Saturday, April 30, 2011

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

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.

Friday, April 29, 2011

On the South Bend Mayor's race, or, The pot calling the kettle black

My beloved Grandmother Walker had a favorite expression that dated back to when people routinely cooked with wood fires.  "The pot calling the kettle black" means exactly what you think it does.  We'll return to that point a bit later.

The primary races for South Bend Mayor are pretty interesting this year - both for what they have, and for what they don't have.

The Republicans don't have a candidate, in any real sense.  They feature a guy who isn't campaigning, a guy who runs for something every election, and the presumed front runner, Wayne Curry, who didn't do very well when he ran for Common Council the last time around.

Interestingly, the major supporters of the Republican nominee of four years ago, Juan Manigault, don't appear to be displaying Curry signs in front of their homes or businesses.  Instead, you see signs (big ones) supporting Mike Hamann.

For those who don't know, Mike Hamann was a Republican when he served as a County Commissioner.  Now as an elected Democrat, Hamann serves as a County Council member.  He's currently a candidate in the Democratic primary for Mayor.

There are some who say Hamann is no Democrat.  One thing's for sure - he's no Progressive.  Hamann is a founding member of the so-called Citizens for Community Values.  The CCV has been the driving force for protecting legalized special discrimination against our GLBTcitizens in South Bend, and has been very active (if not dominant) in Republican election efforts.  And these folks backed a candidate the last time around who shared their conservative social values, but also managed to make 1.1 million dollars disappear while he was in charge of an agency whose only function was to keep track of money.  (I documented this through a FOI request in the fall of 2007).

The more familiar type of Democrats running are Barrett Berry, Ryan Dvorak, and Pete Buttigieg.

Berry has an interesting background, but has low name recognition and hasn't raised much money.  Polls seem to indicate the race is between Dvorak and Buttigieg - but such polls are generally of "likely Democratic voters".  One wonders if such polls reflect crossover possibilities of former Republicans voting in the primary.

But now let's look at the Pot (Dvorak) and the Kettle (Buttigieg).

Dvorak is currently serving as a member of the Indiana General Assembly.  His father, Micheal, serves as St. Joseph County Prosecutor - also an elected official.  The younger Dvorak has had pretty easy election contests up to now - thanks at least in part to the Dvorak family being pretty seriously connected to the local Dem Powers That Be.

Dvorak seems to have served his constituents well and we could do a lot worse for Mayor.

Buttigieg is also a local guy, but left and returned.  A Rhodes Scholar and business consultant, Buttigieg took on a thankless task of running against an entrenched incumbent for the office of Indiana State Treasurer.  Far from "phoning it in", Buttigieg ran an aggressive campaign all over the state.  It's not a stretch to think he earned a lot of appreciation from the party and the officials he campaigned with - and that sort of appreciation is often expressed in future support.  (The future is now).

So now we come to the cookware conundrum.  Dvorak's campaign has recently released a TV ad which criticizes Buttigieg's political connections and lack of executive experience.  That differs from Dvorak's background in what way?

Actually, one might say the opposite may be slightly truer.  Dvorak's support is clearly from the local machinery, Buttigieg's is from the seasoned pragmatists who likely look at him as a future possibility for US Rep or IN Governor.  Which of the two seems more likely to hold to the familiar local path?  Neither has executive experience as such, but Buttigieg works with some of those folks and has a business background which could be quite useful in creating new developmental strategies for South Bend.  It always seemed that Buttigieg offered just a bit more than Dvorak to me.

I have to wonder if recent polling looked bad for Dvorak.  This campaign had been very amicable up to now, and the claims made in the new spot are a stretch at best.  Amicable campaigns do work best for the leader though, and the Dvorak strategists may have calculated that they had nothing to lose.  

This seems clumsy, and I suspect it will backfire in this race.  Hopefully it won't present problems for a good officeholder, Ryan Dvorak, in future campaigns.

Monday, April 25, 2011

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

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:

embed src="" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="400" height="300">

(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.

Friday, April 22, 2011

On the South Bend Common Council

Much has been made of the challenges facing South Bend.  Often it has been portrayed as in decline - others would argue that it is rebounding.  Which view is true probably depends on the time frame one is looking at.

One thing is certain.  The community needs to be attractive to the best and the brightest, from all backgrounds, in order to move forward.  So what does it say when the city's Common Council, with a super-majority of Democrats, votes on two separate occasions to sustain "special discrimination" against GLBT citizens?  That it is city policy to look the other way when its citizens are denied jobs, or housing, or other fair treatment, solely on the basis on that citizen's sexual orientation - or even another person's perception of that citizen's sexual orientation?  "It's all good", says the city of South Bend.

