Thursday, December 31, 2009

Are Celebrities News?

The conclusion to 2009 has me wondering; when it comes to trashy journalism, is it the presentation or the subject matter? Do we really care about Tiger Woods, Lindsey Lohan, Michael Jackson, or Paris Hilton? Do we really pass on good informative journalism in favor of gossip and screamed opinion? I have been hearing about the short attention span of our nation for years, but it would appear from blog traffic (not this one's mind you) that we are willing to spend time reading the news. Why then, do we not spend more time on the content (and therefore advertising) provided by solid news sources like the PBS News Hour?

Ratings don't lie when it comes to television (radio is more suspect). CNN picked up steam when Nancy Grace, a walking, screaming, rights-violating banshee of a host moved into a prime slot. There can be no question of the ratings dominance enjoyed by the brash and confrontational opinion merchants on Fox News. Nor can there be any question of the people chosen by Fox News rivals MSNBC to track down the cable news leaders. The obnoxious and loud Chris Matthews, followed by the pugnacious and loud Ed Schultz, and capped by the abrasive and confrontational Keith Olberman represent the most competitive lineup fielded against Fox in recent time.

So our choices in journalism come down to; philandering golfers, abusive husbands who would be in jail if not for their fame, know-it-all ex-DA's poking their snouts in local cases, screaming liberal opinion merchants, or lying conservative gasbags. Most depressing! I would suggest PBS; Frontline, The News Hour, Washington Weekly, Nova, and the Charlie Rose Show comprise a fabulous lineup that delivers more news per minute than all of the other sources combined. The shows are not "fair and balanced", they are well-produced pieces composed of thoroughly researched and responsibly presented reporting. News does not, after all, have two sides; networks and shows that claim otherwise are just trying to sell you dish soap.

After all of this, I am curious. My question is, do you have a genuine interest in sensational journalism and if so, what is the appropriate amount of time a network should devote to this type of story? Is wall to wall coverage of the "balloon boy" in flight necessary? Should networks spend 30 days covering Michael Jackson for 16 hours per day, or two months prosecuting on air the mother of a murdered little girl? The rational middle wants to hear opinions other than the ones bouncing around the author's head. Below the post you will find two tools; a section for comments and three boxes one might check to describe the post. Please comment extensively if you would like, but if you are short of time, perhaps you would participate in an informal poll. If you think that the media, in general, covers the stories that interest you in the quantities and manner that you desire, check "funny". If you think that the media has it all wrong, check "cool". If you believe the truth lies somewhere in the middle, check "interesting".

Anonymity is respected, and comments are appreciated...just keep it classy!

The rational middle waits.......

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Year-End Complaint

It is the hair-splitting that most folks can't stand when they read a column like the Rational Middle. The preachy and often nit-picky focus on details that aren't very important in the grand scheme of things is a turn-off to many of us (yours truly included). We hate it when someone corrects our grammar (is it who or whom?), and we despise it when someone misses the humor in a joke because the joke wasn't "accurate" (just shut up and laugh know-it-all!).

For several generations, we have hated math class and sentence structure with equal zeal. With each succeeding generation, we have forced the status-quo to move ever so subtlety away from precision. As a nation we have become sloppy. Facts are important only when they serve the proper master, and sources are valuable only if they can be manipulated. When a comic does the manipulation in pursuit of a joke, the act has value. When a politician or "journalist" does the manipulating, it has the capacity to slowly destroy the country.

Sometimes at least, I can take some humor from the fall from grace of the manipulators; missing a critical detail can be embarrassing if your argument is supposedly fact-based. Most of society goes through the ritual of "end of decade" and "end of century" analysis in years like this one; a year that ends in the number 9. For most purposes, the reality that the decade does not end until next year (a decade is ten years numbered 1-10, not 0-9), is not important. If however, you are a "numerology" or "prophesy" person, telling the world that your "scientific analysis" indicates the end of the world will happen at the turn of the millennium in 1999 leaves you with something of a problem. (It is after all, only 1,999 years from the birth of Jesus..maybe...if the Romans were correct, and not 2,000. Come to think of it, should not the end of time be in 2033?) Of course, for most of those people, the mistake seems to be easily covered by making the statement that "God told me that He decided to change His mind."

