Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

How to buy a house in an artificially tight market

December 28, 2012

Here’s how you buy a house during a mini-bubble, while the odds are stacked against you in ways you’d never imagine when you first set out to find four walls and a roof, in a suitable neighborhood, with a few features that might make it a comfy place to call home. When you’ve had enough time-wasting false starts and shattered hope using conventional channels, you’re ready for the do-it-yourself method.

At one level, it’s as straightforward as it ever has been. You find a seller whose timetable matches yours. You arrive at a price, nail down a few administrative details, and you exchange money for keys.

It’s also absurdly difficult.

You must be willing to lose entire weekends, driving, searching, and coming up empty.  You have to thumb your nose at convention, forget about etiquette, trespass, and knock on doors. You have to eavesdrop, and ask nosy questions of people who, for instance, have allowed a marital squabble to spill into the driveway as they set up their yard sale.

When you find willing sellers, you will have to blur the boundaries.  You’ll have to allow yourself to be pulled deeply into the personal affairs of the other party. Using normal, prudent procedures, two real estate agents would keep you and the other party at arm’s length.  But you have abandoned normal.

This should probably go without saying — when you find sellers who want to ditch their formal listing and forego an unduly rich price in a seller’s market, who agree instead to a fast-and-dirty transaction with a pair of world-weary shoppers brazen enough to corner them in their garage, well, let’s just say there are reasons for that, and you’ll probably discover them the hard way.

When you get your teeth into the deal, you have to sink them deep. You can’t let go, no matter what comes your way. Faulty plumbing, gaping holes in the drywall, scattered piles of pet waste. Hints of legal problems. An angry ex-spouse, who, because of a glitch in the county records, is still on the deed, and now believes she has a stake in the transaction. Logistical challenges. The sellers want the money quickly, and they’ve agreed to a closing date that’s a full week sooner than they can clear out their personal property.  They want to leave everything in the garage while they iron out the next wrinkle in their lives.

After everything else, will you allow it to be a deal breaker?  No, you won’t.  You make a fundamentally unwise decision, at considerable inconvenience to yourself.  Inviting some vaguely frightening brand of liability that can’t be named, but keeps you awake at night, you further blur the boundaries, and allow the short-term storage. Only when it’s too late will you grasp the extent to which, without intermediaries representing the parties, this is mistake.

Before this odyssey, with this party, there was another misadventure. There was the caregiver (holding a garage sale), who promised the dying wife she would sell the house and use the money for the care of the elderly husband, who’d been institutionalized with dementia.  As it happened, the next door neighbor, a renter, desperately wanted the house. The caregiver, now the seller, was not at all sure the neighbor would qualify for a loan. She nonetheless promised that nobody else would get a chance until the neighbor exhausted every conceivable lending source. An eight-week roller-coaster ride that ground to a halt when the neighbor found a lender.

Before the roller coaster ride, there was the short sale offer that was accepted, and then the contract sat and sat in limbo.  Three days before the closing date, nobody could say what would happen next, or when.

Residential purchases are complicated and emotional. Real estate agents will tell you that part of their job is keep the parties from boiling over in their own stew pots when the stove gets hot. The professionals are valuable in a way you can’t appreciate until you think you can do it on your own.

But this is the moral of the story:  Nobody cares about your interests the way you do, and when the odds are stacked against you, nobody will fight your fight to the bloody end like you will.  See you at Home Depot.

Contemplation: Why People Don’t Trust Markets

December 14, 2012

You hear it all the time — the market doesn’t work.  We can’t count on the market.

The market is supposed to pick up signals and the prices are supposed to reflect those signals. That’s how it’s supposed to work. When it fails, it fails spectacularly, in the largest, most important markets – housing and health care, for instance — not the trivial ones.  One might conclude they are not  inherent market failures, but failures because congress (or some force with equivalent power) is scrambling the signal they were supposed to hear.

