Thursday, December 31, 2009

Year in Review and New Year's Resolution

The year 2009 was definitely a lot of things: a year of change (the first non-white president and a near-filibuster-proof Senate majority), a year of denial (with many refusing to believe the president was indeed born American to refusing the democratic mandate for health reform), and a year of frustrations (health care compromises, bank bailouts, and much much more).

Most of all, 2009 was a year of obstruction -- mostly from the conservative side of things, with a few surprises from the center-left as well. TEA Party protesters rose up to call for an end to government growth (albeit in an extremist sort of way), and Republicans continued their unprecedented number of filibusters. Centrists (like Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson) joined their conservative colleagues at times, stopping important legislation from holding any significance.

Sure, there were some progressive "victories" as well that deserve recognition, that were hard-fought by Democrats who knew the importance of standing firm against conservative obstructionists. We staved off an economic depression with the passage of a stimulus package; we confirmed the first Hispanic to the Supreme Court of the United States. And though other policies have taken or will take longer than wanted -- withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan, and the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison facility -- they are on track to being achieved before the next presidential election in 2012.

But for the most part, the year 2009 was won by conservatives, who derailed health care reform with disruptive town hall rallies and threats of "death panels." Their tactics have caused Americans to view Democratic politicians in a negative light. Indeed, Americans are now just as likely to vote Democratic as they are to vote Republican in the 2010 midterms late next year, even though conservatives' strategies to defeat liberals were rooted in nothing more than lies, mistruths, and fears.

Those tactics began early in the year, as evidenced by Jim DeMint's comments that health care reform would become Obama's "Waterloo," likening the president's top domestic priority to Napoleon Bonaparte's failed military battle in the early 19th century ("We will break him," DeMint said of Obama). Likewise, these tactics continued well-into the year, ending only after health care reform passed the Senate (the Republicans even tried slowing down the process of passing a Defense budget, hoping the delay would cause health care to move into the next year).


The blame doesn't rest solely with conservatives; moderate and conservative Democrats also have themselves to blame, adhering to or doing little to stop the obstruction tactics that conservative politicians practiced.

The Democrats have no one but themselves to blame if they lose seats in 2010. Some will claim that they sided with obstructionists for FEAR of losing seats. But the American people elected a president whom they knew would be liberal, a Congress whom they knew would pass liberal legislation. Through all the lies the McCain campaign threw at Obama, through all the distortions that FOX News and other conservative media spread, the American public still wanted a liberal administration to change things.

Specifically, they wanted health care reform that offered a public option. The polls, up until the public option's death, reflected this.

If the Democrats lose a significant number of seats in 2010, it will be because they threw out their ideals, threw out their dedication to the people's wishes. An energized conservative base can only win seats next year if the liberal base lets them -- and right now, the liberal base is not as motivated as that conservative base is.

The obstructionists won 2009. So how can we ensure they don't win 2010?

The Democratic Party still represents the best chances of passing meaningful, progressive legislation. Health care reform, even if it wasn't the single payer reform we had preferred, had no chance of change at all with a conservative government in power. We need to continue to support Democrats, but only if they continue to support us. That means that those Democrats that aren't true progressives -- Joe Lieberman Democrats -- need to go.

We shouldn't support the party blindly -- I know that I will only donate money to the state Democratic Party and to specific candidates (in-state and out), but not the DNC itself, not until it tells conserva-Dems to fall in line.

That's my New Year's resolution: I will not give money to Democrats I don't support.

But I will continue to support the party's objectives: I will continue calling my legislators, telling them that I want real change, the kind of change I voted for and campaigned door-to-door for in 2008. If enough of us do that, we can continue to change America for the better.

Our leaders were elected in 2008 on the banner of "hope." Here's hoping that in 2010, they change hope into real and meaningful legislation that helps everyday Americans, not corporate interests.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Let's end the filibuster -- or at least end its significance

An interesting debate is raging on the internet involving the frustrations associated with the U.S. Senate rule on filibusters. As it stands now, a filibuster can only be ended by a vote of 60 Senators in favor of cloture. Though in the past it had been significantly harder to break a filibuster (at one time requiring 67 votes), the practice of stalling and effectively tabling measures through the filibuster has risen significantly, used in recent years by obstructionist Republicans an unprecedented number of times.

There are some who are calling for an all-out abolition of the practice, saying that a majority voice in the Senate should be sufficient enough to pass legislation. There are others who believe that it should remain intact but with substantial reform. Still others believe that it should remain as is, citing that liberals used the filibuster when conservatives were in power just three years ago (though significantly less frequent).

The filibuster, it's interesting to note, isn't mentioned in the Constitution at all; the Senate decided, in its own rules, to institute and enforce it (except in rare occasions like reconciliation). Removing the filibuster, then, would make the entire process of passing legislation more democratic in that, if a majority of Senators wanted to pass a bill, acting in the capacity of representatives to the people who elected them, then they would be able to do so.

What worries some, however, is that a bare-bones majority could enforce its will with hardly any checks and balances (aside from requiring the House to pass legislation similar to it). For example, earlier this decade, reactionary judges nominated by George W. Bush would have been confirmed were it not for a Democratic-led filibuster.

When it's inconvenient, whatever party is in power often talks of doing-away with the filibuster, while the minority party considers such talk deplorable. The truth is that the Senate filibuster is anti-democratic, but can serve a proper purpose if used right -- that is, if used for actually extending debate when needed.

Every piece of legislation deserves to be debated if the minority believes there's something worth arguing over. But using the rule solely to defeat a bill is an abuse of power, a "rule by the minority" that is unacceptable. It's because of that rule that Sens. Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson were able to hold the Senate health care bill hostage until it fit their likings -- without a public option.

Polls show that Americans still want a public option in the health care bill. But because of the filibuster, the Senate could only pass a bill with subsides to those who can't afford care...subsides that will ultimately go to private insurance companies, who put us in this mess to begin with.

It's clear, then, that the filibuster needs to be at the very least reformed. This can be done in two ways. First, the number of Senators needed to end debate should be lowered -- perhaps from 60 to 55 votes. It's overkill to require 60 votes in order to pass every piece of legislation that comes before the upper house of Congress. Lowering that number would ensure that debate could still continue if needed while still being a reasonable number to end that debate and move on.

Second, an expiration date should apply to the filibuster, similar to one that Mr. Filibuster himself, Joe Lieberman, proposed in the early 90s, that would remove the number of votes required to close debate after a certain number of days.

Either way, one or both of these reforms would help lower the significant role that the filibuster plays in American politics. If we continue to keep the filibuster in place as it is today, we will see a minority in control of what bills are passed in the Senate, an ideal that most Americans would rightly reject as undemocratic.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Lieberman plays hardball on health care; why aren't Democrats returning the favor?

Joseph Lieberman is one influential U.S. Senator, despite having no official party allegiance. A former vice presidential candidate for the Democratic Party, Lieberman lost a primary challenge in 2006 but won as an independent in the general election of that year. As an independent, Lieberman still caucuses with the Democratic majority -- though you wouldn't know it judging from some of the controversial stances he takes against the party's main policies.

His latest escapade involves his stance on health care reform. Though a lifelong Democrat, Lieberman opposed the idea of a public option, and in recent weeks suggested that he wouldn't oppose a Republican-led filibuster to oppose it. When other moderate Senators suggested the same idea, a group of ten Democratic Senators devised a compromise that would allow Americans to buy-into non-profit but private health insurance plans, with people over 55 but under 65 being able to buy-into Medicare, the national insurance program for retired Americans.

In the past, Lieberman has supported the buy-in idea for Medicare. In 2000, as Al Gore's vice presidential running-mate, he campaigned on the idea, and suggested the idea himself as a potential compromise no more than three months ago.

So it came as a big surprise to Senate leadership this week when Lieberman said he couldn't support a compromise bill that included the Medicare buy-in provision. Suddenly he had a problem with the idea, and worried the bill would bring greater budget deficits and eventually lead to a single payer health care system (despite it requiring people to buy-into the insurance program, not receive entitlements for free).

Without seeing the estimates for the costs of the compromised bill (still being calculated by the Congressional Budget Office), Lieberman announced this week that, despite most of his demands being met, he would still join a Republican filibuster that would effectively table debate on the issue (this after Lieberman had also denounced using such tactics).