In our society it is the responsibility of all adult citizens to stay informed and vote their conscience in every election. This is the essence of democracy; enlightened citizens participating in self-governance. To the extent that many of us have decided to use bad government as an excuse for their lack of participation is a shame that people living in North Korea and Iran would find unbelievable. Knowing the facts in a political debate is the most important task that citizens have. Reporting the facts in a political debate is the reason that our journalists have such wide-reaching rights. Sadly, many of us do not know, and most of the world of journalism does not report. This goes beyond bias and extends to hubris. Journalists on every side of the issue have made 2009 the capstone year in the quest to drive opinion rather than report facts.

If you regularly get your news from cable channels without benefit of fact-checking or verification, the reality is that you don't know what the politicians have really been arguing. Republicans never debated the health bills that came out of committee in the House and Senate, and the Tea-Party crowds never complained about them either. Both of the above groups argued against elements that never existed in the bills. Things like "death panels" and "the government takeover of health care" went beyond exaggerations or worst-case scenarios, and rose exclusively to the level of lies. Pure and simple. Should John Boehner, Sarah Palin, Dick Armey (the corporate force behind the "grassroots" teaparties), or anyone else care to try, I will easily beat a lawsuit for libel...because all of you lied about the issue repeatedly and for the record.

If you think the Democrats are blameless here, then you are naive. They never had a debate about what was really wrong with the system and what the most efficient solutions to the problem would entail. Democrat Ron Wyden and Republican Robert Bennett crafted a bill that came close to addressing some of the major structural issues, but it died a quick death among the deal-making of Washington liberals. President Obama and the Senate leadership agreed early to shield pharmaceutical companies from real reform because they knew that Big Pharma had more more with which to influence Congress than even the big insurers did. Lobbyists won there without firing a shot.

Nobody in the media, from the GOP owned and operated Fox News to the supposedly liberal network channels pointed any of this out. The "liberal" media actually supported all of the GOP's most far-fetched talking points because most of their news models were too lazy to actually read the bills themselves (and no, it is not hard to do if you are a supposed professional). The news bimbos read the top line of poll results that showed a majority of Americans opposed the bill, but they never read that a third of the opposition came from liberals who did not think the bill went far enough. I don't recall Brian Williams and the allegedly liberal NBC News team ever reporting on the strange case of Americans consistently opposing the bill in general while consistently supporting the idea of government-run competition for private insurers.

This pattern is consistently repeated on items presented for the citizen's review from both sides of the political fence. Politics has become a game of getting journalists on your side, instead of a process for solving national problems. Most citizens seem to see the same things; rising health costs, flattening salaries, rising traffic and pollution, threatening security problems, failing infrastructure, and falling standards in schools. There are different ideas for the causes of those problems, but the commonality of them indicates that we could solve them; if only we agreed that we were looking at the same thing.

For the new year, one of my resolutions is to regain my sense of humor while another is to write shorter posts. I am not convinced that any of my resolutions will fair better than those of my recent past, but I am sure that I will retain my conviction that the details are important. We simply can't afford to not know what we are arguing about. The democracy is not a guarantee, it is a process dependent on participation. Knowing your argument is the first step to being a good participant.

Of course, even I admit there is often humor in ignorance. Glenn Beck released a book full of preachy "founding father" references and patterned on "Common Sense" and its author, Thomas Paine. Paine is a commonly referred to figure on the Tea Party circuit, so Beck's use of him was expected. So what is so ignorant and funny?

Thomas Paine was the liberal spirit of the Revolution and an ardent advocate for progressive taxation. He was also an reviled was he by others in his time for his rejection of God that only 8 people attended his funeral. Way to go Glenn!

The rational middle wishes all a happy, peaceful, and prosperous New Year!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy Holidays!

The Rational Middle wishes all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. The year 2009 has, at times, been a year of turmoil and discontent. It is important at times such as these to note that the Earth is still spinning and the Sun is still rising.

For those of you able to spend the season with family and friends in the sharing of food and drink, remember that there are many who do not share in your good fortune. I know that even as I look forward to new challenges and success in the new year, that I am grateful for what the old year provided.

