Politics: It’s the Journey, not the Destination

It’s been a long time since I discussed politics here. I occasionally get into politics over on Twitter, but rarely do I write about it. I don’t consider myself a political wonk so I leave the blogging to the wonks. However, I am not exactly a political outsider either. With years under my belt in the political epicenter of the country – the Greater Washington, D.C. Region – I’m not exactly naive about the political gamesmanship that happens every day.

Now, living in Austin, Texas – the state capital, and center of political activity in the great State of Texas – it’s not like I’m unaware of the way things work on a state level either (though admittedly, I know far less about Texas politics than I do about Maryland or National politics). However, living and traveling outside of the Beltway bubble has been enlightening in how the rest of the country sees the political process.

More or less, outside the beltway, the vast majority of laypeople see politics as something that is offensive, or at minimum, charged with rhetoric, hate and something that is to be shunned in casual social scenarios. Things are so personal to the electorate that, right or left, the objective of governing is lost. The right sees the left as a bloc of people intent on taking away personal liberties, led by a man so vilified for ideas that are less written in stone, and more written in perception based on questionable, if not indiscriminately inaccurate, data.

The left is not much better. The left sees the right as a segment of the country who wants to simply obstruct every bit of progress possible, while returning the country to a racist, misogynist, hateful past.

Both of these perceptions, while steeped in some level of truth, are shams. Both highlight tendencies that reflect deeper conditions among both groups. But here’s the funny part… Both views are curated by both parties inside the beltway.

Whyever would anyone want to perpetrate these despicable ideas???

It’s funny how politics works. Politics is based entirely on manipulation and both parties (the establishment, not the people holding a voter registration card in South Dakota) are masters of it. Politics exists for the sake of power and both parties know that. Both parties also know they need each other to retain power. Both parties agree and walk in unison on 80% of issues. It’s the 20% that is a grand, choreographed display of artistic fortitude. It’s the 20% that allows the GOP to fire up their base of voters to keep keep them (or re-take) power. It’s the 20% that carries the Democrats to a 2006 and 2008 landslide based on anti-Bush sympathy and promises of Hope and Change. It’s the 20% that turns the Tea Party into a movement to be reckoned with in 2010.

Both parties know this and both parties work in lock-step to ensure this epic drama unfolds as it’s supposed to. To do so ensure that Democrats and Republicans lock-in the two party system, that benefits both of them in terms of money and power, for decades to come. To fail to do so (as in, an apathetic American public who isn’t angered by the Thème de la Jour), reveals cracks in the armor, possible loss of campaign contributions, corporate lobbying dollars, and power.

Having lived inside the Beltway, Hill staffers from both sides of the aisle put on their contorted political dance during the day, on television, radio programs, interviews and other media avenues, just to go to happy hour with their colleagues from across the aisle after hours. They are just like us in their every day life (with maybe more hectic schedules). They watch sports, go shopping, eat at restaurants, enjoy craft beers and go through their lives like all of us. The difference is, when they are at work, they are creating an elaborate illusion for the rest of the country.

The illusion is one of hatred, angst, bitter rivalries and political gamesmanship. The point: Keep the proletaria right so bent out of shape about Obama (or whoever) policies and the grassroots left looking at disgust at Republicans using parliamentary games that block Democratic initiatives.

It’s all a game.

Which brings me to the point I took a long time getting to: the GOP primaries.

Last night, I watched as Twitter exploded with chatter about Arizona and Michigan results where Mitt Romney won handily and barely, respectively. People scoffed at Santorum’s pro-life, anti-abortion stance while (inaccurately) putting out misinformation like, “If Santorum gets elected president, he’s going to take away your condoms”. Likewise, equally vilifying statements were made about Mitt Romney.

Now, I am not a partisan. I am unaffiliated with either party and I’m certainly not casting any support to the GOP candidate or to President Obama. I just don’t know who I’ll vote for in November. But I’ll tell you that watching the ongoing angst over the GOP Presidential hopefuls is both funny and tragic. It’s funny because… well, the GOP will get a 40% base no matter who gets the nomination and Obama will get his 40% base no matter who gets the nomination. It’s the 20% in the middle that will decide the race. You can get pissed off about Obama  but the historical data on election trends speaks for itself. Likewise, you can throw statements around about Romney and Santorum, but there’s no reason to believe that the election results in November will break any other way than they always have.

It’s tragic because I realize so few people sit back and enjoy the process. They lose the process through the politics. The process – the primaries as well as the other aspects of Washington work – is a beautiful work of art that has been around for centuries. The system is to be cherished. The politics not so much.

The primaries are not about elections. They aren’t even about politics. They are a mechanism of a party to determine who is going to be on the ticket for the general election (which is about politics). The rules for primaries are different between parties. The outcomes are irrelevant, except for the party internal mechanisms.

While the media does 24 hour coverage of these cycles (did ya hear Super Tuesday is coming up?!), the electorate gets more worked up into a fevered frenzy. It’s sort of like the snake charmer and the cobra where we the people are the cobra and the media and the beltway operation is the snake charmer.

So enjoy this process. Enjoy our system of government that, while not perfect, is still quite amazing. Everything that is old is new again. Everything new is fading away. It’s made up of cycles and we are just players in a grand dance.

The Top 50 Stories Since the Invasion of Iraq

War is over, if you want it. ~John Lennon

This is a time of year, as we draw 2011 to a close and embark on 2012, to reminisce about the events of the last year. It’s a tradition followed by journalists, bloggers, and opinionistas alike. But since today marks the day where the War in Iraq is officially drawn to a close, I thought I’d share some of the top stories of the past nearly 8 years. The world has changed drastically. For those who served, bled and maybe died… we salute you.

