Tuesday, June 1, 2010

We Have Moved Down The Block

Visit the RM at our new address...


We look forward to showing you around the new place!

PS-Michael Chase can also be found in the moderate section at OpinionEditorial

and guest posting at Mario Piperni

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Memorial Day

As I sit down to my laptop to write this post, I am acutely aware that this will be the final post I write and publish in Blogspot. Beginning with Monday's news cycle, The Rational Middle will be broadcasting from its new address at www.therationalmiddle.com. This move comes just three weeks short of the one year anniversary of the RM. I think it fitting that the final post comes as an acknowledgement of Memorial Day; that I have spent the last 49 weeks posting on a free site is a testament to the country I am proud to call my native home.

The Rational Middle has been read by 516 people in 41 states and 22 foreign countries. Through its publication, I have had the privileged of sharing my politics, beliefs, and experiences with more people than I ever dreamed possible. I have never been restricted in what I could post, and have never had my content removed or blocked. I have written often of freedoms and liberty in the RM, and I have done so as a voice of experience. The ability to write a blog, read a blog, or ignore a blog is a gift; it was enshrined in our Constitution and has been paid for in blood.

Memorial Day is nothing less than the acknowledgment of the true and enduring cost of freedom. Since 1776, 1,195,485 Americans have died for our liberties. That number has almost certainly gone up since you started reading this post. Since 1776, 1,468,196 Americans have sustained wounds in the transaction of our liberties. That number has also changed since you began reading this post. Just about 8% of our population are veterans, and I can tell you that those among that special class who did not count among the wounded, count surely among the changed.

This is a holiday that gives the other 92% the chance to give thanks to the best of us. Everything we know and love, and everything we love to hate, is possible because this nation has been able to chart her own course. Guided by her citizens, and unencumbered by any controlling external force, the American democracy is the gold standard; America's veterans, both living and fallen, are her standard-bearers.

Honor them...

Friday, May 28, 2010

Regulations, Responsibility, and Reality

We the people sit in a difficult place and time. Largely unable to come together in productive discussions on issues that define our nation, we have taken to fighting over the carcass of government; like two starving Lions ripping at the flesh of an animal from opposite sides. Republicans blindly fighting regulations and Democrats blindly trusting what are only words on the page have in fact worked together. They have conspired, in the manner of two drunks leaning on each other to walk down the street, to destroy large sections of the American Dream.

There is culpability, there is recrimination; then there are the millions without jobs because of our lack of national planning regarding finance. Further millions will lose their livelihood as oil encircles, encroaches on, and encrusts the fisheries and beaches of the Gulf Coast and beyond. What other tragedies must befall our country before we agree on a few simple truths? There are roles for markets and the democratically elected government, that each cannot well accomplish in lieu of the other. We have an implicit understanding, in business and education, in medicine and law enforcement, that humans need oversight. Redundancies are good and double-checking is better. Forever known as "The Crash" and "The Spill", the events of 2008 and 2010 should be a wake up call to our nation every bit as loud as the one we heard on 9/11.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

It's The Economy, Stupid

Political guru James Carville famously wrote "It's the economy, stupid" on the wall at Clinton headquarters during the 1992 presidential campaign. The logic is simple: when people have jobs that pay enough to cover the bills and provide for some entertainment, they are happy. If the voters aren't happy, they will generally view the current administration as the cause of their distress, and take out their frustration on incumbents. This little nugget of political wisdom is amplified by the general lack of understanding amongst regular voters about real economics.

Economic indicators generally lag; Reagan and the Republicans were hammered in the 1982 mid-terms for sky-high inflation that was the sum total of government policy and central bank strategy from the 1970's. Although he was the V.P. during the Reagan years and bore some culpability, George H.W. Bush was punished in 1992 for a recession spurred on largely by Reaganomics and a fairly normal inventory cycle downturn. In all likelihood, President Obama and the Democrats will be punished for an economy defined by failed policies from the Bush Administration, Clinton Administration, and the Greenspan/Bernanke Fed.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Nate On Sports: The Best Rivalry in Sports

I'm of the opinion that nothing can top a good sports rivalry. Rivalries just have a way of drawing interest to themselves, whether you're an avid follower of a sport or just a casual observer. I, for one, don't care much for hockey. But, if Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals are playing the Pittsburgh Penguins and Sidney Crosby, I'm going to pay attention.

As good as that rivalry is, however, it's not number one on my list. It's not North Carolina and Duke in basketball, which is similarly can't-miss television. It's not Michigan and Ohio State in football. And it's not even the Yanks and the Sox in baseball. Give up yet?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Rational Politics Chapter 7: Energy

If you get nothing else from this post, please understand that energy is not a political issue. It has been co-opted by the political parties to push specific narratives and it has been kicked around by non-profits and conglomerates alike looking for leverage. But the energy debate that we the people see now in the media, is largely the creation of the political branding machine.

The central issue in the energy debate is not left versus right, business versus the environment, or God versus science; it is rather the notion of progress versus procrastination. We stumbled, very recently, onto a fossil fuel powered lifestyle. Less than the age of our rather young republic, the fossil fuel era has a shelf life. Given the acceptance of its side-effects, the coal era could last for many hundreds of years. Oil is another story, and most of the petroleum industry thinks that story will have run its course before our republic doubles its current age. Our great-grandchildren will be dealing with oil shortages and the decline of every industry still attached to the substance known as black gold.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Entitlements, Fair Taxes, And The Blame Game

Ah, the blame game; its fun for the whole family and has an appeal that jumps every racial, ethnic, or socio-economic boundary. All you need to play is a problem you want to solve (in your mind), and someone you either don't like or don't know and, voila, problem solved. It is always easiest to group people together into large problem-creating monsters; Republicans, conservatives, Democrats, liberals, progressives, immigrants, poor people, rich people, corporations, lawyers, bankers.

There are of course people who profit from our collective assignment of blame; if we blame Republicans for the housing bubble and crash, Democrats benefit. If we blame Democrats for terrorism, Republicans benefit. But times of economic crisis really do bring out the creativity in us. When things go really bad, economically speaking, we blame the poor (and usually, ourselves even if we don't realize it at the time). If only they took personal responsibility for their plight and didn't rely on what I have paid for with my taxes, then all would be well and beautiful again in our land. My father-in-law has a saying that describes this perfectly; "Ah Puke!"

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Populist Economics

I have a quick note today on populism and economics in the aftermath of the Senate's passage of financial reform. The reform law, as an aside, is stronger than I thought it would be, but still weaker than the structures in place through the mid-1990's. The reason we the people did not get real reform of the financial marketplace is because of our general confusion. See if you can follow this logic:
  1. The government deregulates much of Wall Street, and fails to enforce the regulations left
  2. As a consequence, Wall Street takes actions that threaten survival of nation
  3. President Bush pushes for and gets Congressional actions necessary to save the nation
  4. President Obama distributes the second half of the bailout under stricter conditions for payback than originally passed
  5. People take to the street to protest the "Obama Bailouts" and "Socialism"
  6. People take to the streets to protest government involvement in the markets designed to prevent all of the above from happening again (i.e. stricter regulations)
We the people need to have a discussion about what financial steps are in our best interests, and which ones serve only to enrich a select few. While some steps serve both Wall Street and Main Street, most do not.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Leave Glenn Beck Alone

Glenn Beck is not a happy man these days. Despite his worldwide entertainment empire (his phrase, not mine) earning him $32 million last year, he cries a lot at night. I suspect that many men are crying at night these days, but most don't do it on a nationally televised program. Most men are not, as Mr. Beck says, the focus of a White House witch hunt. Apparently these danged liberal (or communist, fascist, whatever) jokers in the media and the Democrats in government are teaming up again. A veritable vast left-wing conspiracy (to quote Hillary Clinton) is out to get poor freedom-loving Glenn.

