Dear Mitt

I saw you on TV Tuesday evening, saying “A better America begins tonight.”

Mitt Romney, Mr. 1% - Cartoon

Mitt Romney, Mr. 1% – Cartoon (Photo credit: DonkeyHotey)

Love the concept.  Love it.  A better America is just what we need.  Oh, you don’t mind me calling you Mitt, do you?   You have been trying to appear a regular guy and I just thought I’d return the chumminess.

Right now a better America to many is spelled: jobs, jobs, jobs.  That’s in your wheelhouse, according to you, and what would a former community organizer know about that, so this is your trump card over Obama.  Your work as governor and managing Bain Capital makes you a jobs maestro of sorts, right?

Still, the details have been left kind of sketchy so far and there were questions brought up by your primary opponents leaving me with a few doubts I’d like you to clear up.  First,  when governor, Massachusetts was the 47th job producing state out of 50.  I know it was a recession and you did reduce  unemployment by one per cent or so, but as some pin headed professor has argued in the Washington Post, that reduction was fueled by  “people…. leaving the work force in droves”.  Even if we cut you some slack, and say you ranked 37th?  Or  even 27rd out of 50?  Well, that’s not really much to brag about is it?   The Post termed the growth “unremarkable.”

But let’s move on to Bain capital where you’ve said tens of thousands of jobs were created.   I’d feel more comfortable if you or Bain would provide a breakdown of that.  It seems clear you were very good at making money for Bain and its investors, including when you bought struggling companies and liquidated them and their jobs.  I’d like to see some hard numbers.   You could clear the matter up by offering an analysis and, frankly, if you had created so many jobs  (after subtracting the ones done away with and others exported abroad), wouldn’t it make sense to advertise those stats with big, bright colored charts?  Maybe even a full page ad in the NY Times?

This is no time to be modest.

So, if we are to count on you to turn on the job spout, I’d like to see more clear cut proof of your job creation prowess, and I imagine many other Americans would also.  After all “job creator” is your trump card, so you need to play it strong.  I don’t mean to be mean, but it’s not like you are particularly likeable – at least your public persona – like President Obama.  Maybe you’re really uncomfortable with public speaking like, let’s say, Ulysses S Grant, who preferred to ride around amidst cannon shot over making a speech (*1).   Maybe your forced contortions aimed at approximating a normal smile stem from that inner struggle.  Maybe you should join Toastmasters.  It helped me.

I hear many businessmen you’ve worked with like you – that’s good – and perhaps you’re a real hoot in private, but you’re a mannequin with a voice box in public.  Haven’t you noticed you never say anything that is funny but laugh anyway?  Sure your audiences laugh a little, but they’re just being polite.  When you laugh, they realize they’re supposed to.

I hate to be negative, but in addition to the public persona issue, you don’t impress me on foreign affairs.  I think it’s really complicated stuff, so when you say if you are elected Iran will not get a nuclear weapon, but if Obama is re-elected, they will.  Frankly that sounds simple minded.  What are you going to do so differently?  Pepper them with your folksy jokes in Farsi until they beg for mercy?

So, really, you’ve got to kick butt with this jobs creator angle, as it is your one strength.  In that regard, I have some bad news for you.  Sorry, but it’s unavoidable.  I’m sure you know of David Stockman, a budget director for Ronald Reagan.  You may know him personally, as he’s been in the company referbishing business for years, too.   Well, he asserts we have the same number of jobs in this country right now as we did in 2000.  Not one job more.

Now stop pointing your finger at Barack Obama. I know you are. You must know that George Bush had the worst job creation record of all presidents since 1939, this according to the Wall Street Journal.  And that was before all of the so-called crippling government regulations and market uncertainty your party loves to blame Obama for.

So, you want to free the job producers to go forth and multiply.  Well, they seemed plenty free during the Bush 43 years when so few jobs were multiplied while the economy was nearly destroyed through the unfettered greed of some of them?   Why so little job fecundity back then?

Hey, I wouldn’t blame Bush for all of it, really.  What gets ignored in the silly chatter is that we have been leaking jobs since the 1970’s via outsourcing in search of dirt cheap labor and technological advances that, while creating some new jobs, have done away with more old ones.  The reason we have thought we were doing well was, as David Stockman points out, we were riding high on economic bubbles like drug addicts at a party (I added the “drug” part) .

