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 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 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 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."