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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 Universities And Such, Or, If Obama’s A Kettle, Is Donald Trump Black? May 1, 2011

Just about 40 seconds after (Yes, He’s Actually The) President Barack Obama brought forth his Certificate of Live Birth unto the world Donald Trump was accusing Obama of somehow sneaking his way into some University or another.

If Trump’s to be believed, Obama was a terrible student at a College, and then he somehow snuck his way into a University; after that he basically grifted his way into becoming the President of the Harvard Law Review.

Trump would tell you that he’s a hustler, that Obama is, and we’ve got to do whatever it takes to figure out what kind of semi-illegal shenanigans Obama’s University experience was all about.

But here’s the thing: Donald Trump has his own history of semi-illegal University shenanigans—and it appears that some of his semi-illegal shenanigans continue to this very day.

”I don’t lie. When I speak, I believe it to be true. One week later, it may no longer be.”

–French raconteur Bernard Tapie

So here’s the deal: just like there are people who want to Be Like Mike, there are those who wish to emulate The Donald; in 2005 it was announced that Trump University would be formed to help make that possible (the name was trademarked in 2004).

According to the announcement, the University:

“…will offer a rich mix of products and services, including online e-learning courses, multimedia home study programs, and a series of publications. These diverse offerings are geared to a broad range of consumers, from small business owners and entrepreneurs to investors and other professionals looking to advance their careers and to create wealth. Trump University’s innovative, world-class business curriculum will be designed according to the Learning by Doing method. Content will be delivered through interactive learning experiences, including evaluating business plans, simulating real estate purchases, and developing marketing strategies.”

You first meet the “Admissions Office” by either signing up online or by attending one of Trump U’s free one-day seminars—and the Admissions Office is looking to get you to sign up for the $1495 three-day “conference”.

If you do, you are, according to those who’ve been there, instructed to immediately increase the credit limits on your credit cards (immediately as in during the next coffee break), so that you might take advantage of the real estate investment opportunities you’re going to be turned on to at the end of the weekend.

But it appears that investment opportunities aren’t what end up being presented to the conference attendees. Instead, they’re being presented with the opportunity to invest in more courses, this time for numbers ranging from $9,500 to $35,000.

If you jump in for the full package, you’re told that it’s “the next best thing to being Trump’s Apprentice”, and, thanks to your personal mentor (you’ll have a year’s access to this service), you’ll be connected to Realtors, contractors, and other investors (a “Power Team”); all this will allow you to become a Real Estate Professional, doing profitable real estate deals, just as Trump does.

You’ll make enough on your very first deal, it is claimed, to pay for the entire $35,000 course.

(There are other courses as well, including one known as the CEO Success Codes, intended to help you “Learn how to run your business The Trump Way”.)

What is the Trump Way, precisely?
Here’s how Stephen Goff, one of the Trump U trainers, lays it out, as described in a Houston Chronicle article:

You find a property worth $200,000, but the owner’s willing to take $125,000. Why?” Pause. “Because he’s in trouble.”

You put in an offer, even if you don’t have the money. Then you sign a contract, giving yourself 60 days to close. The next day, you put an ad in the paper, advertising the $200,000 property for $150,000. You get that money — in cash — before the 60 days is up, and voila: $25,000 profit without putting down a penny of your own money.

The same article quotes an expert who suggests that this strategy:

“…can be done, but it’s also just as easy for me to audition for American Idol and become the next Justin Timberlake…”

Fun Fact: in his book Trump University Real Estate 101: Building Wealth With Real Estate Investments, Dr. Gary Eldred, the Real Estate Mastery Program “Content Expert” for Trump U, quotes The Donald thusly:

“The worst things in history have happened when people stop thinking for themselves, especially when they allow themselves to be influenced by negative people. That’s what gives rise to dictators. Avoid that error at all costs…

…People who take responsibility have no need to blame others or to be continually finding fault. The naysayers never manage to contribute much and never amount to much either. Don’t join their club. They’re the lowest common denominator.