After listening to his tearful, whining, directionless sob-story for awhile now, I have figured out what Glenn's problem really is. He has lost one-third of his viewers in the past 3 months, and Fox News is having difficulty getting market value for ad space on his program due to a boycott. Damn liberals are, apparently, using market techniques to change corporate behavior...who taught them that trick? Of course, ratings decline is a strong assertion; when ratings are up, Nielsen is accurate; when they are down, Nielsen is part of the vast left-wing conspiracy. Alas, I believe that his ratings have declined and I have an explanation; many of the good, intelligent, and truly freedom-loving viewers who make up his audience, have decided that they don't want to watch a brainless coward rant to them on television anymore.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Nate On Sports: LeGone? The LeBron James Situation

Last Thursday night, the Boston Celtics killed the Cleveland Cavaliers' season. As bad as that was (and still is) for Cleveland, there's a pretty good chance that this is just the tip of the iceberg.

If you haven't been paying attention, LeBron James will become a free agent on the first of July this summer. Chances are, though, that you knew about that. Alien lifeforms from three galaxies away probably know that LeBron James is a free agent this summer. ESPN already has a "Bottom Line" segment that exists for the sole purpose of reporting every single bit of news directly and indirectly involved with LeBron James and his impending free agency.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Welfare For Billionaires

The Minnesota House rejected a $791 million proposal to build a stadium for the Minnesota Vikings. Good for them! The Vikings, in the mold of every single member of the thoroughly out of touch NFL old boys club, whined about it in a statement to the media. The statement was a not so subtle message that the Vikings would leave if the House failed to pass the measure by 2011. Friends, if any of us tried doing something like that, we would be tried and convicted of extortion.

During the last two decades, U.S. taxpayers have spent more than $8 billion on welfare programs for professional sports owners. We the people screamed bloody murder about a similar investment made by the federal government in an attempt to keep General Motors afloat, and that company directly employees many times the number of folks that sports franchises do. We the people are charged every bit as much, and more, to view professional sports events, as we do for any comparable entertainment; and yet we are forced to subsidize this major going concern.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Politics Of God And Science

True believers, be they Atheists, Christians, Muslims, or Jews, are absolutists. They know the correctness of their belief system. They know the depth of ignorance achieved by non-believers. It is profoundly difficult to have a productive conversation with someone who is positive that you are a weak-minded religious nut, or a godless fool on the way to Hell. Absolutism does not blend well within the strictures of democracy; a fact plainly in evidence in conversations on abortion, evolution, or sexual orientation.

But how do these systems of belief relate to our democracy. How should we the people, in a fair-minded an efficient manner, reconcile the black and white of belief with the gray of functioning government? Many writers and philosophers have tangled with this particular tiger, often with bloody results. The Rational Middle will try to address this issue with respect to science and without angering everyone. This attempt will, I fear, almost certainly fail. But the all-knowing they say that fortune favors the bold; so here goes.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Thoughts On The Political Spectrum

We humans have a pervasive need to impose simple structures on everything we involve ourselves with. Good and evil, black and white, right and wrong; all of these constructs intended to make our choices as simple as possible. In our feeble way, we mimic the design of nature; the immutable laws of nature don't always give us the answers we like, but they are always there. Light itself, fits into a rigid construct, moving from infrared on the left to ultraviolet on the right. The light we see exists in the middle of that band; when it is passed through a prism, the spectrum of colors is revealed.

Ans so it is that we pass our political issues through a prism. Political scientists (and I use that term loosely), have determined an order to the spectrum. They sit in judgment on the issues and the politicians, carefully plotting the location of each within their simple structure. Left or right. For decades this construct has defined politics; totalitarian communism to the far left and totalitarian fascism to the far right. In the middle of the spectrum, the Republicans and Democrats, mercifully removed from the extremes. All the variables, oddities, brilliance, and ignorance of a rash of humanity boiled into one simple two-dimensional graphic.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Taxes Roll Downhill

Early in the debate over financial reform, the banking lobby explicitly stated that any tax assessed on them would just be "passed onto the consumers". Early in the debate on energy reform (aka cap and trade), Republican legislators explicitly stated that the cost of any tax or carbon credit would just be "passed onto the consumer". We are not dealing with implications friends, we are dealing with explicit threats.

It is a fact that business passes its costs onto consumers; that is just the way it works. Consumers pay the cost of the product or service, and some level of premium (or markup) that goes to profit; this is how business exists. There is nothing inherently unethical or amoral about the capitalist marketplace, but neither is it a guiltless virgin worthy of unrestrained activity. When businesses externalize their costs to the community they operate within, it is the responsibility of we the people to decide how those costs will be paid.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Nate On Sports: Big Ten Expansion Talk

This is fun stuff.

For those of you unaware, the Big Ten Conference has already announced its intentions to "explore the possibility" of expanding conference membership to 12, 14, or possibly even 16 teams. An advisory board has been hired and is exploring several possibilities (i.e. schools that could possibly be a good fit in the Big Ten.)

That's really all we know right now. It seems like there are different pieces of "information" leaking out every day with regards to the new additions to the conference. Over a month ago, Pitt was supposedly a done deal, a couple weeks later it was on good authority that UConn was in, and recently there have been rumblings that Nebraska, Missouri, Rutgers, and Notre Dame were all extended offers, and that three of the four (with, you guessed it, Notre Dame being the holdout) were virtual locks to accept.

At this stage, however, nothing is definite. While I'm of the opinion that the latter rumor is more likely to be accurate (as will be explained later), I'm also of the opinion that Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany would kill anybody who leaked anything about expansion. Still, the rumors and speculation are a big part of the fun.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Supreme Court Mystery

Who in the world is Elena Kagan? Why in the world did President Obama nominate her? How is it that Republicans and Democrats have begun to see the same picture, and report radically different visions? Supreme Court nominations, and the idea of the Court itself, have always been something of an enigma to the citizens of our democracy. We were all taught in civics or government class that the Court exists in our system of checks and balances, but we are deeply suspicious of it nonetheless.

The nomination of Elena Kagan, expected for weeks, has succeeded in driving other important news (financial reform, immigration reform, the Gulf environmental catastrophe) from the front pages. The initial Republican lines of attack are both humorous and obvious. Rush Limbaugh called Ms. Kagan an "intellectual lightweight" (her bipartisan status as brilliant notwithstanding). John Cornyn and others also immediately attacked her lack of judicial experience...she has never been a judge. Republicans in this new century have stood out for their short memories and ability to reverse themselves. Chief Justice (and conservative icon) William Rehnquist was appointed to the Court in 1972 by Richard Nixon...without having served as a judge previously.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Terrorists And Miranda

Most of America knows what the Miranda rights are, we hear them every time we watch a police procedural show on television. The product of a 1960's Supreme Court case, Miranda vs. Arizona, it mandates that a suspect be told his or her rights before an interrogation, lest the results of that interrogation be inadmissible in court. The question in today's headlines is whether this should be extended to terrorist suspects, and whether the extension of such rights is dangerous to America.

