Georgia GOP congressman describes the Obamas as “uppity”

So much for Republican minority outreach efforts.

[Georgia Republican Rep. Lynn] Westmoreland was discussing vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin’s speech with reporters outside the House chamber and was asked to compare her with Michelle Obama.”Just from what little I’ve seen of her and Mr. Obama, Sen. Obama, they’re a member of an elitist-class individual that thinks that they’re uppity,” Westmoreland said.

Asked to clarify that he used the word “uppity,” Westmoreland said, “Uppity, yeah.”

And suddenly the hockey mom/pit bull with lipstick is the sensitive one.  (BTW, I did think the lipstick line was great.)

Well, he must have figured they weren’t going to get any of the African-American vote anyway so let’s insult women, too.

Best. Politician’s. Excuse. EVER.

Australia’s top treasury official is taking five weeks leave to nurse endangered wombats, prompting the government to defend him on Friday against accusations he had abandoned his post during economic turmoil.

Oddly, wombats and humans have two traits in common:

  1. Both cower in terror when offered help by economists.
  2. Don’t like going to the dentist.

President Idol goes to New Hampshire

Doesn’t this picture make it look like Hillary & The Pips?

pips

(via CNN’s Political Tracker)

Unfortunately for Hill, one of the back-up singers is showing her up.

I saw my first Hillary ad last night and it struck me as exactly the wrong tone. She was all gushy and friendly and CARING. Hillary should be campaigning as tough and protective. The underlying message should be, “Nobody messes with me and I won’t let them mess with you. I’ll protect you the way I protected Chelsea from the media.” Let the guys be sensitive, be butch Hillary!

BTW, I somehow missed this — further proof that it’s WorldofWarcraft’s world and we just live near it…

Political rallies and marches are nothing new, and online campaigning is a well known trend, but when the two come together with a bunch of gnomes, it’s hard not to take notice.

Grassroots supporters of Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul have invited supporters that play online game “World of Warcraft” to join them in a rally and march on New Years Day. Organizers of the virtual event have scheduled the event to start in the snowbound city of Ironforge, so it’s sure to involve lots of gnomes and dwarves, before they march to Stormwind.

No word at this point if “Horde for Hillary” or “Orcs for Obama” counter events have also been scheduled.

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News of the weekend in review, Part 1: Hillary

A woman, an African-American and a Hispanic-American walk into a bar … er … run for president. For all the noise that has been made about Hillary and Barack, I wouldn’t be surprised if the eventual Democratic nominee is the other person who announced this weekend: New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. Richardson has one clear advantage over nearly everyone else running for the nomination: He’s not a senator. (He also has a huge advantage over Biden/Kerry, etc. He’s neither a senator nor either one of them.) The U.S. doesn’t much care to send senators to the White House. Last one to make the leap via election — JFK. Before that you have to go back to … Taft? We like governors.  Richardson and Iowa Gov. Tom Vlisack, who is also running in case you forgot, have a slight drawback in that the public generally goes for unemployed governors — but that’s just a bump in the road.

Richardson’s other advantage when it comes to building a brand is that he actually has experience doing stuff as an ambassador and sec. of energy and congressman. Although experience in these areas is vastly more important to the press than it is to the public. Indeed experience means there is a trail of things for the press and your opponents to feed on, which is one reason why Obama is enjoying the coverage he is: He’s the political version of the Virgin Birth right now. He’s also smart and charming as hell, the latter being his biggest difference from Hillary.

From a pure brand perspective, Richardson has a huge disadvantage: his name. Hillary. Barack. Elvis. Cher. Coke. Those one word brand names are a big plus.

About Hillary: Why declare on a Saturday? I’m guessing she knows how much flack she’s going to get and so didn’t want to have a huge kick-off to Hillary Hunting Season. It was the headlines on Sunday and by Monday it’s old news and the baying press corps have moved on to new targets for the time being. Another thing in Hillary’s favor, she has been so demonized that people are always pleasantly surprised when they encounter the actual person and not the creature of rhetoric. People may not like her any more than they did before but they do start to suspect she’s a bit different than what they’ve been told.

Say what else you care to about Barack, Hillary and Richardson — they are possibly the smartest group ever to run for the Dem. nomination, so it should be a fun ride.

Quote of the day: Bush wants Americans to have “a command of the English language.”