Such an action is not only irresponsible, it's incomprehensible. Lieberman has no basis on which he makes his claims, no grounds to stand on to oppose the compromised bill at this time (except maybe potential campaign contributions). It'd be different if the CBO came back with the estimates and showed the compromise would increase deficits -- but that hasn't happened yet. Lieberman should reserve his judgment, saying he may or may not support the bill based upon such findings, or if he is opposed to health care reform of any kind he should just come out and say it already.

If that's the case, then Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid ought to reconsider whether Lieberman should have leadership positions within the Democratic-controlled Senate. As it stands right now, Sen. Lieberman chairs the committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

As an independent Senator, this is a very generous appointment -- Reid could have selected an actual Democrat to hold this chairmanship. But because of his loyalty to the party, Reid allowed Lieberman to chair the committee when Democrats took control in 2006. (It also helped to appease Lieberman when he was a crucial vote during a time of slim majorities in the Senate).

That committee chairmanship may prove to be a good bargaining chip, should Reid want to play some hardball with Lieberman. Reid isn't obligated in any way to keep Lieberman in that position of power. Reid very well could coax Lieberman, at the very least, into voting for cloture on the filibuster in order to pave the way for an up-or-down vote on health care reform. If Lieberman doesn't want to do that, Reid could threaten him with removal from the Homeland Security chairmanship.

It's very political, but that's the way the game is played. And it seems that Lieberman is very accustomed to playing games, having held the process of reforming health care hostage several times, refusing to budge on any compromise that's been offered to him. He's continuing to play games with Senate leadership, vowing to filibuster the bill before any legitimate reason to do so even arises. Senate Democrats ought to at least consider using this political move to persuade Lieberman to back cloture of the Republican-led filibuster.

After that, Lieberman can vote "no" on reform without any repercussions. At least that way the bill could get a straight vote, rather than being held back by a Senator who has a beef with liberal Democrats.

He has thwarted us before -- he previously opposed Democratic plans for Iraq and campaigned for John McCain during the election for president in 2008 (against Democratic nominee Barack Obama). We should learn from our mistakes: this should be the last time Lieberman thwarts us, on a policy that Democrats have been fighting more than half a century for no less. Reid should offer him one last chance to change his mind on the filibuster. If Lieberman wants to play hardball, the Democrats shouldn't be afraid to return the favor.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The War on Christmas: a conservative fallacy

With Christmastime fast approaching, most Americans have dedicated their time towards finding gifts for loved ones, decorating the house, and making preparations for the all-important Christmas dinner. For many conservative pundits, however, Christmastime signals a time of desperation, of placing blame on those dirty liberals who like to ruin the holiday season, and of inciting fear among otherwise decent Americans who don't want their religious rights violated.

Even Congressional Republicans, who earlier this year railed Democrats for frivolous bills, are pushing a resolution in the House calling for the holiday of Christmas to be respected (as if it hasn't had the past month and a half dedicated towards it already). One conservative mayor even mused that Barack Obama's speech on Afghanistan was purposefully scheduled to knock Charlie Brown's Christmas Special off the air.

Though quieter than previous years, the campaign against the supposed "War on Christmas" annually waged by conservative pundits like Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh continues on this year. Some have even criticized the Obama family for having "holiday," and not Christmas, cards.

Liberals get a bad rap every year for their supposed suppression of Christmas spirit. They get chastised for taking down Christmas symbols on government property or in public parks, and berated for insisting that employees at shopping malls or other centers of commerce say "Happy Holidays" rather than "Merry Christmas."

However, these accusations are, on their face, unfounded. The true liberal "vendetta" is inclusiveness, not intolerance. Symbols on government property must reflect everyone in the community, not just an exclusive religious belief. As such, a liberal in that community might insist that all religious symbols be allowed to be placed on government property, not just a Christian one. When the government refuses a request by another religious belief to place a different symbol on public grounds (when it has already allowed another symbol by a "preferred" belief), it violates the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Liberals are perfectly content to have a Christian display on state grounds. It's when other displays other than Christian ones are denied that same right that liberals get upset about things.

The issue of replacing "Merry Christmas" with "Happy Holidays" is one that is mistakenly blamed on liberalism. If a liberal has a problem with a place of business saying "Merry Christmas," they're not going to do anything about it except take their business elsewhere; and the liberals that do that are far and few between (most liberals are in fact Christian). It's the business owners themselves, not the liberals in the community, that have CHOSEN to say "Happy Holidays" in order to appeal to customers who aren't Christian.

These two points make the "War on Christmas" a conservative fallacy. Liberals have no interest in ruining Christmas, in becoming proverbial Grinches. They want everyone to celebrate the holidays however they'd like. When it comes to the state, it doesn't even bother most liberals when Christian symbols are placed outside city hall, so long as other symbols are allowed that right as well. And if businesses want to say "Merry Christmas," they have that right, too.

So I say to my conservative colleagues: Let's stop the charade already and end the War on Christmas once and for all. After all, no one wants to get coal this Christmas -- or holiday -- season.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

An option by any other name...Senate Democrats reach deal

Ten (maybe) Senate Democrats late Tuesday night came to a consensus on health care reform, with major compromises and deals worked out including the removal of the so-called public option.

The group of ten settled on a proposed deal with several broad components. First, a not-for-profit private exchange would be set up for those without health care (replacing the public option plan), and would be managed and heavily regulated by the Office of Personnel Management (which currently overseas a similar program for federal employees' insurance plans).

Second, those between the ages of 55 to 64 would be able to buy into Medicare coverage, greatly expanding the program for those who represent the age-group most affected by the health care crisis today.

Third, the public option would reportedly remain in the bill but would only go into effect through a trigger -- that is, only if private insurers don't fix things themselves within a set number of years (this might not be the case, however, if conservative Senate Democrats don't sign onto it).

The group of ten who came up with the compromise consisted of five liberal and five conservative Democrats. Not everyone within the group was happy with the final outcome, however; Wisconsin's own Russ Feingold had reservations about the deal.

"I think a public option as an alternative is the best way to go," the Senator said, adding that he had concerns over whether assistance would be provided to those 55 and older buying into Medicare.

Feingold is right to be concerned -- the best option for covering all Americans, after all, would have been providing everyone with single-payer health coverage, essentially a Medicare-for-all program. Following that, a public option -- insurance coverage that Americans could have bought into through the government itself -- would have provided competition to private companies, thereby lowering costs.

This proposal, however, shouldn't necessarily be shunned outright -- if it comes down to it, and if there's no way to get 51 votes on the public option, then this compromise is the next best thing to the next best thing. If it includes the all-important abolition of the practice of discrimination based upon pre-existing conditions, then it would provide essentially the same deal to the American people that a public option would.

The problem with this compromise lies with who gets the money -- private insurance companies. A public plan would have encouraged private companies to be more competitive, to provide more services to its clients in order to beat out the federal plan. This compromise, on the other hand, doesn't provide such an incentive.

But it DOES provide Americans more choices through a not-for-profit exchange. It DOES expand Medicare to those older than 55. And it DOES provide assistance to poor families in need of economic aide. In other words, the compromise being discussed by this gang of ten wouldn't be much different than a public option plan in the eyes of the consumer.

What's needed, then, if this compromise does indeed become law, is more reform and regulation of the industry itself, especially for those who buy into the not-for-profit system. Protections need to be afforded to the people who buy insurance, to ensure that those who buy it get adequate coverage, and don't have to pay an arm and a leg to do so.

It'd be better to have a public option rather than a not-for-profit (but still private) option. However, if it's between the not-for-profit option and nothing else, we're better off taking the compromise that's been discussed. It's not the ideal, but it's much better than what we currently have.

Keep telling your Senators to fight for the public option -- but don't oppose this compromise if it's what we end up with.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Republican DeMint chooses politics over national security

Republican Sen. Jim DeMint is holding up the confirmation of Errol Southers to head the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), leaving the agency without a leader. An important post that ensures the security of all Americans traveling across the country and abroad, scrutiny over who will run the TSA is well-deserved...except over something as mundane as collective bargaining rights for TSA employees.

That's right -- your security is being held hostage by a Republican who has a beef with unions.

DeMint believes that, by allowing TSA employees to organize and bargain collectively their contracts, security at airports and other areas prone to attack could be put at greater risk.