I have written many times of my personal beliefs on this matter; liberty and principle don't matter when they are thrown aside in times of danger. Patrick Henry called us to this ethic when he decried, "Give me Liberty or give me death!" But neither do I desire to be overly critical of divergent opinion; citizens have the right to call for the safety of their families. What then, are we to make of the recent controversies surrounding the "wannabe-bomber" and the "underwear-bomber"?

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Mission And The Men

The Rational Middle is published by a defense hawk. I am an amateur student of military history, and a believer in robust military spending. I am stating this upfront because the rest of this article is a reality check. This is for the Tea Parties, Conservatives, and Moderate Democrats who are (reasonably) pressing for fiscal discipline. Mathematically, you just can't talk about the deficit without addressing defense spending. Of course, you can't do it without talking about tax increases either, but I wrote on that subject here.

In the fiscal year 2009, as directed by George W. Bush's final budget, the United States spent $538.1 billion on discretionary domestic spending. That number is, as a friend would say, a lot of cheddar. During that same budget, our democracy spent $655.8 billion on defense. That is $117.7 billion more cheddar. I would vigorously argue that much of that spending (or at least what was purchased) was and remains necessary. I would also argue, as many have, that much of the spending cut be cut without the loss of programs...if only we could be more efficient. Some people think that the savings lie in stopping the "generous pay raises and benefits" lavished by Congress on the troops. Some people also, in my humble opinion, need to be taken out and and shot at for a while before deciding what level of pay is "generous".

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Rational Politics Chapter 6: Liberty, Terror, And Schizophrenia

The great American author, Tom Clancy, noted in the epilogue to The Sum Of All Fears that it was not probable that any free democracy could prevent a terrorist event using weapons of mass destruction. Since 9/11, most of the nation's best analysts, through interviews on television or in print, have repeatedly stated that another major attack is a near inevitability. This friends, leads us to the nature of terrorism; the ability of a small force able to bend a larger force to its will through intimidation. But the United States hasn't changed in response to the events of 9/11, have we?

Clancy made it a point to reference the free democracy in his note. Liberty, after all, does not blend well with a police state. For decades the Red Chinese, and the Soviets, Nazis, and Czarists before them, controlled the ethnic and religious divisions that existed in their nations. It is not coincidental that bloodshed began anew in the Balkans when Yugoslavia was dissolved; the tensions of Serb and Croat had been sublimated to the will of world socialism. Iraq as well, showed the results of tyranny on the profession of terror; Hussein allowed no jihad in his country, and was utterly without limits in his ability to enforce his will. It took a foreign power to uncork the terrorist potential in that nation.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Nate On Sports (Sort Of):To Tase or Not to Tase?

Now, this probably isn't going to be your typical sports blog. In fact, this will probably at least somewhat venture into the area for which this blog was originally created (i.e., politics.) And I'll tell you right now - my view probably won't be "politically correct" by any stretch of the imagination. Now if that isn't incentive for you to read on, I don't know what is.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Sticky Logic Of An Oil Spill

I was reading the other day where some members of Congress and the punditocracy think that a cap and trade bill is dead in the aftermath of the Gulf Oil Spill. Huh? A bill designed to limit the long term damage being done to our environment (read, the place we all live in) by slowly changing our energy infrastructure, is at risk because of an event doing massive damage to our environment. Does the term, ice cream headache, mean anything to the good folks we elect as our representatives? Admittedly, the politics of passing a bill as involved as cap and trade are daunting; stranger bedfellows than John Kerry and Lindsey Graham are hard to imagine. But this whole episode is hard to swallow; days on end of politicians straining to turn themselves inside out in search of political brownie points.

A couple of weeks ago, liberals were incensed that Obama cleared the way for expanded off-shore drilling. In the aftermath of the disaster, Rush Limbaugh went on the air to describe a conspiracy theory involving Obama, SWAT teams, and the intentional detonation of the rig...at the President's direction and with the intention of helping environmentalists. This idea friends, represents the depth of insanity and clearly describes how Limbaugh and others think. Power and glory are so important to them, that they could imagine the President ordering the literal destruction of a major ecosystem and staple economy, all to help a bill designed to safeguard the environment.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

A Little Housework

Just a quick note on the RM as we enter May friends. There have been some subtle changes to the blog over the last week, as I attempt to make it more convenient to navigate (and more economical for me to publish). If you indulge in social networking, the "sociable" tab (top left) has a number of icons that will allow you to share the RM with your networks. If you are interested in following the RM on a regular basis, you can click on the "Facebook Badge" to go The Rational Middle on that service and become a fan; or, become a "friend" of the blog (Google calls it following...but I think it is creepy to have "followers"). You may also follow along on Twitter, or sign up to receive an RSS feed of the RM. Both the RSS feed and "notes" section of Facebook offer the posts free of additional graphics (and advertising).

A note on that advertising...I have posted Google Adsense Ads for 10 months now (although I hasten to add that I have no real control over the content of those ads); currently, my account shows that the blog has earned me $0.18. While not a get rich quick (or even a get rich slowly) scheme, I would be grateful if those of you who are planning an Amazon purchase anyway would consider killing two birds with one stone. Read and comment on the latest post on the RM, and then browse the Amazon gadgets on the sidebar.

A handful of friends and family started reading the RM with its first published post on June 22, 2009. Just a month ago, we passed 180 unique visitors in the history of the blog. In the last 30 days, we have doubled that number, and gone from an average of 5 page-views per day to 40. Please keep your comments coming, and keep sharing the RM...this blog belongs to the loyal visitors whose primary interest is bringing adult conversation back to our democracy. Thank You!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Rational Politics Chapter 5: Bias, Balance, And The Media War

Early in the Clinton years, Rush Limbaugh began building his reputation as a kind of Lone Ranger in the wilderness, proclaiming the truth while battling the forces of a one-sided national media elite. Towards the end of the Clinton years, and at the outset of the Lewinsky Affair, Hillary Clinton went forth with a description of the "Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy" designed to bring down her husband's presidency. We Americans have certainly not lost our flair for the dramatic or tendency towards the oversell. Today, all Conservatives are racist, warmongering, wingnuts; all Liberals are socialists intent on erasing God and banning Christmas, and there is such a thing as a liberally-biased "Mainstream Media".

I put that last phrase in quotes, because it has become a sort of title used by a growing segment of the population to explain network news, some cable outlets, and a large array of print journalism. The human need to categorize and label has been taken to heights (or depths if you prefer) by the modern art of branding. Now, our political parties and their partisans have taken to lumping any organization that develops research, writes a report, or reports on findings that are contrary to their particular belief system, as biased and unworthy of credibility.

Friday, April 30, 2010

The Reality Of Balanced Budgets

I have a very quick post today on balancing the Federal Budget. I have previously posted on this topic here,  on earmarks and reality here, and on inflation and related concepts here.  The issue of deficit reduction seems to come to the forefront during recessionary periods in our history (despite the fact that the two issues are not linked). The Tea Party movement and Republican hierarchy have made a major talking point out of the issue (despite those folks lack of interest in federal debt during the Bush Administration, who tripled the debt in 8 years).

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Nazi Arizona?

