Mike Pence

Mike Pence’s Fugue State

Indiana Governor Mike Pence appears to have been walking around in a fugue state for the last week. Somewhere between my empathy and my thirst for comeuppance lies a certain curiosity about what it must be like to be in his shoes these days. His world – or at least his political world – has turned upside down and back again in record time.

Between his bumbling appearance on This Week with George Stephanopoulos and his wheezing press conference the following day, the governor has received more national attention than he has ever dreamed of having, most of which has been exceedingly negative.

Pence is certainly no political neophyte. Far from it. He is what most observers would refer to as a seasoned politician. So why, then, has he appeared to be at such a loss for a solution to his (and Indiana’s) mounting public relations nightmare?

The most logical hypothesis is that he has managed to surround himself for years with people who either agree with his positions or who are politic enough not to challenge them too sharply.

The positions he has taken and the values he has held have generally fallen on the spectrum somewhere between conservative and off-the-charts right wing. This is particularly evident when you review his record on LGBT issues.

  • In 2006, he voted in favor of a federal constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage
  • In 2007, he voted No on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act while in Congress
  • In 2010, he voted No on President Obama’s proposed repeal of DADT, arguing that “unit cohesion” would be affected.

It’s not just LGBT issues where he’s taken the most right-leaning positions. He’s voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and he opposed a similar state act in Indiana.

While there may have been viewpoints expressed that were different from his own, Pence pretty much skated by both in Congress and as Governor without having too much opposition aimed directly at him.

Suddenly this week, Pence faced genuine pushback – both in Indiana and across the country – the likes of which he’s never experienced after signing the state’s so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act, surrounded by a gaggle of nuns and his most devotedly anti-LGBT cronies. To say that he reacted to that pushback like a deer in the headlights drastically underestimates headlights.

He first denied that the bill had anything to do with discrimination, and then spun on his heels almost immediately to request that the law be changed.  On Thursday of this week, Pence signed the hastily cobbled-together amended version of the RFRA, under an even more secret veil of secrecy than he had signed the original version.

It remains to be seen how much additional blowback he’ll face and how much more political capital he’ll lose. But one thing is certain: even if he regains his equilibrium, his political world will never be quite the same.

Main Street vs. Bain Street

When President Obama, speaking today in Chicago at the NATO Summit, was asked about Cory Booker’s comments on Meet the Press on Sunday, he used the opportunity to question the applicability of Mitt Romney’s record and experience at Bain Capital.

The President sums it up:

“When you’re President, as opposed to the head of a private equity firm, then your job is not simply to maximize profits. Your job is to figure out how everybody in the country has a fair shot.”

I’ve been harping on this for a while now.

There is no logic that I can think of that justifies Romney’s assertion that experience managing a private equity firm is the skill set needed to be President of the United States. Are there significant components related to finance that are part of a president’s job? Of course. But if one makes the same decisions as a president that one would as a private equity firm manager, one excludes most of America from the mix.

On the campaign trail, Romney is hiding from his record as Governor of Massachusetts so, if anything, the single-focus of business experience that Romney is touting as his primary selling point only proves how well rounded he isn’t.

Virtually lost in today’s hubbub about Cory Booker’s statements and President Obama’s response to them is the fact that the President was addressing a NATO summit.  Although this barely got reported on today, he spoke of strengthening the commitment of our NATO partners with regard to Afghanistan, he reminded us of the U.S. and NATO role in helping to overthrow Gaddhafi and to get Libya farther down the road to peace and prosperity, and he addressed the subject of European missile defense and the role that it plays in combating terrorism.

Considering the import of the issues being discussed at that conference, could a more stark contrast be drawn with the myopic campaign tactics of Mitt Romney?

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Tampa, the GOP, and the Subprime Mess

There’s a stunning irony in the choice of venues for the GOP convention that is likely lost on most Republicans.  Tampa, Florida, was home to an entire division of Countrywide — the mortgage lender that played an enormous part in the nation’s economic downturn by saturating the market with subprime mortgages and then bundling them together into securities that could be sold by equally unscrupulous bankers on the open market to unsuspecting purchasers.

At the peak of subprime frenzy, Countrywide built out an entire facility in Tampa devoted to the sales and servicing of subprime mortgages.  The company could barely hire people fast enough to keep up with the demand that they themselves had generated by making loans available — on the worst terms possible for the borrower — to tens of thousands of borrowers who simply were not qualified to carry those loans.

