Monday, November 29, 2010

Beach Boys - Wouldn't It Be Nice

Goodbye, Hello

I'm moving to a new online home, a place called BT Online.

I want to diversify my content, and felt that La Sensual Political was too inelegant to survive that transition. In the modern media world, its never been so easy to create your own media startup. As a direct consequence, its also never been so easy to work very hard for very little pay. The new rules of media demand multiple sources of content and revenue, and BT Online will provide a centralized trunk for the many branches of the BT brand.

Yet this is no easy or meaningless goodbye. I've had a blast developing my blogging skills and writing abilities on here. Blogging permits such an immediate connection between author and reader, so close that we touch in meaningful ways. One of my favorite parts is the "Stats" key on the toolbar, a place where I can check out how many people are reading this effort and from where. Since starting this blog in May of 2010 and beginning to earnestly work on it in September, I've had 936 page views from ten different countries: the United States, Denmark, France, United Kingdom, Canada, Russia, Poland, Germany, United Arab Emirates, and India. People in fucking India have at least glanced at my efforts made from a bedroom in a Kansas City suburb. That's awesome! And 900+ views have happened without any external promotion or marketing. Awesome again!

But a blog is more than about raw stats: its about that immediate and intimate connection between blogger and reader. There are no editors, publishers, agents, or any other intermediaries that come between the blogger and the reader. A blog is simply barely filtered, almost raw expression of the self- a human being expressing what being a person is like through opinions and items of interest. In that sense, a blog is the closest thing to being sensual that an online presence allows for. Because unlike Tweets and Facebook updates, a blog reveals the author for exactly who they are- a bundle of emotions, thoughts, memories, and meanings impossible to flesh out in 140 character chirps or the latest on how I feel right now.

I've attempted to strip the mysteries of politics and current affairs naked, but I've inadvertently exposed the most about myself. From the standards of 20th-century, objective journalism, a blog is pornographic.  

And what a delightful time for its star and producer! If I was paid in satisfaction, I'd be a millionaire. If I was paid in my gratitude for connecting with all these worldwide readers, I would be a billionaire. And these intangibles fill up my soul, and now I'm exiting La Sensual Political to enter something that will fill up my spirit and my bank account. There's no contradiction between a spiritual and material abundance, none at all. In fact, the two compliment each other.

So keep on coming to the The Best Blog Online- Different Look, Same All-Star Cast. The World's Most Powerful Blog, Version 2.0. Seriously, thanks for reading. I'll do my utmost to keep making it more than worth your while. One more music video after this, and then silence here. But I will keep it up, and soon publish a book featuring its greatest hits. Peace!

The Faith Of Patience

When I awoke in my midwestern bedroom,
I immediately noticed
The light having a different quality
More pink, blue, crisp
The air smelled different, even with the windows shut
Thicker, fresher, more salty
I wondered if I was still dreaming
Yet the dog rested at my feet
Like she always does
I heard my dad on the phone, talking construction business
like he always does
I arise from my bed, now older and liberated
From concerning myself with concealing a morning erection
I wave good morning to my dad with a subtle gesture
head down the stairs
And open my front door,
To witness an ocean crashing upon the porch steps
The rest of the houses in my neighborhood
are nowhere to be seen
Replaced by endless ocean
The sun was still in usual spot
For 8 AM in early February
I leave the door open, hearing the waves
Letting the cold air rush into my warm home
I go back upstairs to my dad's office
Curl my eyebrows in questioning, stick out my lower lip
And gesture to the world outside
An offering to basic assumptions now shattered
My dad is talking to his Oklahoma client, I infer
Is Oklahoma underwater as well?
He takes the phone away from his ear
And shrugs his shoulders before putting it back on
This really wakes me up, I have questions
Is my Mom safe?
Did she really go to work this morning?
Are my sister and her husband okay?
Is my boyfriend safe?
Is my extended family safe?
Are my neighbors safe?
Did anyone die?
Is the whole town underwater?
How large is this body of water?
Is there an online map of our new coastline?
Does the Internet still function?
How much is the home worth now?
Are the cars still in the garage?
How we will get packages?
How will we go places?
How come no one woke me up?
Are there sharks in the water?
How deep is the water?
Where will the dog use the bathroom?
Where will I take her to romp around?
Are the open fields I used to love now at the bottom of the ocean?
The fields I used to imagine were static ocean waves
The loss was getting unbearable, I needed perspective
And I had to to pee
I hope the toilet still works
I'll ask my dad before I flush, after he gets off the phone
Its an important client, and I want to be respectful
He makes the money, I'm a poor writer
But he raised a respectful person
Who can do important things while distracting himself
And trust that time
Will reveal the answers I seek
And that I might die while worrying about
Something I can't control anyways
The ocean is new, that is tragic

The Virtues Of Meaningful Meaning

Brad Wittwer at Miller-McCune reports on new research that indicates many people fail to see the larger meaning behind events in life. Some people find great meaning in life, others do not. That is unsurprising, but this is: some people are not bothered by the absence of meaning. For many people, it seems the phrase, "It is what it is" sums up their approach to existential philosophy. Why should Sisyphus not get discouraged and push the bolder up the hillside again? Because it is what it is, nothing less or more, and worthy of no further introspection or analysis.