Nazi Arizona? Well, not quite. The new immigration statute in the state is however, over the top, ill-considered, and ill-conceived. When Governor Brewer signed the measure into law, she opened up Arizona law enforcement agencies to enormous public pressures and liabilities. This is a measure, after all, that is supposed to "fix" illegal immigration in the state. The law, in short, is a travesty.

So what is wrong with this state? To be blunt, nothing that isn't wrong with the rest of our nation at the moment. We have, collectively, taken leave of our senses. As a nation we have become all to comfortable giving up our hard-earned civil liberties; all we need is the Serpent in the Garden to tell us who the problem is and how to catch them. Currently, we also lack an objective media able to show us the fools we are becoming. In the last decade, some members of the media briefly (and quietly) suggested that the Patriot Act and the Military Commissions Act were serious violations of the 4th Amendment. The suggestion (for the point of historical context) was that elements of these two acts were reminiscent in tone and scope to the laws passed by the German parliament in the 1930's.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Nate On Sports: Barry Zito - Version 3.0

One of the feel-good stories of the young 2010 Major League Baseball season not yet receiving attention is the reemergence of Barry Zito.

Now maybe there's reason for that. It's important to keep a perspective here - namely, we're only about one-eighth through the season, and Zito himself has only made four starts. And when you peruse the stats (especially some of the more advanced stats), you'll find that many of them will probably not last, especially when you compare them to 1.) MLB averages and 2.) Zito's career averages (and not just his time spent in San Francisco.)

Monday, April 26, 2010

Rational Politics Chapter 4: Our Democracy And Financial Markets

The news today is dominated by a handful of terms; bailout, financial reform, greed, regulation, crisis, and too big to fail spring immediately to mind. The very existence of the Tea Party movement, or at least the anger being exploited by the organizers of the Tea Party movement, owes itself to the financial meltdown of 2008 and the bailouts that followed. Often called "populist anger", the emotions are loaded with all the confusion, yelling, and uncontrolled swinging attendant to street fighter losing a brawl.

Sunday, April 25, 2010


I hate the subject of immigration. Much like abortion, the mention of the word immigration is enough to end rational discussion in a heartbeat. The issue is charged by history, geography, cultural differences, cultural loss, mistrust, racism, and callous political pandering. Just like abortion, I hate writing about this subject, but it is a topic at the front of our democracy.

I hope to have a good and rational debate on this topic, so I would ask everyone to put as many of their preconceived notions, political leanings, and cultural predispositions down, and step away. The format for this post will be familiar to RM regulars; I will lay out some facts framing the discussion in bullet point form, then state my position on the issue. I really do hope for a long thread in the comments section, and will also post a discussion on Facebook. As an editorial note on the structure of this blog, allow me to remind you that this post (and most others) are longer than two paragraphs....click on "continues here" to read the full post. When you are done...make a statement; attack, support, debate. All responsible comments are welcome!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Mike On Sports: The NFL Draft...Round One

With Nate taking the week off, I thought I would take a break from politics to write about what is truly important; the first round of the NFL Draft. As a Browns fan, this annual extravaganza is usual the most exciting football event on my calendar. This year is no exception, but I will play expert and share my thoughts on the round...after all, Mel Kiper Jr. does it every year, and I have played more football than him.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Rational Politics Chapter 3: The Courts And Judicial Activism

One of our democracy's great debates of the last few years has been the notion of "activist judges" and their effect on government. Although the definition of an activist court or judge is murky, the term seems to describe a judge willing to rule against a law passed by popular assent (such as a referendum making gay marriage illegal), or one willing to move against standing precedent and/or the traditional interpretation of the U.S. Constitution. Much of the ire over this issue is actually generated by the high courts of individual states, with the feelings coming to the surface of the nation's conscience in nomination hearings or high profile cases.

Call it Civics or U.S. Government, but Americans graduating from high school have taken a class that describes our system of government and its history. We know of the three branches of government (at the federal level); executive, legislative, and judiciary, and their respective roles. Within these classes the concept of checks and balances is an imperative behind only "one citizen, one vote" in its importance. Given this reality, my question to you is; how does the Supreme Court exercise checks and balances in our system? The answer of course, is that the Court invalidates laws or the enforcement of a law that it deems unconstitutional. That is to say, they practice judicial activism.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Going After Goldman-Sachs

I just want to share a quick thought on the decision by the SEC to indict Goldman-Sachs for fraud.


Goldman-Sachs is the hyper-connected leviathan of Wall Street money and Washington power. The officers and operators of the firm have shuttled back and forth between Wall Street and Washington, becoming the chief architects of our nation's investment bank marketplace; a marketplace that failed the country. A broader perspective on the firm and its Washington influence can be read here.

What Does A Bull Make With Food?

Friends, you know the answer to the question. The political branding wars are in full bloom this spring, and the result is fertilizing our democracy...and not in a good way. I started thinking of this post when I heard actor Jon Voight's ridiculous rant on Obama's Marxist poison; filed under the heading that if you call the man a Marxist enough, people will start to believe the label. Unfortunately, the bull-stuff is not isolated to performers like Voight and Victoria Jackson. Spreading the muck seems like the prized responsibility of political leaders on both sides of the liberal/ conservative divide.

Let us start with the Democratic leadership and their positions on the Republican agenda for financial reform. This week, they opened a full attack on Republican motives and strategy, stating that the GOP was being spoon-fed both by Frank Luntz and the cabal of derivative-trading hedge funds. That accusation is fair, but it is a case of the pot calling the kettle black. Senator Chris Dodd is a banking company stooge, and the last two Democratic White Houses have been loaded down with executive officers from Goldman-Sachs (the recently indicted Goldman-Sachs). President Clinton let Larry Summers and Alan Greenspan bully him into ignoring the prescient advice of his derivatives regulator, Brooksley Born, who correctly predicted the toxic effect of the instruments in the 90's. The original Democratic-sponsored bill does nothing with derivatives, which are the real ticking time bomb of the financial world.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Rational Politics Chapter 2: The Federal Budget

The Federal Budget is one of the most consistently misunderstood documents in American life. The vast majority of Americans have no real idea of the process involved in the budget's adoption, or the scale (in terms of real money) of the thing itself. This is a major impediment to sound participatory democracy; a basic understanding of how our government plans for the harvest and allocation of tax dollars is a necessity. The good news, I believe, is that the basics are within the grasp of all Americans; it really isn't rocket science folks (except for the NASA budget...that is rocket science).

In order to quickly see the fundamental points that a voter needs to understand, I will use a two-part example; the 2009 Federal Budget (George W. Bush's last), and the campaign platform of Republican Senatorial candidate Sue Lowden (running in my home state of Nevada). As always, I would encourage the readers of this post to follow the logic using your own primary source material; just pick a budget year and play with the numbers, then compare what you have learned to the campaign promises (and folks, that process reveals that stretching the budget truth is a bipartisan deal). For this excersise, the budget data comes from the Government Printing Office and Mrs. Lowden's positions come from her site.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Nate On Sports: Big Ben the Big Dummy

On Monday, it became official that Ben Roethlisberger would not be charged with any crime(s) in relation to an alleged sexual assault that occurred at a Milledgeville, Georgia nightclub on the night of March 5. I think anyone who even remotely paid attention to this case saw this coming. The district attorney said as much. Unlike other cases (see: O.J. Simpson) this doesn't seem like's it's just a big-time athlete getting let off the hook - not to me, at least. After reading the (local) D.A.'s statement, it simply appears that evidence was rather sparse and there simply wasn't enough of it for Roethlisberger to be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

So Big Ben dodges another bullet, mostly. Earlier, a Pittsburgh sponsor dropped Roethlisberger as a spokesman, and subsequently will have to rebrand "Big Ben's Beef Jerky." Unless the accuser decides to pursue a civil remedy, that's probably about as bad as it's going to get for Ben in this sense.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Nukes And National Security

With the announcement last week of the United State's new nuclear posture, and the opening this week of the 47 nation nuclear weapons summit, President Obama has opened the door to an old debate; nuclear weapons and national security. In addition, the Senate will now consider the ratification of the arms control treaty agreed to by President Obama and his Russian counterpart, President Medvedev. All three of these steps have opened the door for fresh criticism of the President and his policies by the opposition Republican party.