At one point, Countrywide boasted of a record of $28 billion of mortgages written in a single month of lending, with many of those loans underwritten using the shoddiest of underwriting standards.

Consider these unemployment numbers for Florida:  In 2005-2006, unemployment bottomed out at 3.3%, right when all that subprime lending was going on.  With the subsequent tanking of the economy, due in large part to the collapse of the subprime market because of the fraudulent lending practices of Countrywide and others, unemployment in Florida skyrocketed to 11.4% in mid-2009, and remains to this day at or above 9%.

Florida also boasts one of the highest foreclosure rates in the nation, particularly on condominiums which were built (or overbuilt) in response to the new demand that all that subprime lending had created.  When the bubble burst, construction on half-finished developments came to a halt. Buyers who had bought into these developments were stuck with properties that were worth pennies on the dollar compared to what they now owed.  These early owners also took on the obligations of the condominium associations, the expense of which was to have been spread across dozens or hundreds of owners and now consequently was legally required to be borne by those unlucky few.

So, when the GOP opted to hold its convention in Tampa, organizers apparently were completely unaware of the optics of this choice.  Add to the bad optics of this backdrop the fact that the presumptive GOP candidate is touting a return to (or a doubling down on) the same economic policies that created this financial disaster, and it becomes hard to think that there won’t be some pretty significant negative repercussions for the Republicans.

The Democrats would be fools not to make hay out of this hypocrisy.  My guess is that the haymaking is already underway.

 

 

Tilting at (Corporate) Windmills, Pt. 2

Telecom giant SBC has a product that they’re hawking called “SBC Unified Communications.” In theory, it sounds like a convenient technology — all your voice mail from all your phones in a single account, which you can play back from any phone (residential land line or Cingular cell phone) or from a browser based mailbox. Plus you can receive faxes in the mailbox, too, and print them out. Sounds great, right?

Well, don’t get too excited, because it sucks. SBC proves unmistakably that theory and practice are two entirely different things by taking a good idea and implementing it in such a shabby fashion that it makes it seem like a bad idea. Not only is the product drastically misrepresented in their marketing hype, but also almost no one in SBC’s customer service (and certainly no one in Cingular’s customer service) has ever heard of it.

Here are the pitfalls I found in less than 24 hours of starting and then cancelling this utterly useless service:

  • SBC advertises that the web service is available from any PC in the world. What they don’t tell you is that you have to install a bunch of ActiveX and Java plugins to get it to work. So if you’re on a corporate PC that has restrictions on software and plugin installations (as most well-secured systems do these days), you can’t access it.
  • If you have a SBC Yahoo Email account, they can’t integrate the two. You have to have a whole separate Email account, and it’s limited to 50MB. Are you starting to see how the concept breaks down?
  • If you have a Cingular cell phone, the marketing hype makes it sound like they’ve already got things completely integrated. It couldn’t be further from the truth. The only thing they have integrated is the legal arrangements between the two subcorporations of the uber-corporation; the technology doesn’t even come in a close second. For example, they haven’t figured out a way to flip the “Message Indicator” switch on your Cingular phone. Instead, when you get a voice mail message, the system sends a text message (for which you are charged a separate fee); then, when you retrieve the voice mail message, it sends anothertext message (for which you are charged another separate fee). Their customer service tells me that they’re working on coming up with a way to remove the second text message and it “might be done by the end of the first quarter.”

The most insulting aspect of all of this is the utter contempt that SBC shows for its customers. First, they think it’s o.k. to send a product to market that clearly isn’t remotely ready for human consumption. Second, they don’t bother to train their own personnel sufficiently in how to use it. Oh, I spoke with a number of people who claimed they had had training, but with only one exception, no one had any idea how this thing actually worked. None of them had actually used the product, and all (including the man who knew a little about the product) were working from a script and not from first-hand knowledge. Damn! (Then the excuse they use for not knowing anything about it is that it’s a new product. One guy told me “We’ve only had it available for about a year and a half.”)

For SBC, it’s o.k. to ask customers to spend more money for products that don’t work as well as the ones they are paying less for. For SBC, your time is worth nothing. Just once I’d like to hear the following phone hell outgoing message:

Thank you for calling BigScaryCorp. Your call is important to us, but not so important that we’d actually have someone here to answer it. Instead, we’re going to use some of your unpaid time and some of the unpaid time of everyone else who calls so that we don’t have to spend money on staffing and we can increase our returns to our stockholders. Your approximate wait time is 2 hours and fifteen minutes.