The bubbles have burst.  And the party is over.

Stockman insists that “the numbers for the U.S. don’t add up to anything but a painful, slow-growing future”… because our spendthrift ways have left us… “super saturated with debt.”  But there you are putting your party hat on and tooting your own horn while seemingly unaware of just how deep and broad our economic problems are.   If you want to win this election you had better make one hell of a case for your being just the guy we need to turn this economy around, and not as you sometimes did with Bain, making profits while destroying jobs.  Otherwise, I’ll stick with Obama.  At least he can be funny at times.

P. S. – If you think I’m a  glass-half-empty kind of guy, read this recent interview with Stockman.  His glass is barely moist.  Better yet, have one of your aids read it first so he or she can break the news gently.

Oh, by the way.  Just how huge of a mansion are you building that a car elevator is required?  Do you need an operator for that?  That would be one new job.


(*1)  Trick Trivia Question:   What is Ulysses S Grant’s middle name?

Answer:  Ulysses.    His full name was Hiram Ulysses Grant, but he dropped the Hiram.  When a congressman nominated him for West Point, he needed to give a middle initial.  He guessed “S” because Grant’s mother’s maiden name was Simpson.  Apparently Grant never felt the need to correct it.

Americans Elect: A Bridge to Nowhere

Americans Elect might become noteworthy some day, but its time has not yet come.  I had some hope for it as indicated on my Bridges Page above, but now I feel badly for those who worked hard to get it up and running.

Why the change of heart?  Well, if you go to the site and check out their presidential candidates you’ll see that Buddy Roemer, a former Republican governor, is leading the pack with only 13 days left until their “CAUCUS ROUND  1” with 3715 votes.

Yes, 3715 votes.

If there are some zeroes at the end of that number I missed them.   I don’t enjoy bashing any organization which aims at bringing us together, as I would like to see bridges built among us, but something must have gone terribly wrong in this case.

I have been around for several decades and I think that if I put my mind to it and mined relatives and everyone who even kind of liked me (and their friends and friends of friends), I could surpass that number.  Especially with the discreet dispersal of a number of twenty dollar bills here and there.

I could be the leading presidential candidate of Americans Elect, even though I lack a platform.  But it wouldn’t matter.  Who wants to bother to read the platform of a candidate who only attracts a few thousand votes?

Hope has turned to sadness.  Can’t they just stop this now?  Shouldn’t baseball’s “mercy rule” be applied?

I haven’t anything against Buddy Roemer.  I saw him on a number of occasions on cable TV and he certainly seems more sensible than most of that odd assortment of candidates that came out of the Republican woodwork.  For example, one day after Donald Trump just floats up into the sky and disappears forever (my fondest hope), historians will look back and wonder how a guy could be taken seriously who was made up entirely of hot air.

On the other hand, can any of us take seriously a process that comes up with a candidate with such miniscule voter support as found in Americans Elect?   Wanting to demonstrate my willingness to work together, I voted on the site for Jon Huntsmen, even though he wasn’t a declared candidate and probably wishes that his name did not appear there.  (Hasn’t he experienced enough humiliation?) But I’d convinced myself of his presidential timber and wanted to express that in some way (*1).

I think of the Wright brothers and their failed flights before getting one to go.  American Elect may be able to go back to the drawing board and come up with a more workable plan.  I hope they do, but it will need to be much, much more workable.  At least they have a few years to work on it.

However, in this presidential election Americans Elect is, sad to say, a bridge to nowhere.


 (*1)  Actually, Jon Huntsman might want me off his band wagon.  I saw him on cable TV two days ago and he mentioned how a number of liberals had said positive things about him early in the race, which in retrospect probably doomed his chances.  The death knell was likely struck when even Michael Moore said a nice thing or two.


How About a Good Laugh Before You Go?

Is there anything funnier than our secret service these days?   One cartoonist has depicted its emblem in pink and renamed it Victoria’s Secret Service.