The question for us; what should everyday Americans look for when reading or listening to news reports on strategic national security? What separates spin and political branding from honest reporting? The steps for quick analysis of what our government is doing are straightforward; understand the threats, grasp the basic responses to those threats, and compare the results to the specific policies adopted by the Administration. A short review is available after the jump.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Rational Politics Chapter One: The Government

The Government. The Feds. Washington. Words that strike anger and frustration into the hearts of a majority of Americans. The government of the people, by the people, and for the people, is being rejected...by the people. This stunning contradiction, almost fifty years in the making, is the bastard child of political branding, civic ignorance, and a hippie-like approach to the idea of civil liberty.

Before exploring the reasons, it is important to remember one critical fact; the Founding Fathers established this nation, under this constitution, because they understood that men must be governed. Anarchy and society cannot exist together, and whether through a king, feudal lords, or all-powerful corporate entities, some form of government would exist in any population of humans. Jefferson, Payne, Hamilton, Washington, Franklin, Hancock, Adams, and the rest felt that a representative democracy was the best choice to fill the role of government. Through painful and painstaking compromise, they managed to craft a structure that endures to this day.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Nate On Sports: The MLB Preview that YOU Demand (Part II)

So baseball season is underway, and my already half-empty glass of Cubs baseball is a little more empty, courtesy of the Atlanta Braves, Carlos Zambrano (although, in his defense, that first inning was a lot of bad luck), the Cubs bullpen (I'm looking at you Jeff Samardzija), and generally horrid defense. However, this column isn't just about the Cubbies, so I digress. Without further ado, here is the National League preview for 2010.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Meaningless Social Commentary

I am in the mood for random and trivial thinking this Monday; perhaps I am finally succumbing to profound political burnout. While watching t.v. this evening I was subjected to an ad for the "George Lopez Show". The ad made me wonder if I could remember any late night show that was funny...ever. Failing funny, I wondered if any were even remotely informative. While I would love to turn on the box at 11 p.m. and be distracted by hearty laughter, if the show isn't funny I would at least like to be informed.

Perhaps I have grown bitter because, admittedly, I did watch the "Arsenio Hall Show" with some regularity when I was younger. I must also disclose that I watched highlight shows of Johnny Carson; Carnac The Great and other characters certainly had some comedic value. Lately my desperate channel flipping has failed to rescue me from "important" programming; indeed the only escapism to be found on the tube these days seems to be "reality t.v." It is a wonder that our nation is not now entirely populated by depressed individuals.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Individually Mandated Tall Tales

Senator Jim Demint is just trying to protect his constituents, but I have to jump in with a big, "Whoa Nellie!" The good Senator from South Carolina has claimed repeatedly that the health reform law will take 16,000 new IRS agents to enforce. He continually raises the spector of trigger happy feds knocking down your door if you don't purchase health care coverage from the private market. Recently, he bought an upgrade, claiming that "hundreds of thousands of agents might be required" to enforce the mandate.

There are just two problems with his thinking; his numbers and his reasoning. Currently, 17,000 agents and 76,000 non-agent employees staff the IRS (that is 0.3% of the U.S. population). Senator Demint expects that one new provision in a tax code thousands of pages long will necessitate the doubling of the agency's investigative staff? The second problem lies in the law itself; the law is specific in stating that there can be no criminality attached to failure to pay the tax assessed due to non-coverage. If you are interested in double-checking this (and have a lot of time), go here. Read that again folks; the individual mandate is enforced through a tax that can be evaded without criminal liability.

Aside from the complete destruction of the "Demint Gambit", this little point looks to be a fascinating example of legislative staffers slipping something past the insurance industry stooges who were behind the mandate in the first place. Things just keep getting better friends!

The Rational Middle is listening...

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Headlines, Special Reports, And Nasty Labels

When the average soul takes a look at the news of the day, it is hard to see how anyone is ever happy. Nancy Grace reports; "Somewhere there is a victim I can exploit for ratings." TMZ reports; "Jesse James and Tiger Woods vie for the title of most mistresses by a man not in a country where harems are legal." Fox News reports; "Mainstream liberal elite media ignores Republicans who call Democrats Communists." The rest of the media reports; "Fox News is GOP propaganda machine and anyone who likes Sarah Palin is a crazy fool."

The Rational Middle reports; "Americans who like to sit down with their neighbors or coworkers over a cup of coffee to discuss problems and opportunities, would like the network blowhards and punditocracy to shut the hell up!" There are very few things in the world that have only two sides; our nation isn't a game of chess. This pattern of name calling is past ridiculous and moving towards dangerous, and I see plenty of fault to go around. Invoking a speech given in "The American President", "America isn't easy...this is advanced citizenship...you want to talk about the land of the free, let's see you acknowledge someone standing center stage, advocating something at the top of his lungs, which you would advocate against at the top of yours."

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Nate On Sports: The 2010 MLB Preview that YOU Demand (Part I)

For me, the beginning of the baseball season means more than six sure-fire months of disappointment (to clarify further, I'm a Cubs fan.) But I still look forward to it more than the beginning of any other professional sports season, despite the constant signals of impending doom coming from Chicago. I don't know, I think it's more than just baseball - it means that spring is here, thunderstorms replace snowstorms, the trees leaf out, and you can grill outside without getting frostbite. But now I'm sounding too philosophical. There's just something about baseball season, however, and with that in mind, here is the 2010 AL preview, brought to you by yours truly. (Note: Part II - the National League, will be composed next week.)

Monday, March 29, 2010

Financial Schizophrenia

Now that we are all done with health care reform and there is no more controversy on the matter........well perhaps not. There is of course, more business to attend to in our democracy. For the consideration of the Senate of the United States, we have financial reform! The all-encompassing amoeba of politics, finance reform is an issue that everyone seems to be interested in, and no one seems to be able to define.

For the last 18 months, the universal signs of evil were the denizens of Wall Street demanding and receiving bailouts, then giving themselves bonuses of staggering proportion. For the last 18 months, the idea that something had to be done about the greed, hubris, and audacity of the captains of finance has been embedded in the conscious of Democrats, Republicans, and Tea-Partiers alike. Surely this is an issue for which our democracy could find quick consensus and decisive action. Yeah, right!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Small Business 101: Profitable Sustainability

Sustainability is one of those "of the moment" catchphrases that tends to mean radically different things to different people. To old school environmental warriors, sustainability is watered down environmentalism for wimps; for many pro-business types, the concept is an insidious "fifth column" of environmental activism. My take on the idea is somewhat different; as someone who grew up with National Geographic and Carl Sagan as guides, but matured as an adult in the business school of hard knocks, sustainability is environmentalism all grown up.

