Sunday, May 31, 2009

Levin: Cheney's wrong on torture debate

Former Vice President Dick Cheney has been highly critical as of late of Barack Obama's foreign policy, namely the opinions he (Obama) expressed on torture during the Bush administration. Cheney asserts that torture has worked, and that unreleased memos detail how we thwarted terrorist plots through such extreme interrogations.

There is, however, a hitch in the former vice president's assertions. Michigan Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services committee, has called out Cheney's bluff, stating that his comments are blatant lies.
Mr. Cheney claimed last week that President Obama’s decisions have made us less secure and that abusive interrogation techniques worked. Mr. Cheney has said that the use of abusive techniques “prevented the violent death of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of innocent lives.” Mr. Cheney’s claims are directly contrary to the judgment of our FBI Director, Robert Mueller, that no attacks on America were disrupted due to intelligence obtained through the use of those techniques.

Mr. Cheney has also claimed that the release of classified documents would prove his view that the techniques worked. But those classified documents say nothing about numbers of lives saved, nor do the documents connect acquisition of valuable intelligence to the use of the abusive techniques. I hope that the documents are declassified so that people can judge for themselves what is fact and what is fiction.
Sen. Levin also quoted General David Petraeus's views on torture:
"Some may argue that we would be more effective if we sanctioned torture or other expedient methods to obtain information from the enemy. They would be wrong," he said. "Beyond the basic fact that such actions are illegal, history shows that they also are frequently neither useful nor necessary. Certainly, extreme physical action can make someone ‘talk;’ however, what the individual says may be of questionable value."
Either Cheney or both Levin and Petraeus are misleading us. For my money, I'll trust the words from the distinguished senator from Michigan and the eloquent words from the respected general over the disgraced words from the former vice president.

Optimism on the Stimulus Package

President Barack Obama recently announced that the stimulus package that was passed just over 100 days ago has already shown some results: it has created or saved over 150,000 jobs in the short time and amount of money that has been used thus far. If the current rate continues, we could see that number go up to half a million by the year's end.

There's reason to expect more than that, however, in the future of the spending bill: the funds used thus far represent but a small fraction of what ultimately will become the bulk of the stimulus package. In other words, you can expect the rate at which jobs are saved or created to be even higher than it is today in a year's time.

Friday, May 29, 2009

When prayer is wrong

(I know the story is a week old, but I wanted to write something on this...)

I'm a liberal; this you should already know, if you read this blog regularly. The point is, many conservatives will probably assume that I don't support religious rights all that much.

Truth be told, I'm a strong proponent of religious rights. I believe in public prayer in public places. I'm not all that opposed to religious symbols being placed on government property -- so long as all religions that want to be present there are allowed to be as well. When it comes to religion, I'm under the belief that whatever you want to believe, believe it, so long as it doesn't cause harm to anyone else.

That last caveat is especially important; just as government can become oppressive towards religion, so, too, can religion become oppressive. It seems like something that doesn't have to be said -- there are literally centuries of evidence to confirm it -- but sometimes, it's worth reminding people that religious belief can sometimes go down the wrong path.


Last Friday, a woman from Wausau, Wisconsin, was convicted of second-degree reckless homicide for failing to take her 11-year old diabetic daughter. Instead of seeking medical help, Leilani Neumann decided her best option was to pray for her daughter to get healed.

Actually, she didn't see it as her best option -- she saw it as her only option. Never did the idea of seeking medical help for her daughter come into her mind as a feasible option to take. For a woman who "prays about everything," surrounding her daughter in a prayer circle until it was too late, until she breathed her last breath, was perfectly acceptable.


I have no doubt in God's power. As a Christian myself, I know that God could have very easily healed this little girl. But there comes a time when God wants you to put his faith in Him by putting your faith in others.

Leilani Neumann should have done just that. It was irresponsible to assume that God would punish her for not trusting in His power. God has given us the marvels of modern medicine and science, entrusted in us the wisdom necessary to utilize these things. He didn't hand the ability to understand these things so that we could just waste them; He gave us these things so that we could use them.