"Collective bargaining would standardize things across the country, make it much less flexible, much harder for the agency to adapt to changing threats around the world," DeMint said recently.

But other agencies that deal with issues of national security -- such as Border Control and the Federal Protective Service, among others -- are allowed to bargain collectively as a union without compromise to the nation's security whatsoever. And one committee in the House of Representatives has already approved a move towards allowing TSA employees these rights.

Southers himself has remained neutral on the subject, telling DeMint that he wouldn't implement any practice that would worsen the agency's commitment to security. DeMint has accused Southers of skirting the issue.

If DeMint wants to debate the merits of collective bargaining for TSA employees or whether such an idea would adversely affect national security, he should do so within the Senate version of the bill proposed in the House. But holding up the nomination of an important position that deals with matters of national security seems to benefit no one except DeMint himself, who it seems is trying to make the matter political.

DeMint isn't unaccustomed to the politics of obstructionism -- he was the Senator who tried to rally his GOP allies to make health care Obama's "Waterloo"; who regrets not coining the phrase "YOU LIE!" when Joe Wilson yelled it out during President Obama's speech to a joint session of Congress; and who is congratulating Tea Party protesters for helping to obstruct the bill through intimidation at town hall meetings during the summer. Those issues, however, didn't involve national security.

It's understandable why a Republican senator would want to obstruct health care reform -- it's practically part of their platform. But what DeMint is doing would be considered treason by some of his right-wing colleagues -- that is, were it a Democrat doing it against a Republican nominee. Where's the outrage from conservatives now? Why haven't we seen criticism from conservative lawmakers over this issue, over DeMint's insistence to make a stand against a nominee who has no real opinion on the issue?

It's important that we truly examine every person nominated for positions that deal with national security. But the examination of these candidates shouldn't be on the basis of policy that they don't control or don't have an opinion on. A political stand should be made on policy matters, but it should be done in the appropriate venue -- in this case, within debate the Senate will have over granting TSA employees the right to collective bargaining.

DeMint obviously thinks otherwise, and is putting his politics ahead of national security. He should be ashamed for doing so, and his colleagues should call him out on it.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Reluctant support for Obama's Afghanistan war strategy

Last night, President Barack Obama announced his official plan for the war in Afghanistan. In his remarks, Obama told the nation (before a live audience of West Point cadets) that 30,000 more troops were needed to stabilize the region, with the goal being a complete withdrawal of forces beginning July of 2011.

"I do not make this decision lightly," the president told the cadets. "I make this decision because I am convinced that our security is at stake."

His plan is likely to draw complaints from both the left and the right, though it may appeal to centrists. It contains elements that both sides would want -- and that both sides will undoubtedly hate.

Many liberal Democratic lawmakers are sure to be displeased with the troop buildup. Most of those on the left opposed the buildup of forces during the Iraq war (commonly known as the "surge"); many felt that policy prolonged our presence in the beleaguered nation. A buildup in Afghanistan, then, is only guaranteeing delay in the removal of U.S. troops from that country. Other liberal Democrats, like Wisconsin's Dave Obey, are worried that the costs of Afghanistan will deviate from other important domestic programs during a critical time in America's economic crisis.

Conservative Republicans, on the other hand, are voicing their opposition to the proposed end-date to the war. John McCain has already voiced his concern that allowing the enemy to know when we plan to leave will embolden al Qaeda and/or the Taliban, who will (supposedly) sit on the sidelines waiting for that date to come, reclaiming the country upon our exodus.

But Obama is also gaining support. While members from both sides disagree with the plan in part, moderate liberals and moderate conservatives are finding some aspects of the plan appealing.

The moderates on both sides are pleased to see Obama listening to military leaders on the ground, like Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who have asked for additional forces to the region. Moderates are happy that Obama is taking the war on terrorism seriously (even if he doesn't call it by that name), understanding the threat that al Qaeda poses to us, and that the threat will increase if we don't stabilize the country before we leave. And moderates on both sides are happy about the plan to gradually remove troops from the region, with moderate liberals and moderate conservatives both concerned with the human and economic costs the war has burdened us with.


Even with his reservations, John McCain has said he will support Obama's plan. Though for different reasons, my feelings on the matter are similar: I have some reservations, but I do believe that the overall plan is one I can cautiously support.

This plan has an exit strategy. That in itself is reason enough to support the president. There is a timetable for withdrawal, and a plan to gradually let the Afghans take control of their own security.

I'd rather have the goal for withdrawal begin now, and not in 19-month's time. A troop escalation, in my mind, simply delays the inevitable while placing more troops in harm's way. But Obama and proponents of escalation make a good point: Afghanistan forces are not yet ready to defend themselves. U.S. troops can assist in that endeavor, ensuring that al Qaeda and the Taliban won't retake the country once the U.S. and NATO forces leave.

Democrats aren't wrong to encourage the president to take a different direction, to begin withdrawing troops sooner; and lawmakers like Sen. Russ Feingold have every right to try to stop the escalation. But the plan set forth by President Obama is one that has my support because it does have a date in mind for a responsible withdrawal from Afghanistan. It's not perfect by any means, and I'm reluctant in my support of it, but it's a lot better than staying in the region indefinitely.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Scott Walker: an irresponsible leader

Ask anyone who has ever met him, and you'll be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn't think Scott Walker is a "nice guy." Even progressive writer John Nichols has said that he "liked Walker from the start," though he doesn't agree with his politics. Walker's amiable attitude has allowed him to be seen as a personable politician, the rare breed of politician who many believe actually works to help those he represents.

But make no mistake: a state managed by Scott Walker would be a horrible disaster.

The front-runner for the Republican nomination for Governor, Walker is a strict right-wing ideologue, the kind that is obsessed with privatizing government to its fullest. It's his hope to make Wisconsin more hospitable towards corporations, with the idea that more benefits to big companies will trickle down to the people in need.

We all know how that philosophy works out: it's that kind of thinking that has led to a wider wealth gap and an increase in the number of people living in poverty (about one in six Americans). The benefits of Reaganomics don't trickle down to anyone but those who wish to hold onto more wealth -- usually the wealthy to begin with.

To better understand the politics of Scott Walker, it may do us some good to know whom he has reached out to, to gain support for his campaign. Earlier this fall, Walker spoke at a Tea Party protest event in Milwaukee; he also defended that group's decision to disrupt town hall meetings, touting their actions as "free speech." Perhaps even more troubling, Walker sought the endorsement of ultra-conservative and former Alaskan Gov. Sarah Palin when she had visited Wisconsin earlier this fall.

Those are some pretty far-out associations that Walker is trying to court, representing some of the most extreme the right has to offer. Tea Party protesters, while free to exercise their rights to speech, used questionable tactics in order to stall the health care debate earlier this year (and have also laughed cynically in the face of a grieving mother whose daughter died because she lacked health care). The group has also labeled President Barack Obama as a socialist and a fascist, comparing his leadership style to that of Adolph Hitler's. Sarah Palin in her own right has done some pretty outrageous things, and represents the far-right's greatest hope for a presidential contender in 2012.

But let's assume that Walker's associations don't matter; after all, he's capable of coming to his own conclusions on issues. How does he perform as a leader? Recently, Walker vetoed a county budget bill that resulted in requiring Milwaukee County sheriff deputies and jailers to take eight furlough days -- this after Walker had criticized Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (and Democratic candidate for governor) for giving officers two furlough days next year. Walker claims he didn't think his veto would do that, and it's now unclear whether he can legally exempt law enforcement officers from taking so many furlough days.

If Walker wins the gubernatorial election next fall, can we trust that he'll understand what his vetoes will entail at the state level? He's already proven that he can't be trusted with the veto powers in a county government setting. So what assurances do we have that he'll be able to handle that responsibility, much less others, as governor?

Wisconsin doesn't need an irresponsible leader running its highest office. It also doesn't need the politics of Tea Party protesters, or Reaganomics, or Sarah Palin running it either. What it needs is a leader who understands the problems that Wisconsin citizens are facing, who understands how to help people directly, not through helping corporate interests. Scott Walker is not that leader.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Tea Party protesters lack compassion, heckle grieving mother

At a recent town hall event in Illinois held by Rep. Dan Lipinski, several members of the Chicago Tea Party Patriots attended in order to publicly heckle the Democratic representative. They booed his comments, chanted "USA!" over his statements, and appeared to care very little for actually listening to what the member of Congress had to say about health care reform.