In the new year, the RM will follow the same plan for posts as the author intends for meals; smaller and more frequent. We shall see what fate these resolutions meet in the new year. As always, the rational middle waits for your comments and looks forward to the thoughts of friends from the right, left, and center.

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Health Care Hold'em

Pot-committed. When you have bet so many of your remaining chips that you feel you must stay with a hand even when you know the odds are against you. This is a very real predicament in the world of high stakes poker, and it is where Senate Democrats and the President feel that they are with the reform bill.

But are they really? They have committed time and energy to this effort, but they have not staked out a real position in a political sense. Most of the members of the House who voted for the bill are safe for reelection, and the Senate hasn't really done enough on the bill to be pinned down. Most of the country tells pollsters that they like the individual elements of the bills presented, even while they tell the same pollsters that they don't like the brand the insurance companies have successfully slapped on the package. Despite this, enough senators have stepped forward to say that they won't let the bill come to a vote without the good stuff being removed. As a result, the good stuff is gone. So why vote for it when it is not a good bill?

This legislation is a classic example of the "strawman" argument. The idea is to construct a "strawman" in place of the actual target, tear him to pieces, then declare victory. The insurance lobby has spent almost a half of a billion on advertising, rallies, and direct contributions to build, brand, and destroy their "strawman". For that money, they have received senators and representatives, commentators and writers, willing to lie about the issue. Think about what people are mad at:
  1. A government take-over with a single payer system...not in the bill
  2. An expansion of entitlements through Medicare and the public option...not true since both would be premium buy-in options
  3. Rationing and death-panels...not only not true, but a better description of what health insurance companies are doing right now to your friends, neighbors, or loved ones
  4. A massive debt explosion...CBO projections for the House bill and both versions in the Senate have shown them to be deficit reducers
It doesn't matter anymore, because the ploy worked. Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman, two senators that have taken millions from the insurance lobby, have made excuse after excuse for not supporting a vote on the bill. Nobody asked them to vote for the bill, just to let a vote on the bill happen. Remember, our Constitution (our Founders) provided for majority rule. These two gentleman are the primary reasons that this bill is the worthless heap of dung that it has become.

It appears that some bill will pass anyway. Folks like Sherrod Brown of Ohio have said they will vote even though much of the meaningful reform has been stripped away. The cost controlling elements in the bill, elements that would have used market processes rather than laws to keep prices down, are gone. The regulations still in the bill are as easy to bypass as any other rules that corporations get by every day. With all of the important pieces removed, all that is left is a mandate for all Americans to have coverage. The mandate was originally inserted as much for compromise with the insurance industry as for any real reform purpose.

The bill that is left is a victory for the industry that is crippling the United States. Make no mistake about this fact, and let no fake rally or commentator dissuade you; the delivery of health care in this country will bankrupt us. The very people who are most fearful of a financial destruction of America are the ones who can't see that destruction's real architect. This column has pointed out many times the critical facts of American health care; the best people working in the worst system in the world. Period. Fully 16% of our economy is devoted to a health care construct that is far from world-class. For the last 12 months, the consumer price index has been negative. That is right, we have had the opposite of inflation except, of course, in two areas. Energy and health care costs found a way to climb even through the depths of recession. The big drug companies swung a deal early in the process to avoid regulation by agreeing to provide cost savings based on their 2009 rates. They have spent the last 9 months jacking up their rates. You just have to love big business and their senate enablers.

Companies in the European Union and the Asian Tigers are destroying U.S. firms and eroding opportunities for smaller U.S. enterprise because they don't have to worry about the health of their people or its cost. Yet we in America can't get over our belief that this delivery system is superior. We are the world's great nation...until our lack of investment in infrastructure, education, and health care cripples our competitiveness.

Senator Harry Reid should either move to use budget reconciliation to pass the bill (a move that would require a good old American simple majority for passage), or kill it outright and start over. President Obama should stop kicking this dead horse, acknowledge defeat, and then plan on a comeback. Passing a bad bill will only prove the naysayers correct and allow them to hasten our nation's fall.

The rational middle is listening...