So yes, it was right to prosecute and ultimately convict Leilani Neumann for the actions that she took; and if you believe that she was persecuted for her religious convictions, you are wrong. She recklessly used her daughter's life to prove her love for God.

I don't quote from Immanuel Kant very often because he's not my favorite philosopher. But perhaps he put it best when he said this:
"Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, always at the same time as an end and never merely as a means to an end."

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Sotomayor: you can't get more experience than her!

This morning I read Jonah Goldberg's column in the Wisconsin State Journal regarding President Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Sonia Sotomayor. Needless to say, I was a bit outraged by what I read.

Essentially, Goldberg wrote that there is no place for "empathy" on the Court, a trait that he called the "key qualification" for Obama's pick. (It wasn't the key qualification by any means -- Obama laid out a laundry list of items needed for anyone he was going to nominate, and empathy was among them.) Justices have to apply the rule of law to each case equally, and any opinion reached through empathetic emotions would be derived through dubious means.

Goldberg acts as though Sotomayor is an ignoramus, as though she is not aware of her constitutional rights and duties as a judge (or justice). She ought to know better, for, if confirmed, she would have more federal experience than anyone else confirmed to the Court in the past 100 years.

Yes, if a justice were to rule solely on empathy, that would be wrong. But an empathetic judge who has Sotomayor's experience understands that empathy must be coupled with precedent. She may understand what a person is going through, but without precedent to back it up, it can't be applied. The added empathy factor that Obama was looking for is the empathy a person would have in order to seek out that precedent. Sotomayor has that empathy -- but also the knowledge to know when it's wrong to use it without backing it up with case law.

Those who have properly researched Sotomayor would know all these things -- and more: she's not the liberal communist that conservative commentators are making her out to be. In fact, she has sided with former President Bush's right to ban aid to foreign organizations that support abortion rights for women -- a conservative position, to be sure. She's also defended churches' rights to hire or fire applicants/workers based on their convictions, another conservative viewpoint.

There are many more examples of Sotomayor's breadth of experience and understanding of our legal system that conservatives have chosen to ignore. It would behoove Senate Republicans to do a little more investigating into the real Sotomayor, and to look past this "empathy" rhetoric that has everyone up in arms. Who knows: maybe these senators will see something they like in her after all.

Ban on marriage upheld in CA

Earlier this week, the California state Supreme Court voted to uphold Proposition 8, a voter-based constitutional amendment that passed by a majority vote during the 2008 general election. Despite my opposition to the ban (and I'm sure I'll get some flak for writing this), I do feel the court made the right decision: there wasn't a legal basis available to overturn the ban, and doing so would have set terrible precedent.

Having said that, I remain committed to writing on and continuing the push for alternative avenues for restoring marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples in California as well as nation-wide. Overturning the ban through another voter-based referendum, for example, should be first priority for the gay marriage movement in California. Following such a vote, California voters should also fix their flawed constitutional amending process, of which only a simple majority is allowed to destroy the rights and protections afforded to the minority within the state.

Wisconsin has a similar problem: never during the entire amendment process is a super-majority requirement established, allowing, once again, for the majority to trample upon the rights and privileges afforded to the minority. Unlike California, however, a legal argument can be made for overturning Wisconsin's ban on gay marriage since the constitutional amendment asked Wisconsin voters to approve more than one question. Wisconsin requires that each question posed to the voters be listed separately, but were never given that opportunity in 2006 when the amendment asked voters to ban both gay marriages and other legal protections similar to marriage for gay couples. Since it's very conceivable that a person could support civil unions in Wisconsin but not outright marriage, the ban forced such persons to make an "all-or-nothing" pick when it came to the amendment.