"What the president has said all along is that he wants to make sure that people who become American citizens have a command of the English language." — Tony Snow, new White House Press guy on Friday.
"The president has never supported making English the national language." — Attorney General Alberto Gonzales later on Friday.

"The attorney general got caught in a linguistic snare. He took 'national' language to mean what we describe as 'official' language." –White House spokeswoman Dana Perino even later on Friday.

Remember, having a command of English should be a requirement to become a citizen but not to become president or attorney general. Irony hasn't had this much fun since Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Also on Friday, the Senate has voted to make English the nation's "common and unifying language." OK, all in favor of a rule stating that members of the Senate must be able to  write a simple declarative sentence, say AYE. That will work much better than term limits.

"The only man woman, or child who wrote a simple declarative sentence with seven grammatical errors is dead." — HL Mencken on the death of Warren Harding.

Where were you during the war on price gouging?

Hurrah! Washington has heard the call to battle and is taking up arms to protect us all from price gouging.

“Anyone who is trying to take advantage of this situation while American families are forced into making tough choices over whether to fill up their cars or severely cut back their budgets should be investigated and prosecuted,” House Speaker Dennis Hastert, (R-Ill), and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, (R-Tenn), wrote in a letter to President Bush. Of course they only mean taking advantage monetarily, not politically.

What better way to protect us than with a mountain of useless paper? This explains why many, many different bills are winding their way through Congress to deal with this threat. The one just approved by the House would impose criminal penalties and fines of up to $150 million for energy companies unable to distinguish the difference between making money and making too much money.

This offensive against excessive profit continues the trend of declaring war on chimerical concepts that began with our efforts to curb “terror.” Don’t you miss the good old days when we only attacked nouns? The wars against cancer and poverty weren‘t any more successful than the current bunch but at least you knew what the hell we were trying to eradicate.

Just as no one can define terror, no one has any idea what price gouging is either. This fact is made plain in the GOP-sponsored House bill, which leaves it to the Federal Trade Commission “to develop a definition of price gouging.” You have to love a law that is so specific about the penalty and so vague about the crime.

It is imprecise because it has to be. Otherwise it would be totally laughable. Witness the efforts of Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) who has proposed a bill that would levy fines of up to $3 million on oil companies, refiners, distributors, or retailers found to be “taking unfair advantage of the circumstances to increase prices unreasonably” or imposing “excessively unconscionable price increases.” This suggests that oil companies and their ilk would have a legal defense as long as they could prove a price increase was either excessive or unconscionable but not both.

The Cantwell bill does offer some guidance on the issue, saying that gouging depends on whether the price charged amounts to “a gross disparity” from the usual price of oil and gasoline. However, it does not give any specific dollar or percentage increase to define what “a gross disparity” would be. Once again the dirty work is left to someone else, in this case that would be the judiciary. (I found out about Sen. Cantwell’s bill while reading a story on MSNBC with the misleading headline: What is price ‘gouging,’ and can it be stopped? It was misleading in that it answered neither question.)

Price gouging, on capitol hill at least, is not unlike the old definition of obscenity – I know it when I see it. Consider this quote by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich):

When we were doing the Energy Policy Act last fall, in the town of Midland, right by my district there, gas went up 90 cents in one day. Now, is that not gouging?

If you take a look at it, from September 2004 until September 2005, refineries have increased their prices 255 percent. Isn’t that gouging?

I mean, I think we all know what gouging is. What we need is a federal standard so we can hold the oil companies’ feet to the fire and make sure we know what factor goes into every gallon of gasoline, so at least the American public will have some transparency and get a fair shake on what goes into a price of a gallon of gasoline.

Well, that certainly clears things up. So if the folks in DC don’t know what price gouging is, does anyone else?

New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer writes (in a column which makes repeated references to 9/11 – surprise, surprise) that

“New York State law prohibits price gouging during a state of emergency. The law specifically provides that, in order to prevent any party from taking unfair advantage of consumers during an abnormal disruption of the market, the charging of “unconscionably excessive” prices is prohibited.

New York’s law, like that of most other states, says that price gouging can only occur during a time designated as an emergency by the government. So it IS price gouging if a hurricane hits my state and you jack up the price of duct tape by 1000%, but it is not price gouging if you charge me $2 to conduct an electronic bank transaction that costs you $.002 as a part of normal business. Apparently no one has yet thought to make highway robbery illegal.