Take the case of the lost eyeglasses, for instance.  After frantically retracing the day’s activities, the Reasonable Reporter accepts the loss, and heads for the one-hour frame store where the prescription is on file, and the whole transaction can be put to bed quickly, if expensively.

For years, this store has offered fashion frames and excellent service at truly exorbitant prices, when one considers that the product is nothing but molded plastic. For years, the self-insured Reasonable Reporter paid for the frames, the lenses, and the eye exams. They call it fee-for-service, which, loosely translated, means “nobody is helping me pay for this.”

For a dozen years, the Reasonable Reporter had a medical savings account.  The accounts were conceived as part of a scheme that was supposed to tame the cost of health care and put power in the hands of patients by making them responsible for their own health spending decisions.  The law allows a tax-free deposit annually into a medical savings account that can be used for any health-related purpose, combined with a high-deductible insurance policy for hospitalization and catastrophic illnesses. The benefit for a healthy person is an account that grows over the years and can be applied at any point to medical need of any kind.  Patient choice, patient responsibility, lots of privacy.

It was supposed to become a movement. Doctors were supposed to embrace it because collecting from the patient is cheaper than collecting from the insurance company.  They would pass the savings along, the theory said, and some did. The patient would be restrained by financial reality from overusing the health care system, and she was.  Employers would help employees by contributing to the accounts, but be relieved of the expectation that total health care coverage should be part of the compensation package.  A whole fee-for-service subculture was supposed to grow up and there would be a break from the over-priced status quo.  It didn’t, and there wasn’t.

It was a great idea that never truly caught on, and if you want proof that it never caught on, go to a medical appointment and try to persuade the receptionist that since you are going to pay on the spot for the day’s visit, she doesn’t need to photocopy your driver’s license, which is a standard procedure to prevent insurance fraud of the variety where an uninsured person seeks treatment using someone else’s coverage.  Fee-for-service makes the whole routine moot, but the staff aren’t trained to deal with your money, they are trained to fight with insurance companies. For the self-insured, a struggle ensues.

The struggle ensues every single time, at every new health care provider.  It’s exhausting, and this is a tiny illustration of a market that’s failed to pick up a signal.

On the day of the lost eyeglasses, a new job had resulted in new insurance, and there was a radical change in the transaction.  The eyeglass store had the prescription in its data system, and it had something else.  Correct insurance policy data, even though the policy had not yet been used anywhere, for anything.

The Reasonable Reporter paid a bit more than a hundred dollars instead of five hundred, and walked away whistling.

A few weeks later a coverage recap arrived in the mail, showing the part the patient paid, the part the insurance company paid, and – what’s this?  The part that was discounted to the insurance company.  Big Insurance paid less for the eyeglasses than the self-insured patient had been paying for years and years. This, perhaps, should not have been a surprise. It makes sense, until  you think the very next thought.

The reward for being a responsible patient —  for taking charge of your own health care costs and choices – is that you get to subsidize coverage for the employees at the company where they have Big Insurance. You get to pay more, out of your little individual pocket, than the Big Insurance company pays for the same service.

Which is another way of saying, “you got screwed for all those years.”

This is one tiny example in an avalanche of reasons people don’t trust markets. Congress had its thumb on the the medical savings account scale. It put a cap on the number of accounts that could be created, which meant of course, that the insurance providers did not promote the idea. Why would they, if there’s not going to be a large market for it?  If you were seduced by the notion of sending a signal to the market, you were going to be in a tiny minority.

The biggest market of all, of course, is the political market, and voters are the consumers, and politicians are the salespeople.  They know nobody wants to pay more when they can pay less.

The voice of the actual product purveyor  is mute. They have abdicated control of the product. It’s the politician’s product to protect now, so the companies stand back, except in the committee hearings where they show up to bargain, always with the recognition that they can be placed at great commercial and financial disadvantage if they rock the boat.