Before diving deeper into the philosophical implications, lets first identify exactly what this research consists of. It was a survey complied by Tatjana Schnell, a research psychologist at the University of Innsbruck in Austria. She sampled 603 Germans using the SoMe scale, which is a way of determining two things. One, how much meaning they find in living. And two, how much importance they place on discovering such meaning. Her survey found that 35 percent answered that living is not very meaningful, and meaning is not all that important. She describes these folk as the "existentially indifferent."

Who is mostly likely to be existentially indifferent? At least for Germans, they are young, single, and childless. They are likely to have similar levels of mental health as those more existentially engaged, yet have considerably less self-knowledge, spirituality, explicit religiosity, and generativity- concern with people outside the self and family, especially for nurturing children. As Mr Wittwer writes, "An existentialist would say they are asleep."

So how does a person live while asleep, without pursing meaning? Through distractionary substitutes. Ms. Schnell says, “Surrogates for meaningful commitment abound: They range from material possessions to pleasure seeking, from busy-ness to sexuality.”

But what do I think about this? First, the list that Ms. Schnell provides can be more than surrogates; they can be components of a life full of important meaning. There is nothing contradictory about these views, but I think its worthy of stating. People who live meaningful lives still become sexual, still seek pleasure, and still become too busy to sometimes fully enjoy either. But for these folk, these things are bonuses instead of substitutes. Life is already meaningful because of factors outside these pursuits.

Ms. Schnell's survey also points to the value of having a marriage, kids, and committed relationships that require one to act in the service of others. Its in the self's interest to subsume to relationships beyond the self, relationships that endure over time. After all, those with higher levels of meaningfulness and finding importance in living a meaningful life expresses higher levels of self-knowledge, spirituality, and nourishing children with no direct genetic relationship.

Surely these are virtues, even in an age that considers itself too advanced and clever for virtue-based ethics. At the Delphi oracle, the ancient Athenians inscribed the misleading simple phrase, "know thyself." I believe this pursuit is lifelong and worthy, and a lack of expanding your self-knowledge is more like a death than a nap. Likewise, expanding and discovering one's spiritual self is a human act as universal as friendships, storytelling, remembering, and loving. Its also just as virtuous, because a spiritual person is a considered and aware person, a person less likely to conflate material success with virtuous wisdom.

But there are risks in attempting to determine too much meaning into the events: after all, we live in a universe that is orderly and chaotic, and sometimes chaos simply reigns. One might find much important meaning in having a husband and kids, only for a tragic and random event to snatch them away. I've learned that an important part of living is accepting the fact that living itself a gift, a gift that passes sooner or later for everyone, no matter how much they are loved and depended upon. As Outkast rapped, "You can plan a pretty picnic but you can't predict the weather."

If such weather happens, I think its wise to not read too much into the chaos that suddenly denied life a wellspring of meaning and virtue. Instead, I believe wisdom is sticking with the phrase, "it is what it is" and begin pushing your rock again. Placing too much meaning into irreversible tragedy paralyzes one from establishing new committed relationships that provide life with importance, meaning, and its virtues.

And should this tragedy happen to me, I hope to unearth the inner strength and fortitude to take my own advice. I strive to never ask or expect from others that which I do ask or expect from myself, including remarkable resiliency after chaos takes what I believed was certain.

Thankful For America

I took this weekend off from blogging. It was a great time to connect with family and friends, eat way too much food, and keep things simple.

There were many materialist highlights. I played Xbox Kinect for the first time, and its a blast. My sister kicked my ass in sprints. I'll get revenge soon- no one fucks with this cocksucker.

I stayed up all night Thursday night/Friday morning for my first Black Friday madness ever. It started off badly with a chaotic affair at Wal-Mart at midnight. I lost my boyfriend in the frenzy and imagined myself in a post-apocalyptic consumer wasteland, a brave new world wherein cheap DVDs and kid toys replaced food, water, and physical safety on Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Previously, I thought people were exaggerating the chaotic human stampede. I was wrong.

Things improved at Target's 4AM opening. The line snaked around the side of the store, and the weather was 16 degrees Fahrenheit, but people were on much more dignified behavior. There was a security guard going around telling people to not get aggressive or risk being kicked out of Target and forced to shop at Wal-Mart. "And you don't want to shop at Wal-Mart." I chuckled in agreement and tried to remember that hunching my shoulders adds no warmth.

The doors opened to cheers and we made our way through queue. Towards the front, I noticed several used takeout containers discarded along the sidewalk. Two employees guarded the entrance, allowing in about thirty people, taking a ten-second break, and then about thirty more. We were there for a Blue-Ray player, but the deal in most shopping carts was a 40-inch 1080p HD plasma screen television for $300. We secured the player and some cheap movies before waiting in line. It was quite a contrast to the clusterfuck in Wal-Mart. Lines were clearly identifiable, and employees stopped customers before directing them to an open checkout line.

We stopped at Best Buy for some more cheap movies, and the experience was pleasant enough, more like Target than Wal-Mart. While in line, I joked to my boyfriend that Wal-Mart is for people that find Target too classy. He agreed with the sentiment, but made the absurd claim that Wal-Mart's deals are sometimes worth it. I believe that saving 50 cents isn't worth the thousand tiny crushes to your soul and perhaps loosing an eyeball from a fellow patron's frantic elbow.