The basic idea of sustainability applies to businesses at every level; handle operations, marketing, and human resources in a manner which ensures the greatest sustainable benefit to your business, your customers, and your community. To all businesses, the simple approach involves looking at everything you do over the long term. The challenge for small businesses, in the minds of many, is the scale of short term costs relative to the business. In reality the fear of the costs relating to sustainability has almost no basis in fact; it is change that small business owners really fear, change in a model that has served them well.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Thank You Rep. Boehner

The House Minority Leader, John Boehner, issued a message today that underlined the American process. While acknowledging the anger over the law, Rep. Boehner reminded Americans that violence and intimidation are not the tools of our democracy. He encouraged those that were most angry to register to vote and lead others to do the same. The House Minority Whip, Eric Cantor, also condemmed the violence while making the claim that Democrats are at fault. The reporting of his press conference is understandably mixed, depending on who is doing the reporting.

The Rational Middle feels that Rep. Cantor may have a point about the Democratic Party's response to the ugly displays outside the capitol over the weekend. While it is the opinion of this site that reckless and baseless accusations about the plan by Republicans are the source of the problem, the use of the attacks in fund-raising material by the Democratic National Committee is both crass and irresponsible. Acknowledge the attacks and talk about the causes, then leave the issue alone. Dwelling on the ignorance and hatred of a few does the many a disservice.

As my last two posts have (I hope) communicated, it is the hyperbole and breathless rejection of fact-based debate that are the hallmarks of this troubled time in our history. The ad hominem attacks that have become common in our political debate are the reason that so many of our fellow citizens are tired of politics, and ignore the very concept of citizen governance. I am profoundly opposed to the politics and political strategies of Senator Mitch McConnell and Representative John Boehner, but I am positive that they both love their country and their families with the same passion that I do mine. This fact alone should be verification enough that we all share common ground. Let us use the framework provided by the Founding Fathers to deal with those areas that we lack agreement on.

The Rational Middle is listening...

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Liberals Have Guns Too

Across the nation tonight, millions of armed Liberals lurk in the shadows, waiting for unwary Tea-Partiers to cross their path. Their Socialist agenda advanced, the liberal hordes look next to the guns and values of American Conservative families. Glenn Beck's doomsday is upon us all!

What the heck is going on with our nation? For the last nine months, a series of bills have been debated that would attempt to resolve a problem that better than 75% of the citizens believe needs to be solved. The bill signed into law was consistently opposed by 45%-50% of the nation that hated it, and the 10%-15% of the nation that felt it wasn't LIBERAL enough. Do not take my word for it; go to this poll, and this poll. A majority of your neighbors wanted something to be done along the lines of what was signed into law by the President. If you are one of the many who believe that this bill is wrong, for any reason, then you can be thankful that you live in the United States. There are a number of democratic avenues for redress of grievances available to the citizens of this proud nation; many of which I will cover below. I would also note that most of the items in the bill that anger folks the most, don't take effect until 2014.

Nate On Sports: Megabucks for Mauer - A Must for Minnesota

There go those damn Yankees again, spending $184 million on a baseball player.
Oh, what’s that? It wasn’t the Yankees? Well, it had to have been the Red Sox then, right? No? Wait, you’re telling me it was the Minnesota Twins? The MINNESOTA TWINS?!?!
Yes, the Minnesota Twins. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the economics of baseball, this is an unprecedented move for the Twins. If the numbers I have researched are correct, the Twins have committed to pay Joe Mauer nearly as much as they paid their entire big league roster in 2007, 2008, and 2009 combined. If, for a second, you assume that Mauer’s contract starts this year (when in actuality it starts next year), you would find that about one-third of the team’s 2010 payroll would be dedicated to Mr. Mauer.
And you know what? I think it’s a great move for the Twins. Now, the completely rational, baseball-minded individual in me doesn’t fully agree, but in this case, he gets overruled.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Whateverisms, Whoeverists, And The Strawman

Do you ever get the feeling that we have gone right off the deep end? Our conversations in this country, if we are to believe the nonsense on ANY cable channel, have devolved into shouting matches where the winner is who can call their opponent the crummiest name. Political opponents are radical practitioners of "Whateverism" and their supporters are "Whoeverists"; it makes no difference what "side" you are on. The notion that bloggers and a 24 hour news cycle would reveal the name callers for their cynicism and lack of substance has been revealed as fallacy, largely because those two forces have become accomplished practitioners of the labeling that drives the machine.

The (finally) concluding health care debate provides a textbook worth of examples of this phenomenon, beginning with the idea of the strawman. The concept of the strawman in a debate is to create a false enemy that can be systematically pulled apart, without the mess of having to argue your real enemy. "They don't love their children the way we do..." is a classic strawman. It has proven to be a common tactic in war, where getting humans motivated to kill before they are shot it is tricky business. In politics, it is a tactic used often when one party or group believes that it can't win arguing the facts.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Small Business 101: Identity Crisis

The $100 college title for what a business does is "core competency". Every business that gets off the ground has one or more competencies that are at the heart of what they do. Most businesses that fail forget what those competencies are. What we are talking about is an identity crisis in your business. The rules are simple; know your business, know your customer, know your people.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Procedural Hysteria

Impeach Pelosi! Bury Harry! Down with Obama! Ok, I get that many people are opposed to the reform bill now in the end-game in Congress. Despite not seeing the dramatic changes in our nation since Obama took over, I understand that people are upset. What I would like to see the end of, however, is this notion of attacking a "problem" that does not exist.

Please feel free to debate the place of the citizen government in the marketplace. By all means argue against deficit spending. Go to the mat fighting the notion of a tax increase on anyone; these are all worthy arguments....just dispense with the bullshit! I know it is crude, and I do apologize; there is simply no better way to describe the arguments of the Boehners and Bachmanns of the world lately. My problem is not their policy issues but rather their procedural "issues".

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Nate On Sports: NCAA Tournament Preview Extravaganza!

If you happened to read my post last week, you are aware that the NCAA Tournament is, bar none, my favorite sporting event of the year. With that said, here’s my own personal preview of what to expect over the course of the next few weeks. (As a disclaimer, I should note that I’ve won only one bracket pool in my life, so you might not want to take what I say too seriously.)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Greece, America, And The Budget Panic

Greece is begging for money. The home of the world's original democracy is essentially bankrupt and is now forced to ask the rest of Europe for a bailout. Many of our nations's newspapers, along with Conservative commentators and dim bulbs like Dana Milbank, are suggesting that the United States will take its turn if nothing is done with our fiscal crisis. Folks, we are spending a great deal of money at the moment trying to dig out from the collapse of the $8 trillion housing bubble. As a nation, we are also facing unprecedented inflation in the health care sector. We are not however, on the road to bankruptcy...period.

Please put politics aside on this issue, as it is about basic macroeconomic realities and not the difference between Democrats and Republicans. Greece finds itself in desperate straights because they are in the Eurozone (yes, it is a real place and not a bad joke); they no longer have a currency that adjusts to regional economic realities. We have the U.S. dollar and a central bank (The Fed) that can influence the supply of money. In other words, we have the flexibility to meet our challenges whereas Greece does not.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Is Obama A Failure?

