Saturday, January 10, 2009

Obama campaign sending out inauguration "invitations"

As the day of Obama's presidential inauguration draws new, it has been well publicized that Obama will be inviting 10 of his supporters to attend the inauguration in person as special guests. Just last week, he sent out the following email to his mailing list of supporters.

Thanks to you, President-elect Obama and Vice President-elect Biden will take their oaths of office in just 17 days.

You helped shape history, and now you can be a part of it.

Ten supporters and their guests will be selected to come to Washington, D.C. for several days of inaugural events. You could be chosen to fly to Washington, attend the welcome ceremony, the Inaugural parade, the swearing-in, and an official Inaugural ball.

The email goes on from there. It sounds wonderful. You could possibly be flown down to DC to be a special guest. It would be the experience of a lifetime. But really, what are chances of actually being chosen.

You may have already won

Yesterday, when I got home, my wife told me that a large envelope had come in the mail for me from Barack Obama. When I picked up the envelope, the return address said it was from "The Presidential Inaugural Committee, Washington DC, 20599". As I opened the envelope, I joked with my wife: "You know, Obama is inviting 10 guests to the inauguration. He'll fly you down there and everything. Maybe he picked me". Of course, I wasn't really serious. Again, what are the chances that I'd be picked as a winner.

So, when I opened the envelope, imagine my surprise to see the following (click image to see the full size):

In short, it appears to be a letter from Barack Obama inviting the recipient to attend the inauguration. The letter is very authentic looking. Extremely high quality paper, exceptional print quality, and a very detailed embossed seal. Everything about the letter screams "THIS IS OFFICIAL". For a breif moment, as I read the opening few lines "The Presidential Inaugural Committee requests the honor of your presnse to attend and participate....", I paused in disbelief that I might actually be one of the 10 lucky winners. Of course, not the type to be tricked so easily, I knew there was a catch. I said to my wife "no....this is a trick. It's gotta be some marketing gimmick from some company cashing in on the inauguration."

As I read through the first invitation, there was no catch, so I move on to the enclosed letter. It says it requests your presence at the public events that are taking place during the inauguration, and then goes on to explain ways you can participate at home. It's got links to a couple of Obama's offical websites ( and It was lacking any sort of details about how they might fly me down to the DC, so I obviously wasn't one of the 10 lucky winners, but it lacked a link to any company selling anything. I was a bit confused. So I moved on to the final item enclosed in the evelope...a small pamphlet.

The pamphlet is selling a variety of inaugural collectibles: pins, limited edition signed posters, plates, keyrings. It looks very reminiscent of one of those collectible dealers like the Bradford Exchange. Aha, so THIS is the catch. The bottom of pamphlet says "To order go to or call 800-808-7594". Just as I suspected, some company is cashing in. Very well done...a very good effort at some very official looking deceit. Yes, it was in very poor taste, with the level of trickery involved, but the lengths they went to trying to make it look official was commendable. I was impressed, but angry at the lows that corporations will stoop to. It was very reminiscent of a Publishers Clearinghouse mailings trying to trick people into thinking that they've won $1,000,000

Reinvestigating the letter

The next day, I decide I'll do some googling to see just how many people got the same sort of scam. I found a number of posts of people who got this, many thinking it's an actual invitation (which, of course, I figured, was the whole intention). Then somebody posted a link to the following New York Times article:
Inside a Gritty Brooklyn Factory, Potomac Fever

The article details how this printer had been chosen by the Obama team to print up 1,000,000 invitation letters to the inauguration. The article discusses why the company was chosen, the quality of materials to be used, and the effort put in around the clock to make something of such high quality. The article includes a photo of the actual letters...and they looked EXACTLY like my letter.

So, my first thought was "Ok, so this marketing company made an exact duplicate of the letter and sent it to me". But then I pondered a minute and realized...they had requested 1 MILLION letters to be printed up. Now I was back to the thought...perhaps my letter actually was an official letter from the Obama team.

