Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Amp the ‘Phant!

Tech Summit weekend has now come and gone. Friday was a day to put a few cards on tables, to monologue ideas in five minute increments.

I’m struck by the continuing schism between tech and touch, between message and communication, between recruit and enlist. The differences are what make the difference between success and failure. And they circle the question: What are we trying to accomplish?

All the tech imaginable is worthless unless one first has a tech-friendly goal in mind. Thinking that posting cool stuff on-line will convert a heathen to Republicanism is probably misplaced thought. My “tech” campaign would start by establishing “social proof” around Republicanism. Peer-to-peer is the gold standard.

The challenge is that right now there is a wide party identification gap, the widest in twenty years, between Democrats and Republicans. Even through the idyllic 1980s and new majority 90s, Democrats clung to a lead in voter identification. The tide is rapidly running away from an already depleted national party that lost the “youth vote” 47 to 28 percent in 2008 self-identification polls – polls it led in the 80s and into the 90s.

One is hard pressed to name any celebrity under 40 to make a "social proof" connection for the Republican Party. Ted Nugent? Alice Cooper? Meatloaf? Okay...maybe Kid Rock.

I’d suggest “viral” video to start the process, using a contest format to spur creation and creativity around why it’s cool to be GOP, maybe with a few different divisions: length, age, content, school, whatever. Prizes might be anything, from the publicity of a winning entry, to an autographed picture of Saul Anuzis. Voting would be by Facebook group join, text message, a website visit or similar means.

We've got to do something - Let's Amp the 'Phant!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Obama's Random Thoughts - Flucked from his Hat!

Not that anyone in the MSM would ask or notice. What's up with Obama going to the environmentally-unfriendly, carbon footprint producing, five-miles-per-gallon RV capital of America, Elkhart, Indiana, whose employment base was destroyed by $4/gal gasoline before the economy went south, to peddle road and overpass construction? When does the state unemployment office start issuing picks and shovels instead of checks? Or when will the manufacturers start building solar powered RVs? BTW: My father-in-law, a full-time RVer, has an RV park neighbor who bought an under-construction penthouse condo in West Palm for $250k a year ago - and is desperately trying to sell. His latest asking is $135k and still drawing zero interest. Why? Too much supply, too little demand – both Keynesian and Austrian schools agree on that!

Someone needs to explain to BHO that the "credit crisis" is not for lack of money to lend - it's that our capacity to borrow is spent. Among consumers, too many credit cards are maxed and home equity reserves drained by a collapsing real estate market prevent the mega-consumers from further consumption. Too many people are terribly overextended - they can't get credit because they have no collateral to offer, and likely a spotty payment record. Add in those cutting back spending after their 401(k)s and IRAs were halved by the stock market collapse and the illiquidity of other securities, and who's gonna buy an Elkhart, Indiana, RV at any price?

Arguing that the earth’s finite petroleum sources are being depleted is plain hogwash. What is true is that the most easily accessible fields are past their peaks and drawing down, but slowly as new extraction technology allows continued production. Meanwhile, new fields are discovered and tapped around the globe, such as recently off the Brazilian coast. There is no shortage of oil in the ground, and none anticipated by rational people. The bigger issue, as reflected by the ANWR drilling ban and others, is whether we trust our technology enough to use our natural resources in our national interest. Well, are we? The recent retreat by petroleum prices has been equated to a $300 billion stimulus, money left in American pockets instead of flowing into gas and heating oil tanks. Imagine the economic effects of a “drill here, drill now” energy effort would have. OTOH, not even $4/gal gasoline could save subsidized ethanol from itself – like all alternatives, the transformation of plant sugars into usable fuel spends more energy than it produces. Wait…when Cellulosic ethanol production kicks in…

Monday, February 9, 2009

Bi-Partisanship: The Last Thing Needed to Fix the Economy

"BO goes to IN town with shut down RV plants, why because we won't get our own oil and we force cafe standards on the car makers" - Cowboy007 via Twitter

Tonight President Brack H. Obama gave a nationally televised press conference. Can anyone explain what The One said?

Um, uh, doubtful.

The Obama "movement" is coming up against reality, and reality is quickly winning out. The House Republicans stood firm, and the spell began to break. If nothing else, some now are asking where this money comes from...and they're looking into a mirror when they ask.