Now imagine you have job offers.  It's really easy to find out lots about the livability of cities these days.  Or imagine you are in charge of adding locations for the company you work for.  Well over 90% of Fortune 500 companies protect their employees from this type of discrimination.  But that protection would end as soon as their employees left the workplace.

So, essentially, the current Common Council doesn't seem very serious about moving forward - or at least is doing so with one hand tied behind its back.  That's important to think about as we approach the Democratic Primary election.

The at-large race with three seats available features three incumbents - though one (Derek Dieter) served from a District until now.  Dieter and Karen White both voted to sustain special discrimination.  The other incumbent, Buddy Kirsits voted to overturn it - and co-sponsored the most recent attempt. 

There are many other reasons to excuse Dieter from further duty.  Kirsits should be returned.  Karen White is a more complicated choice.  she does many things well.  People have told me for more than two years that she's about to do the right thing.  But twice she didn't.  Furthermore, the video of the pre-meeting meeting (now banished from the internet) showed her as being completely dismissive to the issue.  She should go.

In District two last time around, Charlotte Pfeifer lost narrowly to Henry Davis, Jr.  HDJ has made few friends on the Council and city employees because he constantly complains about how bad the city is at this and that.  He votes against measures simply because he doesn't understand them (his words).  He also voted to sustain special discrimination.  He must go.

Charlotte Pfeifer has a long record of accomplishment including the establishment of the DuComb Center and an ordinance to crack down on absentee landlords who neglect their properties.  She voted to end special discrimination.  She should be nominated and elected.

In District 6, Oliver Davis has been a tireless public servant - constantly seeking input from and meeting with his constituents.  He sponsored the most recent attempt to end special discrimination.  He should be nominated and elected.

District 4 shapes up to be messy.  Rev. Timothy Rouse has served as an at-large member, but shifted into a district race when Ann Puzzello announced her retirement.  Ann was a tireless worker and a fierce advocate of ending special discrimination.  Rouse not only voted to sustain it; he made it clear that South Bend city government should shy away from leadership on difficult issues.  "I'm no trailblazer", was Rouse's declaration.  He must go.

He has at least two worthy opponents.  I'm thinking of Dr. Fred Ferlic and Marcus Ellison.  My concern is that they may split the vote from the constituency that favors ending special discrimination.  That could make things easier for Rouse.

Should Rouse be victorious, voters may want to consider the Independent candidacy of Kyle Chamberlin in the general election. 

We'll see how things unfold.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Assess candidate's record before voting

From today's South Bend Tribune

Last year the Human Rights Commission voted unanimously to request the Common Council amend our Human Rights Ordinance to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment. The commission has been unable to investigate several cases since there is no ordinance against such discrimination.

Only three of the nine council members voted for the amendment: Oliver Davis, Al Kirsits and Ann Puzzelo. All other council members voting against the amendment were unable to separate their own prejudice from public policy issues. They seemed to be saying if you're perceived to be GLBT you deserve to be fired if your boss is prejudiced against your orientation. People should be judged on work performance and nothing else. And speaking of work performance, if we choose to run for public office we are sworn to represent a diverse community and be sure all are protected against discrimination in employment. If we cannot separate our own prejudices from public policy issues then we should step away from public office.

The truth is EEOC says most businesses love diversity and seek welcoming cities to locate in. When voting on May 3 be sure you know where the candidates stand on this issue. Visit South Bend Equality's website at for survey results.
Penny Hughes
 Chairperson, South Bend Human Rights Commission

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

On Living Up To Your Words, Or, Tornado? That’s Not In The Constitution.

There are lots of big tough words coming out of our friends in the Tea Party these days, especially when it comes to the permissible functions of the Federal Government.

”If it’s not specifically enumerated in the Constitution,” they say, “It must be a function of the States—and the 10th Amendment says so!”

None are tougher in their language than those living in the States located below the old Mason-Dixon line—and by an amazing coincidence, just this weekend pretty much all of those States got a bit of a “gut check” in the form of dozens of tornados that slammed into the area.

So we’re going to put the Tea Party philosophy to the test today, and see just what exactly the Federal Government should—and should not—be doing to fulfill the Tea Party vision and to help those folks who were hit by this particular natural disaster.

“…For that was not true; his attitude was not to be explained by greed, or at any rate by greed alone, but rather by the touchiness which his great labors and their complete unsuccess had bred in him.”