Has President Obama failed? Many Liberals and Independents have wished, for all of his talents, that the President had “a little Bush in him”. I have held that same feeling for parts of the last two years now, but I always come back to his basic maturity; he has a vision for how he wants to govern, and he is sticking to it. He doesn’t pull the hair trigger and fire people in the tradition of Washington scapegoating, and he isn’t interested in being pulled into the behavior of his opposition.

Mr. Obama made tactical errors in the stimulus bill (giving tax cuts before they were demanded), he made a strategic mistake in not pushing for financial reform last year (when he could have harnessed the populist anger to his cause), and he made an error (I believe) in not challenging the GOP leadership to write their own version of Health Care Reform last May.

Small Business 101: Inventory Management

While it seems simple, the idea that a business should have the products their customers want, when they want them, and in whatever quantity they desire is often lost in the swirl of running your own company. Many of us were raised  with an ethic that waste is bad, while some of us were raised with the notion that plenty is a sign of success. When I walk into many small businesses today, I am most often confronted by a massive assortment of goods that don't sell (recognized by the dust they accrue), in combination with empty shelves were the store's best items live.

 There are two simple laws that must be recognized when managing your inventory; inventory costs money over an above what you buy it for, and being out of stock on items in your firm's top 20% is a sin of the highest order. This two laws may seem to be contradictory, but an owner or manager can use them to his/her advantage by following a few simple guidelines. What I call the seven secrets of inventory management are posted after the break.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Osama Bin Earmarks?

The Congress of the United States of America, both Democrats and Republicans, have taken up a holy quest of sorts this week; the mission to be the heroes who vanquish that eternal enemy, the earmark! This week the Democrats in the House proposed outlawing "for profit earmarks", measures where a lawmaker inserts an appropriation into a bill that specifically benefits a for profit firm. Not to be outdone, the Republicans in the House passed a resolution in their caucus swearing off all earmarks for this year.

Wow! We are really getting somewhere now, aren't we? Well, not really. The 2008 budget proposed by President Bush and passed by the Congress totalled $2.9 trillion. Included in that measure was a grand total of $18 billion in earmarks, or just a little more than the budget of NASA. In fact, earmarks rarely total more than 1.5% of all federal spending. Attacking earmarks in the government is the same as a homeowner who can't pay their mortgage stressing out over whether they should cancel their newspaper subscription.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Nate On Sports: 2010: The Perfect Argument Against NCAA Tournament Expansion

By now, you have probably heard of the proposal to expand the NCAA Men’s basketball tournament to 96 teams. While this proposal is not “official” as of this time, by all accounts, it has been agreed upon and is a done deal. This doesn’t sit too well with yours truly.The NCAA Tournament, in its current form, is about as good as it gets in sports.   

The NCAA Tournament, in and of itself, is the single greatest argument for the college football playoff and the abolition of the horrid Bowl Championship Series. That is, teams actually settle it on the court (or field, if you want to look at it from a football perspective) rather than in computers and the Interwebs. There is drama, there are underdogs, and most importantly, there is always an undisputed national champion. Now, to be fair, none of this would change as the result of a 96 tournament. In my opinion however, the spectacle that is the NCAA tournament would get watered down. Upsets and Cinderellas, under this new plan, would likely become less and less frequent, a troubling fact to a fan like me. 

Monday, March 8, 2010

Financial Madness

Perhaps the most perplexing issue in politics today is financial reform. On its face, "reforming" our nation's financial markets is as close to a universally popular measure as any domestic item gets. Democrats, Libertarians, and Tea Party Conservatives all want to see something done. All of the above were/are outraged by the bailouts, and all, for the most part, agree that greed and corruption are the roots of the problem.

The difficulty for we the people lies in the following fact; Democrats, Libertarians, and Tea Party Conservatives hate to agree on anything. We have come to a point in our democracy where the notion of acknowledging and building on common ground is considered to be akin to a sin. Compromise has become a dirty word, compared to appeasement with the Nazis and negotiating with terrorists. We Americans, all of us (including yours truly), are guilty of turning our back on well made points for the sake of winning an argument. I propose that we adopt this issue as the fulcrum for changing the paradigm.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Selected Writings From Better Authors

Small Business 101: The Cash Budget

Most folks thinking about starting a business have heard that a third of all new ventures fail inside of two years. The conventional wisdom includes the advice that prospective entrapreneurs have two to three years worth of operational cash on hand prior to taking the plunge. What is not often discussed is the concept of the cash budget; this failure to discuss is a primary mover behind business failures.

Relevant Wishes: A Health Care Plan

The first half of this Friday double feature is a "for what its worth moment". For what it is worth, here is my version of a health care reform bill with brief explanations for each of the provisions. Many of these provisions can be found in the bills that passed the House and the Senate, but there are some major differences. Before moving through the plan proper, I will lay out a brief case for change.

Health care accounts for about 16% of all economic activity in the United States today. That number, which is health care's contribution to our country's gross domestic product, has risen from 7% (1970), to 8.8% (1980), to 11.9% (1990). Currently, the number is projected to be 17% in 2015. In the period of 2000-2007, health care inflation was 80%, versus overall inflation of 20%. The inflation facts account for a bit of dark humor, as I recall objections to the first House bill because CBO predicted it would lead to an annual 8% inflation rate for health care. Unfortunately, that it is a decrease over what we have now. We pay all this despite receiving care that is only equivalent to the rest of the world. Oh, if you or a loved one needs exotic or advanced treatment, the U.S. is the place to be. For established procedures, it just costs more without being better. The analogy would be going to Neiman Marcus to buy a pack of Hanes underwear.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Nate On Sports: From Lackluster to Spectacular - Vancouver Edition

I don’t know about all of you, but as I was watching the instant-classic U.S. versus Canada gold medal hockey clash on Sunday, a question occurred: was I watching the same Olympic games that I had previously started watching two weeks ago, or was I stuck somewhere in time like those dudes in that ridiculous-but-it’s-so-ridiculous-it-looks-funny movie Hot Tub Time Machine?

Well fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it), it was the former. The 2010 edition of the Winter Olympics, which opened with bad weather, Opening Ceremony gaffes, and the tragic death of a young Georgian luger, transformed itself into a decidedly memorable version of the Games during those two weeks in Vancouver. While the death of Nodar Kumaritashvili will always be associated with these Games, the transformation of these Games from lackluster to spectacular ensures that this version of the Winter Olympics will not be defined by that one horrific incident.

Health Care Redux

In the summer of 2008, better than 75% of Americans wanted something done about the medical marketplace in our country. By overwhelming margins, Americans believed it an embarrassment that this country lacked the capacity to care for its citizens. The explosion in costs for average working Americans was also a driver in public opinion, as well as the knowledge that our country ranked behind most of the industrialized world in most key health statistics.

The winter of 2009/2010 has not seen a change in public opinion on the keys for health care reform, but it has seen the success of the most ambitious and well orchestrated branding campaign in political history. In poll after poll, Americans say that they favor a repeal of the anti-trust exemption for insurance carriers, some form of publicly administered plan to provide low cost competition, and the prohibition of pre-existing conditions and rescission. All of the plans proposed, including the two that passed the House and Senate, contain these remedies in some degree. All of the plans proposed have also become universally unpopular.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Rational Relaunch

A long winter is moving towards the close, and spring is around the corner. The Rational Middle is ready for warmer weather and a fresh outlook. Beginning with the March 1 post, this space will offer a consistent schedule for posts and a variety of points of view. Nate Schlatter will join the RM on Wednesdays with a look at the world of sports, and the blog will soon be home to a voice for the conservative middle. I hope to add additional guest bloggers, and am currently working on adding a regular column on fine food (to quite literally spice up the middle!)