I topped things off with a McDonad's hashbrown on our way home for a brief nap- my boyfriend works at the jewelery department inside JcPenney's and was due into work at 2 that afternoon. He exceeded his sale's goals during his ten-hour shift, and his manager worked from 1AM until 8PM on black Friday. So while you're out shopping, be kind to your retail associates!

And if I had any foreign friends, I would totally take them out for Black Friday, Wal-Mart included. Its as American as cowboys, freedom fireworks, massive urban sprawl, and ever-new frontiers. I've heard the best way to see a foreign land is through the guidance of a local. For Midwestern Americana, there is nothing more local than being thrillingly concerned for your safety inside a consumer shopping box the size of a commercial jet hanger packed with people as hungry for deals as they were for over-stuffing themselves mere hours before.

With all sincerity, God bless America, especially the people of Wal-Mart. I'm thankful and proud of the land I'm from, and I love it. If you're reading this from another land, email me at and I'll be glad to show it off to you. Cheers from the Best Blog Online Since 2010!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Revolutionary Impacts Of A Simple Diagram

This article from the BBC testifies to the power of diagrams to convey information. It is written by Marcus du Sautoy, the Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University. His academic discipline is Mathematics, although could have a lucrative side gig as a writer. Here are some key quotes from the article:
Draw the right picture and you can literally transform the way we see the world. But a diagram is more than just a physical representation of what we see with our eyes.
Sometimes a diagram is the crucial step in making people believe in the impossible. 
One of the most powerful uses of diagrams though has been in visualising data. Given that we live in an age that generates huge reams of numerical information, finding ways to make sense of all these numbers is essential.
The article also highlights the importance of Florence Nightingale, the renowned nurse, made to diagrams- she was the inventor of the pie chart. Good stuff to know for trivia.

But in a non-trivial way, I wonder wonder why politicians don't use handy diagrams to illustrate their point. They could simply say, "Look at these charts from the Brookings Institution that shows K-12 education spending soaring while outcomes stagnate or worsen." And then they show the charts, and everyone stares at the colors and lines.

I feel the same way about blogging sometimes. I could write 500 words, or I could sum up the argument in a chart that takes about 10 seconds to fully process. Plus, charts provide a visual splash that a jungle of words lacks.

Runaway - The National

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Governing Leadership And Political Courage- They Are Happening

In a dream world, Presidents would engage the world through quiet, largely unnoticed efforts that accomplish a positive difference for individuals and empower these individuals to nudge their own societies and cultures in a classically liberal direction. In an ideal world, Presidents would take these measures when the benefits aren't obviously apparent while the political costs are. It would by dreamy and ideal, because it demonstrates two things many feel are missing from Washington, D.C.: effective governance and political courage.

As Marc Lynch of Foreign Policy notices, President Barack Obama is living the dream through his administration's efforts to improve relations with the Muslim world:
Officials from the NSC and the State Department and many other agencies have worked hard to put meat on the bones of the Cairo "New Beginning", often with small programs which don't get much attention but which cumulatively could touch the lives and shape new relationships with a large number of people. The "Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship" brought together a significant number of diverse entrepreneurs from around the world, with an eye towards building sustainable networks among a potentially influential sector of these societies. There have been new science envoys, educational exchanges, medical programs, and internet outreach efforts all designed to build new areas for engagement and long-term partnerships. This isn't showy stuff, and it isn't revolutionary. It's the traditional stuff of public diplomacy, and it often doesn't get the credit it deserves.

It's also a quiet success that the Obama administration (like, as I always emphasize) the later Bush administration, has consistently declared that America is not, and never will be, at war with Islam. It has maintained its commitment to Muslim outreach and engagement despite the barrage of criticism at home and abroad, and the seemingly meager results. It has done so from a position of much greater domestic political vulnerability than its predecessor, from the "Obama is a Muslim" canard to the cynical mainstreaming of radical anti-Islamic trends in the United States. He's rejected bad advice to go back on the ideological offensive or recommit to a "war of ideas" which would likely backfire and re-invigorate the dangerous narratives of the U.S. against Islam on which al-Qaeda so clearly depends. This consistent and earnest rhetoric deserves some credit, especially since it carries costs.
Improving relations with the Muslim world is a national security issue. The threat from Islamic extremists would be greatly reduced if Muslims started standing up against these perverts of their religion. Empowering Muslim people to pursue and live their dreams, to liberate their inner nerds and unleash their animal spirits, is a great step towards help Muslim people view radical, terrorist Islam as a vice-filled temptation to avoid and confront. It is their own house to put back into order and adapt for the times, not our own. But we can help by helping empower them to engage the modernity through the lens of opportunities, not through the false comfort of certain-seeming reactionary violence.

Cheers to President Obama to helping advance American interests and diluting the false Al-Qaeda narrative that the United States and its stooges are at war with all of Islam. Its a classic soft-power approach that emphasis diplomacy at the average citizen levels. Its too early to measure impacts or effectiveness, but the approach looks promising. Helping and empowering Muslims to take command and improve their lives carries political downsides, but President Obama has rightly noted that the upsides are worth the costs.

On a broader note, we should complain less about a lack of leadership from Washington D.C. and start paying more attention to when its happening. Greatness is not something lost that needs to be restored, its something that happens right here, right now. We should have confidence in our times and what we can accomplish in them, the world that our actions will create for us and for the people that will assume stewardship after we are gone.