I knew a guy that I used to call up just to see who and what he would be blaming that day. I don’t think that guy ever thought he had personally made a single mistake in his entire life. From day one, nothing was ever his fault. His biggest blind spot was himself, and, sad to say, he became a total loser because he never thought of the remedy for his biggest failure: himself…” (emphasis is original)

There is a bit more to this story than we have revealed so far: a lot of the information I discovered about the University came from documents related to a lawsuit, filed in 2010 by former students Tarla Makaeff, Brandon Keller, Ed Oberkrom, and Patricia Murphy; that suit is today seeking class-action certification on behalf of all Trump U “students”.

The Plaintiffs allege that Trump U doesn’t live up to its own hype, that Trump is not involved personally, that the expensive seminars offer no real value (a trip to Home Depot to view building supplies is reportedly part of one seminar), and that the mentors and the “Power Teams” either disappear completely after the three-day course ends, or they appear to offer deals that are self-serving and marred by conflicts of interest—and all of that means no “one year apprenticeship”, followed by tons of income every month, which is what the courses seemed to promise in the first place.

(Page 24 of the complaint shows an image of the Trump U homepage, with a picture of The Oddly Haired One next to the words ““Are YOU My Next Apprentice? Prove it to me!”)

There was also a signed letter sent to potential enrollees:

…You can do it, even if you only have five or ten hours a week to spare. With our simple instructions and practice exercises – and ongoing support from your own Trump Team of Experts – you’ll have what you need to succeed!” (Emphasis in original). The letter closes with Donald J. Trump’s name, signature, and at the Trump University address, at 40 Wall Street, 32nd Floor, New York, NY 10005.

It is also alleged that efforts made to obtain promised refunds have come to naught; the refunds are apparently always “just about to be issued”, or the appropriate person is never available to answer the calls that are coming in seeking information about refunds.

Trump University countersued, claiming various forms of defamation; the action is being defended as a SLAPP suit.

(For the record, it’s easy to find Web pages with complaints about Trump U; those complaints, for the most part, mirror those in the lawsuit.)

This whole real-estate hustle turned educational hustle has caused a reaction from the world beyond Trump; that’s something he noted in his Trump U blog:

Recently Gary Trudeau spent a week lampooning Trump University in his comic strip Doonesbury. The basic premise of each strip in the series revolved around the disparity between Trump University and a traditional university. . . .
Trump University has also been mocked in one of Jay Leno’s monologues, in the New York Post’s Page Six cartoon, and probably in a lot of other places.

It’s nice to see that my new venture is making a splash in popular culture.
As they say, no press is bad press. (emphasis is original)

(Doonesbury’s August 8th, 2010 edition is one of those comics which mentions Trump’s “school”.)

The New York State Education Department informed Trump that an educational institution with no degree-granting programs and no differentiated graduate and undergraduate divisions can’t be a University; as a result Trump University is now known as The Trump Entrepreneur Initiative.

(Despite the State’s order, the Trump University name seems to have lived on, however: The Trump Store website, as of the time this was written, still sells “Trump University Audio Books” and “Trump University Books” and “Trump University DVD and Audio Packages”.)

And remember Gary Eldred, Trump’s “Content Expert”? It turns out he has a few credibility problems of his own: he co-hosted a radio show with another expert in running a successful real estate development business, Fredric “Rick” Dryer—and in July of 2008, we found out the secret of how Dryer was able to be so successful.

He was convicted on 44 counts of real estate fraud.

So that’s our story for today: Donald Trump couldn’t wait to trash Barack Obama’s University experience, but Trump has some experience of his own regarding Universities—and from what we can see, when Trump opens a University, unsavory practices and questionable associations and lawsuits and regulatory actions follow in his path.

That’s no way to run a University, and, more to the point, it looks like The Trump Way is no way to run a country—except for maybe Blowhardistan.

 

On Fighting To Win, Or, A Tale Of Two Kinds Of Democrats April 17, 2011

If your view of politics is filtered by a lens marked “Progressive” or “Liberal”, there’s a pretty good chance that you’ve been gnashing your teeth and pulling your hair in frustration over the “give away the store, then negotiate” approach professional Democrats have used when facing the challenges from the Tea Party last year, and all that’s come after.