--From the story The Village School Master [The Giant Mole], by Franz Kafka

Stories often begin by setting the terms of the discussion; that will be true today, and the framework for where we’ll start is Article 1, Section 8 of the US Constitution, which is the “unless it’s enumerated…” part of the Tea Party argument:

The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;

To borrow money on the credit of the United States;

To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;

To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States;

To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures;

To provide for the Punishment of counterfeiting the Securities and current Coin of the United States;

To establish Post Offices and Post Roads;

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;

To constitute Tribunals inferior to the supreme Court;

To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offenses against the Law of Nations;

To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;

To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;

To provide and maintain a Navy;

To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;

To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;

To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;

To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings; And

To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.

OK…so, let’s talk about “who’s who” in this little drama (for the record, this won’t be a complete list of events or people; it’s just a sample for the purposes of discussion):

Arkansas had tornados Friday night; seven people died (five of those from winds not attributable to a tornado), and according to “The Post and Courier” of Charleston, SC, there had been three days of warnings from the National Weather Service before this particular weather event.

The paper also reports that Oklahoma, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Mississippi were hit.

North Carolina was hit with as many as 62 tornados over the weekend, with at least 22 dead.

In Virginia, Saturday, a 12-mile swath of Gloucester County was severely damaged, with a total of 5 dead in the Commonwealth.

North Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi have declared a State of Emergency, so has Virginia. Oklahoma has been under one State of Emergency due to wildfires since March, a second Emergency was declared over the weekend, and Federal assistance was again requested by Governor Mary Fallin to help make things better.

To keep this to a reasonable length, we’re going to drill in on three States, and three Governors; those States are Virginia, Alabama, and Oklahoma.

Alabama’s new Governor, Robert Benchley, is one of those “enumerated powers” kind of guys, in fact, he signed The 10th Amendment Pledge; the parts which concern us here read as follows:

The phrase, “General Welfare,” in Article I, Section 8 does not authorize Congress to enact any laws it claims are in the “General Welfare” of the United States. The phrase sets forth the requirement that all laws passed by Congress in Pursuance of the enumerated powers of the Constitution shall also be in the General Welfare of the United States…

… I do, and will continue to, oppose any and all efforts by the federal government to act beyond its Constitutional authority.

Let’s move on: the Tenth Amendment Center is proud of Oklahoma’s Mary Fallin for turning down the Federal grant to set up the State’s “Obamacare” insurance exchange (officially part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act [PPACA]) on 10th Amendment grounds—and she would also want you to know that:

“…I believe, as I know many of our legislators and the majority of our citizens do, that the PPACA is unconstitutional, fatally flawed and ultimately harmful to our economy and the health of our citizens…”

And then there’s Virginia:

Gov. Bob McDonnell on Friday drew cheers from the tea party crowd as he announced support for a “Repeal Amendment” to the Constitution.

“There has been a bi-partisan trampling of that federal compact of the 10th Amendment,” said McDonnell as he spoke at the Virginia Tea Party Patriots Convention in Richmond.

A “Repeal Amendment” was proposed last month by House Speaker Del. Bill Howell, R- Fredericksburg. The amendment to the U.S. Constitution would allow a federal act to be over-turned if two-thirds of state legislatures voted against it. Such an act would sway power to state legislatures, and is a popular concept in tea party circles.

When the panel moderator asked McDonnell is he would support such an amendment, he replied “yes.”

And now it’s disaster time, and these Governors are looking for disaster help…but they have a very particular view of how the Federal Government and the States ought to relate to each other…so… at this moment of urgency, just what precisely are the specifically enumerated powers that the Federal Government has at our disposal for disaster relief?

Well, according to my quick re-reading of Article 1, Section 8, that would be exactly…no power at all, except to act in case of insurrection, to try any Federal criminal offenses that might occur, and to repair any Federal docks or other needful Buildings.

(You’ll note I did not say “try and punish” any Federal criminal offenses. That’s because there’s nothing I can see in Article 1, Section 8 about Federal prisons.)

I don’t see anything in there about the National Weather Service, either, so from now on, if a State wants to know if a tornado’s coming, I guess they better pony up the cash and start themselves a State Weather Service, or buy the forecasting and warning services from a private contractor.

(This could be good for the economy, by the way: forecasting the weather requires satellites, and if every State that believes in self-reliance each launches their own satellite constellations…that’s some jobs, right there.)