"You Can't Rebuild A Country By Blowing It Up"

David Wood at Politics Daily highlights B-1 bomber's importance and effectiveness in Afghanistan. He illustrates its mission by describing a bombing run made by Weapons Systems Operator Capt. Erick "Sis'' Lord and Pilot Capt. David "Smoke'' Grasso:
Ten years ago, the ground commander bought the bomb -- if he said he wanted it dropped on a nearby enemy, he got it. The air crew's job was just delivery. But that's all changed -- the tactics, and the underlying strategy. "You can't rebuild a country by blowing it up,'' explains Grasso, who is after all a professional bomber pilot. "We don't want to go in and take out targets unless we have to. We could drop all the bombs we have and not necessarily win this war. '' Every effort is made to avoid having to drop a bomb -- including asking the ground commander if he can break contact with the enemy and go home. But sometimes there's no alternative.

"Hard Rock, 30 seconds."

There's no triumphant shout of "Bombs awaaaay!'' when Lord triggers the release and a 500-pound GBU-38 glides away from the jet. Instead:

"Hard Rock, Bone off hot, one GBU-38, impact 45 seconds."

And that's the longest 45 seconds there is, says Lord, having done all you can to ensure the bomb goes where it's supposed to, but still . . .

"Bone, good hit, building destroyed. Thanks for the help!"
The B-1 is an impressive and vital aircraft, but it requires over 47 man-hours of maintenance for every hour in flight. The Air Force plans to continue the B-1's role as a strategic bomber for another 30 years, and its planning on spending $1 billion to upgrade the aircraft. Here's hoping these upgrades include making the plane less maintenance-heavy. As the we look to balance the budget and pay down the debt, sacrificing a little performance for big savings in maintenance costs would be a prudent reform.

The article also mentions the importance of the B-1 in psychological warfare- they will often buzz hostiles with the B-1's earth-shaking engine noise. It was designed to drop thermonuclear bombs deep inside the Soviet Union, but now those powerful engines have found another role. Since bombs often injure and kill civilian by-standards, neutralizing the threat without resorting to bombs seems like a sensible and humane goal. The outcome isn't to kill the enemy, but to keep the civilian population safe, from oppressive thugs and bombs alike.

Its another great job by our military professionals. By comparison, my job as a blogger is trivial, only important because everything I commit my time and hands to build is important. There is something more powerful than an idea whose time has come- the willingness to voluntarily risk your life for something beyond your self, a self-sacrifice that gives others freedoms to do things like sit around and freely express their thoughts about this and that. This is a big and heartfelt thank you to that service, and something I am extremely thankful for.

OutKast - Ms. Jackson

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

This Is Real

Chino Hills, California

In Political Analysis, More Is Not Better

Ray C. Fair, a Yale economist and expert on the relationship between economics and politics, offers some economic forecasting and the implications for the 2012 election:
His model forecasts real annualized growth in gross domestic product of 3.69 percent for the first three quarters of 2012. A survey of leading economists by Blue Chip Economic Indicators shows an average forecast of 3.2 percent growth in real G.D.P. in 2012, while the Congressional Budget Office estimates 3.4 percent. Plug either of these estimates into his election algorithm and the result is the same: President Obama wins.
“The model certainly suggests that if the economy is good and improving as an election approaches, it’s very difficult to defeat an incumbent president,” he said.
So while the chattering talking heads endlessly fill up airtime and webspace with critiques of political messaging, tactics, and strategy, President Barack Obama's re-election is almost entirely dependent upon a rosy economy in the months leading up to November 2012. And this is true even if the Republicans run Newt Gingrich, Chris Christie, or Andrew Sullivan's beautiful nightmare: Sarah Palin.

The New York Times piece notices the assumption that economic growth will be higher than its languid current growth of 2%, that we will avoid a double-dip recession, and that the stock market will not experience a steep decline. Other variables include a new financial crisis, an oil shock, or a major war. Should any of these happen, his model is compromised even with 3%+ economic growth leading up to the election. These variables help Mr. Fair caution, “I don’t want to push this [the forecasting model] too hard."

The article quotes James Carville's famous line from the 1992 election, "It's the economy, stupid." The model has limitations, but it did predict a 2006 Democratic landslide back in 2006. Indeed, I would say about 95% of an incumbent President's re-election bid hinges upon the most recent economic memories in voters minds. So I would like to offer another bit of homespun advice to everyone who over-analyzes politics: Keep it simple, stupid.