50. Saddaam Hussein Captured (December 13, 2003)

A mere 9 months after the U.S. Invasion began, Sadaam Hussein is captured by Special Forces and turned over to the interim Iraqi Government. He was tried and convicted for crimes against humanity and was later executed by hanging.

49. NASA Mars Rover Confirms Water (March 2, 2004)

NASA Rover Opportunity confirms that the area where she landed on the surface of Mars once was covered in water. The discovery was made when Opportunity confirmed the presence of gypsum, a compound formed when calcium water encounters sulfates.

48. Massachusetts Gay Marriage (May 17, 2004)

Massachusetts becomes the first state in the United States to formally legalize gay marriage. This came about after a Massachusetts Supreme Court decision deemed it unconstitutional to limit marriage to heterosexual couples. Governor Mitt Romney ordered State agencies and government to issue marriage licenses in compliance with the Supreme Court ruling. Efforts continue to formally amend the Massachusetts Constitution.

47. Freedom Tower Groundbreaking (July 4, 2004)

After several years of planning and politics, ground is broke for the building of the new Freedom Tower at Ground Zero in lower Manhattan. When complete, the tower will stand 105 stories and cost over $3.1B. It is estimated to open in 2013.

46. Boston Red Sox win Game 4 of the ALCS (Oct 17, 2004)

Red Sox faithful are given a spark of hope when, after being down to the New York Yankees 3 games to none in a best-of-seven series, came from behind in the 9th inning to avoid elimination in Game 4. The game proved to be pivotal as the Red Sox went on to win the ALCS 4-3 taking the Yankees to Game 7 and then sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals for their first World Series win since 1918.

45. South Asian Tsunami (Dec 26, 2004)

Tragedy struck on Boxing Day as a powerful sub-oceanic earthquake triggers a tsunami that would affect the entire Indian Ocean rim. Most devastating were the effects in Sri Lanka and Indonesia where confirmed deaths approached 170k.

44. Scott Peterson Sentenced to Death (March 16, 2005)

Scott Peterson is convicted of the capital crime of murdering his wife, Laci Peterson, and their unborn child. Laci was 8 months pregnant and had gone missing. While Scott was a “person of interest”, it wasn’t until the remains of Laci and their child were discovered, that Scott was arrested and ultimately convicted. He was sentenced to death by lethal injection and remains on death row in San Quentin Prison.

43. Pope John Paul II Dies (April 2, 2005)

The Catholic Church and the world go into mourning at the passing of 84 year old Pope John Paul II. Born Karol Jósef Wojtyla to Polish parents, the Pope was renowned for his progressive world views and is widely credited with helping to bring about the end of communism in Poland. He served for 26 years.

42. Deep Throat Revealed (May 31, 2005)

Since 1972, the identity of the notorious Watergate informer was speculated on but never really known except to Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the Washington Post reporters who legendarily covered the scandal. On May 31, 2005, Mark Felt, then the number two guy at the CIA, revealed himself as Deep Throat. Bob Woodward, when reached for confirmation, acknowledged the revelation to be true bringing to an end one of the most intriguing conspiracy stories of recent history.

41. Steve Jobs Gives His Stanford Commencement Address (June 12, 2005)

Since the death of Steve Jobs a few months ago, his famous “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish” commencement address at Stanford University has seen a resurgence. In this 15 minute address, Jobs relates three anecdotes from his life and lessons learned from them. It would go on to become a window into the kind of man Jobs was and continues to serve as inspiration.

40. Lance Armstrong Wins His 7th Tour de France (July 24, 2005)

Lance Armstrong, the six-time Tour de France winner, notches his 7th win, an unprecedented feat. Armstrongs story in inspiring considering his battle with (and his defeat of) testicular cancer.

39. Hurricane Katrina (August 29, 2005)

A devastating time in American history, Katrina became the biggest natural disaster ever to occur in the United States. The initial brunt of the storm wreaked havoc on the Mississippi and Alabama coastline, but the whiplash effect that occurs as a storm passes by proved to be as devastating. As the storm passed over Mississippi, the back winds pushed water from Lake Pontchatrain on the north-side of New Orleans over and through levees setup to hold the water back from the sub-sea level city. The media coverage was vast. The horrors and atrocities deplorable. And the political response wreaked of incompetence.

38. The Sago Mine rescue (January 5, 2006)

A mining explosion deep in the tunnels of the Sago Mine in West Virginia trapped 13 miners underground for over 2 days. Ultimately, only one survived. This came after the mine released misinformation that led news outlets to report the exact opposite – that one miner was found dead and 12 rescued.

37. Apple sells it’s 1B Song via the iTunes Store (February 22, 2006)

Announced to great hype and with great marketing prowess, Apple sold it’s 1 billionth song via the iTunes Store continuing to mark the iPod as one of the greatest market-transforming technologies ever built by the Cupertino, California company.

36. The Enron Trial Jury Conviction (May 25, 2006)

After a much publicized “media trial”, a jury convicts former Enron CEO Kenneth Lay and COO Jeffrey Skilling. Skilling was convicted on 19 counts of securities fraud and wire fraud. Lay was convicted on 6 counts. Lay died before sentencing and, accordingly, his conviction was vacated. Skilling is currently serving a 24 year sentence.

35. Twitter launched to the public (July 15, 2006)

Formerly known as Twittr and, really, at the time unknown to the public, Jack Dorsey launches a prototype of the short form status message service based on text messaging. With funding and support by Odeo’s Evan Williams and Biz Stone, Twitter quickly becomes the horse they all rode in on. Twitter has become one of the most necessary and integrated forms of online communication and has contributed to social, economic, political and mundane events around the world.