FEMA? In the view of those who truly understand, it’s unconstitutional on its face, and, therefore, the Governors shouldn’t be looking to them for help.

The loans that businesses and citizens rely on to get back on their feet? Show me the “enumerated” language that permits those activities, because I can’t find it.

Grants to States to cover their extraordinary expenses? I don’t see anything authorizing such activities, and with that in mind…I don’t think so.

According to the “purist” view, the 10th Amendment requires all of this to be handled by the States, not the Federal Government; that’s why, for the life of me, I can’t figure out why these Governors weren’t thinking about disaster planning from the start of their terms.

Why weren’t these supposedly self-reliant States ready when this happened?

I mean, each of these States already has an emergency management department, and I’m sure they can manage much better locally than the Feds (or at least they claim they can), so why are they even asking for Federal help in the first place?

How is it possible that these Governors never considered that protecting the citizens of their States would be “Job 1”, to steal a phrase, and, to make a moral point, why should the rest of us be bailing them out now?

I mean, hey: you told us these were State problems, and now you have problems, and you still have States, so you know what?

Live up to your words: get all “10th Amendment-y”, and suck it up, and deal with it yourselves.

That’s what you told us you wanted, when you were Full Of Big Campaign Talk, so now do it, Governors, and stop all that crying and whimpering to us for outside help, and go make that 10th Amendment work for you.

Show us how much better local control is than when the Giant Hand Of The Federal Government Tells You What To Do.

Be the self-reliant Brawny Men that you were in your campaign ads.

And I’d pose the same challenge to anyone who voted for these Governors:

Remember how you all cheered when your candidates told you Government wasn’t the solution; that it was, instead, the problem?

If you really believed that, then what in the world are you doing asking for the Federal Government’s help now?

After all, you said you wanted Government “off your back”, and “the Government that governs best governs least”, right, so why would you want Government in your faces at a time when you’re trying your hardest just to get back on your feet?

Why aren’t you (and I’m thinking specifically of you, Tri-Corner Hat Patriot Guys) demanding that the Federal Government stay out of this and leave the States alone?

And it’s only fair: there was no tornado in California this weekend, so why should Californians pay taxes for your disaster?

And remember how adamant you were, just a couple of weeks ago, that the budget cuts associated with those Continuing Budget Resolutions weren’t deep enough?

Well, how are we supposed to make the kind of budget cuts y’all wanted on the Federal side when you’re coming around here demanding more money?

We have a deficit, remember, and we can’t be spending money we don’t have—and even if we had the money, we couldn’t spend it on helping you, because, as you all recall, there’s nothing specifically in the Constitution to allow it.

This is your problem, Constitutional purists, and, according to your own logic, it’s not ours…so if you want your roads and schools fixed, ask your citizens to volunteer to do the work or something.

Since we can no longer help you, maybe the Red Cross or some other private charity could fund the rebuilding of your communities.

Since so many conservatives believe corporate and religious philanthropy will fill in the gaps in the shrinking “social safety net”, you could try asking churches and private industry to do the work for you as a community service; I’m sure they’ll jump right in and pick up all the slack.

Hey: you were the ones full of tough talk last November, my Tea Party friends, and now it’s 10th Amendment “gut check” time, and I want to see you live up to your own words, if you have the “man pants” to do it…or I want you to see you acknowledge that this was all a giant load of hooey.

That maybe there’s a place for a United States of America, that maybe there is such a thing as “general Welfare”…or maybe even that being a 10th Amendment purist might be great down at the ol’ Heritage Foundation when you’re hustling for campaign money, but that once the big winds start blowing, ideology ain’t worth spit compared to a system of weather radars and satellites and a FEMA that will come and bail your butt out if it all goes wrong.

And if you voted for one of these clowns…either you need to get smart, right now…or maybe we need to cut the cord.

Maybe you need to see what your own vision of “10th Amendment reality” is really all about.

Maybe, just as so many of you have demanded, we should mind our own Federal business and let local government govern best.

And if it doesn’t work out, then, maybe, you’ll wake up and realize that Ronald Reagan was wrong: sometimes Government is the only game in town, and when it’s not around, providing helpful solutions…that’s when you got real problems.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

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

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 he can help his own Party and make every other 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”.

The Other America – Chapter 57

(I originally published this on The Campaign To Change America blog, Daily Kos, and Progressives, South Bend in 2007.  It was in reaction to my encounter with the community of West York - now slated for demolition.)