The funniest piece on the matter may be by Mark Steyne, whose work a right-of-center friend introduced me to a few days ago.  At first glance, Steyne appears to be a far right demagogue, which means he never let’s the truth get in the way of a point he wants to make.  However, in this matter his points are well taken. I got a good chuckle, and I hope you do, too.  You can come to dislike the man later as I plan on doing.

Click , read and then have a good day.

Dick Cheney Unhinged

(EDITOR’S WARNING:   Unfortunately I have not been able to verify”Doctor” Aufderwahl’s credentials and am sorry to say, he might not have any.  When I asked him where he earned his various degrees, he said “home schooling.”  I would have scrapped the rest of this interview except some of you seemed interested in the first part, so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to complete it. You can judge for yourself.)

Darth vader clock

Darth vader clock (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Me:   Let’s get back to Dick Cheney’s inability to see him self in the mirror.  That does make sense.  He says things with such certainty, and no self-consciousness, odd for a man who has been wrong about so much.

Dr.  Yes.  You know how people say:  “I took a good look at myself in the mirror.”  He can’t do that.  There’s nothing there to see.  That’s why he can use the word “disaster” for the Obama administration, unaware he’s the poster boy for the word.  He has only a tenuous grasp on reality at this point, only marginally sane. He’s not quite crazy enough to use the insanity plea if he ever goes to trial, but he’s got a big head start.

Me:  Hmm….   I just happened to think of his daughter and how much she is like him.

Dr:  Of course  she is.  She was cloned.

Me:  Once again “doctor” I have trouble believing….

Dr:  Really?  Do you ever listen to either of them speak; they both say exactly the same things.  EXACTLY.  I know it’s hard to listen to them, but do it once and you’ll see what I mean. Before a CIA buddy told me about the cloning, at times I looked for strings attached to her head, imagining Dickey boy above pulling them.  You know how the mind can play tricks on you?

Me:  Can you give me any proof of this?

Dr:  It is self evident.  If you can clone a sheep or a horse, why couldn’t you clone a Cheney?  We’re not talking Einstein or da Vinci here.  Except for a few body parts and younger looking skin, she and he are exactly the same.  When I see her, I think of a young Chenster wearing a skirt.  It’s unsettling.

That’s cloning.   Brain’s exactly the same.  No different, equally capable of appearing normal despite a mere sliver of contact with reality.   CIA did a great job.

For contrast, compare the McCains, John and Meghan.  They’re normal people.  She was born the old fashioned way.  They have real differences.  She does have a brain of her own.  Do you think if Meghan had been the one running for president she would have picked Sarah Palin as VP?  No way.  She wouldn’t lend that woman her lipstick.

Me:  Well, as crazy as it first sounded, cloning does makes sense.  But is there any way I could verify any of your story?

Dr:   Sure, I could put you in contact with an agent.  But then he’d have to kill you.

Me:  Oh………  well, maybe later then.

Dr:  But here is a warning to you.  Never stand close to the man.

Me:  Why?

Dr:   Well.  Think of it this way.  He has all of these contradictory forces inside which he can only hold together because of the vacant mirror and his snipped brain that allows him to only remember the good stuff, like our being welcomed as liberators in Iraq – like, what, for five or six days?  His life is a lie every single day and that has to take a toll.

For one thing, my penetrating psychiatrist’s mind tells me that his tough act is all a compensation for and camouflage of an ABSOLUTELY TERRIFIED inner child, a little sissy girl really.  That inner child is a little sissy girl.  That’s why he has to always look so mean, so we won’t suspect he’s really a sissy girl inside.  It’s the same reason Saddam pretended to have nukes, he wanted Iran Inc. to think he was stronger than he was (*1.)

On top of that, despite all those efforts to hide the fact from himself, there remains an inkling of realization left deep, deep down in his cranium below the amygdala somewhere.  He knows he is not really the Darth Vader he pretends to be.  That tiny tot of his former self hates all this Darth Vader nonsense.

That true sliver of a self aches because he won’t get credit from history for the lion’s share of his life when he was a well respected public servant.   The big Dick  knows it subconsciously and it drives him farther to the dark side.  If he can’t get credit for being a good man, he will be one hell of a bad one, the “meanest man in the whole damn town.”  It sounds good, but in actuality he can barely function.