For an alternative and particularly deep explanation of why people don’t trust markets, watch the Book TV segment about the history of Fannie Mae. (“The Fateful History of Fannie Mae” by Wall Street Journal reporter James Hagerty.  The discussion also involves others.)  Very near the end of this segment, there is question from the audience and a brief contemplation of why congress is afraid to let the housing market work. Paraphrasing:  It’s been 70 years (since the creation of Fannie Mae), and nobody knows whether it will.

I dreamed I covered a presidential election in a swing state. What a weird dream.

November 30, 2012

It was the strangest dream.  In it, two men spent many months and hundreds of millions of other people’s money, each to establish that the other is wrong about almost everything.

All of us were there, churning out thousands of words each day to suggest that we were taking the two men seriously.

With earnest minds and hearts, and with all the skill we could  muster, we documented many months of local campaign events that featured partisan denunciations of one man or the other by special guests — governors and congressmen, current and former bureaucrats, musicians, actors, war veterans. All of them repeated the same phrases, again and again. After some time, we were able to whisper the words right along with them, like a prayer.

In the dream, thousands of ordinary Nevadans went to great lengths to see the two men in person. They arrived in the early morning to stand in long lines to get into venues that were too small to seat them all.  Once inside, they stood on one foot and then the other, often on concrete floors, and they leaned against the metal barriers that separated them from the press.  They waited and waited, sometimes for two hours or more, to get a 20-minute visit from their candidate, whose face or name was sometimes emblazoned on their T-shirts, and who was often late, and who generally repeated exactly the same words he’d said on last night’s news, and on this morning’s talk show, and had already posted to Facebook.

And the ordinary Nevadans went wild for it.  (You know how strange dreams can be.)  They cheered and they clapped, and they willingly spoke with reporters, who eagerly sought their opinions, because in no case was a reporter allowed near the candidates themselves, and so the reporters had nobody to talk to except each other, or these eager crowds of partisans who happily repeated the same words the reporters already knew by heart (like the alphabet).

Every few weeks, it happened all over again.  Again and again. And the events were called rallies, because they certainly were not anything else, and nobody was learning anything, or benefitting in any way, except the two men themselves, whose respective teams were able to summon cameras and reporters with laptops at a moment’s notice, and to command more free messaging on top of all the paid messaging, until every ordinary Nevadan was able to say all the phrases from memory, like the Pledge of Allegiance.

And in the dream, the contest day arrived.  The Nevadans came out of the polling places, and the reporters were assigned to ask them how they voted — who they supported, and why.  The voters repeated the phrases perfectly. Even the most preposterous and mistaken and offensive phrase was committed to memory, like a prayer, and almost all of the voters, who were now not so pleased to have a reporter’s microphone in their faces, were able to say exactly what it was that made them support one man or the other, and the reporters were able to whisper the words right along with them, like lines from a classic old movie we’d all seen dozens of times.

A few weeks after one of the men won the contest, they exchanged a hearty handshake and sat down together for some turkey chili at lunchtime, even as their respective teams of allies were brawling in public over the very issues the two men told us their contest would settle.

What a weird dream, huh?

Sketch this, M.C. Escher: News subject covers reporter as reporter covers the news

July 15, 2012

An email popped up about a month ago, with a link to Facebook.

“Here you are at our press briefing this morning,” it said.

And sure enough, there was a shot of the news subject — in this case a government official — being interviewed by a nameless (and reasonable) reporter, along with a blurb about the event.

“News covers reporter covering news,” the Reasonable Reporter responded. “It’s like an M.C. Escher drawing.”

The Reasonable Reporter added that she has thus far declined to post her own mug on Facebook, hinting that it’s a conscious choice, despite various social pressures, and in defiance of threats she will be reduced to a fraction of her current status as a footnote in the annals of journalism.

The tone, let’s say, was one of restrained displeasure.

“Get used to it,” the reply came back.