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Misdirection Play

Football and politics have a lot in common; and by football I am mean charged-up and violent American football. Careful preparation and brute force are foundational elements for both "sports". The ability to get the job done, regardless of ethics, feelings, sunshine, or puppy dogs is also prized in each arena. One tactical element existing in both politics and football that I cherish, is the misdirection play. The premise is simple; get the defense moving one way, and go in the other direction. Well-designed misdirection plays often feature another nasty (and fun) ploy, the trap block. The defender chasing the play is influenced into a block that he never sees coming. The hit, properly delivered, can have the tendency of making that player, well, less aggressive for the rest of the game.

Misdirection is run in politics all the time. In fact, it is run by all parties, in every legislative session, at every level of American politics. In football, the play is designed to influence and trap the opposition; in politics, the play is usually designed to influence the voter and trap the opposing lawmaker. Witness the last major funding authorization for the Iraq War under President Bush. Both Democrats and Republicans crafted funding bills, and both contained major items not related to the war. These items were traps for the other party, existing only to force lawmakers into a vote that they would have to defend in the next election. It is certainly something that informed voters should be aware of when considering the next negative ad campaign they see (from either party).

This tactic can definitely backfire on the user. The Republican party has spent 40 years on Medicare, first opposing its passage (see Ronald Reagan's passionate "Medicare is the first step to Communism" speech), then trying to kill or privatize the program. This year, their misdirection play was to "support" Medicare against Democratic attempts to reform it as a means of paying for health reform. The backfire; after months "defending" Medicare against Democratic attacks, they have little or no leverage now that the liberals have settled on a premium-based expansion of the program as a bulwark of reform.

Of course, backfire is bipartisan. Al Gore believed that America was not sophisticated enough to understand the whole package of effects related to massive carbon-dumping, deforestation, and chemical waste that we are inflicting on nature. As such, he focused on something he thought would play well; global warming with a particular focus on its effects on large media markets like South Florida and New York. Branding the whole problem "Global Warming" was bad enough; there is now a plurality in the U.S. who can't or won't separate local weather from terrestrial climate (yes, Virgina, there is a difference). Thanks to that unfortunate label, and the carbon-excessive lifestyle of Gore himself, vast portions of the American public think that this problem is a political debate about polar bears and beachfront property.

All of which leads me back to football. Beating the trap is about "staying home" and sticking to your responsibilities. Voters are called to beat the trap by reading politics the way a good defense reads an offense. Al Gore tried to sell a big play in order to get the public to look at a series of important but obscure facts. Yes, facts. The rational middle is challenging voters to read the offense on the field now; the team fielded by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Exxon Mobile, and the rest of Big Oil. When you are told that a bunch of mild-mannered climate scientists have been plotting world domination through climate change, you have cause to think. When you are told that climate change is a Marxist/Totalitarian plot, you can consider Chavez, Ahmadinejad, Putin, Gaddafi and others. They all rely on oil...not windmills. In any good conspiracy, one should always follow the money, and climate scientists aren't rolling Bentleys.

Film study is critical in football and politics, and we have seen these plays before. When someone is arguing for the middle class while simultaneously voting for a big industrial interest, you know that you are watching the misdirection from inside the play. One argument is about hot air, and the other is full of it.

The rational middle is listening...

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Bull Crap Series

The BCS, or bowl championship series, is upon us again. Every year, the big money schools in the big money conferences go through the exercise of mirror-worship and player exploitation, and every year their media apologists are ready to explain why it is good for sports.

Bull crap! Thirty years ago, when there were a handful of big bowls laced with tradition and meaning, a Division I playoff for college football was a difficult concept for many to swallow. Today that tradition is largely gone, but supporters of the old paradigm remain committed to the place of prestige that their favorite schools hold in the minds of sports fans. Today the BCS, Heisman Trophy, and TV networks in bed with college ball, are committed to ensuring the preeminence of schools from the elite conferences. The Heisman, supposedly given annually to the "best player in college football", is actually awarded to the 'most statistically sexy player on a winning BCS-eligible team whose school has effectively promoted him'. If that sounds like a mouthful, then the sentence does its job.