When a supporter of health reform stood up to talk about her daughter's personal story of a system gone wrong, it didn't seem to matter.

Midge Hough, whose daughter and unborn granddaughter died partly due to lacking health insurance, spoke candidly about the need for a public option and other reforms necessary to help this country. She spoke of her daughter's tragic ordeal, of having to leave one hospital to enter another, of having to lie to that second hospital about having insurance simply so they could be seen by a doctor.

If there was any sympathy for Hough and her family in that room, it was hard to spot. Some reports and eyewitness accounts speak of eye-rolling, of continued heckling, and even cynical laughter at the grieving mother's tale. In a mass email sent by an organizer for the Chicago Tea Party Patriots, Catherina Wojtowicz disputed the story as true, and called the Hough family operatives of Obama that "go from event to event and (cry about) the same story."

I don't like to label people based upon their associations to organizations. But the more I see events like these, the more Tea Party protests I view on the web, the more I'm beginning to wonder: are all Tea Party protesters this insensitive? Or is this political movement simply blind to the injustices of discrimination through pre-existing conditions, or injustices through economic hardships? Do they really believe that people should die because they once had a condition that needed medical attention, or because they can't afford to buy insurance themselves?

Isn't that the true definition of rationing of care? Shouldn't this inspire us to make drastic changes to the system? Or should we say to these individuals, "Hey, you had this problem once, so we're not going to treat any other expensive procedure"?

Say what you will about the proposed bills for health care reform -- I'll be the first to admit to you they're not perfect. But they are bills that, if passed, will give much-needed help to individuals who face these situations, or to those who can't adequately afford health insurance.

We can't afford to lose another life to this crisis. How many more thousands must perish because some have unwarranted fears over government-run health care? Take a moment to consider the lives of those most affected by the health care crisis we're currently in. If you still think reform is a bad idea, at least you've taken those families into consideration.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Kirk Cameron's crusade to crush evolution as silly as it sounds

Former TV teen idol Kirk Cameron has been on a crusade for years to discredit the theory of evolution. As a born-again Christian, Cameron's beliefs compel him to speak out against the theory of how specie gradually evolved through genetic mutations over millions of years, resulting in the diverse population of animals and plant life we see today.

In recent years, Cameron's mission has had several setbacks: several school boards and state departments of instruction have rejected the teaching of Creationism and/or "intelligent design" alongside evolution in schools across the nation. Intelligent design believes that, "certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection."

However, intelligent design lacks one basic element: scientific backing. While evolution isn't perfect -- there are several "holes" in the theory, critics would contend -- it does utilize the scientific method and a preponderance of data to back up its claims. And while evolution can't provide a definite road map of how humans evolved from the first single-celled organism, we do understand, to some extent, how such a process might have worked through natural selection. Intelligent design, on the other hand, provides no proof for a Creator playing any role in the process whatsoever. It's a theory that is totally dependent on faith; and while it COULD be true, there's no way to tell for sure without proving the existence of said Creator.


Within the education system, a greater problem exists. Certainly, people are free to believe whatever they want, from Creationism to evolution, and everything in between (or even outside). But when it comes to scientific studies, what should we do? What should we teach? And should we teach theories that have no scientific backing to them?

The answer seems obvious to many: we should only teach theories that utilize the scientific method, and therefore should only teach evolution in science classes. It should not be taught as fact, but as the best understanding we have available to us of how we as a species came to be.

Students that disagree should be able to do so -- and if they wish to opt out of that part of science class, they should be allowed that option as well. As far as teaching religious beliefs goes, a curriculum that relies upon such beliefs doesn't belong in a science class -- it belongs in a philosophy or religious studies class, or outside of school altogether if those options aren't available.


Cameron's crusade has evolved as well: rather than try to fight the theory head-on, Cameron and his supporters are handing out Darwin's book, The Origin of Species, during the sesquicentennial of its first publishing date. There is a slight twist, however: their version of the book includes a fifty page introduction that aims to discredit Darwin's work. People can read both Darwin's Origins and the group's introduction and come to their own conclusions, argues Cameron.

The introduction, however, includes criticisms of Darwin's character, including accusations that Darwin despised women, promoted racism, and inspired some of Adolph Hitler's beliefs during his rise to power in Nazi Germany.

Associations like these do little for the debate: indeed, the same can be done of the Christian faith. Christians have for centuries treated women as second- (and sometimes third-) class citizens; Christians have had members within their ranks who have used the Bible to justify slavery and racism; and Hitler's speeches and beliefs were inspired in part by his Christian faith.

Does this mean that Christianity is evil? OF COURSE NOT! What it means is that SOME within the Christian movement have been misguided, as have some within the evolution movement. Focus needs to be paid to the subjects themselves (Christianity or evolution), and not the purveyors of those subjects. The misdeeds of those in the past who have promoted either Christianity or evolution don't necessarily reflect the dogma of either.

We have a pretty clear understanding that evolution is close to being fact, at least in scientific terms. It would be wrong of us, then, to teach in a classroom an idea like intelligent design that is unscientific in nature. Evolutionary science is based out of what the name implies -- science. Everything else is just belief.

A short disclaimer: I feel it imperative to explain my own beliefs on this subject. I believe that evolution was shaped by God's hands -- that is, I personally believe in intelligent design. What should be taught in schools, however, and what my personal beliefs are should not be similar. I recognize my beliefs as just that: beliefs. I have no authority to push them onto students in a classroom environment, nor to suggest that they are fact. As such, I am compelled to support the teaching of science in a science classroom and the teaching of my beliefs elsewhere.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

American's want health care reform -- some want even more than what's proposed

The American public is desperate for health care reform. Already passed in the House (with a public option included), the fight for reform now moves to the Senate.

But do Americans want reform that was passed? Recent polls can shed some light on this question. Most Americans in a recent CNN survey are unsatisfied with the bill the House has passed. 46 percent of Americans support the bill while 49 percent find it unsatisfactory.

But that doesn't mean that Americans don't want reform -- in fact, that same poll shows just the opposite.

The poll was broken down further by CNN. Of those who responded, 46 percent did support the bill -- but 10 percent (of the 49 percent who opposed the bill) thought it didn't go far enough. That means that 56 percent of Americans either like the bill passed by the House or want it to be even more liberal than it already is; only 39 percent of Americans think it's too liberal.

Though most thought that the bill passed wasn't perfect, the results of this poll are indicative of an American public that wants reform passed -- and passed soon.

It may come sooner that we thought. Today, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid released the Senate's plan for health care reform. The plan would ensure that 94 percent of Americans would be insured (only 83 percent are today) and would create a public insurance plan that would compete with the private industry. It would mandate that discrimination based on pre-existing conditions be outlawed, and would cut the budget deficit by nearly $130 billion over the next ten years.

The bill has already calmed the fears of some centrist Senators, who were worried the overwhelming costs would add to the budget deficit. But Republicans have vowed to fight it, through a filibuster in the upper house of Congress that can only be broken with 60 votes.

Americans will likely be mixed about the Senate bill as well, again with some who think it isn't liberal enough. But the bills before us today represent the best chance we've got towards granting health care coverage to millions of uninsured (and underinsured) Americans. Necessary changes must be made, but we should support what we have before us right now. Call Sens. Feingold and Kohl, and tell them to fight hard for health care reform. If you're up for it, call Sen. Joe Lieberman, too: he needs to hear from all Americans that his plan to join a Republican-led filibuster is hurting this country.

Lieberman phone: (202) 224-4041
Feingold phone: (202) 224-5323
Kohl phone: (202) 224-5653

Monday, November 16, 2009

Despite strong book sales, Sarah Palin's flaws remain

Former GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin's new book, Going Rogue, is already a best-seller. In a tell-all account of her life (as well as her time as VP candidate), Palin makes several claims that have been disputed by several prominent politicos and members of the media.

"Everything is someone else's fault," says one insider, who believes Palin failed to take responsibility for her miscues during the campaign. "There's no accountability. [Her book] is mean-spirited. But if you look at the record, it is what it is."

Perhaps that sort of critique should be expected at this point -- Palin is a very divisive person, and many from the left would love nothing more than for her political career to be over. But the comments from above don't come from the left. Instead, they come from the very people she worked alongside during the 2008 campaign, from a McCain campaign aide who says Palin's new book is full of lies.