Twice since then, the news has covered the reporter, while the reporter was covering the news.

It goes like this: At the center is the story– the action.  There are reporters covering the action, and at the periphery, the PR folks are taking photos of the reporters covering the action.  In a grassroots situation, it’s the guy who’s been to the social media seminar, or the most technically proficient volunteer.

The Reasonable Reporter becomes suddenly and uncomfortably aware she’s in the sights of a professional-strength camera lens, with busy fingers clicking away at the other end.

Epic concentration is required to focus on the story while resisting the impulse to stop, and turn to the photographer, and shout “Hey, I’m not the story here. You all are the story.”

But of course, they are creating their own story, and covering it themselves as they create it.

Why? Because they can. Failing to respect that, the Reasonable Reporter would be a sorry excuse for the First Amendment absolutist she claims to be. Arguably, though, there’s a difference between advocates of a cause, who ceaselessly hope for media attention and struggle to get it, and government entities, most of which can summon the press with an hour’s notice, as often as they care to.

Contemplating that brings to mind two phrases.  “Above my pay grade,” and “Get used to it.”

Vegas, Baby!… Six Months Later

May 18, 2012

Suffering a cranky brand of anxiety, the Reasonable Reporter rolled into town at dusk on a mid-November Sunday, just nine hours before the scheduled launch of the Next Big Career Chapter.

Simmering in the mix, there was a possibility the rental agent had failed to leave a key for the newly-changed lock, and a slightly stronger possibility the power might not be switched on until Monday morning.

The Reno-to-Vegas haul had lasted about two hours longer than the cat’s tranquilizer. At Beatty, she’d issued a low growl that evolved into frequent and full-blown yowls before the big city came into sight.  The wrong freeway exit added an additional half-hour to the trip, providing the first of many lessons about getting from here to there in a place where everything looks closer than it is.

Ah, but the key was there, the power was on, the cat ate hungrily. All was well – or as well as it could be for someone whose next task was to unload a U-Haul truck in the dark, and then start a new job without enough sleep.

Vegas, baby!  The phrase had given voice for nearly a month to enthusiasm for new challenges.

It was a mantra, repeated silently each time another Reno friend offered a look of wide-eyed disbelief in response to the news. Northern Nevadans harbor a fairly uniform distaste for Las Vegas, although many fly back-and-forth for business.  They can’t fathom living here, and a few even imagined it must be some kind of hardship –divorce perhaps? –that had driven this decision.

But northerners also know quite well that more opportunities exist in the south than in Reno for the non-native Nevadan. They also grasp that to understand Nevada, one must understand Las Vegas.

(Six months into the Las Vegas experience, here is a reluctant acknowledgement:  After 10 years, three legislative sessions, five election cycles, and dozens of only-in-Nevada stories, the Reasonable Reporter understands about two teaspoons full in the whole Nevada barrel.  Another one:  Events deserving news coverage are more complicated in the south, and more interesting. They are also less covered than they ought to be, which spells opportunity if you’re paying attention. )

But finding one’s way here is hard.  There are practical challenges, not least of which is the sheer expanse of the place, which is not one central city clustered by suburbs, like L A or the Bay Area, but one enormous asphalt grid, stretching out in all directions from the Strip, which is the center of this universe.  There is also the mind-dulling sameness of the landscape that lies beyond the Strip and a few other well-documented attractions

There is the unwelcoming vibe of the neighborhoods, all walled off from street view. Behind the walls sit row upon row of stucco homes, all white, or all tan, or all pink. The more recently-built neighborhood might sport a tightly-controlled assortment of muted hues that surely have names like sandstorm, cactus, and desert dawn. Outside the walls are empty sidewalks. Where is everyone?

Vegas, baby! The phrase lost its luster around month three, as a deep and searing loneliness set in.

The Reasonable Reporter made a manic project at first of running around town collecting business cards from the smartest people who would grant appointments. Despite the appearance of inaccessibility, doors in this desert open quite easily. Some meetings spawned a story, some did not.