This is about money. The amount of TV money greasing the palms of those privileged few in this sport is amazing. What is shocking is how little of it gets to the people generating the profits; the players and student fans. Referring again to thirty years ago, a scholarship with a meal plan was a great deal for a commitment to play sports. Most programs then (and quites a few today) lost money, and broadcast fees were enough to help some conferences balance the books. Today, that paradigm is gone. TV rights, video games, and merchandise are making millionaires out of many, but the students who provide the atmosphere and the players who provide the action have missed out on the meal. In the perverse world of college sports, a university spending millions on a coach's contract is business, but a coach taking a kid out to dinner or flying his parents out to a game is "special benefits". Ridiculous!

All of the reasons for not doing a playoff are gone. The eleven game season is a memory and teams that go all the way (at least as far as the BCS "title" game) play in mid-January. Limit the season to 11 plus a conference championship (if they wish), and have an 8 team playoff. You could have six automatic bids (Big Ten, Big East, ACC, SEC, Big 12, Pac-10) and two at-large teams. While they are at it, college football's movers and shakers could push the committee to reform Heisman voting. Create regional boards of fans, retired coaches, and retired broadcasters to nominate a handful of worthy players in October, and then let the voters do their thing.

Finally, the old NCAA rules just don't work. There is too much money in the system, and many older values are gone. NCAA rules should be focused on one category, and one category only. Academics. I am not terribly interested in entrance standards; if a school wants to let a kid in, then they should be able to. While they compete for the school, however, they should be IN SCHOOL. Bring back the freshman ban on intercollegiate participation to give the kids a chance to get up to speed. Audit schools to make sure that players are receiving the academic support they need to do well in their classes, and verify that they are getting grades for their in-class work. I know it sounds strange, but why do we care if some car-dealer wants to give a kid a "job" so that he has money. It is that booster's money, and if it helps that kid take advantage of a college education, so much the better for our country. If auditors spent less time chasing down tax statements, and more time focusing on education and good behavior, college athletics would be a better institution.

These kids deserve a share of the industry they are building. The players and fans deserve a legitimate playoff structure. Let's get it figured out!

The rational middle is football-mad and ready for comments...

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Its Gold Baby!

Gold. Panned for in '49, coveted by pirates, and sold as a thin film on the worthless coins pushed on late night TV, gold still has control of our imagination. I would certainly love to have gold; about 100 pounds of the stuff would set me up just so. Yes sir, if I had 100 pounds of gold, I would sell it and take the cash.

"But why would you want U.S. dollars, when the dollar is losing value? Gold has a value all its own, dollars are only backed by trust."

The previous statement neatly summarizes my conversations with most people these days. It also sums up the thoughts of a great many TV talking heads. It does have a certain comfortable logic, and fits in nicely with most American's highly pessimistic moods these days. As I have written before though, it is absolutely false! By way of explanation, I have included a list:
  1. A decline in the dollar's value versus a foreign currency IS NOT the same as a loss of domestic purchasing power. Period. The relative values, known as "spot rates", change on the FOREX market all the time, and yet I'll bet that gold you would all like that your favorite fast food value meal costs the same as it did last week.
  2. Inflation is the loss of domestic purchasing power, and it is not in play...yet. Because we printed dollars to finance some of the deficit, inflation will start to set in sometime after the unemployment rate falls enough for folks to start spending again. The consumer price index was actually negative for the previous 12 months, meaning that we were experiencing deflation.
  3. A decline in the dollar's value is actually not a bad thing. I know, I know, we Americans like to be number one, but in this case it is a bad deal. We have a trade deficit in large part because other currencies, namely the Chinese Yuan, are undervalued in relation to our dollar. This means that their exports are less expensive for us to buy, and our exports to them are more expensive for them to buy. As the dollar declines relative to Chinese money, U.S. companies will be able to sell more goods to China. There is a strong cause and effect relationship between the trade deficit and federal budget deficits, so a declining dollar will help us get through this mess.
  4. The dollar is liquid. It is more valuable than gold, because you can use it. Have you tried to pay the restaurant in gold recently? Do you suppose that the ice cream parlor, or pest control guy is going to accept some nuggets in exchange for product and service. The dollar is backed by the "full faith and credit of the United States government". Folks, we have a democracy in this country; we are the full faith and credit of America, and I am not just being sappy.
  5. Why is gold valuable? I keep hearing that gold has intrinsic value and paper money doesn't. The previous point makes the case for the dollar's intrinsic value, where is gold's case? When someone tells you that gold has value, ask them what that value is. It is the substance that the Byzantine Empire used to strike coins in; the Romans before them placed a higher value on salt, and so used it as a common currency (thus was a man "worth his salt"). Gold is valuable because some people believe it to be so. Its cash value is determined by the market (just like the dollar's), and it is largely illiquid. If the average Joe decides to sell his gold, he is likely to do so at below-market rates.
The news shows on the tube just aren't doing a very good job reporting facts anymore. I guess the facts aren't exciting enough to make money. Personally, the rational middle believes the facts to be....good as gold.