That aide is not alone -- a set of emails recently released between Palin and other prominent members of the McCain campaign shows quite clearly that several assertions from her book contradict what happened in the real Palin's own accounts!

Within Going Rogue, Palin says that she was reluctant to wear clothes the RNC had provided for her and her family (costing hundreds of thousands of dollars), that she was forced to pay for her own legal vetting fees, and that members of the media -- most notably Katie Couric of CBS -- had treated her unfairly.

Couric's interview with Palin gained national attention, mostly for how terrible it was. The public, which had previously been enamored with her to some extent, quickly saw her as a bumbling ideologue, and in fact her polling numbers have slipped ever since.

In her book, Palin reportedly blames a lot of people for her misfortunes -- but rarely takes responsibility herself. This sort of temperament is why Palin will never be president. The mainstream has already rejected her extreme right views; but the American public have also traditionally rejected those who can't take responsibility for themselves, who can't lead without being petty.

Sarah Palin may be appealing to the base voters in the Republican Party. She's charismatic, she's unapologetic, and she keeps a strict conservative ideology. But those attributes won't convince the American people that she's presidential material.


Perhaps Palin's rise to stardom in the Republican Party is indicative of something more, of the major fissures within the GOP in recent years. She represents the wing of the party that refuses to back down, that refuses to listen to reason, and refuses to admit when they're wrong, not only on facts but also on something as simple as what they may have said in the past.

What Palin lacks (and others who share her attitudes and temperament lack as well) is humility -- the ability to look at oneself and say, "I'm not perfect." Like the troubled student who blames everyone else but himself for his bad grades, Palin can't acknowledge when she herself has done wrong.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

RNC health insurance promotes end-of-life counseling (otherwise known as "death panels")

Earlier this week, the Republican National Committee was embarrassed when Politico reported that the party had been providing its employees with insurance that covered abortion services. After all the hubbub that the RNC and Republican lawmakers had made over the public option covering such services, it seemed quite hypocritical that the GOP would pay for abortion through its insurance plan.

So the RNC opted out of that portion of the plan so that they would no longer be funding abortions (sort of). But later this week, another startling discovery was made about the RNC's health insurance provider.

It covers end-of-life counseling services. But by Sarah Palin and TEA Party protesters alike, those services are better known as "death panels."

Of course, end-of-life counseling is not anything remotely close to what a death panel would be. Within the health care bill passed by the House, as well as the RNC's insurance plan, there is no one asking elderly patients to define what their life is worth so that they can receive coverage.

End-of-life counseling is simply asking the patient, "What options would you like to take in the following scenarios?" It can range from wanting to go into hospice care to being a "do not resuscitate" patient. But all options, of course, are up to the patient (with the doctor's advice), and never allows a panel to decide anything for someone.

But that didn't stop Republican lawmakers -- RNC Chair Michael Steele included -- from calling these counseling sessions death panels. The term, meant to instill fear in people about the Democratic Party's health care plan, worked to a large extent, causing thousands to protest and disrupt town hall meetings across the country.

But how many of those same protesters will be upset with the RNC's insurance plan? And will the RNC opt out of this portion of their health care plan as well? Probably not.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Sources confirm Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett will run for governor

Politico and have reported that Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett will indeed run for governor in 2010, ending months of speculation.

Barrett is expected to make the formal announcement Sunday. Though highly speculated he would seek the highest office in the state, it still wasn’t known for sure what the Milwaukee mayor and former member of Congress would do.

But word leaked out earlier this evening from his own office. Barrett told city staff that he was preparing a run for governor, a Democratic insider said, and asked that his staff continue to work hard while he sought the office.

With Barrett in the race, it becomes a battle of Milwaukee-based politicians. Republican frontrunner Scott Walker (no relation to the author) is the current Milwaukee County Executive. A hard-line conservative, the two share very little in common besides proximity.

It should be an interesting race to watch. Be prepared, Wisconsin.

Catholic Church in D.C. considers dropping city contracts if same-sex marriage plan passes

Religion should never put a stranglehold upon a government or a government entity; nor should a government place unreasonable burdens upon a religious organization. But the Catholic Church in Washington D.C. is trying to do just that, effectively blackmailing the district in order to get its way.

The Catholic Church provides services to tens of thousands of people within D.C. through contracts it has established with the district. But because the city might pass an ordinance that would legalize same-sex marriage and other protections for gay and lesbian couples, the Catholic Church is considering opting out of the contracts, leaving the city and thousands of people who depend on the services the Church provides in the dark.

To be sure, the Catholic Church has some legitimate concerns. The city would exempt the Church from having to perform marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples. But the Church is concerned because, should the ordinance become law, it might mean that the Church would be forced to provide services in a non-discriminatory manner.

These concerns, however, don't justify the Catholic Church's actions. The set of circumstances here brings up an important question: Who Would Jesus Extort? It may seem silly to some, or maybe even offensive, but that is exactly what the Catholic Church in D.C. is doing. It's exerting its control over the city by refusing to provide services because it disagrees with a policy position the city has taken.

What else could you call such actions? The Catholic Church has a right to express its displeasure with the city's mandates, and to question whether the Church should be forced to help those it doesn't necessarily want to help.

But by threatening the city in this manner, the Church is acting in a very selfish way -- a path that was rejected by a certain Son of God nearly two thousand years ago. The Church has the right to do this...but somehow, from a Christian perspective, it just doesn't feel right.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Westboro Baptist Church: stay away from Obama daughters, soldiers' funerals

Is there no decency left in this country? Is everything that was once "off-limits" now fair game?

The Westboro Baptist Church, a religious organization notorious for staging protests outside of fallen soldiers' funerals (with signs like, "God Hates Fags!"), has come to Washington D.C. to protest outside of the schools where the president's daughters attend.

Known for holding extremist views (such as believing that all the nation's ills can be traced to homosexuality, abortion, and the acceptance of other religions as acceptable within society), the WBC refers to the Obama children as "satanic spawn" of a "murderous bastard" in its most recent protests. The church is also protesting at various locations in D.C. including the White House and the World War II Veterans' memorial.

To be sure, the WBC has the right to hold these protests, as protected by the U.S. Constitution. The right to free speech protects the rights of those the majority may find to be reprehensible or distasteful.

But so, too, do opinion writers have the right to find these acts immoral and/or indecent, and may express their displeasure by the same rights vested to the WBC. As such, this opinion writer will speak out on those acts.

Everyone has a right to express their views. They have the right to express how they feel about many issues. But the WBC has no decency whatsoever in my mind. To verbally assault the president's daughters, to attack any politician's children, is a step so low that it boggles the mind.

It's borderline threatening to do what this church has done, to stage events in front of the schools where the president's daughters attend, to call them "satanic spawn." What reason do they even have for doing this? What do they accomplish by putting fear in the minds of children -- not only in the minds of the president's daughters, but also in their classmates' minds as well?

The answer is simple: there IS no purpose to these events, in these staged protests. They are simply designed to bring attention to the church, to bring extremist followers to their doors. The president's daughters (and dead soldiers, for that matter) are props, as important to the protesters as their offensive signs and imagery are. The only purpose Sasha and Malia serve to these protesters is that they are the daughters of the president.

By doing something so offensive, so blatantly wrong, this church brings about more attention to itself. That is the real goal here: the WBC, it's clear to see, could care less about the Obama daughters.

It's disgusting how some can see this as justifiable, as serving some greater meaning. Whether you agree with the WBC or not on the issues, the violent words and imagery they project unto the president's daughters is wrong...and I worry for the souls of these church members.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Boehner confuses Constitution with Declaration, and grievances within fouding document to current events

At a recent TEA Party protest in Washington DC, House Minority Leader John Boehner stood before a crowd of thousands. Encouraging him to stand against the proposed health care bill in the House (which is now endorsed by the AARP), he spoke of a great founding document, the U.S. Constitution. Holding his personal copy of the document in his hand, Boehner recited the Preamble to the crowd:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident," Boehner said, "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights..."

Without a doubt, many TEA Party protesters at the event felt a sense of pride in hearing those words.

Some, however, probably felt a bit confused. Indeed, the document that Boehner was quoting was not the Constitution -- it was the Declaration of Independence.