On any given day, at an old locals hangout recommended by a 30-year resident, there are a fair number of, um, old locals. They are quite welcoming. The occasional visit at breakfast time can yield valuable exposure to the core culture of old Las Vegas.

(Speaking of which, it is immediately clear why Carolyn Goodman is the mayor of Las Vegas, and why the city elected her to succeed her husband.  At the conclusion of her recent State of the City speech, she spoke briefly with reporters. After a few minutes, former Mayor Oscar showed up at the periphery of the press gaggle, drink in hand, and escorted her to the lobby of the sumptuous new city hall, where well-wishers awaited.  At that moment, they were Las Vegas, and in a way that more or less defies explanation, it clicked.)

Then there’s the daily news. To absorb the headlines is to swim through a tank full of crazy people bludgeoning children; pedestrians wandering like stray cattle into the paths of moving cars; cops conducting traffic stings by crossing busy streets dressed up as leprechauns, or in turkey costumes; and cameras drawn, quite literally, like moths to flames whenever anything – truly, almost anything — catches fire.

There are moments when the whole affair begs to be punctuated with a slide whistle, or a hearty ‘Boing-oing-oing!” and a shot of clowns emerging from a tiny car.  It would not be surprising to see surveillance video showing a liquor store robber poking his dimwitted accomplice in the eye.  Doink! Oops, the gun discharged, and a bystander was shot.  We’ll have more details as they emerge.

This is not to dismiss or denigrate the people who are reporting daily on matters of more consequence. They are here, hard at work, but there aren’t enough of them.

To stay on course requires new levels of concentration, and it’s too early to say with certainty, but that may be the key to success here. Concentrate. Pay attention.  Find people. Stay put, because, they say, a lot of people don’t, or can’t stay here. Exploit voids in the market. (Is it different anywhere else?)

And regarding voids in the market, note to Las Vegas grocery stores:  get some paper bags! If just one of you offered paper bags, the Reasonable Reporter would vow never to shop anywhere else.

The scariest of all Halloween monsters: Registered sex offenders make good political theater on spooky children’s holiday

October 28, 2011

Brand awareness is essential to political success, and Halloween presents a great branding opportunity for a political campaign that never ends – promoting protection for children from an imagined vast population of pedophiles who supposedly lurk behind every tree and around every corner. What could be more frightening than Phillip Garrido on the front step, using chocolate to lure an adorable little Spiderman or Cinderella into a sexual torture chamber?

Reinforcing this potential horror in the public psyche, law enforcement agencies around the nation  – with fanfare —  launch an annual Halloween sex crime safety campaign, publicly reminding convicted offenders not to decorate or light their houses, and not to answer  the door on Halloween night.  They also remind parents to go to the internet and pinpoint the homes of local sex offenders before trick-or-treat excursions, by logging on to the online sex offender registry.

Let’s all join hands and endorse an eternal stay at the Hotel Hell for Phillip Garrido and anyone else who would sexually molest a child.  But this Halloween Monster Watch lends credibility to politically-fueled hysteria about the real risk of sex crimes against children.

Most registered sex offenders are not pedophiles, nor do most registered sex offenders present a violent threat. Many are on the registry because our sex crime laws are wider than the Grand Canyon, and are continually expanded and made more punitive by legislators who exploit public fear.

Sex crime laws are easy to pass. Which lawmaker in his right mind would oppose them? The result is a massive, messy tangle of state and federal initiatives intended to curb sexual crime, driven by a coalition of victims and family members who comprise a tiny, but sympathetic portion of the population.  With the help of zealous politicians and news organizations that thrive on sex crime coverage, these activists have successfully passed layer-upon-layer of law, prescribing criminal prosecution and life-time offender status not just for violent rapists and pedophiles, but for a litany of lower-level sex offenses.