The rational middle waits for your comments...

Friday, December 4, 2009

A Climate for Change

Recently, 10 years of emails were stolen from the servers of Britain's East Anglian Climatic Research Unit. In a remarkable feat of opposition research, climate change skeptics have found perhaps two dozen emails that indicate academic impropriety. Since the first release of information, those folks and media outlets with an axe to grind against global warming have had the best days of their lives...and I don't blame them. Most media outlets and political junkies (like yours truly), are more than willing to jump on the scent of scandal if it means scoring a point in a debate that we believe important.

It is important to provide some context to this debate before proceeding. The bulk of the conflict, for most Americans, is caused by a language barrier. Oh I know that all of the news we read is written in or translated to English, but most of the information about environmental issues comes from the field of science. The language of science has become alien to most Americans, and the people most commonly translating the stories are either reporters (who don't speak the language well) or corporate science writers (who are paid well to distort the real science). I would like to make a couple of points about this divide below:
  • Science, when practiced ethically, is a process. What it is not is a belief system. The Catholic priests and lay ministers who taught me high school biology, physics, and chemistry saw no conflict between faith and science. The physicist's search for the fundamental laws of matter and energy, and the biologists search for the origins and interrelationships of the species are not attacks on religious faith.
  • Science is advanced through peer-reviewed literature. Michelle Malkin (right-wing blogger), or Ariana Huffington (left-wing blogger) may be able to establish benchmarks in politics by writing a paper and posting it, but the same is not true in science. Researchers do their observations and experimentation and write their results in articles. Those articles are submitted to journals which have gatekeepers called referees. If the article meets the standards of the journal (for methodology, citation, relevance) then the article is published. But that is just the beginning of the process. A hypothesis expressed in an article will have to stand up over time, and is subject to vigorous critical scrutiny and submitted articles that may explain the data better.
  • Science has become, in the minds of some in 21st century America, something to be used in add campaigns. Many from both sides of the political spectrum are convinced that science and lawyers somehow go together. If you can persuade enough people, regardless of the facts, that they have a stake in your opinion, then your opinion is correct. In the case of climate change, we the American people have become the O.J. jury, with Rush Limbaugh and James Inhofe acting as the "Dream Team" lawyers who get him off.
There is now no doubt that scientists working at the CRU engaged in some very bad behavior. This is the case because some of them tried to game the peer-review system I described above. They tried to get journal editors fired who published articles they did not like, and took liberties when setting up charts and graphs to make them more impactful (that is apparently what was happening with the most publicized email, the one that talked of 'hiding the decline'). For these reasons, many commentators are correct to call for the data and conclusions generated by this center (or based on this center's work) to be scrutinized. Such scrutiny is, I feel, in the best traditions of science. The question that should have been asked by responsible journalists (if there are any left in this country), is what would the total invalidation of this center mean to the theory of climate change?

This question was not, of course, asked. The "journalists" at Fox News ran with the story that climate change was "debunked". They, and others across the media spectrum, have asked questions like, "What will climate change promoters do now that the theory is in question?" Even to a non-scientist, the idea that what was uncovered was definitive proof of a conspiracy is laughable. There is no smoking gun here that demonstrates that CRU data should be invalidated. What is more, the CRU is not the only game in town, as Fox News and others have continued to falsely report. The American people deserve better reporting than this, regardless of its political impact.