34. Crocodile Hunter Steve Erwin Killed By a Stingray (September 4, 2006)

Beloved crazy man, Steve Erwin, is killed by a stingray who stung him through his chest to his heart while filming a stunt. He was known for putting himself in dangerous situations with unpredictable wildlife.

33. The Louisiana Superdome Re-opens After Katrina (September 25, 2006)

An emotional New Orleans celebrates the re-opening of the Superdome, the location of shelter and horrendous criminal actions following Hurricane Katrina. The Dome was re-opened with a New Orleans Saints-Atlanta Falcons Monday Night Football game. The halftime show featured U2 and Green Day. The Saints won an emotional game 23-3.

32. Facebook Opens It’s Walls to the Public (September 26, 2006)

Facebook before September 26, 2006, was only available to college students or select corporations that were registered with Facebook. That changed when the doors were opened for everyone. This was the first step for Facebook to dominate the Myspace-Facebook war.

31. North Korea Tests a Nuke (October 9, 2006)

North Korea gives a 6-day warning of an impending nuclear test, the first time that any country has ever done that. China is alerted 20 minutes ahead of the test and they promptly sent an emergency dispatch to Washington. North Korea explodes a small-time nuclear bomb under a mountain near the Chinese border. The test garnered international criticism and put troops in South Korea and Japan on high alert.

30. The Democratic Landslide of 2006 (November 7, 2006)

In an election widely scene as a referendum on President George W. Bush, Democrats won the day in a large and sweeping manner. Nationally, the Democrats took control of both the House and the Senate. In the Senate, the Democrats picked up 7 seats for a 51-49 majority. In the House, they commanded a 233-202 majority. They also took 6 Governorships from the GOP giving them a 28-22 majority there. In statewide elections, similar results were reflected as the national electorate was widely seen as rebuffing the Bush Administration.

29. The iPhone Launch (June 29, 2007)

To much pomp, circumstance and expectation, people lined up outside of Apple, AT&T and other partner carrier stores around the world to get their hands on the iPhone, a first of its kind product. To that date, no one had effectively released and mass-marketed a touch screen convergence device such as what Apple promised. People camped out for days to be the first to buy the phone with a price-tag of $600.

28. Public Vote for a Barry Bonds Asterisk on #756 (September 26, 2007)

Mark Ecko makes a controversial purchase of the homerun ball that was Barry Bonds 756th and record-setting homerun. Due to the steroids controversy, sports fans debated ad nauseum about whether the hall of fame ball (and player) should have an asterisk (the proverbial, “oh by the way this is controversial” indication).

Ecko put a website up asking the public to vote on whether his purchased ball, which he intended to donate to the Baseball Hall of Fame, should be marked with an asterisk prior to donation. The public thought it should, and so it does.

27. The Mitchell Report (December 13, 2007)

Former Senator George Mitchell releases his controversial report from the steroid investigation committee he chaired on behalf of Major League Baseball. The report blamed a culture of performance-enhancing drugs on both players and management and implicated a menagerie of current and former players, including Andy Pettite, Miguel Tejada and Jason Giambi, in substance abuse problems.

26. Michael Phelps Wins 8 Gold Medals (August 17, 2008)

Baltimore-born swimming superstar, Michael Phelps, dominates mens swimming at the Beijing Olympics with a record 8 gold medals. He previously won 6 golds and 2 silvers in Athens.

25. Sarah Palin Makes Her National Debut (August 29, 2008)

In what may go down in history as one of politics biggest “oops” moment, GOP Presidential Candidate John McCain, wanting to make a statement with a woman VP candidate, names Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. The move proved to be disastrous as Palin was not prepared for the national spotlight. After the Campaign ended, controversy continued to swirl around her, her odd resignation as Governor and her personal and home life.

24. Market Crash of 2008 (October 2, 2008)

The Global Recession, by most accounts, began in late 2006 or early 2007, but it became acute and pronounced on October 2, 2008 when the Dow Jones fell 3.22% (~348 points). It would continue to fall for the rest of the week losing 22% of it’s value in 4 days. The market was exacerbated by the failure of Bear Stearns, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae and would ultimately lead to government bailouts or facilitated mergers of some of the worlds largest lending institituions under the mantra, “Too big to fail.”

23. Too Big to Fail – Bush Bailouts (October 3, 2008)

Under the Bush administration, with tremendous economic pressure and fatal outlooks, a $700B emergency bailout fund was established by Congress to assist in the closure, restructuring, merger and re-capitalization of major banks and institutions like Bank of America, Washington Mutual, Wachovia, Wells Fargo, AIG and more. It became one of the most controversial economic storylines of recent times and was extended by the incoming Obama Administration.

22. Obama Landslide (November 4, 2008)

With celebrations in Washington, DC and major cities around the United States and world, Obama is elected as the 44th President of the United States marking the end of a terrible Bush Administration and marking the first time a black man was elected to the most powerful Office in the world. Impromptu celebrations were held in front of the White House and in the streets around the world.

21. California Adopts Proposition 8 (November 4, 2008)

Stop the Hate
Photo by Chriki on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.

In what has been viewed by equal rights organizations around the country as a severe regression, one of the most progressive states in the nation adopts Proposition 8, a statewide ballot initiative that would prohibit gay marriage in California. It also became a hot button issue for critics of special interest influence in politics as the ballot initiative was largely funded by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints – the Mormons – who executed a well-funded grass-roots effort to pass the proposition.