STARTing To Smell Like Nonsense

Earlier this month, John Bolton and John Yoo wrote an anti-START piece for the New York Times. Fred Kaplan of Slate addresses their arguments one by one. Then he roars and soars:
Clearly, their article is nothing more than a call for indefinite delay and therefore defeat. They are not serious about amending the treaty or tightening some conditions. They just want to kill the thing; they want to deal Obama a defeat. Above all, they want to quash the budding détente that Obama has fostered between the United States and Russia, before it gets too deep.
The "reset" of U.S.-Russian relations since Obama took office is very real, and not just for reasons of "soft power" and bonhomie diplomacy. Medvedev has cooperated in the most hardball games of world politics. He's sent Russian troops to join a drug raid in Afghanistan. More dramatic still, he canceled Russia's impending sale of S-300 air-defense missiles to Iran—and returned the Iranians' money. Had that sale gone through (and it was set to do so until the "reset"), Iran would have been able to shoot down any U.S. or Israeli aircraft engaged in an attack on its nuclear facilities. Without at least the ability to launch an attack, the United States (and, with it, the United Nations, the European Union, and other international entities) would have no leverage over Iran's nuclear program. We have limited leverage as is, but if the S-300s had gone through, Iran may as well have built and deployed a small nuclear arsenal. More to the point, the Israelis would have drawn that conclusion, and they probably would have launched a pre-emptive attack on the Iranian sites before too many S-300s were in place. This might have unleashed a larger Middle Eastern war, worldwide terrorist attacks, astronomical oil prices, and other catastrophes.
More generally, Medvedev—who seems to be more moderate and Western-leaning than Prime Minister Vladimir Putin—has solidified his power and reputation, in good part, through his relationship with Obama and the benefits that Russia may gain as a result (for example, in trade, counterterrorism, and a relaxation in tensions). If Obama is seen as a weak president who cannot deliver on the deals he's negotiated, then Medvedev, too, will lose credibility, and Russia could turn in a different, more hostile direction. 
Treaties shouldn't be ratified for their own sake. But there is nothing harmful in this treaty. Nobody inside the Senate has any problems with the treaty itself. The Republican whip, Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, who has emerged as the crucial player (the GOP caucus will follow his lead on ratification, one way or the other), is using the treaty as a bargaining chip to prod Obama to spend more money on missile defense and "nuclear modernization" (i.e., maintaining the arsenal, including the replacement of aging ICBMs if necessary). Obama may have to go along with this to get the votes—though the question is whether Kyl will vote to ratify if he gets what he's asking for or whether he's just playing budget games. Neither the White House nor the Senate's Democratic leaders know the answer. 
Clearly, their article is nothing more than a call for indefinite delay and therefore defeat. They are not serious about amending the treaty or tightening some conditions. They just want to kill the thing; they want to deal Obama a defeat. Above all, they want to quash the budding détente that Obama has fostered between the United States and Russia, before it gets too deep.
It's not just relations with Russia: In a world where power has dispersed and fractured, a president who's perceived as weak, whose deals are seen as unreliable, is not good for the United States.
Partisan hacks like Bolton and Yoo scratch out the final two words and replace them with Barack Obama. For the current Republican Party, there is no national interest when Barack Obama is in power; rather, just the political interest of obstructing, delaying, and making him pay whenever they can. The Republican foreign party establishment wants President Obama defeated in 2012 so they can have someone in the White House sympathetic to their foreign policy notions.

These notions are based in two things- asserting unrestrained United States primacy and invading Iran. This is why Bolton and Yoo contest a President that makes Iran less of a threat without resorting to threats and force- it undermines their worldview that Iran is an irrational, aggressive threat that must be addressed by ASAP military action from the Israelis or Americans. The more that Russia plays along in advancing its own self-interest by containing Iran, the better President Obama looks and the more diminished their own view becomes.

People like Bolton and Yoo base their foreign policy vision in utopian hubris. In their worldview, there are two constraints on the more-is-always-better vision of United States power. One the lack of will to forcefully project it. The other, far more threatening, is a shewed foreign policy realist from the opposition party. Factors like an overextended military, an unsustainable budget deficit, and an American public drawn to domestic issues like a sluggish economy play no role. Anyone who asserts these factors is displaying a disloyal, unpatriotic, and defeatist attitude.

Much like the rest of the mainstay Republican Party, Bolton and Yoo are people detached from reality. But for mainstream Republican thinking, there is no such thing as objective, measurable reality, provable with logic and evidence. Rather, there is just information, and their side has a duty to assert this information early, often, loudly, and forcefully. The advancement of a reality entirely based in subjective thinking is what Bolton and Yoo were up to in their unintentional parody of a serious assertion of our national security interests. I realize the Times wants to maintain journalistic balance, but why attempt to balance reality with fantasy?

In the fantasy land of Bolton and Yoo, truth is merely something to believe in. If enough people agree and talk about something, it becomes truth. If enough people believe the earth is flat, its the satellites, the people who have visited outer space, and the horizon curve that are all wrong. Republicans clamor for a war on everything, including war on objective truths outside of the virtues of tax cuts, deregulation, and military adventures. Oh, and smearing anyone and everyone they can categorize as "different" from real Americans. I'm a gay man, and I almost forget about that one.

But returning to START, its a good treaty that would help secure Russia's nuclear arsenal, provide the United States with more than sufficient nuclear deterrence, and helps make the world a more secure and stable place. Ratify START, and make a deal with Senator Kyl to do so.

(A Nod To: Jonathan Bernstein)

Airport Security Is A Problem. Problem, Meet Solution.

Robert Poole proposes a risk-based approach to airport security. His plan consists of grouping airplane travelers into 3 different categories: 1) Trusted Travelers, who pass a background check and are issued a biometric ID card. They would bypass the security lines by showing a Transportation Security Agency worker their biometric card, although the agency would randomly screen a small portion of these travelers.

2) Ordinary travelers, who go through a metal detector and have their carry-ons scanned by a 2D machine. These airplane users could keep their shoes and jackets on, and they could carry liquids on board aircraft. A small percentage would be subjected to body scanners and pat downs.