RV sales are off because American consumers are spent out and recuperating after losing $3.2 trillion in wealth, not because there is no credit available. The government, by its incompetence and substitution of tawdry politics for wise "national interest" thinking, gutted their savings and undermined the value of their property, whether real estate, bonds or equities. It was the last bi-partisan effort - and it succeeded!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Oink the Senate!

Time for a little political theater to show opposition to the $800 billion "Porkulus" bill headed through the United States Senate, formerly the greatest deliberative body in the world.

Logic and good sense being in short supply, let's go to the book: Alinsky's "Rules for Radicals." Time to pull out Ridicule as a weapon. Here's a couple of ideas. You all are welcome to post more in the Comments section below.

1) Fax your senator a "government check" made out to "Porkulus" and overstamped "Insufficient Funds";

2) Let's get a crowd up to Capitol Hill, each with an oversized credit card, chanting "Over Your Credit Limit!"

3) Drive a herd of pigs up to the Senate and White House.

4) Anyone got a spare pig costume?

5) OINK your Senator!!

What other ideas have you? Post them below!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Hope and Change Give Way to Politics

Supposedly the President's rally speech wasn’t intended for general consumption – which makes the whole spew even more…well, honest in its attempt to rally support for a nearly $900 billion economic stimulus bill.

Stimulus means spending, starting with the government, the President asserts. Tax cuts, he contends, don’t turn the trick. So the minions in Congress do what they always do with any omnibus opportunity, they sweep the floor for any idea to urinate money on the national economic conflagration. The words attributed to Illinois Senator Everett Dirksen are writ large in this bill: “A billion here, and a billion there, and soon you’re talking real money.”

Yesterday came reports that the government overpaid by tens of billions for those ill-liquid toxic securities that brought on our current economic woes. The government jumped into a market that was working, albeit slowly, as buyer and seller were negotiating price. In this case, the banks wanted to minimize their losses. Buyers wanted margin for the uncertainty these securities presented. “Investors are going to assume a value that will be conservative and then add a risk premium." Slowly, prices were being determined by the private sector, generally about 35 cents on the original dollar on originally AAA-rated investments.

The government couldn’t stand a bargain, and paid $78 billion more than the actual value of the assets at the time, according to the Congressional Oversight Panel. It was such a gap, Senate Banking Chairman Chris Dodd (D-CT) admitted, "No one is expecting perfection between the price you pay and what you think you're getting. But that's a pretty large disparity." That’s a pretty large admission!

The government’s reaction to the entire episode is wholly political. Politicians aren’t generally concerned about the long term effects of their “taking action.” The knuckleheads in Congress and the White House either haven’t a clue, or simply recognize a crisis to exploit. As WHCOS Rahm Emmanuel said after the elections: “Rule one: Never allow a crisis to go to waste. They are opportunities to do big things.”

What this crisis is offering the American people is another “big fleecing” to first save two entities who abused trust: The government and the moneychangers. Had Bush-Paulson allowed the private sector to settle accounts, turning bad investments into well-deserved economic punishments for the entire securities industry, the American economy would have rebounded in time, stronger in the sense that bad business has crummy consequences. Instead the administration created a crisis. It netted a $750 billion TARP fund and a presidential candidate posing as a loon, paving the way to a Democratic victory.

From climate change to energy, education to infrastructure, housing to bird flu epidemics, food safety to environment, terror to healthcare, the American people are perhaps finally getting wise to the crisis manufacturers and false scare mongers. Polls show a drop in public support for the latest “stimulus bill.”

The President meanwhile sees the stimulus as a spending bill. "So then you get the argument, well, 'this is not a stimulus bill, this is a spending bill.' What do you think a stimulus is? That's the whole point," he said Thursday. There’s spending, and there’s spending…and this is spending wastefully and wantonly.

The next stop is a going out of business sale.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Healthcare Reform = You pay for mine

Last weekend my daughter injured her foot while moving furniture. Seems she caught a step the wrong way and rolled the foot and ankle. She had no health insurance coverage. And now, for the rest of the story…

Her plan was to put ice on her foot and take ibuprofen for the swelling and pain. She strapped herself up in an airboot to stabilize the injury, and used crutches to take the pressure of walking off the appendage. Still, the next day, she was concerned that something was broken. She called me, and as a concerned dad, I told her to call around to these “urgent care” facilities that are springing up to see what an exam with an x-ray would cost her.