20. Obama is Inaugurated (January 20, 2009)

On a frigid day in January, 1.8M people descended on the National Mall to witness the Inauguration of America’s first African-American president. Parties included a concert the day before at the Lincoln Memorial where rapper Jay-Z sang “I’ve Got 99 Problems but a Bush ain’t one” and the ceremonial Marine One whisking away of the outgoing president was greeted by millions chanting, “Nah nah nah nah. Nah nah nah nah. Hey hey hey. Goodbye”.

19. The Birth of the Tea Party (April 15, 2009)

Around the country, on tax day in 2009, hundreds of thousands of Americans gathered to protest heavy taxation by the government. What began as an anti-tax movement, quickly turned into one of the most influential – and arguably nutty – political fraction groups in the history of the United States. In 2010, the Tea Party successfully elected pro-Tea Party Congressmen in the GOP takeover of the House of Representatives.

18. H1N1 (June 1, 2009)

The Swine flu became a hot button issue of concern for many fearing a pandemic – and a source of ridicule for Halloween goers later in the year who dressed up as the H1N1 virus. The swine flue was a strain of the common flu that was potentially fatal and caused deaths nationwide. The CDC, along with other sister agencies in other countries and the World Health Organization, ran heavy public education campaigns to reduce the risk of pandemic.

17. Michael Jackson Dies (June 25, 2009)

The world mourned the loss of Michael Jackson who died of an overdose mis-administered by his personal doctor. His death was not believed to be suicide, but was the result of negligence. Days later at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, a funeral was held with touching eulogies from his brother and father, among others.

16. Steve McNair Murdered by His Mistress (July 4, 2009)

NFL Quarterback Steve McNair, who played for both the Tennessee Titans and the Baltimore Ravens, was killed by his 22 year old mistress in Nashville. Rumors of jealousy and rage were circled as particular motives.

15. Wikileaks Bursts on the Scene with Cablegate (February 18, 2010)

The controversial grassroots organization founded by Aussie vigilante Julian Assange, Wikileaks, makes huge political waves by releasing State Department cables to select media organizations. Though redacted to protect the identities of spies, informants and individual workers, the cables represent damning internal and international diplomatic decision making and communications.

14. Health Care Reform Act (March 21, 2010)

After over a year of debate, arguing, politicking, and blockage, the House and Senate finally agree to a compromise Health Care Reform Bill that has become President Obama’s signature legislation. Parts of the bill are under judicial review.

13. Icelandic Volcano Grounds Europe (April 14, 2010)

Mount Eyjafjallajökull erupts in Iceland spreading volcanic ash across the UK, Europe and the trans-atlantic flight corridors. Flights are grounded for days and passengers stranded. Some passengers reported trying to drive across Europe to other countries, like Spain, to get to an airport with outgoing flights – like Barcelona – but with no success. It became a massive economic problem.

12. The BP Oil Spill (April 20, 2010)

An explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig operated by BP caused the rig to collapse and snap the pipe dug into the earths crust. The result was 3 months of oil continually flowing into the Gulf of Mexico. Multiple solutions were attempted to seal the well but nothing was successul until September. Cleanup continues to this day.

11. Reggie Bush Gives His Heisman Trophy Back (September 15, 2010)

New Orleans Saints Running Back Reggie Bush, who won the 2005 Heisman Trophy while at USC, gave back his Heisman Trophy amid public pressure after sanctions were dropped on USC for recruiting and other violations. USC was required to vacate all 2004-2005 wins including their National Championship win over Oklahoma, and is banned from post-season play for both the 2010 and 2011 seasons. Bush became the first player ever to return a Heisman Trophy.

10. Brett Favre’s Penis (October 7, 2010)

Brett Favre apparently has a little penis, or so the pictures say. The news of Favre texting pictures of his junk to, then-Jets sideline reporter Jenn Sterger was broken by sports-gossip blog Deadspin. Brett’s taste in women… impeccable. Brett’s taste in text message appropriateness… questionable.

9. The Republicans Win Back the House (November 2, 2010)

In a national referendum on Obama, the GOP retook the House of Representatives and made significant strides in the Senate on a wave of Tea Party momentum. Freshman Republican legislators, such as Rand Paul, would become influential in the budget and taxation issues in the current Congress.

8. The Arab Spring Begins (December 17, 2010)

The Arab Spring, a coordinated series of protests that would ultimately turn the Middle East on its head, begins with a Tunisian man setting himself on fire in protest of police confiscating his vegetable cart. An uprising would subsequently occur that saw the fall of the Tunisian government. Other Arabs, buoyed by a sense of enablement, protested and in some case achieved regime change in Egypt and Lybia. Unrest and calls for revolution were also heard in Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Lebanon, Iran and Algeria.

7. Japanese Nuclear Fallout (March 11, 2011)

After a devastating earthquake rocked Japan, concern began to spread to the Fukushima Nuclear reactor. Despite efforts to contain damage – and initial reports that the reactor was safe and not breached – it became clear that containment was not possible. Though ultimately contained, it did not happen until significant amounts of radiation escaped into the ground, water and atmosphere. Trace amounts of I-131 radiation (non-harmful doses) were detected as far away as California.

6. Osama Bin Laden Killed (April 30, 2011)

With a dramatic late-night address to the nation – called with only an hour warning – President Obama informed America and the world of the death of Osama Bin Laden. Osama was killed by Navy SEAL Team 6 in a raid on a Pakistani compound. Later, some would question the death because the Administration decided not to release pictures.