That someone in today's world may confuse the two (both documents date back over two hundred years ago) is not surprising. Equally as unsurprising is that a person at a TEA Party event missed the mark (protesters within the crowds have spread lies and misinformation for several months now). But what should worry some is that a ranking member of Congress, the leader of the oppositional party in the House of Representatives, got the two mixed up.

Nevertheless, the sentiment is what matters more than the error. Boehner was articulating what many TEA Party protesters felt: that they had a right to protest this government, to bring it down, and to defeat Obama and his Democratic allies.

The Declaration of Independence -- the real document that Boehner had quoted -- justifies just that. When "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" are deprived from the people, then "it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it (government), and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness."

The Declaration indeed is a very rebellious document. But it's purpose was to address the grievances against the King of England at the time. Comparing those grivances to today's, and you'll notice something: the grievances of today are squat when you look back at history.

Patriots of 1776 rallied against unfair taxation (without represenation in Parliament), quartering of soldiers in colonial homes, dissolving of "representative houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people," unfair trials without juries, and general disregard for the law made by King George.

TEA Party protesters today are rallying against...taxes, high spending at the federal level, Barack Obama's birth certificate, health care reform...hardly anything comparable to the grievances of the late 18th century.

Whereas King George took away the livelihood of the people, took away their just rights, took away their right to purue their own happiness, Barack Obama is asking the wealthy to pay a little bit more in taxes (something most Americans support, and that father of the Republican Party Abraham Lincoln imposed). He is asking that we not fear high spending. And he's asking that we use some of our revenue to help put in place a health care plan that will allow people to keep their insurance, or to purchase a public plan offered by the government itself.

Oppose these policies all you want -- that's an American ideal that we all can celebrate, even if we do disagree with one another. Comparing the grievances of conservatives today, however, to the grievances the colonies had with King George, and you're out of line.

Barack Obama has done nothing to constitute the removal of government as we know it, as Jefferson suggested we do in times destruction to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." We mustn't be hasty, and we shouldn't over-dramatize the grievances we may have with the president, with some of us proposing an actual revolution to deal with them.

Disagree with him. Be emotional about it. But don't compare apples to oranges.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Joe Wilson asks: "If you like public option so much, why don't YOU get it??"

Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC), the Congressman who in late September cried out "You lie!" during President Barack Obama's speech to a joint session of Congress, has come up with a brilliant idea in order to make Democrats look stupid on health care reform.

If they want to make a public option available to the American people, Wilson argues, then they should back it up by being required to have it, too.

"If this public option is so good, then why don't the congressmen take the plan?" Wilson stated, repeating a line that he says was asked of him several times by his constituents.

It's great political maneuvering by Republicans: if Democrats want a public option, their argument goes, then they should have to give up the insurance they have now through their employer (the federal government); if they aren't willing to do that, then the American people will undoubtedly have some misgivings about the public option plan.

There's only one problem with Wilson's proposal: it assumes members of Congress deserve to have the same health insurance that the American people have. Flip that around, and it means the American people are also deserving to have the same insurance as members of Congress.

Yet, you don't see Wilson or his conservative allies calling for all Americans to have their (the representatives') same health care plan. If Joe Wilson were really serious about his demand for Democrats in Congress, he should also consider buying his own insurance plan, the way many Americans have to do today. If he's lucky, maybe the American public would let him and his cohorts pay the average amount for an employer-based insurance plan for a family of four -- more than $3,500 per year, an increase of 327 percent over the last decade.

Of course, many more Americans might want members of Congress who are supporting Wilson's proposal to try paying for insurance themselves, without the employer-based number. After all, many employers are now dropping their workers from their plans. The average cost: above $5,500 (in 2005).

Still others might want Congress -- under the auspices of the Wilson plan, once again -- to go without health insurance of any kind, the way one out of every seven Americans must live today. Paying out of their own pockets, members of Congress would be forced to pay more than $16,000 per year (the average cost of health care coverage for a family of four). Or, if they're like real Americans struggling with health care problems, they might not take themselves to the doctors at all, hoping for the best when their children get the cold, praying that it isn't something more complicated than the "sniffles."

Joe Wilson shouldn't be asking supporters of health care, "Why won't YOU get the public option?" He should be asking his own party, "Why aren't we doing MORE to give Americans the opportunity to have health care coverage, the way WE have it?" If it's good enough for Congress, then surely it's good enough for America.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A year since Obama's election, the lies from the right continue

A year has passed since the election of President Barack Obama. In that time, many things have happened, each a noteworthy piece of the president's short history in office thus far.

But I'd like to take a moment here to discuss what hasn't happened, to alleviate the concerns of some out there who may have been worrying...

The rule of law has held true; the president has not disregarded any law or conducted himself or his office in a way unbefitting of the office he holds. In fact, the president and his Justice Department have kept in line with laws they themselves find to be distasteful, such as the Defense of Marriage Act. Despite Obama and his administration finding this law to be reprehensible and unjust, the president has made it clear that it will be enforced (perhaps, in a way, to push Congress to repeal it themselves, the legal way it should be done).

Democracy is still going strong in our nation -- today's elections are clear signs of that. A strong example of democracy in action took place today, with several key races going in favor of those who oppose the policies of Barack Obama and Democrats in Washington. In what many conservatives will label a decline in the president's popularity (not necessarily true), Americans should also see as proof positive that this president respects the will of the people in choosing their leaders.

America is not the socialist wasteland that many thought it would become when Obama took office. In fact, an interesting graphic (see image above) provided by the Atlantic Magazine shows just how socialist America became after the acquisition of GM -- less than a quarter of a percentage point (.21 percent of the entire economy). Obama has also made it clear that his administration doesn't intend to hold onto GM once it's back on its own feet again, and there hasn't been anything that would suggest otherwise.

The right to dissent, by an individual or a news organization, is still strong today: TEA Party protesters and FOX News commentators are indicators of that. Despite the administration's clear belief that FOX isn't actually news and should be disregarded, it's clear that the president has no desire to remove the network or infringe upon their right to report what they want about his administration, despite what right-wingers may want you to believe.

I bring forth these four facts -- the rule of law being preserved; democracy continuing unabridged; America's continued capitalistic tradition; and the right to dissent -- to make a point: the fears exhibited by the right over what an Obama presidency would mean prior to his election have not come to fruition. These fears have been continued well-into his presidency; but as we have seen a year after his election and ten months after he has taken office, the president has not yet executed his "master plan" to bring down America. He has not filled his White House with terrorist sympathizers; has not made Islam the official state religion (or ruined the rights of others to practice Christianity); he has not made the nation any less livable for white people; has not compromised our national security; and yes, his birth certificate is still authentic.

Despite all this, despite what has NOT happened in the ten months since he has been the chief executive of our nation, conservative commentators and extremists continue to believe that this president will bring down our country somehow, and continue to spread the hate of Barack Obama in a fervent attempt to bring down his presidency.

Is there no decency left in this nation? Are conservatives really that desperate, really that willing to do whatever it takes to gain power again, even if it means disseminating lies and inaccuracies? To hold a position is one thing: conservatism isn't "wrong" as much as liberalism isn't. But what IS wrong is the method conservatives are utilizing in order to win more to their side.

It is the method of fear in conjunction with lies. Think about it: if you believed everything the right has told you in recent months (or years), what would you believe? You'd believe that Obama was a Muslim and that he wasn't born in this country. You'd believe the health care bills proposed by Congress would create death panels, would give illegal immigrants free health care coverage, or create a massive debt (latest CBO numbers show a reduction in the deficit by 2019). You'd believe that ACORN was running the Census in 2010 (it never was running any aspect of the Census). That's just the short list.

Fear is a dangerous tool in politics today. It isn't being used exclusively by the right, but they are using it extensively. We must be sure that what we hear isn't fear-based misinformation, that the information we're being given is factual. Hopefully, more Americans will disregard the lies fed to them in year two of the Obama era of presidential politics.

Monday, November 2, 2009

NY Congressional race indicative of changing nation

A congressional race in upstate New York has political aficionados salivating at the drama it has created, with the outcome potentially changing the course of the Republican Party in future elections.