That is not just my opinion either. This is from Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard’s testimony to the Senate:

Traditional price gouging laws are not in effect during periods of “business as usual”. Rather, they only go into effect when the normal competitive checks and balances of the free market are disrupted by a disaster or other emergency. When a population is trapped and desperate for essential supplies, like food, water, shelter and gasoline, victims do not have the opportunity to shop around or wait to purchase essential products until the prices go down. Demand is steady regardless of the price, so unscrupulous businesses can and sometimes do take advantage of consumers.

Need a rule of thumb? Then just remember unscrupulous business practices during an emergency = BAD. But unscrupulous business practices under other circumstances = Good.

(Special note should be made of Louisiana’s price gouging statute:

During a declared state of emergency, a merchant is prohibited from selling goods or services at values which exceed the prices normally charged for comparable goods and services in the same market area at or immediately before the time of the state of the emergency. Businesses may raise prices on items for which they incur additional costs, however, these price increases should not be excessive. Price gouging is a misdemeanor and can result in a $500 fine or six months in jail.

Well, if the threat of a $500 fine doesn’t keep Exxon in line what will?)

There are other definitions as well:

The sages at Princeton say it is “pricing above the market when no alternative retailer is available.” Which could be read to mean that any time you have a monopoly, you are a price gouger. So much for an Ivy League education.

My favorite definition is from a site called Neutral Source:

There is no objective definition. Economists–who specialize in price theory and the behavior of markets and can study these things ad nauseum–have no definition for it, either. In fact, economists have avoided the term as if it were a social disease. A review of all the microeconomics textbooks on Neutral Source’s bookshelf reveals that none have as much as an index entry.

…Price gouging is defined by a buyer, generally after the fact, who is deeply unhappy that the price he willingly paid was much higher than the price he would have preferred to have paid. As the gap between actual and preferred prices rises, the buyer’s sense of unfairness and anger towards the seller intensifies.

Equally good is one from a website called Truck and Barter, (which has the wonderful tag line “Where Sympathy and Hedonism Collide”):

Price gouging is the raising of prices 1) far above one’s costs and far above competitors prices, 2) far above what many people think is just, 3) during a human crisis. I disagree with those that state that PG is a non-concept. It is an intentionally vague and deceptive, morally abstruse, and economically harmful concept, but for those very reasons, it must be taken seriously.

Or you could go with the words of some lunatic named Neil Boortz: “What is price gouging anyway? Just a buzzword used by the anti-capitalist, government-educated among us.”

Yep, Bill Frist, George Bush and Denny Hastert – anti-capitalists. I’ll have some of what Mr. Boortz is drinking please.

Anti-capitalists Hastert and Frist have asked fellow Commie President Bush “to direct the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission to investigate the rising oil prices.” Across the aisle, the Dems are also using the FTC as a whipping boy.

Quoth Rep. Stupak again: “See, when the president calls for an investigation by the FTC into the price of oil to see if there’s gouging going on, it doesn’t do us any good, because the FTC, the Federal Trade Commission, has never brought a case for price gouging on petroleum products ever.”

One slight problem: One FTC official, though, told CNN that the trade commission can only look into anti-competitive practices and has no legal authority to investigate price gouging.

The GOP has also floated the idea of hitting the energy companies with a windfall profits tax which has got to be the funniest thing I’ve ever seen. Aren’t windfall profits the Republican’s raison d’etre? Next thing you know George Bush will be calling for abetter mileage on cars. Oh, wait …

One of these “price gouging” bills will inevitably pass through Congress’ digestive tract and get placed in a steaming pile on the president’s desk where it will promptly get signed. Why not? Our elected officials will be able to say they have done something without actually running the risk of doing anything. This law will never be enforced. If someone tries to it will be laughed out of court.

To really address this issue would require a long and critical look at how we choose to define capitalism or what the late Mr. Galbraith called the “free markets where nothing is free.” But that hasn’t happened since 1931.

There is one simple solution to the problem, but no one in this hemisphere has tried it. It’s called a Bolivian. But remember, simple does not mean good.