Me:  What do you mean.  I know he has heart problems, but what…?

Dr:  It’s hard for him to even get up in the morning, especially when he does one of those phony interviews.  He always needs to psyche himself up.  He wakes up a frightened sissy girl and so he has to puff himself up to appear the monster we regularly see.  It’s not all that easy.

A CIA buddy tells me he’s seen him (don’t ask me how) standing in front of that blank mirror repeating:  “Yes I can, yes I can, yes, I can…”.  You know, like the little engine that could.  Sometimes he marches in a little circle around the bathroom going “toot, toot.”

Can you imagine that smoldering cauldron that must be within, like a  volcano about to gush fire and brimstone, which he can neither see nor feel?  Imagine all the pressure of living that lie, while never clear what you are up to.  That’s why he keeps winding up in the hospital; his heart keeps popping like a button on a fat man’s suit.

That’s why you should never stand next to him.  He could BLOW! at any moment .  Most likely his heart, but it could also be his head.  It could start spinning around wildly like a tether ball on a stick.

Really, don’t get near the man.  At least, not when wearing nice clothes.

Me:  Thank you for your time and insights “doctor”.  One last question.  Whenever I see him, I get a little frightened as if he still has a lot of power.  He doesn’t does he?

Dr:  One thing not to worry about is the CIA’s cloning any more Cheney’s, not since he scapegoated them.  So, we won’t have to face a nightmare of endless Cheney’s screwing up the world wave after wave.  And, actually, he’s pretty washed up at this point.  Of course, that snarling visage can scare a grown man, so do what I do.

Whenever I see that venomous puss of his I imagine Cheney wearing a clown suit, you know with the  big red ball shaped nose, the huge shoes, floppy ears and goofy hair.  And I pretend he’s constantly beeping one of those loud irritating clown horns, so I can’t hear a single word he’s saying.   After awhile you’ll come to realize there is nothing to be afraid of.  He’s just a clown.

There is one thing to fear about him, though, in addition to that daughter of his.  All those other clowns who still believe what he says.

Me:  Well, thank you “doctor”…

Dr:  Oh, one more thing, did I tell you about the plan Dickie C.  and Saddam Hussein cooked up about becoming stand up comedians?   This is a doozie.   The Iraq War  was initially conceived  mostly as a publicity stunt to kick off their  tour.  Of course, you know what they say about the best laid plans.  They were going to call their duo Husseny, but ……

Me:  Sorry to interrupt “doctor”, but we have run out of time.  Perhaps you can come back again and share more of your insights with us.  Thank you.


(*1)   Saddam’s pretending to have WMD’s so as to appear stronger to his enemies was reported from interviews with him after his capture.   And I don’t know where you can buy the Darth Vader clock, so please don’t ask.

Dick Cheney Unwrapped

I heard yesterday that Dick Cheney called the Obama presidency an “unmitigated disaster”.  I don’t know what else he said because I don’t listen to Dick Cheney anymore.   Some time ago I realized he would not allow interviews with tough questions,  so I gave up listening  (*1).

If I were the interviewer I would first bring up his assertion years ago that we’d be welcomed as liberators in Iraq (showing him the old tape acting as if there was no doubt).  I’d ask him how he could have been so wrong.  And when he’d blame the CIA, as he would, I’d point out George Tenet’s rebuttal in a book and…  Well, we’d never get that far.   He’d give me one of his classic snarls and stomp off, maybe spitting a profane word or two in my direction with that gravelly Darth Vader stage whisper he so adores.

Cheney reminds me of the episode in Seinfeld of the “bubble boy” who is encased in a bubble because of an immune deficiency.  My theory is Cheney’s mind is wrapped in a mental bubble, which protects him from reality.  Of course, I’m not a trained professional, so I thought I’d run this theory by Dr. Sigmund Von Aufderwahl, a noted psychotherapist and social psychologist (who also has been rumored to have CIA connections) for some insights (*2).


 Me:   Doctor, can you give some insights into how Dick Cheney can be so critical of President Obama and so uncritical of his own past?