Over the course of this year, The Reasonable Reporter has conducted a series of conversations with the kind of sex offenders who are a growing segment of the registry. Some of the interviews were with their families, or people involved in their legal defense.  For the most part, the offenders were ordinary men who made judgment errors or engaged in activities that were once considered ungallant, but not criminal.

One got into bed with a sexually aggressive young woman who lied about her age and was sophisticated beyond her years.  Several were just young and dumb themselves at the time of their offenses.  One is required to register and remain on lifetime supervision because of a couple of episodes of consensual teen sex with the same girl, who was younger than he was.

Then there was the man who gave a ride to a young woman who was walking at night on a long stretch of deserted road, and told him she’d gotten lost looking for the home of her aunt.  You could call this the gentleman’s dilemma. Knowing she was miles from town, should he take her to safety, or leave her lost in the dark, vulnerable to whatever fate she might encounter?

Inviting her into his vehicle was the first of several wrong decisions, which may or may not have involved sex. The young woman herself has said there was no sex, but nobody knows, because nobody else was there to witness. The man is no longer able to work in his chosen field, where he was quite accomplished, because he’s a registered sex offender.

Hollywood tipped its hat to the issue this summer in a comedy called Horrible Bosses. One of the characters with a horrible boss is trapped in his job because he is a registered sex offender (he urinated on a tree).  It’s difficult to get another job when your name is on the registry, so he’s stuck.  And yes, there are jurisdictions where public urination can land you on the list.

A special variety of sex offender has engaged via the internet in admittedly lascivious exchanges with cops posing as girls.  Most of these men never have a chance to become actual offenders, because they are arrested before their sexual intentions can turn into sexual acts. No actual girls are harmed in this exercise, because no actual girls are involved. But it makes great reality TV, and boosts the criminal conviction records.  It helps secure federal law enforcement dollars, and it allows politicians to brag and posture about protecting “children” because the “girls” are represented in their fake communication as young teens – children, legally speaking.

Meanwhile, thousands of men who are no real threat to anyone are stigmatized, with opportunities for normal career achievement and social lives closed to them. They may become unemployed, even homeless.

You will note there are no names in this piece. That’s because sex offenders are understandably publicity shy. Those who have jobs fear being fired if they identify themselves. They fear retribution if their neighbors become aware of their status. They live in a state of anxiety, knowing that the information is public and they can be discovered at any time.

The families of registered sex offenders are also reluctant to speak, because they have safety concerns for the offender, and because a peaceful family existence can become impossible when they reveal their connection to a sex offender.  Heartbroken parents watch, unable to help, as their young men live in fear and isolation.

Some lawmakers will admit behind the scenes that sex crime laws are more out of control than sex crime itself. But have you heard one say so in public?

There are some hard numbers from studies indicating that sex crime laws are doing more to ruin the lives of American men than they are doing to protect American children. But you don’t need a university study.  The published numbers on the sex offender registries tell the tale. The numbers of offenders in each category make it obvious that the majority of registrants are not Halloween monsters.

Finally, a quick reality check when it comes to Halloween night. Yes, there could be a pervert offering freshly-baked oatmeal cookies on Monday night to tykes who agree to retrieve them from his front pants pockets. But almost universally, kids trick-or-treat in groups, not alone. And parents, if they have two brain cells to rub together, don’t allow young children to go knocking on doors at night unaccompanied, period.

So why use Halloween night to stir up this brand of fear, when kids have a better chance of being hit by a car on Halloween than being sexually molested by a stranger?

Ruckus at the Las Vegas WRLC conference: Conservative Latino activists reveal GOP dilemma

October 21, 2011

Conservative Latino activists clashed this week with establishment Latino Republicans sitting on a panel at a regional GOP conference in Las Vegas. The discussion topic was how to stimulate jobs and prosperity for the Latino community. But in the final moments, some panelists dispensed advice about how to woo Latino voters, many of whom default to Democratic candidates despite holding cultural values that align more closely with Republicans.

