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 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 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.