 Dr:   I can’t say this with authority, but I have heard he had a secret operation on his brain.  He began to feel guilt and regret, like Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara did after the Vietnam War.  It started to distract from the mean, tougher than nails persona he likes to display, so he got something or other clipped in his noggin.

Me:  Is that just a rumor or something more?

 Dr:  Well, it had to be something like that.  I’d say it’s a bit more than a rumor and a bit less than a fact.  But, he’s done some strange things in the past you know, stuff tied in with the CIA.  I can’t tell you all of it, of course, but since he blamed the Iraq war on them, using the CIA to CYA, if you will, they won’t mind if I share a little.

 Me:  Like what?

 Dr:   Like the vampire experiment.   CIA thought there might be some truth to this whole vampire thing, so they experimented with creating a vampire.  Cheney was one of the volunteers.

Me:  That’s hard to believe, but go on.

Dr:  Well, it did work, but only partially.   Like regular vampires, he shows no image in a mirror and he became a bit more blood thirsty, but not in a full fledged vampire sort of way.  The CIA scrapped the experiment, but what’s done is done.  Cheney still can’t see himself in a mirror.

Me:  Wow!  That’s strange.

Dr:  Well, he’s a strange dude.   Wasn’t always, of course.  During the Gulf War and before he seemed steady as a rock, but Irock got to him (don’t you love word play?).  But after that war it was revealed that the CIA had underestimated the progress Saddam had made with his weapons of mass destruction program, especially chemicals  (*3).  He’d been much further along that we thought.  That unnerved the Chenster.

And then when 9/11 shocked us all, he turned him into a freakin’ paranoid.  He decided he could not count on CIA info, and figured the only way to BE TOTALLY SAFE is to conquer the entire world.  We’d already gotten warmed up in Afghan.   Just needed images of a mushroom cloud or two and…..  off we went into Iraq.  Better to be safe than sorry.  Of course, it was supposed to be easy.

That’s what’s so funny about Dickie C. blaming the CIA for tipping the balance towards invading Iraq.  They didn’t have much information on those W. M. D.’s (Why would they?  They weren’t there.)  But, he didn’t believe a word they said anyway, except for whatever suited his purposes.

You know the CIA chief wrote a book, but nobody seems to have read it. I still hear people talk about the “slam dunk” statement that propelled us into that war. as if Tenet’s comment was the veritable tipping point.  He says that portrayal is a bunch of bull (*4).

Me:  It seems to me you’re exaggerating at this point Doctor.

Dr:  Exaggerating?  Not about that book and hell, boy, you don’t know the half of it.



(*1)  I am inferring this as I haven’t seen Cheney asked a tough question since the Tim Russert days.   We can blame our news “stenographers” for being feckless, but like so many things these days, the process is structured to stifle excellence.   Unlike the days of Walter Cronkite,  newsrooms are expected to draw enough viewers to make money.   Dick Cheney comments draw viewers because they are always controversial.  If you asked tough questions, he might walk out and never come back.    So you skip the tough questions.

(*2) I wanted to get this “to press” right away, so I didn’t have time to check out the doctor’s credentials.  I accepted his word that he was “noted” and Googled his last name and found a number of entries, but they are all in German, so….  Anyone speak German?

(*3)  I recall reading this somewhere years ago, but you might want to verify this on the net.

(*4)  I read the book, Center of the Storm, and Tenet makes a good case for the CIA being pushed for information that supported Cheney’s intentions, not for an “objective” analysis.   Bob Woodward wrote a more popular book which emphasized the significance of the “slam dunk” phrase, but he had to get his story from one of the other participants who, I would suspect, didn’t mind leaving Tenet holding the bag if things didn’t go well.

The Loneliness of the Conciliatory Conservative

Some people identify themselves politically as pragmatists, instead of  liberal or conservative.   I am one, and Jon Huntsman is another.  I have more liberal inclinations and he has more conservative ones.  Others differences are he is much, much more accomplished and just ran for president and I would never dream of it.