Over and over and over people like me have written stories wondering why Democrats, starting with this President, don’t get out in a very public way and slam Republican policies, over and over and over—especially when most Americans hate the things Republicans seem to love to support.

Turning over Government to the highest bidder?
Not so popular.

Going back to a heathcare system run by, for, and of the insurance industry?
Again, not so much.

Jacking up taxes and healthcare costs for you and me in order to provide another trillion in tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires?
So unpopular pollsters hardly believe it.

But there is another way, and today’s story is in two parts: we’re going to talk about how hard it is to get Democrats, as a group, to get loud and get aggressive—and then we’re going to talk about Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, who is out there showing any reluctant Democrat just exactly how you can “grow the brand”.

We are, all, North and South, engaged in the White Slave Trade, and he who succeeds best, is esteemed most respectable. It is far more cruel than the Black Slave Trade, because it exacts more of its slaves, and neither protects nor governs them. We boast, that it exacts more, when we say, “that the profits made from employing free labor are greater than those from slave labor.” The profits, made from free labor, are the amount of the products of such labor, which the employer, by means of the command which capital or skill gives him, takes away, exacts or “exploitates” from the free laborer. The profits of slave labor are that portion of the products of such labor which the power of the master enables him to appropriate. These profits are less, because the master allows the slave to retain a larger share of the results of his own labor, than do the employers of free labor.

–From the book Cannibals All!, by George Fitzhugh, 1857

So let’s start with the “how hard is it?” part:

I get to participate in conference calls these days, and I was recently on a call with a Member of Congress who shall remain nameless (to protect the moderately guilty). The Member was unable to remain on the call until my question, but I was able to get an email off to the press rep over there, who was kind enough to get back to me.

After an exchange of emails, we got down to the real question:

How should I explain to readers why they don’t hear every Democrat saying something like this, every single day: “We get that there’s a financing problem in the future, and the good news that it can be fixed without raising the retirement age, and without cutting benefits, and we can even lower the payroll tax rate at the same time–and that’s why we will never let the Republicans destroy Social Security, even under cover of a budget fight”?

Now I post on almost 30 blog sites, from Kos to Docudharma to Left In Alabama to The Bilerico Project, and all sorts of others in between, and if there is one theme that is consistent across all these sites, it’s that readers do not understand why so many Democrats, over and over, don’t avail themselves of the obvious political advantages that are there to be had when they get in front of the public and, well, frankly, act like Democrats?

So that was the question I sent…and it’s a good thing I didn’t hold my breath waiting for an answer, because that answer never came.

I sent the same question to the office of a very liberal Member with whom I’ve had good relations in the past—and again, nothing.

Here’s another “what does it take to get Democrats to act like Democrats?” story:

I was in Olympia, Washington, on April 8th for a big ol’ labor rally, and the featured speaker was Senator Spencer Coggs (he’s one of the 14 Democratic State Senators who left Wisconsin to make Scott Walker’s life a whole lot less comfortable), and he tore up the crowd pretty good…but there was at least a couple of hours of speakers, and the event was held right in front of the State Capitol, and the (Democratically controlled) Legislature was in session, right at that very moment…and the (Democratically occupied) Governor’s Mansion is literally right next door…and yet, somehow, not one single elected official of the Democratic persuasion from anywhere in the entire State of Washington could manage to find their way past the kids ringing bells under the Dome and out the front door to greet the thousands of voters standing just outside.

OK, so that’s the problem—but as you know, I like to offer solutions as well, and with that in mind, it’s time to meet the Governor of Montana, Brian Schweitzer.

Now, as you might imagine, Montana is not exactly a haven for lefty liberals, but Schweitzer, a Democrat, is not only not caving under pressure…he’s showing Democrats everywhere how to send a message—and how to send it with style.

The Republican-led Legislature passed a slew of bills he didn’t like (he reported that none of ‘em created new jobs—and doesn’t that sound familiar?), and he could have given in and signed them—or he could follow the advice of Denny Lester, ace political cartoonist for the Helena (MT) “Independent Record”, and veto the hell out of those bills, preferably with a branding iron.