White House dumps marketing guru/chief of staff Andrew Card

Apparently the limit of George W. Bush's legendary loyalty to the people who work for him lies around 37%. As in his current approval ratings according to one poll. So to try and change things, W. canned long-time chief of staff, former secretary of transportation and Bay State native Andrew Card for Joshua "Don't call me Michael" Bolten who, it seems, is no relation to our current ambassador to the UN. I will miss Andy who thought the start of the still the on-going George W. Bush Desert Classic was mishandled, at least in PR terms: “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August.”

My only question: Did George use the classic "we-ve-decided-to-go-in-a-different-direction" line when firing him?

Let the House of Cards jokes begin… 

USDA doesn’t think latest mad cow scare will hurt beef sales, also questions the whole what goes up coming down thing.

File under: Who you gonna believe … me or your lying eyes?

Mad cow alert won’t harm beef sales: USDA’s Johanns qoes the Reuters headlines. Is it just me or does the ability to whistle as you pass the graveyard seem to be a prerequisite to getting a job in this administration? In this case our maestro of mouth must is Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns who was in Poland when he said, “I do not think it will have a negative impact on trade with other countries.” Sadly communications between eastern Europe and the Pacific rim are not all that great and word of this pronouncement had not yet reached South Korea. SK was nearly simultaneously announcing that yes they would ban US beef if this latest cow turned out to be crazy.

A lesson for Mr. Johanns comes from India where the government has had to do a massive ad campaign to get people to eat chicken and eggs again after avian flu whacked sales. Keep in mind that this downturn in sales came DESPITE the fact that there is no link whatsoever between eating poultry and catching the so far not-so-dread disease.

Maybe if they’d just serve the chicken on Krispy Kreme

And speaking of Weasel-Like Animals

Joe “More Boring Than Al Gore” Lieberman and La Hillary continue their efforts to grab headlines, I mean protect the US from the threat of video games. Apparently Tweedledee and Tweedledum are tired of wasting just their own time on this — now they want the Centers for Disease Control Prevention to investigate the “impact of electronic media use.” Hmmm, let’s list our priorities for the CDC: Cancer, flu pandemic … video games. Huzzah, I suppose for bipartisan stupidity: Hill & Joe’s legislation calling for/funding this research is being cosponsored by GOP Sens. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Sam Brownback of Kansas. Too bad they can’t get together and agree on something that actually matters.

Cry Havoc, and loose the penguins of irony!

Stray thoughts from the wind sock that is my mind …

  • The Washington Post reports The Bush administration can’t even keep it secret that they are running “several investigations to discourage government employees from leaking classified information to news reporters.”
  • TV Guide, struggling to find a reason for still being in business, has the lamest tag line of any magazine I’ve seen: TV Made Easy. TV is difficult?
  • Monday I start my new job at BrandWeek. Along with the usual fears and worries of a new job (Which lunch table will I sit at? What will the cool kids be wearing? Who’s going to tell me if I have something stuck between my teeth?), I am also going from WindowsWorld to MacLand. It’s odd how much my brain has fixated on this as an anxiety place holder. (I am ecumenical in the religious wars about the various OS — Started out in PC, went to Mac in the early 90s, got so irritated with the pricing that I moved to PC in the mid 90s and have been there since and, no, I’ve never tried Linux but the penguin sure is cute…) What a weird thing to worry about.
  • And speaking of religious wars … Tom Monaghan, who made billions by proving once again that Americans have no taste buds with Domino’s Pizza, is building a town and university in Florida called Ave Maria. Given the name it comes as no surprise that Mr. M is a devout Catholic. He has gotten into a bit of trouble for stating that he wanted he community to be governed by strict Roman Catholic principles which would mean, among other things, no pornography or birth control in the town. He has since backtracked from this and now says that the strict guidelines would apply only to Ave Maria U. (What will the school mascot be? A woman in mourning? Someone throwing a rock? Mel Gibson?) Oddly, I don’t really give a damn about any of this. I don’t see how his desire to do this is all that different from your average set of assinine condo association rules. (My masters at the ACLU disagree with Big Tom and I usually follow them no matter what, but I gotta disagree on this one. Please don’t hurt me too much, your masterships.) Bomb churchNo, what I object to is the church he wants to build there. It looks like the Church Our Lady Of The Perpetual Explosion (which, strangely enough, is the theme of some very cool gospel songs from the height of the Cold War by The Pilgrim Travellers, the Louvin Bros., the Swan Silvertones and many, many more). Should The Great Pizza Lord actually build this abomination (really, really wanted to make it abomb-ination, but I thought I’d spare you), it would still not be the ugliest church I’ve ever seen. That honor goes to Sacred Heart Church in Waltham, Mass., which is so hideous that I’ve been meaning for years to find out more about how it came into being. A church that answers the question — What would it look like if we put a cross on half a blimp? Or maybe it answers the question, Where did George Jetson go on Sunday mornings? Y’know, Just because modernity calls, doesn’t mean you have to answer. (If you can take it, you can see picture that shows more of the this gloriously awful building here.)Ugly Church
  • (Wouldn’tBut I Digress…” have been a better name for this blog?”