Pragmatists are inclined to compromise because comprise is necessary to get something accomplished in politics.  But an election is a gut level business, and pragmatism aims at the mind rather than the gut.   That’s a problem.   As much as we decry them, negative ads are apparently effective overall at getting people elected.   Decades ago, noted author and all-around-colorful character Norman Mailer asserted that Americans do not vote for whom we want to win, but against whom we don’t want.

That seems even truer today and negative ads feed that resentment.   This short term individual gain comes at a large long term cost of polluting the entire political process to the point that only our worst elements will want to dive in, like vultures.   But, if we were good at long term thinking, we wouldn’t be mired in the fiscal woes now welling up around us, so we’ll save that topic for another day.

I believe that labels like liberal and conservative, Republican and Democrat do more to obscure than reveal who people are, but we live in a time of such political polarization that many will not allow me to define myself.  The farther to the right you are, the pinker grows my hue (pink as in “pinko”).  We seem immersed in another civil war, this time just verbally for the most part, where people are forced to take sides, or people start shooting at them anyway…….er, I mean shouting.

Or you just get ignored as irrelevant.

Consider the fate of poor Jon Huntsman.  If the name doesn’t ring a bell, it is because he failed to get sufficient backing by folks in the Republican primaries to become a serious contender.   Despite solid conservative credentials in most ways and his party’s craving for a true conservative, as opposed to that other Mormon, he never caught on.  When his campaign began, he called himself a pragmatist rather than a conservative.  That didn’t help.   He probably thought the conservative label too confining, as I would.  He probably thought his great credentials to be more important.  He was wrong.

Here we had a candidate who won awards for fiscal responsibility as two term governor of Utah, ran a large family corporation, served in the administration of four presidents and, the extra special ingredient –  like a cherry on top of an ice cream sundae – was an ambassador to China WHO SPEAKS FLUENT MANDARIN (*1).

You know, China?  That developing economic powerhouse that we owe a fortune to because of our spendthrift ways, the nation which will likely play the biggest external role in our own economic, political and foreign policy for at least the first half of  this century.  Off the bat, wouldn’t human reason point to a person like Huntsman as a better candidate to head up our ship of state than, let’s say, a guy who reduces our road to economic recovery to  9-9-9?  Or another fellow who thinks of birth control as “harmful to our society”, or a third man who could not remember squat, or a fourth who contemplates establishing a colony on the moon (and Lord knows what else)?  Oh, and a couple of others who grabbed the spotlight for awhile, but don’t merit mentioning.  And, last but not least, the never ending Ron Paul, who is a party unto himself.

Oh…. and Mitt Romney, the other Mormon, and apparently last man standing, who gave all the others hope they could win the nomination because, well, he’s Mitt Romney (*2).

Leaving aside his super solid resume for governing, Huntsman certainly had a powerful case to be made for his own conservatism, but apparently didn’t want to be defined by that alone.  And even if he had begun his campaign advertising himself as a conservative, I don’t think he would have reached critical mass in terms of primary voter support.  Why?  Because he was not willing to bash President Obama at every turn.  He is conciliatory not confrontational, too reasonable and fair minded for that.  In short, he was not willing to throw red meat to the Republican right.  He was just not angry and resentful enough to suit their taste.

I do not mean to suggest I was a supporter of Jon Huntsman’s candidacy (as if it would matter), but only that among the Republican candidates, he was my favorite (again, not that it would matter).   I would have liked to have seen debates between him and President Obama over the major issues that confront us.  Debates that might have even been sort of civil.

That the Republican right would barely give a glance at such a highly qualified conservative pragmatist, suggests the difficulty in trying to breach party lines and develop centrist options acceptable to both parties (*3).

We’re not as bad off as the Titanic, but making ourselves ship shape again won’t be easy.



*1.  On the other hand, Huntsman’s willingness to serve as ambassador to China under President Obama was a black mark against him for those who can’t stand Obama.  Huntsman defended it as a sense of duty to “country first”, but the far right wasn’t buying that.   “Obama country” isn’t their country.  He learned Mandarin, by the way, as a Mormon missionary to Taiwan.