Don Wheeler
As an independent home inspector I am typically hired by would-be home purchasers to assess the buildings they have contracted to purchase.  Although the homes are sometimes in rough shape (generally these are vacant), normally they are not.  Occasionally though, they are worse than rough and people are living in them.  I was in such a place last Friday.

The home (a duplex) was located in a subdivision of sorts located in a small town about a half hour from South Bend.  On the map you might think you were looking at a mobile home park because of the narrow winding streets.  But these are all stick built fixed homes which I would guess were built in the 1950s.  Like mobile homes however, many if not most are built on concrete piers and skirted – instead of being on continuous foundations.  This is a very unusual type of construction for our area.

My guess is that this development probably was built by some large employer, probably offering production work and likely long gone (now) from the area.  These were likely “built on the cheap” and thought of as disposable.  Meanwhile most of the homes remain.  

As you’d expect, generally the people living here are disadvantaged and some in multiple ways.  If you’ve ever lived among people in these circumstances the social and conversational patterns would be familiar.  As I worked on the outside I overheard complaints about the landlord(s), hassles with government aid agencies, the gauntlet (unending) presented to make receiving disability benefits from the Social Security program so difficult, etc.  The social patterns however, are much like that of any compact neighborhood.

Once I’d inspected the exterior of the building, I started in on the west unit.  I’d noticed the residents were not particularly clean and the reason soon became apparent. There was no gas service.  That meant no heat, no hot water and no range.  I was told that the gas company had cut them off although they’d made the payment at the last minute.  A miscommunication between the office and field personnel – while unfortunate – is not always avoidable, but they’d been waiting several days already to have their service reinstated.

I started with the attic.  Though the day was comfortable (around 70 degrees) the attic was stifling.  It was obvious that the roofing was failing due to poor ventilation.  Another symptom was the mold throughout.  Aggravating the problem was that when the heating system was active the heat runs were not all connected to registers.  This had the effect of dumping much of the heated air right where you don’t want it – in the attic.  Add to that, there was only about two inches of insulation.

Back down in the “living area” what was really striking was the mold throughout.  It’s true that the place was untidy but that had little to do with what I had seen.

The east unit seemed somewhat less untidy and had all utilities active, but when I opened the door to the utility area two things stood out.  The first was that the furnace covers were off and there seemed no way to reattach them.  The residents of this unit told me the furnace had failed sometime during the winter, a technician had come out and nothing had happened since.  Obviously, they’d had no heat any time since then.  The second thing that stood out was the herd of the boldest, most lethargic cockroaches living in the room that I’ve ever seen.

You might think that it was beside the point, but I endeavored to have a look under the structure.  Opening the access I was greeted by a massive flock of juvenile mosquitoes.
No ventilation here either.  I could go on and on about the problems with this home – and for my client, I did.

At some point, a young woman drove up and parked outside.  She was later identified to me as “the landlord”.  She seemed pleasant enough, and the tenants spoke with her amicably and at great length.

As you can probably tell I found this experience pretty upsetting.  I’ve said to people since then that I don’t think I would sleep making money off people whom I put in this kind of abode.  And how do you look them in the eye?

A couple or so years back my wife and I inherited a small sum from my beloved grandmother.  We decided to invest in real estate and at the same time do a small gesture towards eliminating poverty housing – a cause Habitat For Humanity is rightly famous for.  We bought two modest homes, one needed only minor work and the other was a pretty serious rehab.  Don and I (yes that’s his name too) worked for a few months on the second home.  A home needs to work properly before one worries about the aesthetics.  We addressed both and eventually we offered “our baby” proudly to prospective renters.  We got tons of applications and wound up with a great tenant.  (In The Other America --Chapter 58, I’ll tell you what happened to her.)

There is a way to do this the right way…a way where everyone wins.  Someone with a bit of money can take the opportunity to make a return from renters while providing them a place they can proudly call home.  This is how it should work.  I’ve now been at both ends of the equation.  I’ve certainly lived in poverty housing in the past – though nothing a bad as I’ve described here -- and I’ve rented nice places.  Now that I’ve experienced some success it seems reasonable to require of myself at a minimum to do some good while I’m doing well.

Actually, sometimes things work out.

Don Wheeler

There was an article of great interest to me in yesterday's South Bend Tribune.  Their story Walkerton bidding adieu to West York reveals the history and the future of what was intended as temporary housing for the World War Two effort.

In 1944, the federal government built temporary houses in Walkerton to house workers from the local Kingsbury ordnance plant during World War II.

But at the end of the war there was a housing shortage and the government decided to keep the poorly constructed houses to combat the shortage.