5. Amy Winehouse Joins the 27 Club (July 23, 2011)

British pop superstar, Amy Winehouse dies of an apparent drug overdose at Age 27. She joins the “Club of 27”, a group of musicians that include Jimmie Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Kurt Cobain, who also died at Age 27.

4. Faster than Light (September 22, 2011)

Battlestar Galactica fans would endorse the concept “Faster than Light”, but physicists at the CERN research center in Switzerland release a preliminary report showing that they had found a neutrino – a tiny sub-atomic particle – that traveled faster than light. Secondary test would reveal the same finding. Other scientific researchers question the results, however. If true, the discovery would undermine the core building block of modern science – that nothing is faster than light. Albert Einstein is turning over in his grave.

3. Occupy Wall Street (September 17, 2011)

The economic difficulties and political climate in the past few years finally force a boil over of sentiment toward the perceptions of class-entitlement. The mantra “We are the 99%” has become a rallying cry for anyone who feels slighted by entitlement. The Occupy Wall Street Movement, while protesting excesses on Wall Street, has been mirrored across the country. In some incidents, occupy movements have turned into political hot potatoes that shine the light on police corruption and brutality as was the case when a police officer casually pepper sprayed a series of kneeling protestors on the campus of UC-Berkeley.

2. Moammar Ghaddafi Killed (October 20, 2011)

After months of civil war, belligerent resistance to national and international calls to step down – generally in the form of hapless, wandering, rambling televised addresses – NATO military intervention and repeated rumors (but no proof) of his death, Moammar Ghaddafi is confirmed dead in Libya. After a NATO airstrike hit a convoy he was riding in, he took shelter in a drainage ditch where he was captured by National Transitional Council forces. He died en route to the hospital.

1. Penn State Child Sex Scandal (November 5, 2011)

We are rocked by the grand jury indictments handed down on former Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky. Sandusky is charged with multiple sex abuse charges as they relate to 4 alleged victims. In the wake of the scandal, fingers are pointed at various people and blame is passed. Ultimately, Penn State’s Board of Trustees remove the President, Athletic Directory, Head Coach Joe Paterno and others from their responsibilities.

So there we have it. 8 years of war. An entire different country. Have we learned from our mistakes? Probably not. We’ll see. Happy Christmas! War is Over! If You Want It!

State of the Union Drinking Game

I polled Twitter on what kind of drinking game activities should happen tonight during the State of the Union. I’ve aggregated responses, along with my own thoughts, into this State of the Union Drinking Bingo.

Prepare to be drunk by 8:15pm CST tonight.

Health Care Reform: Trillion Dollar Spitballs

Here in the doldrums of August, the debate around Health Care Reform spins wildly as both sides position themselves against a Trillion dollar problem that is the key point of the Obama agenda. Basically, the debate comes down to two perspectives, as it always does.

On one side, the argument is made that the health care system is broke, primary care physicians make too much money from ad hoc testing, and insurance companies collect on the loot while millions of Americans go without the insurance needed to give them peace of mind in case of an accident, injury or just preventive healthcare.

On the other side of the debate, the argument is that the proposals on the table cost too much, put too much government in the middle of personal healthcare decisions and will hurt the businesses (and the GDP produced) by an artificial price ceiling on the healthcare business ecosystem. The argument from here, as well, is that we can’t rightly identify the problem that exists.

As a fiscal conservative, I tend toward the latter but as a social progressive, I can certainly see the points made by the other side.

In software development, there is a development paradigm called Agile development. In Agile, the idea is that the quickest way to get a product to market, gain valuable insight and feedback in real user test cases, and enhance the product delivery is with a fast, iterative approach. Get the product out there and people using it. Listen to them and identify the problems. As quickly as the product is released, start turning out updates on a very fast pace. Iterate. Iterate. Iterate. If you wait for the product to be “done” it will never be “done”.

The Agile approach to software development makes a lot of sense. You produce something, can very quickly get real life data, and adjust. The cost of investment and overhead are small and the footprint for total failure is reduced.

In the current Health Care Reform debate, it astounds me that both sides take an all or nothing approach. Either we throw trillion dollar spitballs and problems that no one can fully identify or wrap their heads around (individual input here is taken with a grain of salt since it is only one point of view from a limited scope of experience), or we do nothing at all, knowing that there is a problem even if we can’t identify it.

I think any startup will tell you that on the route to success, they had no idea where things would go. They may have only had a good idea that wasn’t vetted in their own minds and as they proceeded in building the product or the business, they encountered (and learned) along the way. This is the process that needs to occur. We can’t know everything right now, but we do know some things, and we do know there’s a problem.

Democrats need to stop trying to do it all right now while they have control of both houses of Congress and the White House. They are rushing things and that makes the whole deal failure prone. Republicans need to stop stonewalling and get something done. Yes, it’s going to cost money. Maybe a lot in the long run. But at the end of the day, there is an obligation of a society to take care of those who may not be able to take care of themseleves. With this in mind, iterate toward the perfect solution where society can do that, but let’s try to limit the costs and footprints and preserve the free market as well.

It won’t be perfect, but trillion dollar spitballs don’t solve anything.