3) High-risk travelers, "those about whom no information is known or who are flagged by the various Department of Homeland Security (DHS) intelligence lists as warranting “Selectee” status." They would always be subjected to body scans and pat downs.

On this note, I would support more funding for better intelligence and information systems to access that intelligence than I would for a system that treats young boys and caner survivors as potential security threats. I thought I lived in a country where everyone was innocent until proven guilty. I thought I lived under the protection of the Forth Amendment.

Instead, when I or anyone else travels via the airport, we are considered guilty until proven innocent. We should make the important distinction between the overwhelming majority of travelers with zero intention of committing airplane-based terrorism and the tiny percentage who do. For that to happen, better intelligence systems are far more desirable than treating everyone like a terrorist. And so does a proposal along the lines of what Mr. Poole advances.

LCD Soundsystem - Us Vs Them

Unreal Inflation, Surreal Worldview

The Daily Money's Carla Fried getting real about fears of food inflation:
But let’s remember to keep this all in perspective. Despite the sticker shock when paying for this year’s turkey, food has never been less expensive. According to the USDA, the percentage of household disposable income spent on food has fallen from 10.2 percent in 1999 to 9.5 percent at year-end 2009. During the 1970s recession and the early ‘80s recession, by contrast, food gobbled up about 13 percent of our disposable income. And as MoneyWatch’s Sarah Lorge Butler recently discovered, it’s still possible to feed a family of four for about $10 a day. So maybe things aren’t quite so bad after all.
Food prices have gone up, partially due to the temporary cause of lower-than expected crop yields and from the permanent-seeming cause of growth in developing economies. Lower supply + higher demand = increasing prices. Media personalities like Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin have become transfixed on food inflation. Apparently, in their alternative reality, fears of inflation should take precedence over trying to stimulate demand through low interest rates and quantitative easing. But yet when it comes to helping stimulate demand by extending the Bush tax cuts, conservatives are either supportive or silent. Huh?

I take it as more evidence that conservatives are incoherent on policy and busy spinning an alternative reality for a simple reason: they want to defeat President Obama. Viewed from that lens, abdicating responsible governing or addressing reality becomes easy to understand.

Bonus trivia: Bill Clinton has gone (mostly) vegan. And he looks great these days. And now I'm coming across as a knee-jerk liberal. Time restore my street cred and link approvingly to Red State.

My Reaction to Simpson-Bowles II

In an earlier post, I promised an update on thoughts about Simpson-Bowles. Here it is, better late than never.

Broadly, I still support my earlier assessment that the proposal is full of interesting and compelling ideas to reduce the deficit and balance the budget. To that, I would add that after 2020, it calls for setting a target for total federal health care expenditures to keep health care cost increases to 1% of GDP. Costs would be reviewed every 2 years, although the chairman's report neglects to specify by what authority.

So I haven't provided an update because there's not much to update. In other deficit news, the Bipartisan Policy Center has recently released its own recommendations for reducing the deficit. Although its been applauded by various sources, including venerable sources like the New York Times and Washington Post, the odds of any meaningful deficit-reducing deal seem unlikely enough even from the President's appointed commission, let alone a well-designed one from policy think tank.

Indeed, the Republicans will make meaningless gestures to reduce the deficit. And if the Democrats become serious about reducing the deficit, Republicans will use their majority in the House to ensure no meaningful action is undertaken while using their media outlets to smear the proposals and the people advocating them. President Barack Obama and the Democrats would be wise to pursue a strategy of quiet legislative deal-making that passes a large number of incrementally helpful legislation that help the government accomplish more with less. Do that, and district the partisan media with big-seeming, going-nowhere ideas that give the talking heads like myself a bone to chew on. The days of big, splashy bills like the Affordable Care Act and the American Recovery Act are over, and its best to work within that reality and do what you can to help the recovery in the next few years and reduce the deficit over the next decade.

This is why bloggers going all wonkish on big-ticket deficit-reduction plans are probably dancing with themselves. The best they could hope for is for their arguments to be read and embraced by a legislator or a staffer and have a small part of what they wrote packaged into limited-scope legislation. Although if that ever happened to me, I would dance in the hallway in my underwear. My idea has become law! My idea has become law! Ah, the passions of blogging.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Its Abstract Until It Becomes Real

Earlier today, I posted a link from Drudge showing a shirtless boy being patted down by security agents. Since, I've learned about another pat down that left a cancer survivor covered in his own urine. His cancer treatment requires him to wear a urine pouch, and the pat down resulted in the pouch breaking, spilling his own urine all over him. Two thoughts: Yuck! Outrageous! The traveler, a 61 year-old man from Michigan, was "embarrassed to death" over the affair.

Both incidents are offensive, and they directly impact people's moral sensibilities in way that, unfortunately, things like state-sponsored torture programs fail. The difference is that large numbers of Americans experience airport security first-hand, while things like water boarding remain an abstraction for many. Over at the American Prospect, Adam Sewer notices the differences about civil liberties encroachments when they happen to "us" instead of "them":
The amount of freedom Americans have handed over to their government in the years since the 9/11 attacks is difficult to convey. We've simply accepted the idea of the government secretly listening in on our phone calls and demanding private records from companies without warrants. Many shiver at the notion of trying suspected terrorists in civilian courts, and even at the idea of granting the accused legal representation. The last president of the United States brags openly about ordering people to be tortured, and the current one asserts the authority to kill American citizens he believes to be terrorists overseas.
But most of these measures are either invisible enough to put out of mind or occur outside of what most Americans can imagine happening to them. As long as it's just Muslims being tortured and foreigners being detained indefinitely, the price we pay to feel secure seems all too abstract. The TSA's new passenger-screening measures just happen to fall on the political and economic elites who can make their complaints heard. It's not happening to those scary Arabs anymore. It's happening to "us."
I'm astounded that folks who protested over the impression that President Barack Obama was implementing a radical agenda to turn freedom-loving America into an oppressive socialist state were nowhere to be found when real violations of civil liberties started under the President George W. Bush's administration. I'm likewise amazed by the lack of liberal protesting against President Obama for largely continuing the policies against terror suspects that President Bush had in place when he left office.