As I always have, I still maintain that there is no reasonable justification for denying gay and lesbian couples marriage rights. This includes California; even though I previously stated there wasn't a legal justification for overturning the ban, I still believe the ban there to be unreasonable. Were there a legal reason for overturning the ban, you'd see me arguing all for a court to reverse it; however, that isn't the case, and I'm not prepared to support overturning a law simply because I disagree with it. A more reasonable approach is to do so through legal means. This can be done in Wisconsin, through referendum or the courts; both options should be looked at.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Sotomayor for SCOTUS Justice

Barack Obama, in his duties as president, has nominated federal appeals judge Sonia Sotomayor to replace current Supreme Court Justice David Souter, who announced his plans to step down a few weeks ago. Sotomayor, if confirmed, would become the first Hispanic justice to serve on the Court.

Many conservative commentators are huffing and puffing over the nomination, especially over Obama's earlier remarks about adding a justice with "empathy" to the Court. The word is, to conservatives, code for judicial activism, which is a cardinal sin to anyone on the right.

Except, of course, when it benefits their cause. As Thom Hartmann pointed out on his radio program today, if you define activism the way that conservatives do -- as "legislating from the bench" -- then it is the conservative justices on the Court, not the liberal ones, who are the real activists.

According to a study from the American Prospect, from 1989 to 2005 the justices who were least likely to rule from the bench were the most liberal ones, while the most conservative justices did just the opposite, overturning executive and legislative directives more often than their counterparts.

What's more, those conservative justices were more likely to vote in favor of presidents who catered to their conservative ideology. Under both Bushes, "Rehnquist, Scalia, and Thomas voted in favor of the executive 65 percent" of the time, while voting in favor of the executive only 47 percent of the time under Clinton.

None of this matters to conservative commentators, of course, because all that matters is LIBERAL judicial activism. Will the new justice uphold Roe v. Wade? Will they undermine the traditional marriage? For God's sake, please don't let them take our guns away!

Joking aside, Sotomayor is likely to uphold Roe v. Wade. Her views on gay marriage aren't quite known yet, and it isn't likely that she'll be in favor of taking guns away from anyone, save convicted criminals. Her liberal record, in fact, isn't so liberal. For example, the gag rule put in place during the previous president's tenure -- essentially eliminating all aid to any foreign organization that supported abortion rights -- was upheld under one of her rulings. Obama lifted that rule shortly after taking office.

For all the attention she's getting from conservatives like Rush Limbaugh and other extremist elements of the Republican Party, Sotomayor is really not that harmful to their cause. It's likely this is just another attempt by the right-wing to obstruct a plan or event that is meant to put Obama in a good light. It's too bad the Republican Party can't do something positive for once in order to get some attention.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Oh, while I'm gone...

...check out Keith Olbermann's Special Comment...

Memorial Day Weekend Hiatus

This weekend, you won't be seeing much of me posting. I will be up north (about an hour north of Appleton, Wisconsin) with the future in-laws celebrating the weekend. I figured I'd better let everyone know (all two of you, yuk yuk yuk!) that they shouldn't expect too many blogs from me during this Memorial Day.

Do me a favor, though: find the time to reflect on a veteran who affected your life in some way. It's not just a holiday for the sake of having a day off; this holiday means something more than that.

Take care, until Monday or so...


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Ignorance on Carbon Dioxide

Higher fuel standards and lower emissions are needed for our nation's cars, President Barack Obama said today, in order to curtail the effects of global climate change. Such standards are welcome signs for anyone who cares about the environment, as well as those who are concerned over our dependence on foreign oil and who want lower gas prices.

Conservative commentators and lawmakers, of course, will deride the plan as anti-business, bad for the already fledgling auto industry and an unnecessary regulation to stop global climate change, a phenomenon many on the far right continue to deny is real.

But climate change is very real, its effects already evident in melting glaciers, disappearing ice caps, and several species being driven from their habitat due to changing conditions. Glenn Beck and other talking heads like him can "huff-and-puff" all they want, but they're wrong to assume CO2 from humans is anything like CO2 from industry.