So I went to check out the website mentioned in the pamphlet (I hadn't bothered to go there up until now because I was convinced it wasn't official and I had no intention of giving their website the traffic). When I got there, the website was in a style identical of every other Obama website to date, complete with donation links. However, I'm well aware of how easy it is duplicate a website's look and feel, and the donation link may be there for good measure. So, I went and started digging around on a website that I knew for a fact was official:

Well, I couldn't find an actually link to, but I found a link to, so obviously that was an official site. As I started browsing, I noticed the two websites were virtually identical. They had the same text, same links, selling the exact same products. In fact, the ONLY difference I could find between the two sites was a different contact phone number.

I was still left with the this an official obama website, or a masterful duplicate. Well, my first thought was to look at the database and see who the 2 websites are registered to. As it turns out, they are registered to the same person. Yet, I've seen websites with fake registration info before, so I wanted a little more confirmation. Well, I figured I probably should have done an nslookup to see what IP addresses the two domain names resolve to. Well, as it turns out, they resolve to the exact same pair of IP addresses.

So, that proves it pretty conclusively. The letter I received IS an official letter from Barack Obama's inaugural committee. Suddenly, I realized I was actually MORE angry about the letter than I was when I thought it was a fake letter to some slimy corporation. The corporation could kind of be excused for doing something in such poor taste. But for Barack Obama to send out something so official looking to his supporters? Knowing that his supporters would be well aware of the well publicized fact that he would be bringing 10 supporters to witness the inauguration firsthand? This seem like a very poorly thought out mailing campaign, simply because of the level of trickery involved. If it had been just the letter and pamphlet that were sent out, I wouldn't have had a problem. But sending out such an official certificate was, in my opinion, in such poor taste.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Day - misc. comments

I voted today, and happily it didn't take long. I had been seeing all sorts of reports of record turnout all over the country, people waiting 10 hours to vote, people lining up at 3AM, etc. Frankly, it was quite scary thinking of the prospect that I might have to wait so long. Luckily we have a reasonably small precinct here, and when I got to the polls about 10 minutes before open, there were only about 15 people in line. Once the polls opened at 7AM, it only took me 15 minutes to get through everything and back to my car.

Last night I was watching TV, and it was nothing but a last minute flurry of ads. I'm not even sure if I saw a single ad that wasn't a campaign advertisement. Lots of the same ones over and over and over. A few of them got to me, because they seemed like they might be inaccurate. One of the ones that really bugged me was trying to urge people to vote against Michigan proposal 2, which is intended to allow research using embryonic stem cells to be funded by tax money. The ad tries to make the case something like "supporters say it won't increase your taxes, but then how come it says that tax money can be used...that is BS". The logical error on their part is astoundingly obvious. It doesn't need to raise taxes, as what it is doing is saying that if you get tax money to do your research, you can now use any portion of that funding to include human embryonic stem cells in your research. The deceit in the ad is clear as day (to me, at least), but I'm sure countless people will fall for it.

Which brings me to my next point. We currently have truth in advertising laws, but there is no such thing as a truth in campaigning law. I know such a law would be a difficult thing to define and enforce, as you can always pay anyone to do a study and conclude that you are telling the truth. Still, with the outrageous number of outright lies I've seen this election, it feels like something needs to be done. I'm just not sure what. All I know is that, when telling blatant lies is so often the most effective strategy to get elected, then democracy is largely meaningless?

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Halloween 2008: I am the Banana King

It's been a long time since I went out (or even just dressed up) for Halloween. The last time I can remember was 18 years ago. Well, my youngest niece just turned 14 months old, so this was her first time going out for halloween. My wife and I decided we wanted to go with her...I just needed to come up with an idea for a costume. After thinking through a number of ideas I couldn't come up with anything. Then one night, a group of us were introducing a friend to the silliness that is Charlie the Unicorn. Then suddenly it dawned on me...I will be the Banana King.

Now, if you aren't familiar with Charlie the Unicorn, then let me be the first to introduce you to the insanity that is Part 1 and Part 2. I got my idea for the Banana King from part 2, though I suggest watching part 1 first (just to better understand things).