Members of the audience began to shout as the panelists wrapped up and prepared to leave the stage.   The dissonant voices belonged to several  Republican Latinos from Las Vegas.  GOP activists from other states joined in, pelting the panel all at once with war stories suggesting that its highly-placed members, two of which served in the Bush Administration, might be out of touch with the realities of grassroots outreach.

“It’s one thing to sit back and talk about it, but we are doing it,” said Las Vegas businessman Robert Zavala after the skirmish ended.

The stage was cleared following a few minutes of chaotic exchange. The panel moderator appeared to minimize the challenges, urging the locals to stay informed and keep fighting, which only stirred them to further shouting.

The public squabble reveals a big GOP dilemma at a time when 50 thousand American Latinos per month reach voting age, creating an ever more powerful political force.  Republican volunteers who are best equipped to understand Latino voters – other Latinos – say they’re encountering resistance because of the party’s relentless focus on immigration.

The anti-illegal immigrant message comes across to Latinos as anti-Latino, according to these folks, who spend their time on the ground.

Many Latinos are offended that Republican leadership doesn’t denounce extreme rhetoric coming from conservative factions that make immigration their top issue, says Jose Cuevas, a Texas restaurateur who is also the chairman of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.  Cuevas sat on the panel in Las Vegas, but did not enter the fray while he was on stage.

Backstage, he expressed agreement with the local activists.

“I’ve been  a Republican all my life, and I’ve told leadership, ‘if I’m having a hard time staying with you, then you have no chance of bringing anyone else on board’,” Cuevas said in an interview.

“I’m frustrated that we don’t have a leadership that tells the intolerant to be quiet,” he told the Reasonable Reporter.

And so, the GOP must take a politically-dangerous stand against a core constituency, to strengthen its relationship with a less dependable one that’s increasingly decisive in elections.

“You’ve just got to do the math,”   Cuevas said. “If you alienate the Latinos, we stop winning elections in four to six years.”

The GOP establishment encourages Latino outreach to focus on hard work and family values, which is not substantially at odds with the approach the local activists believe is correct.  But they say the immigration issue clouds the perception of the party.

The Las Vegas panel discussion was sponsored by Americans for Prosperity as part of the Western Republican Leadership Conference.  Spokesman Adam Stryker says the program was not intended to touch on immigration. Its purpose was to focus on the organization’s key objective of promoting conservative economic policy.

Chris Christie would have done well BECAUSE he’s fat.

October 7, 2011

Incredibly enough, there are people in this pizza-and-beer-loving nation who believe Fat New Jersey Governor Chris Christie would have had a tough race, had he entered the GOP presidential primary, because of his weight.

Such nonsense. The Fat Governor of New Jersey, had he tossed his hat in the ring, would have done well precisely because he’s fat.  We are a Taco Bell, Burger King, dip-and-Doritos, mac-and-cheese culture.

A lot of Americans are bloody sick and tired of being told at every turn that our body mass index is out of whack.  We suspect Fat New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and his wife, too, who appears to have put away a few double-stuff Oreos in her time, would never nag us about our eating habits.  We would welcome a policy of silence from the White House on our food choices when we’re watching the news at dinner time.

As to cultural prejudice against the chubby?  Sure, it exists. Unlike other brands of prejudice – those based on race, gender and religion – prejudice against fat people is acceptable, and in many states, it’s legal.  This snottiness grows tiresome, even to the not-so-fat, because who among us looks perfect in any case?

There are Americans – and not just french fry-ordering, fat slob, sweatshirt-wearing Americans, but perfectly lovely, marathon-running, yoga-practicing, organic kale-eating Americans, too —  who might find solidarity with the Fat New Jersey Governor, because he doesn’t give a crap if people call him fat.

In fact, the Fat New Jersey Governor told opponent John Corzine during their gubernatorial contest to stop pussyfooting around and just say it.