White House Unveils an IT Spending Dashboard

During the run up to last years landmark election, then-candidate Barack Obama made a promise to appoint a federal Chief Technology Officer to oversee the federal IT infrastructure and data. In our primary endorsement of Obama, we said:

In the wake of 9/11, a glaring weakness was revealed in the FBI’s technology infrastructure. That has not been addressed. As one with first hand experience working for both the Department of the Navy and Health and Human Services, I can attest to technology tone-deafness. One candidate is proposing the creation of a CTO position to ensure that all government agencies are moving forward into the 21st century with modern technology at their fingertips. As a sidenote, how is it we don’t have a CTO already”

Picture 8
At the time, and throughout the campaign, we were not clear that such a position would actually become two positions – Chief Information Officer, a position held by former District of Columbia CTO Vivek Kundra and responsible for the policy and strategic planning of technology efforts by the administration and the executive agencies, and Chief Technology Officer, held by Aneesh Chopra.

In a nod to government bureaucracy, Mr. Chopras actual title is Chief Technology Officer and Director for Technology in the White House Office of Science and Technology. Fit that on a business card.

Picture 6Mr. Chopra, who is a geeked out geek all by himself, was at the Personal Democracy Forum, a tech heavy conference with an emphasis on technology play within government, political action and open government, where he unveiled USASpending.gov. The new site provide a new dashboard for overview of spending across the federal agencies.

It’s an interesting website, for sure, from an administration who appears to have done its’ level best to open up the windows and the doors of government with projects like Data.Gov, designed to provide raw data sources to developers and those interested in digging inside the raw numbers, and Recovery.gov, designed to aid and assist in the economic recovery.

Certainly, the new IT Dashboard is incomplete and it seems they know that. Notably, it’s easy to get 50,000 foot snapshots in the form of a pie chart, but the data should be something that can be drilled into more than it already is.

Here’s a video demonstrating the use of the new dashboard.

Also, take a look at other articles about it.

"A New World Awaits"- Obama on Cybersecurity

This is a guest post that I solicited today after President Barack Obama’s major cybersecurity announcement. I felt it was important to get the views and opinions of someone in the field. Enjoy! ~editor

Today President Obama announced the creation of a White House cybersecurity coordinator position and discussed the 60-day Cyberspace Police Review conducted by Melissa Hathaway. He repeated his mantra regarding transparency and accountability, and touched on the many aspects of cybersecurity that impact America- economy, infrastructure, military, open and efficient government operations. He certainly displayed his tech-saavy and awareness of information security terms. Yet, what changes is he really talking about? What practical actions can we expect to see?

He calls our cyber infrastructure “œthe backbone that underpins a prosperous economy and a strong military”. Right away he acknowledges that the lag in consumer confidence in online transactions and electronic networks is a strong factor in our slumping economy. Recognizing the economy and the military importance in a single sentence like this emphasizes that the idea that online transitions and communications should be able to be trusted equally by consumer and intelligence community alike. The fact that this new position, which oversees the new cyber security policies, is part of the National Economic Council and the National Security staff is the practical embodiment of this idea. Recognizing that securing online transactions and communications are critical not only to security, but the economy, ensures that he will be able to use greater budgetary discretion when bolstering funding for cyber initiatives. While he focused on the importance of consumer confidence, I was surprised that the exact figure regarding the billions of dollars lost due to fraud every year was not emphasized here. His bottom line is that we are losing money due to fraud, but we are losing even more money because of the fear of fraud.

The president then declared that, “œFrom now on, the networks and computers we depend on every day will be treated as they should be — as a strategic national asset.” This is an acknowledgement that the infection of these privately owned devices can seriously compromise the security of an entire nation- and not necessarily our own. When the cyber attack on Georgia occurred in September of 2008, the speculation was that the success depended largely on the infection of US PCs. These acted as a botnet to attack Georgia. Russian hackers certainly knew that Georgia was not prepared to cut off traffic from the United States. The President seems to acknowledge that they can no longer ignore the threat that comes from the computers of average citizens. Part of this is addressed by his motion to create an education campaign to address business, educators, and the average American. I believe he wants to educate people to the risks they present to the nation when they ignore an infected computer or leave their internet connections open and unprotected. On a business level, I believe these comments spring from the Aurora experiment, which demonstrated the vulnerability of our power grid. He is placing a responsibility and forcing the industries to acknowledge that their reliance on cyber systems is both an asset and a risk. He is careful to emphasize that the solution is not to eliminate or control the asset, but to mitigate the risks.

The president promised the new position would “œ”¦work with”¦state and local governments and the private sector to ensure an organized and unified response to future cyber incidents.” His focus here is on being transparent, issuing warning and updates and most of all- creating a format that is not “œad hoc”. This is something that security breach specialists have been calling for- a uniform procedure and response. There is too much variation in the thresholds, requirements, and regulations regarding the reporting, disclosure and handling cyber incidents today. I expect that companies can expect to see an outline of thresholds and reporting guidelines for reporting incidents. I also expect that notification will be required far earlier into the discovery of a compromise, so companies will not be able to “œgather all the facts” before informing the public and appropriate agencies of the incident. I would expect that more details will be provided, and agencies will be encouraged to coordinate in efforts to address vulnerabilities rather than keeping them secret until a solution can be found. Promoting the sharing of information about vulnerabilities should be seen as a benefit to the entire sector and not as a liability for the individual company. How  or if Obama plans to protect companies and agencies from the losses that may occur during the interval between sharing a vulnerability discovery and its “˜unified response’ will make or break this initiative. This is consistent with the recommendations in the Cyberspace Police Review.