When lawmakers like Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) compare our CO2 usage with cars to that of our breathing or soda drinking, it's a sign of how ignorant (or perhaps stubborn) people can be on the subject of global climate change. When Barton says that a marathon full of runners exhaling CO2 could conceivably be regulated, he ignores that industrial CO2 emissions are several times more than what runners "emit," and that the industrial CO2 emissions are continuous, day after day. When he says that CO2 isn't a poison, he forgets how a cloud of carbon dioxide gas has killed people near Lake Nyos in Cameroon, or that a simple Wikipedia search would show that prolonged exposure can cause dizziness, difficulty in breathing, an increased heart rate, and in some cases unconsciousness.

But besides missing the point that carbon dioxide is bad for humans, conservatives like Barton forget that it isn't even THAT fact that matters -- it's the fact that CO2 in our atmosphere is responsible for the hole in our ozone layer, effectively heating the planet up more than is naturally sustainable. The toxicity of carbon dioxide is one thing -- but the destruction of our planet should be enough to cause concern among anyone who wants to continue living on this planet of ours.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Fairland: a parable on Gay Marriage

I recently have been engaging in a discussion online with someone about gay marriage. They had said that they wanted two wives; after all, we should only do what's fair. In reality, this person believed gay marriage to be wrong, to be an unfair advantage to gay and lesbian couples, a special right conferred on them. I responded with a parable on fairness, which takes place in a fictional country called "Fairland."

Let’s consider the fairness of denying gay couples marriage rights in the state sense.

How about a little game of make-believe? We’re starting a new country today! This country is called Fairland, where we’re going to treat everyone fair – whether that benefits them or not. Invariably, there will be many debates about what is fair or not, and many subjects worth discussing. But let’s remain focused on the topic of marriage for a moment.

Many members of the new country have emigrated from foreign lands where marriage had been recognized by the government, which also rewarded them for being married. Couples were given the right to collect inheritance from their spouses upon death, visitation rights in hospitals, tax incentives, and other various privileges for being married.

The new citizenry of Fairland wants to have those same privileges afforded to them. Currently, a church can marry two people, but nothing after that happens, at least in a legal sense.

So the people of Fairland have decided to give a man and a woman who want to be with one another the opportunity to enter into a contract between themselves and the government. What’s more, Fairland isn’t going to just limit this right to couples married in a church: couples wishing to receive these benefits without religious overtones can get “married” as well, and gain the same recognition that those who DID receive religious marriages got. And it should go without saying that couples who are different races will of course receive these same benefits – it wouldn’t be fair to do otherwise, would it?

But let’s further suppose that a gay couple wants these same benefits. Fairland residents debate the issue for months without coming to a conclusion about this. Many ask, “What’s the big deal? It would only be fair,” while others consider it an attack upon their religious beliefs, an unnatural practice, and impractical towards the procreation of more citizens of Fairland.

The Council of Fairland, which decides on issues of Fairness when the citizenry cannot do so, decides to take up the issue, addressing each of these points one by one. First, they tackle the religious beliefs argument.

Looking at the role religion plays in state-sanctioned marriages, the Council notes that those without religious beliefs are able to wed one another without any worry. In fact, long ago the Council decided that religion shouldn’t play any role in government since it would rule over a citizenry that would not be 100% that religion, an idea that didn’t seem to be fair at all. A religion can incorporate its own rules on marriage when a couple decides to wed within their doors, but outside of its domain religion didn’t define marriage in the state sense. It wouldn’t be fair, then, to deny gay couples marriage based out of the religious beliefs of others.

Then there was the argument that homosexuality wasn’t a natural act. The Council pointed out that acts of homosexuality did occur out in the animal kingdom, being observed in well over 1,500 species, and that homosexuality among humans had been practiced for centuries, if not millennia, before now. And just because something wasn’t natural, it didn’t mean it was necessarily wrong – the Council pointed out the unnatural practice of agriculture, which was strictly a human trait, as evidence of an unnatural practice carried out by humans that was acceptable.