So, excluding the CRU, what are the facts?
  1. NASA and NOAA have original comprehensive surface temperature data dating back several decades. The raw data is available to the public via the internet. The data shows a steep increase in average global surface temperatures over the past several decades. These agencies also have satellite acquired temperature data as an additional validation.
  2. Dozens of researchers at universities around the world have conducted two basic types of historical tests; ice core sampling to determine atmospheric CO2 levels, and both tree ring and coral analysis to determine surface temperatures. The body of international work on temperature reveals a graph often called "the hockey stick". Think of historical temperatures from many thousands of years ago following the line of the handle; at the end (the present) the blade curves up dramatically. Remember, this is independent of the CRU work.
  3. On CO2 levels, the evidence is striking. For tens of thousands of years, the level of atmospheric CO2 was very steady at about 280 parts per million. Since the end of WWII, the concentration has been growing at more than 2 ppm, and will by 2050, be double the historical levels. Remember again, this information is coming from many sources, and is highly reliable. It also makes sense to most of us. We know that trees breathe CO2 and make oxygen. We know that burning fossil fuels release CO2. We know we have been burning or cutting down a lot forests around the world. This really is not rocket science.
The previous facts represent the basics not tampered in the slightest by the findings in the emails. I would like to pose a further question on this topic though. Folks that are convinced that global warming is a hoax or conspiracy have failed to answer a critical question. They say that this is all about power; but for whom? Who benefits from this apparently worldwide conspiracy? This topic has been around for far longer than Obama has been on the scene. It certainly can't be the concoction of of Islamic extremists, as the acceptance of the United States of climate change would permanently destroy their meal ticket. It certainly can't be a plot by pseudo-communist enemies of the United States like Putin and Chavez, as again it would pull money out of their pockets. So who? The Democrats are in power, and environmental legislation or a treaty on climate change is not a recipe for staying in power, it is politically dangerous.

I can't answer those questions, but every American knows who actually will benefit from quashing climate change. Exxon Mobile is hurting this year, as its annual profits will probably fall to $20 billion or so. Boo hoo. Over the 2007 and 2008 fiscal years, the firm made almost $86 billion. They are not alone in their industry. Now I am no enemy of business, and I am a big fan of making LOTS of money. Exxon and others in their industry are actually better (from a responsibility side) than other firms in that they do pay their taxes (unlike Fox parent News Corp, who's effective federal rate this decade is under 5% Exxon's in 2007 was just over 41%). I simply state their profits in order to illustrate their motive.

Unlike British Petroleum and Royal Dutch Shell, Exxon has been steadfast in its refusal to diversify. Where other firms have embraced their status as energy providers and begun looking into other sources, Exxon has chosen to dig in and fight. They have spent hundreds of millions of dollars supporting think-tanks who generate junk-science. Now, it isn't junk-science because of the results, but because these writers and institutions don't follow a clear scientific methodology. They game the peer-review system every day in ways that the bad boys at the CRU could only dream about, and they send their stuff directly to media hacks and political staffers. The most effective ways to reduce pollution from fossil fuels is to reduce demand, and the best way to do that is to tax the fuels. The Europeans have done that for years, and used the tax revenues to build the best systems of mass-transit (and highways) in the world. This would cost Big Oil big money. There my friends, is a motive for conspiracy...if you are in to that sort of thing.

The ultimate irony of this situation lies in the people who most commonly support climate skeptics. Conservatives and evangelicals make up a large portion of climate change skeptics, and they are also the most aggressive in their feelings on how we should deal with threats from the Muslim world. Why is this ironic? Author Thomas Friedman has illustrated a trend that, I believe, all Americans should be aware of. He calls it the first law of petropolitics, and I have linked it here . Essentially, it demonstrates that as oil prices go up, freedom around the world goes down. Oil money supports the petrodictatorships that most Americans rightly worry about; Iran, Syria, Venezuela. It also funds most of the madras's teaching extremist Islam around the world. Lower the price of oil and you improve American security. How do you do that? You lower the DEMAND for oil.

I would encourage all to think about these issues as you watch and listen to the news. These are topics that clearly threaten the American way of life, and we have chosen to remain ignorant of them for too long.