Now, in the video, Charlie the Unicorn is actually the Banana King. However, I didn't really want to go around as a unicorn with a crown, as nobody would have any clue what I was. The king unicorn? The unicorn emporer? It just wouldn't make sense. Second, as a guy, dressing up as a unicorn is kind of...odd. Finally, I just don't know that my sewing skills would be good enough to make a unicorn costume.

Instead, I decided to take the concept of the Banana King and go my own direction...create what I would envision it like if somebody explained it to me. With that, I decided to make myself a giant banana with some appropriate accessories. I figured that way, even if people didn't know about Charlie the Unicorn, at least they should be able to get the basic premise of my costume right. They'd know what I was, even if they didn't understand it.

I started by looking at what banana costumes were available on the market. What I found was the same outfit that was being sold by everyone, but I thought it was quite lame. I thus decided to create it from scratch. It took me under a week to do the entire thing (5 evenings plus half a saturday).

The costume itself was just made from white and yellow fleece with some stiffening material sewn in, and a bit of stuffing to fill the bottom and top sections. The basic design was a banana half peeled. After making the main part of the costume, I added a crown (which I bought from the costume shop). I made a magical amulet from some balsa wood, painted with gold metallic paint, with some plastic jewels glued on, and put on a gold chain. I made 3 mini banana which were just the same as the main outfit but miniaturized, with some pipe cleaners for arms/legs and mouth drawn on a piece of fabric and glued onto the body. I put one on my back, one on my shoulder, and the third was free so that I could carry it around. Finally, I put a banana in my ear, which was just another mini banana, half peeled, but without the top peeled part or the arms/legs.

Here's some photos of the finished outfit:

So how well did the costume go over? Pretty good. I won a $50 iTunes gift card in a contest. I got tons of comments on it, including many "best costume of the night" comments. Almost everybody figured out right away that I was the banana king (or at least I'll give them full credit for guessing king banana). Yet it was the type of thing where they knew what it was, but it didn't make sense, so they had to ask to be certain. A few people at first thought I was....well, let's just say they thought I was something else (not that type of crown, folks). The funniest part is they were all ladies that thought that. I also ran into a guy dressed as a gorilla.

Yet, in all of that, nobody actually knew exactly what I was. Very few people I talked to had any clue about Charlie the Unicorn, and the few that knew hadn't yet seen part 2. So, in that respect the outfit was a bust, but it was tons of fun and very rewarding overall.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Joe the Plumber can't afford $600 in tax - Part 2

Last night I posted about the silly notion that Joe can't afford to buy a $250K business because of a $600 tax increase.

Now I've found an interview Joe did with Fox News. In this interview, he states that he's middle class too...that the houses in his neighborhood range in price from $90K to $140K. Joe says that after he buys the business, he'll be staying put in his house because he can't afford to buy more.

What the hell is Joe talking about? If you can't afford more than a $140K house on a $270K income, then things are way more wrong than I thought yesterday. Let just use some outrageously conservative estimates to look at this, to see just how ridiculous this is.

Joe earns $270K. Let assume that his total overall taxation is 50% of his income. That means his take home will be $135K. Now, lets assume that Joe sets aside a very healthy $30K each year for retirement. He's now got $105K. That $105K has to cover both his mortgage and his living expenses.

So let's think about this. Lets assume that Joe was irresponsible and cashed out his home, and owes the full $140K on his mortgage. Heck, no...let's go further and assume his house WAS valued at almost twice that value pre-housing-crash (lets say $240K) and that he irresponsibly cashed out every penny of equity. Lets also assume his credit wasn't too hot, and that he was only able to score an 8% mortgage.

With those figures, Joe can have his house paid off in only 5 years by paying $4866.34. That's less than $60K per year. If we take that off of his $105K available, that means after paying taxes, after saving a huge amount for retirement, and after paying enough to eliminate his mortgage in 5 years, Joe STILL has over $45K available to live off of. That's almost what most middle class people make BEFORE taxes, retirement, and mortgage.