Speaking on that note, the President stated, “œWe will strengthen the public-private partnerships that are critical to this endeavor”¦ let me be clear, my administration will not dictate security standards for private companies”. This will be the most difficult of his agenda items to live up to, and the one that he will be most criticized for. Many private companies fear information sharing, vulnerability sharing and full disclosure of data breach details. It will be a long and difficult road to convince the private sector that it is in their best interests to cooperate. The Cyberspace Police Review calls for a neutral third-party agency to take information and share it appropriately, but I doubt that will be enough to change the habits of the industry unless it is mandated. It will be difficult to maintain his other goals without some industry pressure or regulation. The market simply does not correct itself when it comes to matters of information security and commerce. I personally believe this speech was intended to hint that it is in the private sector’s best interests to cooperate with this collaboration if they want to remain as unregulated as they currently enjoy. I believe that the current amendments to privacy and security legislation are an attempt to ease changes into the industry by simply “œtweaking” aspects of current accepted regulations and rules.

Finally, his emphasis remained that they “œwill not”¦ will not include monitoring of private sector networks or internet traffic”¦ I remain firmly committed to net neutrality, so we can keep the internet as it should be- open and free”¦ A new world awaits, a world of increased security and greater potential prosperity”. This is an important distinction to make, and another subtle hint that the open and free market of the internet is critical to our economy and safety. He demonstrates his understanding that greater security does not mean the compromise of privacy or civil liberties, and therefore regulating the internet is not the answer. Recognizing net neutrality as a part of his cyber security efforts was a great way to try and smooth any ruffled feathers by the greater internet community. Since many of these initiatives address technology not widely used or available, it is more important for President Obama to emphasize what would not change as a result of this new position.

Ending his speech President Obama focused on the leadership we experienced in the 20th century and promised leadership in the 21st century. This has been another mantra of his- that we are able to lead, that we are leaders, even in this economy. Given the changes he is trying to make across government and industry, the belief that we are leaders in privacy and security is more important than the reality. I believe he stayed away from drawing comparisons internationally for this reason. Americans still have a bit of the cowboy spirit, and the best way to harness it is to convince the public that we are blazing a new trail of cyber security and policies. The spirit of innovation is obviously an important cultivation in this endeavor, and he makes no bones about his willingness to invest in education, training and programs necessary to nurture it. Practically, we should expect to see more government grants and funding in math, science and technology. Scholarships, research projects and grants are on the horizon as incidents to strength the public-private partnership. The question is- with what strings attached?

Rachel James is a licensed private investigator and cybercrime specialist at ID Experts. Her views do not necessarily reflect the views of ID Experts. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.

White House Ushers In a New Era of Encrypted Openness

From the Department of Irony’s Press Secretary, we at Technosailor.com World Headquarters were forwarded this email from the White House announcing it’s new Open Government Website. Clearly, a new era has arrived.

We look forward to more transparency of this sort. ;-)

From: White House Press Office
Date: 2009/5/21
Subject: White House Announces Open Government Website, Initiative

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Got that?

General Motors, The Feds.

In the early days of this blog, I wrote a lot about political issues. Frankly, when I was getting going in the blogging world almost five years ago, it was about the only thing I knew to do. Political blogging was huge and it was about the only kind of blogging that registered on the radar. Over the years, I’ve found my niche and it is clearly what you find here today. However, today I need to address a huge issue facing the American public, small businesses and every aspect of the American fabric of society. I must get this off my chest, because it matters to business in a way that nothing else in our lifetimes has.

As time goes on, I have gone from extreme right wing conservative to moderately progressive and still trend right on some issues. It doesn’t really matter though, because the principles that I believe in are firmly based in a sense of pragmatic, if not downright cruel, reality.

Over the weekend, the Obama administration did something completely unthinkable that will have a longterm negative impact on the enterprising and innovative American markets. The federal government made board level decisions on behalf of a publicly-traded company, General Motors.

It is clear to any objective mind that the General Motors (and to a lesser extent Chrysler) proposal for restructuring in the face of bankruptcy, and to secure taxpayer funds, was less than adequate. In fact, some rumors from within the company suggest that GM essentially sat on their hands as they approached the deadline originally agreed to with the Bush administration. Clearly, this is less than acceptable. Clearly, this mindset believes that they truly are “too big to fail” and that the feds would simply swoop in and rescue them yet again.

Clearly, clearly, clearly. Yet… none of this is clear.

The Obama Administration suggested a change to threatened the GM board of directors that they had to remove CEO Rick Wagoner.

I understand why. If Wagoner was too sluggish in his behavior, or “sat on his hands pending an Obama bailout” then he certainly needed to be removed. All evidence points to only positive results from his removal. However, the federal government directly intervened in the private sector governance of a publicly traded company.

This outrage is enough, but somewhat legal if they own a portion of the stock. IT’s expected that, as shareholders, the government would want a say.

However, here is the part that no one is talking about. In essence, General Motors has become a Wholly Owned Subsidiary of the United States of America. While your Orwellian alarms go off, let me rub salt in the wound. The SEC is supposed to regulate GM. That’s right, the Securities and Exchange Commission, a fully functioning independent agency of the U.S., is now tasked with regulating itself.

Can anything good come from this? I think not.

In an ideal world, one filled with unicorns and gryffons and other mythical creatures, the SEC executes their funtion without privilege or bias. In an ideal world, GM adheres to the same regulations put in place by the SEC that governs the market. In an ideal world. Since when has self-policing ever worked? Especially with the SEC.

To make matters worse, in an effort to stimulate company growth and remove government ownership of the company (yeah, right), the Feds are likely to make moves that will help GM, but may undercut the market. For instance, cutting the MSRP of automobiles by a certain percentage to stimulate sales. These kinds of actions are generally regulated by the Justice Department (as well as the Commerce Department) and fall under unfair trading practices.

At what point is a U.S. owned company able to compete on the open market without undercutting market tensions and forces, and at which point does the “adherence to market principles” mean the destruction of the company?

