stake, and watch the look on your friends’ faces when you point out that the entire Federal Government is about to go out of business if Republicans have their way.

I’d tell you the looks on their faces would be priceless – but that’s not true.

Absent a debt ceiling deal, the price is actually going to be about $134 billion, which is the money we’re just not going to have next month, when we’re not doing things like paying for the salaries of active-duty servicemembers or food inspectors or the guards out there at the Supermax.

It should be a fun time, all the way around – unless, of course, you’re one of the 300 million or so of us who are gonna get screwed over by it all.

 

Inslee Running For Washington Governor, Supports Full Marriage Equality June 29, 2011

Congressman Jay Inslee (WA-01) announced his candidacy for Governor of the State of Washington in Seattle Monday, and Your Erstwhile Reporter was present.

The candidacy was announced with a speech that focused on “process improvements” and the invocation of new technology jobs as an economic engine for job growth (and in fact the event took place at the headquarters of a company that has developed seed-derived biofuels that have been used to power military and commercial aircraft).

But that’s not the part that’s going to be the most interesting for the civil-rights supportive reader.

The most interesting part is that Inslee was quick to offer his support for full marriage equality in the State of Washington, should he find himself elected.

So before we get to the good stuff, let’s do a bit of historical review.

The Congressman has compiled a mixed record on issues that matter to the LBGT community during his time in Congress, and most of it can be considered supportive. He did vote to pass the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) repeal, and he co-sponsored the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act of 2009, which made it out of the House Oversight and Government Committee, only to die in the House Judiciary Committee. (The bill would have provided same-sex partners access to the spousal benefits of their Federal employee family members.)

An additional bill, HR 1024, would have given same-sex couples an expectation of equal treatment during immigration proceedings; this was also cosponsored by Inslee. (It also died in committee.)

However…when it came time in 2009 to try to repeal the Federal Defense of Marriage Act, the House got a bill together (HR 3567) that Inslee was not willing to cosponsor; it died, again, in House Judiciary.

Now here’s where I get a bit suspicious: a similar bill was introduced in the 112th Congress, on March 16, 2011, and of the 115 co-sponsors, virtually all signed on before April 6th. There are 5 who signed on later…including Congressman Inslee, who was one of two co-sponsors who all signed up on June 15th, which was just 12 days before his announcement.

The historical review complete, let’s talk about Monday.

I walked into the after-announcement “press availability” just in time to record this exchange:

REPORTER: “Congressman, would you address two social issues that are in the headlines these days? One, where do you stand on gay marriage, two, where do you stand on the legalization of marijuana?”

INSLEE: “Thanks for your easy question, sir, uh. Um, so I believe in marriage equality, and the reason I believe in that is that uh, I’ve been married for 38 years, and I fundamentally believe that no government, and no politician should deny any of my fellow Washingtonians the right to have what I have, which is a stable, committed, you know, meaningful relationship. So I’m gonna support, uh, the legalization of that equality in the State of Washington. And when we do that, uh, we will do it to make sure in a way that no religious organization doesn’t have the right to have their own definition for their own purposes, under their belief of spirituality. This is a situation where we can have both equality, which is a quintessential Washington value. And I said I love the State, one of the reasons I love the State of Washington is we have been leaders in equality in so many different ways; this is another place where I think Washington should lead.

Uh, marijuana, there are two things I know we should do for sure. Number one, we have got to get the intention of the voters of the State of Washington to be honored, which does allow the use of medical marijuana in the State of Washington…and right now, that intent of the voters is being frustrated by the Federal government, which is threatening the Federal–uh, State government any time you try to enforce the will of the people. So we need some changes to frankly, get the Federal government off our backs when it comes to the ability of Washingtonians to have access to medical marijuana.

Second, I believe that we should stop wasting so much of our resources in our criminal justice system associweated–associated with mari–marijuana, particularly personal use of marijuana. This is something that is really does not bring value or–or reduce significant levels of crime, and we need to reprioritize our law enforcement away from chasing folks who are involved in–in marijuana; we got enough problems in our criminal justice system, I’m aware of that, I guess in part because my daughter-in-law is a forensic scientist at the crime lab I’ve got a sense of the challenges. Law enforcement’s strapped; they got a lot of problems to deal with.

As far as total decriminalization, I’m not there yet at this moment. I’m a parent, I’m just not comfortable right now, uh, and that’s my position.”

OK, so that’s a pretty interesting story, and we could leave it right there – but there is one extra bonus to the thing that is so good, so deeply ironic…that you may remember the ending of this story long after you forget the lead:

I got a parking ticket, I did, attending the event, issued by a Parking Enforcement Officer with an amazingly appropriate name…and that ticket was issued to me for a violation that occurred one block over from Harrison Street in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood …which means I showed up to watch the leading Democratic contender for Governor in 2012 announce his candidacy…and when it was all over, Officer J. Hell had issued me a ticket on Republican Street.

And all that proves the truth of what I’m always saying:

Some days you don’t even have to write jokes.
You just have to harvest ‘em.

 

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.)
.
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.