According to Phil Buckmaster, economic development specialist for Walkerton, 120 homes were built on the 13-acre plot of land. The majority of these homes were duplexes with under 900 square feet per unit.

As it happened, I was hired to do a home inspection of one of these duplexes in 2007 - and it was a real eye opener. I believe Mr. Buckmaster was either misquoted or misspoke, because I'm confident that the buildings were under 900 square feet - rather than the units.

The experience caused me to write a blog post published on the Campaign To Change America (John Edwards) blog, Daily Kos, and my former Progressives, South Bend page (later pirated).  I'm reposting it after this one.

As the Tribune explained, this neighborhood, now slated for demolition, will not just shove poor people somewhere else.  Thanks in large measure to the efforts of Anne Mannix and Neighborhood Development Associates, LLC, new affordable housing will replace what is left of the community.

Dogwood Estates will feature 40 new affordable single family homes.

The homes will be lease-purchase, and renters will have the opportunity to buy their homes after 15 years of leasing.

New infrastructure including sewers, and water lines, and roads are included in the project, too.
Walkerton partnered with Neighborhood Development Associates, a nonprofit organization in South Bend that works with communities and nonprofit groups to assist with development of affordable housing.

We don't tend to get good news like this very often.  

Thursday, April 14, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jon Kyl listens to Radio Disney--and doesn't know those are cover songs.

Jon Kyl likes KFC better than Popeye's.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jon Kyl can see Russia from his house.

Jon Kyl's Malcolm X poster is covered by a Robert Mapplethorpe that no one will ever know...

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

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

Jon Kyl's iPhone has a dial.

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

I know where Lemmywinks is tonight--and so does Jon Kyl's colon.

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

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

Jon Kyl never got that "Mulva" joke.

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

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

Jon Kyl's favorite kink is to dress up like a fence and play "Border Crossing".

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

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

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

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

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

Jon Kyl once had Hansen's Disease--but then he got his "Mmm Bop" removed.

If Jon Kyl was in "Star Wars" he'd be known as Luke NotIntendedToBeAFactualStatement-Walker.

Jon Kyl's Danny has never met its Dingo.

Jon Kyl once tried to Baskin his Robbins.

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 11, 2011

DADT Update: The Service Chiefs Report, The Republicans Fret

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.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

On Reincarnation, Or, Was Glenn Beck Just Promoted?

So, the thing is, I’m not the one who tends to follow the herd.

If everyone’s backed up on the freeway, I’m the one who will look for the longer but less crowded country road. When everyone’s talking about whoever out-sang or out-danced or out-cake-bossed someone else, I’m the one with the blank face—and if there’s a room full of people line dancing, I’ll be the one over in the corner having a smoke and wondering what went wrong with y’all.

And that’s why, while everyone else is all excited about Glenn Beck’s imminent “disappearance” from the television firmament…I’m not so sure.

In fact, I can easily see a scenario that leads to a lot more Beck, and that’s what we’ll be talking about today.

“I’ve still got a lot to learn about Washington. Why, yesterday, I accidentally spent some of my own money.”

--Former Senator Fred Thompson, as retold by former Senator Bob Dole

OK, so you’re News Corp, and you’ve got a really popular character on your Fox News network—but the guy is a disaster from a profit-making point of view, because he’s driving away all those advertisers that you need to make the money thing work.

And that’s not all: some suggest he’s no friend of Roger Ailes, who runs Fox News…and in television (to paraphrase Tom Arnold), you can be hostile with your boss, or you can be unprofitable—but you can’t be both.

If that wasn’t bad enough, all his crazy talk is making it hard for Fox News to be a “real” news network, and that’s keeping them from getting the access they used to have when the last Administration was in town.

To make things even worse, there’s that Fox Business Channel, which draws an average audience that’s about 1 or 2 or 3% of what Beck draws to his Imaginarium every night.

And now the time has come To Do Something.

What is coming from here on out is entirely speculative, and I do not have the input of An Actual, No-Kidding, Source I Can’t Name, as I have had in some other stories recently—but if you had hired me, in my fake consulting capacity, To Do Something about this particular turd sandwich…I might just be able to make it work.

First things first: you separate Beck from the Fox News network (and, of course, Ailes), and that did take place Wednesday when Fox and Mercury Radio Arts (Beck’s production company) announced:

…that they will work together to develop and produce a variety of television projects for air on the FOX News Channel (FNC) as well as content for other platforms including FOX News’ digital properties. Glenn intends to transition off of his daily program, the third highest rated in all of cable news, later this year.