Politics by itself is just so tiring!

The schedule for now will be; political hot topics on Mondays and Thursdays, a series of business tips on Fridays (the first series will be called "Small Business 101"), Nate's Sports on Wednesdays, and guest posts for Tuesdays and Saturdays. More than a hundred visitors have spent time on the RM during the last 9 months, and I hope that all will enjoy the expanded point of view and new schedule.

As always, the point of the posts is to create conversation. Please feel free to post your thoughts on any columns that touch a nerve. Comments in disagreement are especially welcome!

The Rational Middle is listening...

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Red State Massachusetts?

The final score will show Scott Brown with a 3%-6% win over Martha Coakley in the race to fill Ted Kennedy's Senate seat, and the race to assign blame is on. Why did Brown win? The simple answer is that he outworked his opponent. The state senator held more than three times as many campaign events as Coakley, and endeared himself to the working class independents who comprise half of the Massachusetts electorate.

That's right folks; Massachusetts is not a Democratic stronghold. Ted Kennedy held the family Senate seat, and his persona and coatails pulled other Democrats with him into federal office year after year. State politics was always another matter; Republicans controlled the Governor's mansion for 16 years until Deval Patrick won in 2006, and his hold on the office is tenuous at best. Scott Brown, with his plain-spoken demeanor, 200,000 mile green pickup, and work ethic made the sale for voters who are tired of the Democratic Party.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Year One: The Obama Report Card

For the next several weeks, political "journalism" will be filled with reports on President Obama's first year performance. Principal in many of these treatments will be the poll numbers on his administration's handling of various topics. Polls are especially poor methods to track job performance (imagine the "general public" evaluating your performance at work in a poll), and in this climate, they are worse than ever at capturing the facts. For this reason, I will ignore polling for both this post and that one that will come next (containing my grade for the Republican opposition).

The criteria for evaluation include five categories:
  1. Constitutional alignment
  2. Alignment with campaign promises
  3. Structural improvements versus cosmetic change
  4. Ethical foundation
  5. Execution of plan
These standards are applied to ten categories that affect all Americans. Please remember that in this space, we are not interested in branding or the quality of spin by the party being evaluated or the opposition. Unfortunately, most of the public discussion this year has had shockingly little to do with what was actually on the table. Imagine sitting down to watch Rambo with a friend, only to have him tell you that he doesn't like the movie because he is not a fan of romantic comedies. Here is to raising the level of discourse!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Haiti Needs Help

Haiti needs our help. This is what we Americans do when our neighbors are in need. This is not about politics, religion, sports, or business. It is possible that 5% of the people of Haiti died in that earthquake, and more than 30% are homeless.

There are several ways we can help. I have seen web announcements from most of our nation's congregations organizing relief efforts, and I would encourage all who can to take the opportunity to support those efforts. The Red Cross has also swung into action in concert with the United Nations and our military. All of these activities require money, and that fact provides most of us with our best opportunity to give aid and comfort.

Please donate to the Red Cross here. You can also donate $10 to the efforts by texting "HAITI" to 90999. The latter donation will be added to your cellular bill. You can find more information about the relief effort and how you can support it at this location. For most Americans, the last two years have been frustrating and difficult. The rational middle believes that events like this most recent tragedy remind us how good our lives really are, and what a gift we truly have to live in this nation. Lets pay this forward together.

The rational middle is thinking about the lives and souls in Haiti tonight...

Monday, January 11, 2010

Avatar and Race

On arriving at one of the news sites that I frequent, a headline under "Entertainment" caught my eye. Having just seen the movie "Avatar", I was surprised to read a headline posing a singular question; "Is Cameron's Avatar Racist?" The tag accomplished its goal by catching my eye and provoking an intense emotional response. Perhaps the headline to this post did something similar for you. There are few methods in "journalism" that provoke a faster or more emotional response than charges of racism.

The rational middle has covered this topic before, and the position is the same; we are tired of both ends of the polarized debate, and eager to commit time and thought to those willing to have meaningful discussion. If it is an "ism", then its definition changes with the person. Racism is used by various individuals to mean everything from cross-burning rednecks to white teachers who don't realize that asking an African-American couple how their "boy" is doing can be offensive. Perspective is everything, and humans are very sensitive about issues of personal identity. All of us may want to be valued as individuals, yet none of us want to be treated differently from another.

From my perspective, Avatar was a story of a culture saving a lost soul. The main character was undervalued in his own culture because of his physical differences, but the alien culture perceived his real worth from the inside-out. In the end, as in nature, their redemption of him saved their culture. Some who saw the film from a different perspective, saw a white character saving a "primitive" race. The theme has been present in films throughout the decades, from "Dances With Wolves" to "The Last Samurai" and many others. An actress made the comment that it would be nice for a film to show that the "primitives" can save themselves.

Outside of the accusations and insults, and away from the counter charges and veiled insults, the notion is something that can be explored. Differences between cultures can lead to synergies for the whole society when they are discussed and learned from. As in politics, the application of a label can destroy a conversation before it happens. Outside of the obvious environmental themes of the movie, Avatar presents an opportunity to talk about culture and identity in a way that improves our lives.

The rational middle hopes we are all open to the conversation...

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


Best wishes to Rush Limbaugh after his recent heart scare in Hawaii. I have been through the same thing and it is definitely not fun. I will always root for his good health, as I can identify with his weight struggles (and as someone who would wilt without the "inspiration" his material provides).

He made a point to note how good his care was whilst in Hawaii, and how it demonstrated that there was nothing wrong with the health care system in the United States. I was glad to hear that. Many like myself have long distinguished between the people (doctors, nurses, technical support) in the system, and the system itself. Mr. Limbaugh was very pleased with the nurses in Hawaii, and felt the system worked fine.

So where is the Haw-irony? Hawaii has the highest percentage of nurses in the United States organized by labor unions. In fact, the nurses at the hospital that Limbaugh was treated at are "union thugs" (his label for union members). Large chunks of the health care bill will not affect Hawaii as the state already mandates employers must provide insurance to employees working 20 hours per week or more. Medicare costs per beneficiary are the lowest in the nation, and the state's average insurance premiums are tied with North Dakota for the national low.

Non-profit health care providers dominate the state's marketplace and are free to innovate. Kaiser Permanente, which has a 20% share, screens 85% of the women between 42 and 69 for breast cancer. Is it any wonder that Hawaii's citizens have the longest life expectancy in the nation? The state is having budget troubles (like most states), and recently canceled its 2007 initiative (signed by a Republican governor) to provide universal children's coverage. The biggest reason cited for that failure was that most kids already had coverage.

So Mr. Limbaugh is correct when he implies that politicians could learn from Hawaii. Aggressive Medicare reform, a focus on non-profit care, and near-universal care are definitely the way to go for our nation.

Paging Mr. Limbaugh, Mr. Rush Limbaugh, your copy of the health care bill is ready for READING.

The rational middle says aloha....