In what should have been an easy win for any Republican running, Dierdre Scozzafava, the GOP's candidate, has stepped aside due to endorsements made by several key party leaders for one of her opponents. The Conservative Party candidate, Doug Hoffman, has received support from conservative Republicans like Sarah Palin and Tim Pawlenty, both contenders in 2012 for the GOP nomination for president, as well as other prominent party heads. Even House Minority Leader John Boehner said earlier this week that he regretted supporting Scozzafava.

The schism allowed for the Democratic candidate, Bill Owens, to gain some ground and actually have a chance in this race. With the two right-leaning candidates splitting the vote, Owens could have won as a Democrat in this conservative district, a feat that has never been accomplished.

With failing polling numbers, though, Scozzafava dropped out of the race, leaving the Conservative Party candidate Hoffman to claim most of the right-of-center voters. However, in a bitter twist, Scozzafava added even more drama when she cast her endorsement -- to Democrat Bill Owens.


In all likelihood, Owens won't win this race. But that he even has a chance at it, that a moderate Republican would endorse him over his conservative opponent, speaks volumes about the fragile makeup of the Republican Party today, as well as the political balance we see among all Americans.

It seems that moderates have no place within the party of Lincoln these days, that only hardliner-conservatives can make a difference or have a voice within the GOP. When conservative commentators harass Colin Powell for his moderate views, or when politicians must bend over backwards to appease their "party leader" Rush Limbaugh, it's clear that moderates aren't wanted anymore, are seen as undeserving of a place at the table within the Republican Party's proverbial dining room.

What happens then? The Democrats reap the benefits, gain more moderates and independents towards their cause, and become seen as the party of reason and common sense. Americans begin to realize that the unwarranted fears of a public option are not valid; they start to understand that thinking about foreign policy matters is better than investing in a potential quagmire, or that diplomacy doesn't necessarily equate appeasement as conservatives maintain it does.

Yes, the schism between moderate and hardliner Republicans is indicative of something: America is changing. We were never fighting a left-vs.-right battle, but rather it was a "who can win the moderates?" fight. Right now, the conservative-driven Republican Party is losing that battle -- Democrats are winning, are more in-tune with the American people (indeed, one in three Americans now consider themselves Democrats, with only one in five calling themselves Republicans).

America is turning left, albeit at a snail's pace. Don't believe me? Nearly three-quarters of Americans support raising taxes on the wealthy. Nearly three out of five support higher taxes if it means everyone can have health insurance.

America is moving left on social issues, too: earlier this year, in a CBS poll, 42 percent of Americans thought that gay and lesbian couples deserved marriage rights, while 25 percent preferred they only receive legal rights that married couples get, without the title (e.g. civil unions); only 28 percent thought that they deserved no recognition at all. The very fact that the American public elected an African American as president -- with more votes cast for him than any other president in history -- is also surely a sign of change in the politics of this nation.


Perhaps it is a bit much to draw all this out from a simple (yet very complicated) Congressional race in upstate New York. But the parallels of that race and this nation's changing attitudes are too much to ignore. We are seeing this across country: what should be a straight forward, Republican vs. Democratic race is amounting to something more, something deeper.

The mainstream Republican, thwarted by her once-trusted allies, is beginning to question her loyalty to that party. The Democratic majority is beginning to welcome that questioning spirit, to become more inclusive in its ranks. And the die-hard conservative Republicans? Though a vocal group, their presence in the discourse of this country is shrinking. We still hear them, but as time passes, more of us -- mainstream left and right -- are starting to ignore their calls.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Abstinence-only education not right for Wisconsin schools

The state of Wisconsin is poised to pass legislation that would require schools statewide to provide students with a complete education on sexual health, including information on contraception and other methods for birth control.

Currently, schools in Wisconsin determine for themselves how far they want to teach their students about the "birds and the bees." Many school districts opt for "abstinence-only" education, which severely limits a student's ability to understand how to prevent a pregnancy or contracting a sexually transmitted disease.

Under the proposed bill, titled the Healthy Youth Act, Wisconsin schools would be required to teach a comprehensive sex ed class, complete with alternative pregnancy prevention methods. Abstinence would also be included as the best way to prevent a pregnancy or an STD.

Critics of the bill have called it an unwarranted attack upon the rights of local governments and school boards. Matt Sande, director of legislation for Pro-Life Wisconsin, told the Wisconsin State Journal that the bill would be a "violation of the principle of local control."

While local autonomy is an important thing to preserve, ensuring that Wisconsin teens get the sexual knowledge they need is also essential. Abstinence-only education gives students one option -- don't have sex -- and while we should encourage students to choose this option more than any others, we should also be realistic: some of these kids are going to have sex.

There are countless studies that show abstinence-only education doesn't work. Teens either have sex anyway or end up having an STD that complicates their health further down the road.

We should encourage schools to teach an age-appropriate, comprehensive sexual education program that includes information about contraceptive devices, as well as methods on how to prevent spreading sexually transmittable diseases. This program should also include abstinence as a primary method to prevent both -- in fact, the only method proven to do so -- but not the ONLY method mentioned.

Students deserve to know the facts on sex -- hiding these from them isn't going to make the problem of teen pregnancy go away, but may instead exacerbate the problem.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

FOX vs. Obama

The Obama administration has recently called out FOX News for what it really is, with some administration officials calling it "the communications arm of the Republican Party."

FOX News fans haven't taken it lightly: some conservatives have suggested that the president is behaving in a Nixonian manner, creating an "enemies list" the same way the disgraced ex-president did. Some have even suggested his administration is suppressing freedom of the press and free speech in general.

Is the Obama administration doing the wrong thing here? In a way, yes -- their objections to FOX News may have distracted the public away from important issues. By creating a "war" between the network and the White House, Obama has shifted the focus away from these issues and placed himself at center-stage.

But it's not entirely unwarranted. FOX News really DOES seem to operate as the media arm of the Republican Party. The loony rantings of Glenn Beck, the misinformation or distortion of the facts that Sean Hannity unleashes daily, the beyond rational control-freak mannerisms of Bill O'Reilly...and that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Criticizing the Obama administration is perfectly acceptable -- but FOX News is conducting an all-out assault on the president, and has been doing so since he became a viable candidate against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. They continued it into the general election, and have continued it still into his presidency.

The network's guests that have appeared since then have characterized the president as, among other things, a non-resident, a Muslim terrorist, a Maoist, a communist, socialist, fascist, etc., with very little objection from the anchors conducting the interviews. The stories themselves are hardly objective (something conservatives supposedly clamor for in the mainstream media) but instead show a clear bias against all things left of center, especially if it's related to President Obama.

The "editorial section" has a clear bias as well, which is fine (that's what an editorial is meant to be). Their bias, however, is usually based out of distorted facts, mistruths, and flat-out lies -- lies that never go corrected by these hosts.

So who started this whole mess? When FOX snubbed the Obama administration earlier this fall by not airing the president's speech to a joint session of Congress, the administration did not include FOX in its rounds on Sunday morning talk shows when Obama appeared on five different programs. Since then, the war on FOX has escalated, with FOX claiming a clear bias from the White House against their news organization (which is kind of ironic).

Obama's advisers aren't wrong to go after FOX (they have a right to be critical of the news organization just as the news organization has the right to be critical of them), but they're not doing anything good other than antagonizing an already energized base of conservative critics. Still, simply ignoring the criticisms launched against the administration may be a greater crime to commit -- FOX is disseminating lies and mistruths about the president and some reaction to it is certainly acceptable.

So no, the president isn't suppressing free speech, as some conservatives may argue. The administration is just fighting back against clear biases a conservative network news station is making -- often with little to no evidence to back those biases. After all, the freedom to speech extends to the office of the president just as much as it does FOX News. Until Obama pulls a "Chavez" (that is, physically takes the cable station off the air), such claims are bogus, and without merit.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

U.S. Attorneys "back off" prosecuting medicinal marijuana users

The federal government announced this week that it will no longer seek to prosecute patients using medicinal marijuana if the practice of prescribing it is legal within that patient's state.

In a memorandum to select U.S. Attorney's affected by the new policy, Attorney General Eric Holder wrote that, "Pursuit of these priorities should not focus federal resources in your States on individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana."

In other words, U.S. Attorneys in states where they have legalized medicinal marijuana shouldn't seek out the prosecution of individuals who are using the drugs as part of their doctor's recommendations. The illegal growing and distribution of marijuana is still a criminal offense, and individuals partaking in those endeavors should still be sought after; but as far as patients using the drug, the Obama administration has made it clear that there are higher priorities than the cancer patient smoking dope because his doctor told him to.