Again, remember how conservative I'm being here. His combined taxes will be less than 50%, without doubt. His mortgage is most likely less than 8%, and he most likely doesn't owe $240K on his house. He will most likely not contribute $30K to retirement, and he will most likely keep his mortgage a lot longer than 5 years. Most likely Joe will have something like $100K left over after taxes, mortgage, and retirement.

So now, I can only come to one conclusion. If you can't do much better with that amount of money left over to live off of, and if that $600 additional tax is going to make it impossible for you to buy that! That's all I can say, just wow! You have to be absolutely TERRIBLE at financial management to not be able to live quite comfortably off of that.

The only other explanation is that this guy has been seriously mistaken or misled about just how much he's gonna be hurting under Obama's plan.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Joe the Plumber can't afford a $250K business because of $600 in tax?

Tonight during the debate, Joe the Plumber became a topic more often than I cared to hear. The part of it that really sounded absurd was the notion of Joe can't afford to buy the business because of the increase in taxes.

During the discussion between Joe the Plumber and Obama, Joe mentioned that the business makes about $270K per year. As Obama stated, the first $250K would stay the same. It is only the additional $20K or so that would be taxed at a rate 3% higher. If you figure that out, a 3% increase on $20K comes to $600.

So let me get this straight. You may not be able to afford to buy a $270K business because of a $600 tax increase? If that's the case, something is really wrong in the financial management here. If you can't handle a tax increase of 0.2% (which is how much $600 on $270K works out to)...if that's the deal breaker for you, then I've got news to give you. Something else has gone WAY wrong, and that something else is obviously the deal breaker.

In addition, as Obama mentioned, that $600 may be more than offset by Obama's other credits for health care expenses and capital gains reductions. (Edit: Not to mentioned the possibility of increased revenue as his customers have more money to spend due to their tax decreases)

Thursday, October 2, 2008

I'm not electing a Vice-Debater

Tonight in the VP debates, Palin proved that she can be an excellent debater. She did a great job. I'll admit I was disappointed not to see a train wreck there. I nearly popped up a bowl of popcorn in anticipation of an evening of comedy. I didn't get that. Palin put on a respectable performance, and anyone just seeing how well she talked had to be impressed.

However, when I go to the polls in November, I won't be electing a Vice-Debater. I'm electing a Vice-President, and that's an area she fell far short. A good debater knows how to completely change the topic when it's something they don't have a good answer to, and that's what Palin did. However, the goal wasn't to see how well she could talk without getting tripped up. The point was (at least to me) to see how well specific questions could be answered (which she completely failed to do on MANY occasions). Otherwise, why even bother having questions? Why not just a 90 minute free for all chat?

The point was to flesh out each candidate and see what they are made of...see how they will hold up to a variety of measures of their job as vice president (and more importantly, their potential future job as the actual president). It's really no surprise that Biden crushed her on those grounds. Considering the backgrounds, I'd expect nothing less. But to tone this down to the least common denominator, as everyone seems to be doing, and see who won on that measure? Well, to me that reminds me of no-child-left-behind, commonly referred to as no-child-gets-ahead. By putting so much value on how Biden measured up (or rather, down) to Palin's level of ability completely disregards the fact that his abilities are so much greater.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Palin contradicts McCain on Pakistan - even after debate

At the first presidential debate, one of the points John McCain disagreed with was Obama's willingness to make cross border attacks into Pakistan. The day after the debate, CNN captured video of Sarah Palin in public answering questions from random people.

In the video, about 10 seconds in, somebody asks Palin if she watched the debate last night, and she replies that she did. Later, at the 1:10 mark, somebody asks "Should we do cross border from Afghanistan to Pakistan". Palin replies "if that's what we have to do to stop the terrorists from coming any further in, absolutely, we should". It would seem that she didn't watch the debate as carefully as one would hope.

Also slightly amusing in the video is when the lady at the cash register asks Palin what her name is. She's been probably one of the most famous people in the country over the last month, yet some people have no idea who she is. I'm sure it could happen to anyone, yet it's still a humorous tribute to just how much of an unknown this lady is.