My feeling is that the longterm ramifications of bailing out and direct government intervention into the governance and conduct of a company is a dangerous precedent. Beyond a dangerous precedent, I believe it will only exacerbate the complete destructive collapse of the economy.

There will be some who call me crazy. Who call me a sensationalist. That tell me I am too conspiratorial. Remember this post when my predictions actually come to fruition. Within six months.

If You're a Government 2.0 Guru, You have no Business in Government 2.0

This past week, we witnessed history with the election of President Barack Obama. He is certainly America’s first black president, but unfortunately, that’s where the highlighted differences seem to end. Little coverage is given to the fact that he is also the first Gen-X president. He is the first tech savvy president. And of course, he is the first “internet president”, having used social media and the netroots effectively.

Even WhiteHouse.gov is seeping with Web 2.0 goodness (though admittedly, it is not quite as savvy as Change.gov, the official transition team site of the Obama administration).

Conventional wisdom says that the federal sector is about to change dramatically. That the adoption of a national Chief Technology Officer, and the pledge to open up the doors and windows of government to the public, will bring about new opportunities for an online world that thrives on transparency and open dialogue. There is no reason to believe that this will not be the case.

Along comes the newest buzzword of the day, Government 2.0. As with anything that includes a software-styled decimal iteration, this heralds a new and improved government. A better one that offers more functionality, usability and interactivity.

Geoff Livingston points out, accurately, that this new openness in government has apparently created a sector of carpetbaggers that have labeled themselves “experts” in the field. I think his cynicism is warranted. Capitalism at work. Anything to make a buck.

Here’s the stark reality of the Government 2.0 space: There are very few gurus and taking on that mantle will doom your ability to work in the sector.

Let me explain.

There are actual real experts that have been toiling for years trying to get government to adopt new and innovative technologies, communication channels and bringing a forward thinking mentality to those in service. These folks have had a degree of micro-success, but it’s been limited since the government, as a whole, is not very open. It’s changing – possibly a result of the hard work put in by these experts – but it’s still a very closed space. Those experts are experts because they’ve put in their time, toiling and pushing and fighting the system. They understand the system, as it is, not simply as they would like it to be. They recognize the need to work within the constraints that have governed the government for many years with a hope that they can change it over time. They are experts because they are not flash in the pan and know it will take a long time.

See, they understand that two governments exist. There is the elected government which changes every 4-8 years and sometimes longer (in the case of Congress and State legislatures). As well, there is an established government – career feds who are never fired, and rarely quit their jobs. They just move between agencies with established patterns and principles in tow. They are the foot soldiers who actually do the work. The established government is where the real change begins.

Very few of the so called experts can truly be experts by any reasonable standard. They have appeared on the scene in recent months, read the blogs and brushed up on their government-fu. They probably come from traditional, and sometimes social media communications backgrounds. They have been working with small companies in the web space or otherwise, and expect the principles which have governed their trade to transcend the halls of Commerce, Agriculture, State and Defense. Therefore, they believe, they are experts.

What they don’t realize is that their self-branding actually poses the risk of hurting their business – especially if, in a down economy, they expect to sustain their business in a new an growing sector. What they don’t realize is the government they wish to work with understands that Government 2.0 is new and that very few people are experts. The government, I believe, is looking to partner with people who have the chutzpah to become experts. Who have a firm grounding in communications principles and web savvy. They understand that the next year will make experts if the right candidates, firms and contractors are chosen. They are looking for people who have the savvy needed to guide and advise, with the understanding that it’s a completely new playing field. My instinct says that the government knows that they are getting prepared to experiment and want someone to experiment with.

Are they looking for complete rookies? Hardly. But they are looking for the chops to brave this new world with some degree of sanity.

If you’ve got those chops, you might become an expert. Chances are, though, if you lie to them and say you’re an expert now, they simply won’t hire you.

Purple Gates, Cellular Networks and the 44th President of the United States

Today was a legendary day in Washington, D.C. as President Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States. The ceremony itself was largely successful with only a hiccup in the delivery of the 35 word Oath of Office – a snafu that was as much President Barack Obamas fault as it was Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts.

The inaugural speech was well postured and delivered, worded well in fine Obama fashion, but was not reminiscent, as some expected, of John F. Kennedy who said, “Ask not what your country can do for you; Ask what you can do for your country” or FDRs famous words, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” as he took office in 1933 amidst strong economic concerns in the midst of the Great Depression.

The execution of security and official communications outside the perimeter was abysmal though, ranking extremely low on the Aaron Brazell assessment evaluation of official communications. As West Capitol Lawn ticket holders designated to the “purple area”, we eventually abandoned hope of actually gaining entrance and walked nearly a mile to get obstructed view spots near the Washington Monument shortly before the ceremony began. We were not the only ones affected by the “purple bug” yet we managed to jump ship early enough. Others were not so lucky.

On another inaugural technology note, it seems that AT&T and T-Mobile were mostly down in and around the mall. Sprint customers on the mall complained of spotty issues. As a Verizon Wireless customer, I never had a problem with coverage. Clearly, there is something to be said for a non-GSM network.

Other than that, the experience was a blast, if slightly maddening. History was made. People were mostly friendly and in a good mood which made the experience fun. And of course, I spent the time with my favorite mouthy blogger of all time, Erin Kotecki Vest.

For now, enjoy some pictures I took over the past two days of Inaugural activities.

In and Around the Capitol, Jan 19 2009

Inauguration Day

Inauguration Day

Inauguration Day

Inauguration Day

Inauguration Day

In and Around the Capitol, Jan 19 2009