So that leaves you with a chance to begin “rehabilitating” Fox News—but it also leaves you with Beck producing the occasional “special” and producing lots of “premium” content for his website, which would make me want to try to “monetize” him a bit more; that brings me to my next move:

Why not turn the Fox Business Channel…into the Fox Opinion Channel?

That’s right: put Imus, Beck, O’Reilly, Hannity, Cavuto, Fox and Friends, Huckabee, Lou Dobbs, Sarah Palin, Stossel…the whole wacky crew…maybe even Donald Trump, after his “Presidential Campaign” peters out…all on the same channel, all day and all night, and take some of that “premium” website content and turn it into “filler” for the new venture (and while you’re at it, make similar deals for filler with the rest of the gang).

So what about the current Fox Business business?

If you take everything off of that channel and distill it out to its “essence”, there might be two or three hours a day of potentially interesting programming; alternatively you take Stuart Varney and Liz Claman and make them the Fox News “business team” who come on every hour during the trading day with a three-minute “market wrap”. You could fill out the coverage with one longer recap daily, either before opening or after closing.

Now you’re taking a big chance here, and that’s because the advertiser boycott that has been crippling Beck on Fox will almost certainly continue—but if Beck were to change his message slightly (more subtly racist, less apocalyptic), he could gain some of those advertisers back.

For Fox, there isn’t much to lose, since Beck’s departure should help Fox News Channel regain advertisers who avoided the whole Beck mess (Poli-Grip still wants to reach Conservatives, yes?), and the current level of profit at the current Fox Business Channel probably wouldn’t even buy a week’s worth of Starbuck’s for the Fox and Friends trio—and since all the assets required to make the change are already “owned” by News Corp, costs don’t really go up with the change as much as they just shift around; the exception being the big splashy ad campaign to make it all happen.

Now here’s the crazy part: Fox and Beck appear to have begun the “parting of the ways” today—but at the same time, Fox News also dispatched Senior Vice President of Production/Development Joel Cheatwood to the new venture, which could suggest that Beck really does have something up his sleeve…or that Cheatwood’s welcome was also worn out at Fox.

So is Beck gone, or is Beck about to reappear in a whole new form?

I’m not sure, but there is a place he could go, and even though it’s a risk, it’s not a huge one—and if you took All The Crazy and put it “over there” it would allow you to clean up your mess “over here”, just in time for the potentially hugely profitable 2012 “Citizens United” Presidential campaign—and since many of your “Fox Opinion Channel” 2012 advertisers will love Beck and the rest of the gang (Crossroads GPS and the Tea Party Nation, for example), the risk of an advertiser boycott “over there” will be minimized until November 2012 at least.

As I say, it’s all completely speculative, so you have to take this with a bag of road salt—but it’s also the kind of thing that makes perfect sense, and if you ask me, nothing is more logical than the self-anointed King of Conspiracy dramatically reappearing after creating one of his own.

Monday, April 4, 2011

On Why Method Matters, Or, Lawrence O’Donnell, Let’s Talk About DADT

I had the MSNBC on last Thursday night, and Lawrence O’Donnell was talking to Ari Berman of “The Nation” about the new Obama Campaign Chief of Staff, Jim “Not Part Of Loggins &” Messina.

In the course of that conversation O’Donnell said something about the recent repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) legislation that suggests to me that he could use a short reminder of how that legislation fits into the larger view of what the LBGT community is looking for as the march toward true civil rights continues.

Luckily for Mr. O’Donnell, I am available to help him out on this one; that’s why today we’re going to audit “LBGT Agenda 101”—or at least the “Cliff’s Notes” version, anyway.

“In name we had the Declaration of Independence in 1776; but we gave the lie by our acts to the words of the Declaration of Independence until 1865; and words count for nothing except in so far as they represent acts. This is true everywhere; but, O my friends, it should be truest of all in political life. A broken promise is bad enough in private life. It is worse in the field of politics…”

--From Theodore Roosevelt’s The New Nationalism speech, Osawatomie, Kansas, August 31, 1910

So the first thing we better do so all this can make sense is to give you a bit of transcript to read, and the context into which it fits. I’m going to highlight what is particularly important to this discussion.

O’Donnell and Berman were, as we note above, talking about Jim Messina (Berman has an article up at “The Nation” entitled Jim Messina Is Alienating Obama's Base), and Berman was explaining that folks on the left have concerns about Messina because of his history working for Rahm Emanuel as Obama’s Deputy Chief of Staff, and as Chief of Staff for Max Baucus (who is today one of the most “corporate” elected officials working at Senate, Inc.).