“I’m fat,” Christie said. And he won.

Here’s the thing.  You can’t pull this off if you’re just a few pounds on the heavy side. A few extra pounds doesn’t make a definitive statement. It suggests mere absence of discipline. It suggests you’re in denial.  It suggests you overindulged all summer even though you knew you’d have to make a bunch of on-camera appearances in the fall, and then you took the word of a friend who said, “No!  No, you’re fine!” when you made a self-deprecating comment about how your suit jacket looks like it belongs to your kid brother.

To be taken seriously by Americans weary of nutrition-harping, anti-fat propaganda, you have to be unmistakably and unapologetically fat.

Christie has already lived through a campaign where his heft was fodder for serious analysis (Washington Post, no less). And yes, let’s say it again. He won.

None of it matters now, because he’s keeping his portly ass out of the race.  But we’d love to have raised our 170-calorie Guiness Stout to his candidacy from our ringside seat in the living room recliner.  You go, Fat Governor of New Jersey.

DNA Moms versus the Fourth Amendment: How Brianna’s Law defied both logic and emotion, and failed in the Nevada Legislature

June 23, 2011

Brianna’s Law was a controversial anti-crime bill that would create DNA profiles on thousands more people each year. Does the government’s interest in crime control mean police can reach into the mouth of a person presumed innocent, and seize that person’s genetic blueprint from the skin inside his cheek?

How Brianna’s Law failed in the 2011 legislature

Amazon rattles saber: We will rethink our Nevada investment

May 12, 2011

Online retail pioneer Amazon has issued a not entirely surprising response to the campaign by Nevada’s brick-and-mortar retailers promoting sales tax collection by online merchants.

Amazon personnel said on a Wednesday phone call that they were aware of the pending amendment to Nevada Senate Bill 34, the existence of which has received wide press coverage, and which will be presented by the Retail Association of Nevada as a tax fairness measure.  Leading up to the presentation, the association has launched a television and radio campaign to influence public opinion in favor of retailers who collect taxes as required by law for schools and other public necessities, implicitly shaming companies that don’t. In the center of the bull’s eye — Amazon.

A written statement from Amazon Vice President of Global Public Policy Paul Misener was issued by email.

“The new tax legislation sought by big box retailers would make us reconsider our pending plans for jobs and investment in Nevada, including in Las Vegas,” he wrote.

Amazon has made headlines in state after state fighting any effort to force it into the role of sales tax collector.  It has battled the efforts by going to court, and by threatening to pull distribution centers out of states where legislatures are brewing up such a requirement, stirring fear of economic disruption and job loss.

The Nevada Association of Retailers asserts the state is losing jobs anyway, because physical retailers located here can’t compete with Amazon and other online merchants who aren’t required to pay sales taxes, and often provide free delivery.

The issue, says the association’s Bryan Wachter, is that Amazon should be paying (collecting) those taxes now.  He emphasized that the tax is not a new tax, because the online shopper is currently obligated by law to download a consumer use tax form from the Department of Taxation website, self-report online purchases, and pay the tax.  Hardly anyone does it because people are unaware of the law.

“It will be interesting to see if Amazon chooses to continue to have their advantage by leaving the state, as opposed to doing what most other companies are already doing,” Wachter said.

— original post —

Amazon issued the following written statement on Wednesday to the Reasonable Reporter in response to a request for comment regarding the Retail Association of Nevada’s legislative push to force the online retail giant to collect sales taxes in Nevada.  The request was part of the work for my segment on this week’s “Impact Nevada,”  which airs each weekend on Vegas PBS Channel 10 and commercial channel 8 in Las Vegas. Statement below, more to follow.

Here’s a statement from Paul Misener, Amazon vice-president of Global Public Policy:

“The new tax legislation sought by big box retailers would make us reconsider our pending plans for jobs and investment in Nevada, including in Las Vegas.”