The change in attitudes on marijuana policy is a big move for any administration to take. It's also a step in the right direction: the laws against marijuana users in this country are backwards and hypocritical. Marijuana is safer, in some ways, than other legal drugs, such as drinking and cigarette smoking. Marijuana isn't as addictive as cigarette smoking is; and it does less damage to your body than habitual drinking does (there has never been a single documented death due to marijuana overdose).

To be sure, there are still dangers with marijuana use -- no one is saying, for example, that driving while under the influence of pot is safe. But certainly a drug that has the ability to make those struggling with immense pain feel less of it is one we should consider legalizing, at the very least on a medicinal level.

Wisconsin governor Jim Doyle, in fact, recently stated that he would be open to a law in the state that would allow doctors to prescribe marijuana for medicinal purposes. And why not? There are certainly worse drugs a person can use; but if used properly, under the supervision of a doctor's care, marijuana can do wonders for a person's life, eliminating the suffering they would ordinarily feel without it.

There are drugs that are real problems for society -- ecstasy and heroin come to mind -- but there are many drugs that do wonderful things for society, too, that have helped people with various ailments, adding comfort to their lives when their absence would otherwise mean a life of unending pain. There are other drugs, still, that are deemed safe enough to be legal yet still are abused daily.

I would put marijuana in one or two of these groups -- it's just as safe, if not safer, than the drugs that are deemed safe enough to be legal, and has the potential to be a drug that can help thousands, if not, millions of lives.

It wouldn't be a terrible thing to legalize marijuana in Wisconsin, if only for medicinal purposes.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Liberalism's views on religion and morality: a refresher course

A common misconception of the liberal ideology is that it promotes a secular state. That's true, in part; we liberals do want a neutral government when it comes to religion, but we could care less about what the people themselves want to believe in regards to their faith. But conservatives who are pushing for a higher standard of morality in society often further believe that liberals want a moral-less society, one that abolishes faith and religion outright. Nothing could be further from the truth.

What are liberalism's views on religion, morality, and society? Liberals take a stance that is common among most Americans: let the people choose for themselves what to believe. With regards to religion, a person should be free to exercise their views without restriction from the state or any other force in society, so long as their views don't conflict with the rights of others.

Most liberals don't even mind when religious groups take part in ceremonies on public land or have symbols placed in front of city hall. Liberals do take issue, however, when only specific religions are allowed to place such markers in those areas. A Jew or a Muslim has just as much right as a Christian to place a symbol on public land -- in the eyes of the law, these separate faiths (or any other faiths) should be seen as equals.

Morality, on the other hand, is a touchier subject; while most Americans agree that people should be able to choose for themselves what faith is best for them, when it comes to morality everyone believes their faith or beliefs are best to legislate into law. Most can agree on core issues -- you won't find many who believe murder is an acceptable practice in our society -- but on other subjects, a great debate usually surfaces. What are we do about gay marriage, for instance? What about stem cell research? Or gun control? Liberalism looks at these issues of morality and focuses once again on people's rights. Laws on morality should focus on liberties, not a specific faith's views.

For instance, when looking at laws on gun ownership, we should ask ourselves what rights, if any, would be violated by banning a particular weapon. The right to own a gun is one that even most liberals acknowledge as one that shouldn't be infringed upon. But do restrictions on specific weapons deemed dangerous by society infringe upon that right, or do they in fact protect more Americans from dangerous criminals or accidents in the home? That is the debate we should be having with gun rights; it's not an "all-or-nothing" question of whether we should own guns or not, but rather whether certain restrictions of weaponry infringe upon the right to bear arms in our country.

Morality should be legislated in a similar way: we should ask, "What rights are removed from a person if this piece of legislation is passed? In what way will a person's livelihood change if this policy is put into law?" If it's a significant change, enough to affect how a person is able to live their lives, then liberals believe that it's an unjust law, one that violates a person's rights.

Ultimately, morality and religious belief are best left for a person to define for themselves. Yes, there comes a time when a certain moral code needs to be legislated over all others to keep order within society -- but this should be done to preserve the rights of everyone, not just a certain group of people. These rights should be derived from a secular source, not one that is religious in nature. In that way, it is applied equally unto everyone as well as justified by a similar structure, one based on rights, over a population.

If a person wants to subject themselves to their personal faith's moral code, then let them; but they shouldn't expect that same moral code to be subjected upon society itself. For that, we need a moral code that allows everyone the right to make that decision, to decide for themselves what's best for them, while still preserving the rights of the people.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Roland Burris: an unlikely hero?

Roland Burris, a Democratic Senator from Illinois, is not someone I would suggest having as a political hero. Having received his Senate seat under suspicious circumstances -- from an appointment by Rod Blagojevich, the Illinois governor who tried to sell the seat to the highest bidder -- Burris isn't seen as the most ethical Senator within the upper house of Congress.

Recently, however, Burris did something that no other Democratic Senator has done, or has had the guts to do: he openly voiced that he will not support any health care reform bill that doesn't include a robust public option.

"I would not support a bill that does not have a public option," said Burris, adding that his "position will not change" on the matter.

Some may see Burris's comments as foolish or stubborn. But it's just as stubborn, if not more so, to actively say you won't support any bill WITH a public option, as some conservative Democrats and Republicans have said they will vote. Such stubbornness, in fact, goes against the will of the people, who overwhelmingly want a public option in the final bill.

Fifty seven percent of Americans, in fact, support a public option for health care reform, according to a new ABC News/Washington Post pol. What's more, a majority of Americans also want Democrats to pass reform without bipartisan support from Republicans if the end result would include a public option.

Sensing this, you'd think more Senators than Roland Burris would come out this strong in support of a public insurance option for Americans. It's troubling that more Senators aren't demanding this plan be a part of the final bill. Sure, many are fighting for it to be there, but there hasn't been a demand for it, the way Republicans are demanding it not be there at all.

For that, the Democrats seem to be wavering on the issue a little -- even Barack Obama has said that, while he wants a public option as part of the final bill, he would support a bill without it, too. The president shouldn't waver like this: he should be more forthcoming, more "sure" about what he wants in the bill.

Roland Burris is no hero, that much is for sure. But his actions this week take on heroic qualities.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Predicting 2010: Dems will still control Congress

It may be too soon to start talking about the midterm elections, but many conservatives and Republican-leaning commentators are predicting a big win for Republicans when the 2010 midterm elections come around. They point to the large turnout at TEA Party protests as evidence of this, as well as other knee-jerk reactions to the proposed policies made by so-called "socialist" Democrats.

Those "socialists," however, include a broad coalition of Democrats, ranging from the fiscally conservative Blue Dogs to the more ambitious Progressive Caucus. This "large tent" of Democrats have made it difficult for most Americans to gauge what the Democratic Party's goals and platform really are, as each Congressional Dem has a different take on every piece of legislation that comes to the Hill.

Nevertheless, Republican probably will pick up a few seats come November 2010 -- but not enough to substantially change Washington. While it's true that TEA Party protesters and other conservative interests represent a vocal group of actively engaged citizens, they're simply a vocal minority. They don't represent the majority of U.S. citizens that want higher taxes on the wealthy or the majority of Americans that want a public option in the final version of the health care reform bill.

Many of the "conserva-Dems" that won in districts where John McCain actually defeated Barack Obama for votes in the presidential election will undoubtedly face fierce competition from Republican foes. And with the large majority that the Democrats already have in both houses of Congress, there's really only one way they can go in 2010 -- and that's down.

But don't expect Congress to be controlled by the GOP in 2011; what's more likely is that Democrats will see only a few in their ranks leave. The Dems will still hold control of both the House and Senate; indeed, polling numbers indicate that Democrats are still favored, if just slightly, over Republicans in a generic ballot.

The Democratic Party definitely has some ground to pick up: the Republicans' strategy of obstructionism and the Democrats' failure to come together as a unified party have caused some within the public to think twice about supporting the ideas and policies that Obama and Congressional Democrats have proposed. Still, more Americans support those ideas and policies than don't.

We're a long way from seeing the GOP take control of legislative government, and still way off from seeing a Republican President come 2012. Unless something drastic happens, don't count on a conservative government for quite some time.