Ugly

The Iraq Civil War, or Operation Bull Run

Marketing has always been a high consideration in the US adventure in Iraq, see Chief of Staff Andrew Card’s comment on the invasion, “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August.” Needing to sell this particular product, the Administration ran out a staggering array of ante-bellum reasons for war: WMD, “Saddam is worse than Hitler,” Saddam is linked to 9-11, Saddam will destabilize the Mid-East (isn’t that like making water wet?), “We need to stand up for the UN.” All of these were underpinned by the argument that this has nothing to do with oil. One of the first things you learn in the news biz is that when someone says it’s not about money, then you can be sure it is about …

Current ex post facto rationalizations include spreading democracy in the Mid East (unless, of course, democracy gets the “wrong” people elected. Quoth Lehrer: For might makes right/And till they’ve seen the light/They’ve got to be protected/All their rights respected/ ‘Till somebody we like can be elected), creating a “flypaper” state that keeps all the terrorists in Iraq and I forget what all else.

Along with the ever-changing series of rationales, a key tactic of this marketing campaign has been to claim things aren’t happening that already are. There was the Administration saying the war hadn’t begun when we’d been bombing the Iraqis for weeks. Turns out they meant “ground war.” We had the Mission Accomplished/End Of Hostilities claim followed by more combat deaths than while “hostilities” were under way. And now there is the claim that “Civil War” is in danger of breaking out all over the place.

Last Sunday, Secretary of State Rice made the TV rounds and dismissed an “impending” civil war. And, technically, she’s right: It’s not impending if it’s already here. Her comments sound like Gen. Westmoreland’s December 1967 dismissal of the North Vietnamese’s ability to launch an offensive anywhere in South Vietnam. The following month the North launched the Tet offensive everywhere in South Vietnam.

If this ain’t Civil War, maybe it will do until the real thing comes along. What does it take to get the official imprimatur and make a war Civil? Is it when Iraqis spend more killing each other than they do trying to kill the US military? I think we can check that one off. Is it at some point when we can no longer claim all or even most of the violence is being conducted by outsiders? Now that’s actually tough to measure. Is it when Ken Burns makes a somnolent documentary of it? God forbid. The Iraqis have suffered enough already.

As usual, the Administration is being aided and abetted in its marketing by many in the media, and I’m not talking Fox TV. Last Sunday, the NYT’s Week In Review section lead with an article entitled “What A Civil War Could Look Like” which actually addressed everything but that. The article categorically refused to define “What a civil war does look like.” Instewad it fell back on some of the most hair-splitting linguistic efforts to not call an Antietam an Antietam since Bill Clinton’s famous “is.”

Like a near-death experience, the carnage seems to have shocked Sunni and Shiite leaders into a new realization of what civil war would cost, and new efforts to avoid it. But what happens if such efforts — and frantic ones by Americans — prove incapable of stopping an all-out war?

The greatest fear of leaders throughout the Middle East is that an unrestrained civil war …

If Iraq were to sink deeper into that kind of conflict,

In short, it said, we’ll know it’s a Civil War when the rest of the region falls to pieces. Or when it stops being so damned restrained. Or when someone has the nerve to call it that.

Any experienced marketer knows that you can sell pretty much anything once. Make a big enough claim for the product and someone – maybe a lot of someones – will buy it. The hard part is getting them to buy from you more than once. To do that the claims you make have to have some resemblance to the product you’re selling. When it comes to civil war, the consumer should now really be aware. And expect an official announcement of this product launch very, very soon.