*2.  I find it curious that I haven’t seen any discussion of the Mormonism of both Romney and Huntsmen.  Nobody seems to want to touch it, reminding me of Jerry Seinfeld’s line:  “Not that there’s anything wrong with it.”  My theory is the Republicans may have an unspoken quota of Mormons per race.  Two would seem a heist of the party by the Ladder Day Saints.  Maybe I’ll Google it and see if there is something out there, besides a recent National Review article aimed at assuaging the concerns of fellow conservatives by asserting that Mormons can be nice people, too.

*3.  My estimation of Jon Huntsman took a hit when he abruptly quit the race and, after lambasting Mitt Romney the week before, he then threw his support behind that one’s candidacy, as if Romney really cared or hardly anyone else noticed.   It was an odd, disheartening withdrawal, but perhaps being ignored regularly for months while thinking himself the most qualified candidate took an unseen toll.  I’ll give him a pass on that one.

A Bipartisan Love Story

Martha Stewart at the Vanity Fair party celebr...

Martha Stewart (Wikipedia)

If you didn’t happen to notice, President Obama signed The Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act on April 4.  (Stock Act:  Don’t you just love a memorable acronym?).  Bipartisans were oohing and cooing that day, like love birds on their first date.

While it was way overdue and nothing to really get excited about, it is an example of how something positive can actually get done by our congress if the stars align just right.

You probably know that last November 60 Minutes did an interview with Peter Schweizer, a Stanford professor who wrote the book Throw Them All Out, a study of how Congress has profited from their insider knowledge about political decisions that would have an impact on business.

For those looking to triangulate a left/right bias, Schweizer is a fellow at the Hoover Institute at Stanford, which should give you a clue (note the  HOOVER part).   However, there is little argument from either side of the spectrum regarding the main thrust of the book:   Congress should not be allowed to do what the rest of us would be jailed for.

Well, duh!

You mean they’ve been allowed to do insider trading all this time?  What?  Makes me feel sorry for Martha Stewart all of sudden.   Not that there haven’t been efforts a foot in Congress for years to restrict this practice, but they got nowhere until the 60 Minutes piece  shined a bright light on the dark corners of those hallowed halls.  I guess with so much time spent on gridlock, it was hard to find a few hours to fix this little flaw.

After the 60 Minutes piece, both the Wall Street Journal and the Boston Globe looked into the matter and found that, overall, Congressmen and women didn’t do any better with their stock trades than the average Josephine , which the Journal saw as proof the matter was being overblown and the Globe saw as a positive, that at least Congress, in general, wasn’t turning their insider information into Swiss bank accounts.

A tempting, third interpretation might be that Congress was, in general, no more capable of employing insider information to good advantage than they are in producing legislation useful to the American people.   However, that would be like kicking a dog when he is down.   I believe there is more ability there than meets the eye, but it can’t flourish in what has become a dysfunctional institution polluted by acrimony.

But functional enough to realize that a popularity rating of about 15% with the American people might go even lower if they didn’t do something about this outrage they suddenly discovered, so they passed the Stock Act with close to unanimous support.

Both parties hailed this as a great example of bipartisanship, though, as noted:  “While members in both parties and chambers were eager to support the legislation, it was not without some controversy. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) was loudly critical of a decision by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) to trim an amendment Grassley offered that would require political intelligence firms, which seek out information on lawmaking to sell to investors, to register as lobbyists do.”

There were complaints that the register issue would require more study, so a commission was assigned to report in a year, which may be akin to burying a body;  the chances are slim it will  come up for air.   (Note to self:  Look for a report from that commission a year from now)

But let’s not quibble.  And do note, the conflict mentioned was between  two in the same party, not the usual split.  It was a good move by congress to finally correct an injustice that had become obvious to the rest of us.   A researcher and the media shed light on the issue and there was a lot of response from the public and the right thing was finally done.  The good news is the system worked in its stumble bum sort of way.   The bad news is the biggest problems we face are much more complex, with no course of action that is as widely viewed as obvious;  hence our polarization.

An interesting aside is that, though a fellow at Stanford, Schweiser lives in Florida while commuting frequently.   Most of his research is done over the internet.   He says:  “To me, it’s troubling that a fellow at Stanford who lives in Florida had to dig this up.”

Hey, maybe it’s actually a hopeful sign.  A match to ignite a positive change might be struck anywhere.


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