There is a simplicity in the concept of Team Blue and Team Red. Vote for the Democrats if you want more government and higher taxes, vote for the Republicans if you want more government with lower taxes. But a consequence of having political teams is that their fans become willfully blind when they error and sin, rather like when football fans in the stadium boo the referees for making an accurate penalty call against the home team that the team is obviously guilty of committing. It simply feels right to boo when everyone around you is, even when you know everyone is plainly wrong. The title "Moral Man and Immoral Society" is springing into my head about now.

In this case, the problem is when the penalty happens against Team America instead of Team Other. When it happened to "them", civil liberty advocates like Glenn Greenwald, the ACLU, and Andrew Sullivan became impassioned while the American public became indifferent. I guess we figured the benefits were worth the costs, costs not directly experienced by people we knew. Out of sight, out of mind. But now that they are in plain sight, civil liberty violations a million times less soul crushing then being indefinitely jailed in a torture chamber without recourse to a free and fair trial become the fodder of impassioned bloggers like yours truly.

I'm guilty of being human, but I strive to stay self-aware. I figure this trait makes me more human, more trust worthy, and more compelling. Keep coming back for the Best Blog On The Internet. And Keep It Real.

The Daily Show: The Hits Keep Coming

In this episode of the Daily Show, Jon Stewart serves up a brilliant take-down of Glenn Beck's recent tirades on George Soros. Beck as a Soros-funded Trojan Horse purposefully trying to discredit Fox News? Awesome.

Stewart follows up with this insightful and too brief interview with Philip K. Howard, a lawyer who believes in making government less bureaucratic and more efficient and functional. Philip makes the argument that we make government fail by denying its workers the ability to use their own judgment in favor of un-reflectively relying on centrally-planned operating procedures. Jon asks an important question: have we become so good at focusing on politics that we've lost sight of governing? Philip argues we have, and they both sensibly agree that we need to have more focus and debate on improving governing.

I've long felt like the Republicans have scant interest in making government work because it negates their argument that the government is inherently, irredeemably more inefficient and wasteful than the private sector. Meanwhile, Democrats have a simple reason to be indifferent to productivity improvements in governance- the more workers employed by the government, the more people who will probably vote Democratic. There are other important factors in play, but the end result is a zero-sum and entirely rhetorical debate between making government larger or smaller. And its rhetorical because the federal government continues to expand no matter the party in power. Meanwhile, few people of influence talks about the vital question of how to make government smarter.

As we look to decrease the deficit and lower the debt, making government smarter and its workers more empowered and productive will carry increasing importance. Philip and Jon rightly notice the importance of sound government in a globalized world where people are mostly detached from the  making the stuff we use and the food we eat. Philip founded and serves as Chairman of Common Good, an advocacy group seeking to restore the notions of common sense to governing. Check out its website and consider getting involved to the worthy cause.

While I'm somewhat skeptical of common sense as being too subjective to base a political movement upon- my common sense proposal to eliminate corporate taxes could be viewed as radical and baseless by someone else- how best to improve governing is an important debate to have. Kudos to Jon for helping advance this conversation.

Btw, what did I think of the rally? Its highlights were the personalities and signs of the crowd, the huge turnout, and my generation coming out of the political closet. The stage show itself? It was okay, decently entertaining. It succeeded in delivering the message, sparking much discussion, and cementing the importance of Jon and Stephen Colbert for these times.

America: Increasing Changes, Increasingly Divided

The Economist offers an insightful analysis of changing demographics in America and the politics impacts of these changes. You're asking: what are the changing demographics? Lets start with age. The sunbelt states are growing younger while the mid-western and northern states become older. Compared with other developed countries, America has a favorable demographic forecast of a growing youth population.

This youth movement is largely fueled by immigration, especially from Hispanics. The article observes that Hispanics compose 21% of people 25 years old and younger. Meanwhile, folks 65 and older were only 7% Hispanic and 80% white. Four surprising states experienced surges in their Hispanic populations: South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Alabama. This rise creates tensions, most notably in Arizona's anti-immigration law that prompted a lawsuit from the federal government.

In addition to becoming more Hispanic and staying relatively youthful, America is becoming better educated. 28% of people 25 years and older had at least bachelor's degrees in 2009, a 4% increase since the year 2000. Workers with bachelor's degrees or better are weathering the economic slowdown much better than those without- the hardest-hit areas are states dependent on low-skill industries. These states include Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio. Meanwhile, out of the 20 best-educated metropolitan areas, only 4 saw their unemployment levels increase higher than the national average.