The prices ranged from $162 to $400 for the same services. She went with the $162 - money she was loathe to spend, expressing remorse for not having her own policy to pick up the bill. Her husband’s employer offers a “free” policy with a $2000 annual deductible. One can largely avoid the deductible by paying about $200 per month…so, let’s do the math: $2000 annual deductible, or $2400 “full coverage” premiums…hmmm. Either way, $162 won’t top the deductible, nor significantly offset the premiums.

Healthcare and its “affordability” are largely bogus issues. From street corner clinics and care centers to your doctor’s office and the nearby General Hospital, healthcare is readily available and expanding. To paraphrase Yogi Berra, “It’s always so crowded, no one goes there anymore.” Been to your doctor’s waiting room lately? Is it empty? Been to a hospital, especially its most expensive component, the emergency room? Is it empty? How can anyone afford it, you may wonder. The answer is that healthcare today thrives on volume, and there’s plenty of it.

Years ago, when steak was forty nine cents a pound, I recall my mother and aunts wondering how anyone could afford beef anymore. When gasoline jumped over thirty cents a gallon, the lines at the pump dropped off until a gallon dropped back to 29.9 or less. Those were days when a “five figure salary” was big money. And, like today, people wondered how they could afford to live. In those days people had “hospitalization” insurance. One paid the “family doctor” and the corner pharmacist with his own money. Because one did, your GP was subject to the market - his prices affected his patronage. Like the gas station, if his price hit a certain point, his patients might stop coming.

A few years ago the Baltimore Sun carried a column by a retiring “family doctor” from the Eastern Shore. He reminisced about how he did house calls, knew his patients well, was involved in all the area births and deaths. He told how his patients paid with chickens, eggs and oysters when they had no cash. And he spoke of how the family would gather as grandma neared death in her bed.

He then contrasted that to his contemporary practice, where he dealt with insurance companies for payment, and visited dying grandma in a hospital where the family clung to preposterous hopes of recovery. And when presented with the fact that grandma was nearing death, he said there was always one who demanded medical heroics to keep her alive. Heroics cost. On average, three-quarters of lifetime medical expenses are incurred in the last year of life. Average life expectancy at birth in the United States is 78.06 years - 79.96 years if you’re female, 74.83 years if male.

Our national response to the myth of runaway healthcare costs is to squander public funds, or force others to squander theirs. Why are emergency rooms always full? Because most seeking care there have no emergency, but realize treatment there can be free. It’s not because they’re necessarily indigent, unable to pay, but FREE is quite a draw. The costs are passed along to the paying customers, or absorbed by the hospital. Insurance companies are incentivizing use of alternatives, like urgent care, to avoid the added costs in hospital emergency room charges. And many hospitals nationwide are closing their emergency rooms.

The Los Angeles Times reported this week that in 2007 emergency room doctors provided more than $100 million in services to Medi-Cal patients because the state’s reimbursement often barely covers half the cost of treatment. Free, it turns out, is very expensive.

There’s the real healthcare crisis.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

3-D This, NBC!

One of the many NBC Super Bowl promos was an invitation to watch a Monday evening 3-D broadcast of its show “Chuck.” I’d never watched it before, but I’m a sucker for novelty…and I had the bi-colored specs leftover from the game…so, why not? The 3-D glasses were distributed at supermarkets compliments of Pepsi, Intel, and Dreamworks as part of a Super Bowl promotion of a cartoon film “Monsters vs. Aliens.” Pepsi presented 3-D spots with the SoBe Lifewater dancing lizards…so far, so good.

Expecting more of the same, my wife, a public school teacher, offered the glasses leftover from our football gathering to her fifth grade class to watch “Chuck.” She thought it would be an innocuous family comedy. Wrong! Starting with the steamy beginning, where one could oogle Yvonne Strahovski’s breasts on prominent 3-D display during a bedroom fantasy, the show was not something I’d recommend for family viewing.

My point is NBC again demonstrates why commercial television is losing viewers. It again demonstrates disregard for the family by broadcasting such fare, which later featured two babes stripping the central character by undoing his belt and zipper while headed for a king-sized bed. Apparently there no more standards or practices folks to oversee this sort of stuff…or, this suggestive trash has become the standard.

Worse was that NBC and the others who sponsored and distributed those glasses abused a trust. Sleaze is not what one associates with the NFL, Dreamworks, Intel or Pepsi. All four have community reputations for quality – and that trust was damaged in my household Monday night.