There is a Montana Department of Livestock, and if you intend to register a new cattle brand, they are the folks you need to see—and sure enough, on February 23rd, an “Official Brand Certificate” was issued to the Governor for the brand “VETO”.

Then the Governor went out and created a job in Montana: he had a series of branding irons made, each carrying the new brand in various sizes (“calf”, “yearling”, and “bull”, depending on how much he wanted to veto any particular bill).

“…so my Mom called to find out if there was a branding going on, and I said well, not really, it’s a sort of a branding, and she said, uh, do you need somebody to bring the beer?…”

–Governor Brian Schweitzer, April 13, 2011

The Governor got a few friends together last Wednesday, and he vetoed not one, not two, but 17 bills he felt were “either frivolous, unconstitutional or in direct contradiction to the expressed will of the people of Montana”…and he did it, with the cameras rolling, by using the branding irons to brand a red-hot “VETO” on those bills, all to the cheers of the assembled crowd.

You can see it for yourself, right here, in a video produced by the Montana Democratic Party—and trust me when I tell you, it’s a hoot:

Now if you watched that video, you might be thinking: “Hey, maybe that guy should be President…”—and that’s how we get to the real point of this story.

We have in front of us a President and a Democratic Party apparatus who can either negotiate with Republicans who want to kill both Social Security and Medicare (the likely end result being two programs and a Democratic Party that will basically be “circling the drain” from then on)…or they can take the branding iron to Paul Ryan’s “Catfood Plan v 2.0” and a lot of other Republican ideas besides, and they can help their own Party and make every Republican in the country feel the burn, all at the same time.

Since negotiating away Medicare and Social Security is hugely unpopular…that’s pretty much what I expect far too many Democrats to do, unless we can grab ‘em by the lapels and show ‘em that voters want Democratic Democrats—you know, the kind of Democrat who understands how to grow a brand, and how to keep it strong, and how to set fire to bad ideas, loudly and publicly, when that’s the right thing to do.

Tell your Member of Congress about this video, and your President, too; and let’s see if we can show our elected “followers” how to get on the road to becoming elected ”leaders”.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That, as it turns out, was wildly inaccurate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Social Security: Are You Ready For A Congressional “Video Staycation”? April 4, 2011

Diligent reporter that I am, I got up Thursday morning to do a bit of fishing for a story, and as so often happens, I’ve caught something a bit unexpected.

Now what I have for you today starts out as a bit of insider information that came to me on background—but it turns into a chance for those of us who support Social Security to very much get in the faces of our members of Congress, for two whole weeks.

And to make it even better, I’m going to throw out a few direct action ideas “for your consideration” (as they say in Hollywood during Awards Season) that would absolutely make good street actions and YouTube videos, both at the same time…and even more importantly, we’ll absolutely make some great Spring Break fun.

“I mean, just from the very notion that it said that 50 percent of beneficiaries under the Social Security program use those moneys as their sole source of income. So we’ve got to protect today’s seniors. But for the rest of us? For – you know, listen. We’re going to have to come to grips with the fact that these programs cannot exist if we want America to be what we want America to be…

…We’re going to have to accept some changes as far as the rest of us. And what we’re saying is for those 55 and older do not have to worry about changes in benefits. But for the rest of us we will. We will have to do that.”

–House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, speaking at the Hoover Institution, March 21, 2011

OK, so like I said, I have bit of “inside baseball” that sets this whole thing up.

I got a piece of information “on background” yesterday from An Actual Well-Informed Source who seems to be about two or three “degrees of separation” away from actually being in the room while this news is occurring; because of that I’m willing to ascribe to it a reasonably good chance of proving to be entirely accurate.

What I was told was that Paul Ryan, who is the “manager” of the House Republicans’ budget-cutting effort, has decided not to push to include cuts in Social Security as part of the current fight over a Continuing Resolution…because Spring Break is coming up.