The article notices that there is an increasing divergence between better and lower educated urban centers. The Brookings Institution ranks the top 100 cities according to educational attainment. In 1990, the gap between the best and least educated cities was 26 points. In 2009, that figure was 34 points.

The result of all these demographic trends is an increasing polarization in national politics. According to sociologist Bill Bishop, 26% of voters in 1976 lived in counties where one party won by 20 points or more. In 2008, 48% of voters lived in these counties. Keith Poole, a political scientist at the University of California, San Diego, argues that the upcoming 112th Congress will be the most divided since the Civil War.

Okay, so that was my recap of the interesting and data-packed article. What do I think? For starters, I was surprised to learn that only 28% of all Americans over the age of 25 have a bachelor's degree or higher. If I were to guess before learning this, my figure would have been about 40%.

The article did a nice job of addressing many demographic trends and providing rich data in doing so. Yet some important factors went unaddressed. These facts include demographic trends of increasing poverty, increasing wealth inequality, and that the top 1% earn an ever-greater share of GDP growth. People with college degrees are doing okay, people without are struggling, and people in the top 1% and higher are making tons of money. If ethnicity and education carry political impacts, so should economic realities.

Its also noteworthy that American cities are increasingly divided between populations of highly and lesser educated people. There will be a growing trend of cities rich in human capital and cities rather depraved of such assets. Until there are effective ways for less skilled laborers to compete in a globalized, service-based economy, the spread between these cities will increase. This will create further polarization between places eager to capitalize on the opportunities of this new economic reality. Meanwhile, other towns that react against these changes and act in yearning for the simpler glory days of yesteryear.

I think Mr. Poole is right about the political impacts of the most recent election- the 112th Congress will be very polarized and hard-pressed to pass a yearly federal budget, let alone accomplish anything noteworthy. The Senate's struggle to ratify something as politically low-impact and highly important to national security like the START treaty is a harbinger of things to come. It will take leadership and pragmatism to help citizens weather the economic slowdown while presenting a longer-term plan to balance the budget, or even create a surplus. It seems leadership from Congress will be especially apparent in the next two years. This will be President Barack Obama's opportunity to shine, and he will make the most of it.

On a less political, more broadly human nature angle, people do have limits over how much change they can stomach before they react in dramatic and unexpected ways. The penchant for adapting to changes depends largely upon growing economies and growing incomes. When people of all ages, races, incomes, and educations experience a prosperous present and optimistic future, they can handle quite a bit of new demographic trends and recently arrived immigrants. When present opportunities are scare and the future uncertain, people become not so able to flexibly adapt and welcome differences. The longer unemployment remains high and future sources of growth remain uncertain, the greater the divisions within national politics will become.

TSA Pats Down Shirtless Boy

What happened to the publisher after he recorded it:
My gate was a long way off, but about 15 minutes after arriving 2 TSA agents came and sat 15 feet or so away from me. I stood up and moved so that they were in front of me and then took a picture. A 3rd and then a 4th agent came and sat down with the others. They would occasionally glance at me and talk on their walkie-talkies. I don't know why they were there or if it was a huge coincidence but they stayed for 30-45 minutes and left just before I boarded the plan. Interesting to say the least, intimidating? Maybe a little...
(The Drudge Report)

Friday, November 19, 2010


Or not. Andrew Sullivan what Republican stonewalling of START illuminates about the GOP:
The only truly coherent principle behind the current GOP is not a strong defense or a balanced budget or reduced spending. It is simply making Barack Obama a one-term president. Compared with that, what's so important about START?

Swampland reports that negotiations for passing START through the Senate are ongoing. The Senate must ratify all international treaties. Daniel Larison reports that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs describes the treaty as "essential."

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Kylie Minogue - Better Than Today

Sarah Palin Says She'll Beat Obama, Has Record High Unfavorables, And Got Beat In Alaska

In an upcoming ABC interview with Sarah Palin, Barbara Walters asks Governor Palin if she could beat President Barack Obama. Palin responds, "I think so."

Its just like when I call La Sensual Political The Best Blog In The World. Its hyperbolic, headline-seeking, and ambitiously aimed. Yet Palin faces major hurdles. First, she needs to win the Republican nomination, and that's far from certain. The White House is publicly saying that Mike Huckabee will be their opponent, and that's a solid bet. Do not underestimate Mitt Romney, either. He's been practicing politics for a long time. Ron Paul will compromise Palin's Tea Party support. And keep a lookout for a Chris Christie. He's the Rex Ryan of politics.

Meanwhile, a recent Gallup poll shows that the more Americans are exposed to Sarah Palin, the greater her unfavorable rating:

And despite the obstacles to winning the Republican nomination, she does have a high favorable rating. I take that as evidence that Republicans have lost their minds. And the majority of Independent voters, where the election is won or lost, view Palin unfavorably at a rate of 65%. Ouch.

More bad news for Palin- The Associated Press declares that Lisa Murkowski beat Palin-picked Joe Miller for Alaskan senator. Murkowski, who was a write-in candidate, declares her apparent win as a "miracle." And it was- she is the first write-in senator since 1954. Miller has yet to concede and is trying to have a court review the status of thousands of write-in ballots. Miller would still be behind even if he won every challenge.

The win for Murkowski is an embarrassment for Palin, who personally selected Miller. Miller beat Murkowski in the Republican primary, which compelled her to run as a write-in candidate.