This includes the LBGT community, who have already had trouble with Messina; some feel he tried as hard as possible to bury the DADT repeal issue on the theory that there’s no need to fight needless fights when the LBGT community ain’t gonna be voting Republican anytime soon anyway.

Now here’s the part of the transcript that we care about; Berman will be speaking first:

…And that`s all we can do, is look at what has he done. And in his time at the White House, in his time working for Baucus, he`s clashed with Democratic activists, with grassroots organizers over and over and over again. And that`s a pattern through his career that I found in this article.

O`DONNELL: On Don`t Ask, Don`t Tell, you have complaints about how long it took and -- but they succeeded.

BERMAN: Absolutely.

O`DONNELL: So when you succeed -- in my experience, working in the Senate, there`s all sorts of tensions and negativity within the party as you`re moving toward a goal. And then when you succeed everybody forgets it. They go hey, we did it.

So…Lawrence…let me explain what you got wrong here:

Most of the time, when you succeed in the Senate, you’re pursuing a single legislative item, and success is a good thing indeed.

But DADT repeal can’t be considered in a vacuum, and it is only one of four legislative “fronts” on which the battle for full civil rights has been joined.

I write a lot about Social Security, and legally married same-sex couples can’t collect those benefits the same way opposite-sex married couples do; the same is true with Medicare…and forget about “Married – Filing Jointly” at tax time.

All of that is because of the Federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and its repeal is the second metaphorical “front” in our civil rights battle.

The law could be overturned in the courts, but a lot of folks assume that the issue will rise to the Supremes and they’ll “find” a reason to uphold DOMA.

That means Congress might the only place to get something done (and a lot of the same folks think Messina slow-walked the issue in ’09, which might have been the best chance the Democrats had to move this along). Now that the ’12 Presidential is coming up—and DADT repeal was handled the way it was—it’s presumed that Messina is going to be even less help than ever before.

If you’re gay and you’re looking for a job, everyone from Cracker Barrel to Exxon/Mobil seems to look down on you, on one level or another (and if you’re perceived to be a transgendered person, it can be even worse).

After you get the job, if your boss thinks you’re part of the LBGT community, it might get you fired with no real legal recourse…but if Congress were to pass an Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), some of this might get better—and once again that makes last year’s battle over DADT relevant.

The fourth battle is the same issue in a different venue; just last month Minnesota’s Al Franken and Colorado’s Jared Polis introduced Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) bills in the Senate and House, respectively, designed to protect LBGT elementary and secondary students from harassment at the schoolhouse.

That’s the short and the sweet of the thing, Lawrence, and that’s why the means by which DADT repeal was enacted is not going to make anyone forget much of anything.

After all, the guy who helped make life tough for those trying to get DADT repeal passed is now the Official Presidential Campaign Gatekeeper, and if the history of DADT repeal is any guide there isn’t gonna be a lot of Presidential help with the other three parts of this legislative agenda—unless, of course, the Administration needs to turn on the gAyTM for some reason.

Here’s one last example of how all this DADT repeal “process” matters.

You may recall this open letter from the Obama ’08 Campaign, where Obama said:

“…as President, I will place the weight of my administration behind the enactment of the Matthew Shepard Act to outlaw hate crimes and pass a fully inclusive Employment Non‐Discrimination Act to outlaw workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

As your President, I will use the bully pulpit to urge states to treat same‐sex couples with full equality in their family and adoption laws.”

Now, knowing what we do about how DADT repeal passed…do you, Mr. O’Donnell, think it is more or less likely that the President will use the bully pulpit to pass a fully inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act—and do you see why the way one piece of legislation “Hail Mary-s” its way into law might impact the way a whole community feels about the rest of its legislative goals?

And for the LBGT community, this isn’t just “ordinary” legislation.

This is about the right to have a place to live, and a job, and the right to marry, and the right to have a marriage recognized everywhere, just like anyone else’s, and not getting separated from your partner of 20 years just because the county says so—and it’s also about how a community is sick and tired of hearing that “if you help us today…in a few more years you won’t have to be a second-class citizen any more”.

I really do like your work much of time, Mr. O’Donnell, but you really did whiff this one by concentrating entirely on the one thing and missing the larger picture—but hey, none of us are perfect, and hopefully this’ll be a useful object lesson for the next time.

Now get out of here and make some TV, ya crazy nut.

What do you think it symbolizes?