To date, my investment in time for this foolish venture in misplaced trust is as follows: (a) approximately 2 hours of phone hell trying to get specific questions answered about the product prior to ordering; (b) a half hour placing the order; (c) another three hours of phone time determining that the product did not perform the way either the marketing materials claimed or the way the people who answered the initial questions claimed; (d) another hour or so cancelling the order with SBC; (e) another half-hour getting SBC to give me back my original voice mail; and (f) another half-hour getting Cingular to give me back my original voice mail. There was also two weeks of waiting between the time that the order was placed and they actually initiated the service.

Oh, I just remembered. There’s one more investment of my time — the time it took to compose this rant. But at least that part was worth it.

Tilting at (Corporate) Windmills, Pt. 1

So I get this Email from Stamps.com about my account:

We are writing to inform you about an important change to your Stamps.com service plan. We are in the process of discontinuing our Simple Plan. Customers currently using the Simple Plan will be automatically moved to the Power Plan. This change in your service will be effective Thursday, March 24, 2005. The new monthly service fee for your Power Plan account will be a flat $15.99 per month. Pursuant to your normal monthly billing cycle, you will receive your first charge at the new rate on Sunday, April 24, 2005.

Their monthly service fee (which started at $2.99/mo. and incrementally crept upward to $4.49/month) is now being more than tripled. It’s 534% of the original fee they charged and 356% of their most recent fee. Their rate is now being jacked up to almost as much as my DSL costs, all for the privilege of paying considerably more for postage than if I bought it at the Post Office or even at the grocery store.

For $3 or $4 a month, I could justify the trade-off. It was worth not dealing with long lines and bad behavior at the post office. But, come on, people. By the time you pay for the special stock on which you print their postage and the monthly service fees, you’d have to do nothing but send mail out all day to make it worth using. (Apparently the concept of “economies of scale” has eluded them.)

So, they took an essentially happy customer and instantly converted him into an unhappy one. Correction, an unhappy EX-customer.

And apparently, I’m not alone. When I called to cancel the account (of course, they won’t let you do it by E-mail — that might actually be convenient), the wait time on hold was close to an hour, adding insult to injury. Their customer service representative told me that they were swamped with cancellation calls. Customers are apparently fleeing like rats from a sinking ship.

So folks, if you’ve got stock in Stamps.com, sell it now, because this company is in the process of committing suicide. If they’re capable of making this kind of lousy decision, what other stupidity is next?

At Last, We Agree

After more than two years in office, the W finally did something that I agree with. He signed into law and launched the national telemarketing ‘Do Not Call‘ law. It’s sort of out of character for a President who has proven himself to be so much on the side of business.

Do you think they’ve been getting calls in the Oval Office offering timeshares?

21st Century Blues

Let me say up front that I am well aware that I risk sounding like an old fart with what I am about to say. But, quite honestly, I’m not so thrilled with the 21st century so far.

Maybe someone can convince me that car alarms are better than being able to leave your keys in the car so that you know where they are.

Maybe there’s a compelling case to be made that the ability to whip out a piece of plastic to fulfill some need for instant gratification is worth the indentured servitude that you will be in for the rest of your life because of the usurious interest rates on credit cards.

Maybe it’s actually worth the agony of spending a couple hours in traffic each way so you can work in a totally depersonalized job you detest for some mega-conglomerate corporation with too many tax breaks.

Maybe it truly is better to wait for three or four weeks for a doctor’s appointment when you’re actually sick today because, what the fuck, you probably couldn’t afford it if the doctor could actually see you today anyway and even if you have insurance, the insurance probably doesn’t cover what you want to see the doctor for in the first place because once, back ten or fifteen years ago, you had a symptom that rhymes with the symptom you now have and you are therefore not covered.

Maybe it’s o.k. that corporations always have plenty of people available to call you at home while you’re eating dinner or having sex or mourning the loss of a loved one, but they never have enough people available to answer the phone when you call them.

Maybe we should all just lower our personal standards further and adapt to this new world order.

Or maybe we should step back and say collectively say, “What in the fuck is wrong with this picture?”