Check this out: according to the House Schedule, April 18-29 is Spring Recess, and I was told there’s a lot of concern on the Republican side about what would happen if anyone made any crazy Social Security proposals right now…when they have to go home and face you and me and the rest of the Angry Nation in just about two weeks.

(There’s some evidence to back this up: it is now possible that Cantor “misspoke” in that quote a couple of paragraphs up the page; as of this moment I can’t confirm if a “full backpedal” is officially underway or not.)

We can discern two things from that little nugget: for starters, we are having an impact on this fight—but beyond that, we also now know that we have two weeks to publicly torment those Members of Congress who are looking to cut Social Security…and we have two weeks to get ready.

Since hunger strikes are already underway, here are a few other ideas you’re welcome to steal to make your statement:

Is your Member going to be appearing at a community center or a friendly church?

Well how about arriving a few hours early and setting up a cardboard “Social Security Tahrir Square”?

You could have a box that’s the local “Catfood Grocery”, you could paint one of the boxes to look like “Grandma’s Gingerbread Box”, and you could even have a “Long-Term Care Facility” and hand out fliers of your own—and make sure you catch the reaction of the Congressional Staff on video to set up the bigger video of you interacting with the crowd…or y’all being ejected by the suddenly fearful Representative…or y’all “making happy” with a supportive Member.

Now you’re going to love this one, and there are two ways you can make it work.

What we’ll be playing on are the proposals to increase the retirement age and how we’ll be asking old people to do jobs that, obviously, they just can’t; what I basically want you to do is either go to an event…or outside one of the Members’ District Offices…and create a “job training center” for senior citizens.

Get a wheelbarrow and load it with a nice load of bricks, maybe fill some oval trays with a mess of plates and beverageware (safety first on this one; beware of glass and ceramic—and don’t forget the jackstands), and then rustle up a transfer belt and a heavy volunteer and simulate what nurses and their aides do all day long, and all night, too: lifting and transferring those who can’t do it for themselves.

Take it all to the venue, and you can either “train” your own 70+ year-old students…who might not be old enough to retire, under the new proposals…on how to do these types of jobs while the crowd watches—or you can invite older members of the crowd to try their hand at moving the bricks, or lifting the tray. Bring a medical worker and you can show them what lifting looks like, too—although I would be unlikely to invite the crowd to do that one without some kind of training.

(Do I have to warn you that this could get someone hurt, and you’ll have to use a reasonable amount of caution when you do this? I didn’t think so.)

Again, get it all on video—and then get that video right up on the Web.

Our final idea for today might be my favorite—but that might be because I used to be a caterer, and this really fits my sense of humor.

You know those “Top Chef” and “Iron Chef” shows?

And you know how we refer to that Deficit Commission as the Catfood Commission?

Well…why not sponsor a “Catfood Contest” at your Congresscritter’s event?

Again, you could go two ways: invite “contestants” in chef’s whites to create delightful dishes with the Commission’s Catfood, or you could judge competing sculptures; they do both at the Spam Jam in Waikiki, and if it was me I’d steal the ambiance of this kind of an event from Hawai’i, especially since it’s Spring Break season anyway.

An alternative way to do this: performance art of an elderly couple having a Catfood Commission BBQ, cooking Catfood patties on portable grills to make a point.

So there you go:

We have two weeks to get ready to have two great weeks of fun just really tightening the screws on those Members of Congress who are looking to jack America out of Social Security, and we have ideas on the table that you are entirely welcome to borrow, or adapt, or outright steal—and with any luck, other readers will toss in some ideas of their own—so get your art on, gather your props, and bring extra video batteries and a blank tape to give the police…just in case.

And here’s one last thing to remember: this isn’t just about turning back a disastrous plan to break the backs of Americans for decades to come—it’s also about having a good time.

Well-executed comedy makes people agree with you, and to like your message, and that’s a powerful thing; the more fun you’re having, the better the whole thing is going to work.

Now go forth, make some mischief, and watch the magic happen.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

–From the Zenrin Kushu, attributed to Toyo Eicho

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is that what we want to go back to?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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