The rational middle is listening...

Thursday, December 3, 2009

I Could Be A Democrat

As promised earlier this month; why I could be a Democrat. In the oldest and purist definitions of the labels, I am a liberal. I believe that the Constitution provides for a strong federal government with a mandate to provide the social and commercial framework for individuals, businesses, churches, and other organizations to succeed.

"We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

Just a little note to John Boehner and Glenn Beck...this is what we call, the Preamble to the Constitution. Take a moment to think about these words in the light of all that has been screamed by some about this country's "departure" from the "founders intent". That may a bit off-topic...but you know how I get sometimes.

Further on in the document we find the Commerce Clause. This allows the Federal Government to regulate matters of interstate commerce. If you like knowing what is in your food, or you wanted something done about tainted Chinese dog food, then you are probably a fan of this clause. In fact, I would argue that many people who think that "liberal" is a curse word, are actually quite liberal themselves. We have fallen into this trap over the last thirty years or so, that has convinced us that since nobody likes taxes, and everybody likes a deal, then we are actually a conservative country.

Perhaps if folks could point to a program that takes up at least 10% of the Federal Budget annually that they would be willing to cut, then I could believe that they were conservative. I will propose a test. I will name a program, and you decide if you (or a super majority of Americans) would be willing to cut it.
  • National Defense...our troops and their equipment
  • Social Security...our retirement, unless the brokers can do better
  • care in our retirement
  • Medicaid and CHIP...half of the money to support health care for (roughly) 45 million Americans monthly (States match the money)
  • Federal and Veterans pensions...self-explanatory

Do you think that we can make major, permanent cuts to these programs? Do you want cuts to these programs? If not, here is a shocking statistic; when you add these costs to the 8% that America spent on debt service in 2008, they totaled 87% of the budget. Now, keep in mind that this budget was projected with a deficit, and that it did not include money for the wars or emergency services (like FEMA). President Bush chose to leave those items "off-budget". For this year, to avoid a deficit without raising taxes, we would have had to cut roughly 50% from the budget. Remember again that the programs above plus debt service equalled 87%.

These are sobering numbers. Transportation, small business support, science and technology, law enforcement, the intelligence agencies, agricultural subsidies, energy, and meat inspectors all occupy the 13% that was left over. How much of that do you feel comfortable cutting? Or perhaps, you think some of those programs are underfunded now? President Reagan made brilliant use of the phrase "tax and spend liberal", but that is politics. The last few paragraphs are reality. The "marketplace" is not going to provide ANY of that stuff unless they are bribed. So where do you cut?

That, I suppose, defines a liberal. I believe that the large uniform marketplace created by a strong federal system is what allowed us to become the strongest economy in the world. That in turn allowed us to become the strongest nation in the world. The Europeans know this, which is why they have spent 60 years trying to get functional central government on their continent. I also believe that governments ought to act like business; and business grows and dominates by raising new capital and reinvesting profits in research and infrastructure. We borrow money and raise taxes as we need to ensure that our infrastructure (people, transportation, energy, resources) is the best.

So why am I not a Democrat? Because, as the Congress is proving now, Democrats are exactly what Republicans accuse them of being...weak! The power that Blanche Lincoln, Joe Lieberman, and Ben Nelson have at this moment, is there because the United States voted in a super majority into the House and Senate. That vote happened on the back of people fighting for health care reform, energy reform, and financial reform. Those were the central issues voted on in 2008, and yet Democrats can't do the job with what they have.

For as long as I have been aware of politics, Democrats have been weak in the knees. Unquestionably a good guy, Michael Dukakis paved the way for liberal's turn into a curse word. When the first George Bush "accused" him of being a liberal, Dukakis ran from the term and so legitimized the usage. Democrats have repeatedly bowed to pressure rather than voting their principles. Democrats with control of either the House or the Senate have forever spent their time "protecting their majority" instead of using it. While I have, at times, been frustrated at the GOP's posture this year, the fact is that they are showing the fight that Americans value in their leaders.

If Democrats ever figured that out! They might actually live up to a few of their promises. The rational middle is open to fighting words....