Finally, the argument that gays and lesbians couldn’t procreate took the Council’s attention. They didn’t think too highly of that argument as well, seeing as sterile and infertile couples were allowed to wed. In fact, some couples were voluntarily rendering themselves infertile, through vasectomies and hysterectomies. And what of older individuals, such as post-menopausal women, who also couldn’t conceive? There were instances of these women taking part in marriage ceremonies, and why shouldn’t they?

The Council rendered its verdict, and decided that gay marriages should be allowed. They didn’t affect the outcome of other marriages, didn’t make things “less fair” for other couples in Fairland, and in fact made things fairer for everyone.

As was custom, the Council took questions from concerned citizens and politicians who thought the decision was wrong – it would only be fair to do so. The questions were as follows:

Question: “Isn’t granting such rights to gays and lesbians rendering a special right to them? How is this fair to straight couples?”

The head of the Council responded: “Marriage rights toward couples are special rights for anyone who decides to wed. It began that rights weren’t even initially granted by the state to married couples until people wanted them. It is straight couples, then, who would receive special rights if we were to deny gay couples these special rights, too. That wouldn’t be fair at all.”

Question: “Isn’t this going to lead to a slippery slope, wherein polygamous couples and people who want to marry their pets could eventually do so?

An Associate Councilwoman answered: “It’s just plain stupid to compare homosexuality to bestiality. There isn’t any connection to suggest that the slippery slope argument holds weight here, seeing as we’re comparing straight marriage to gay marriage, and that both practices are between humans. As for polygamy, if a man has three women he is married to in a religious sense, that is fine. Fairland, however, is going to behave fairly, and grant this man only one marriage license to hold with only one of his wives. He shouldn’t receive three times the amount of marriage rights that a two-person marriage receives; that is not fair, and not sustainable to the nation at large since someone could conceivably marry 100 wives and receive 100 times the benefits.”

Question: “Aren’t gay couples going to corrupt the youth? And are we going to allow them to adopt?”

The head of the Council again responded: “There isn’t any credible evidence to suggest that gay couples corrupt the youth. Allowing them to adopt would only be fair, as we allow even single persons the right to adopt children in our nation of Fairland. The belief that gays are somehow going to corrupt or abuse these children is nonsense and ignores the fact that most abuse on adopted children comes from straight parents. In addition, it is a stereotype to believe that gays are bad influences upon children. There are ‘bad’ gays, but we cannot believe that EVERY gay is bad just because a few are – just as we don’t believe every rural citizen to be a slack-jawed yokel just because a FEW rural citizens are such.”

The judgment had been rendered; the citizenry, with some of them understanding that they might not like the practice, understood that the decision had been a fair one, and accepted the Council’s ruling. Fairland’s debacle regarding gay marriage had been solved.

If only we were so lucky here in America.

Obama, Notre Dame, and abortion

President Barack Obama delivered the commencement speech at Notre Dame this weekend despite the controversy over his views on abortion that led some to protest his appearance. Obama stressed to the crowd that we should have an open debate on abortion, but that we could do "without reducing those with differing views to caricature."

Obama is taking the high road in defending his opinion while simultaneously showing respect to the opposition. It's characteristic of what this president is trying to accomplish on a bipartisan level: working to find common ground, giving attention to our agreements rather than our differences.

Which is precisely what we should do on the abortion debate. While conservatives like to harp on about how liberals are "baby killers," and liberals consider conservatives anti-choice and disregarding women's health issues, the noble road is to seek out what both sides can do to eliminate abortion in this country.

You heard me: we should strive to eliminate abortion in this country. I'm a liberal, but I do believe that abortion is a terrible thing. I will, however, defend a woman's right to an abortion because her body is under her control, her health and well-being her own business.

There are things we can do, however, to lower the number of abortions per year in America. As we've seen previously, hundreds of thousands of abortions can be prevented yearly through the use of public funds towards family planning clinics. Through stronger education, more access to birth control, and other means, we can lower the number of abortions performed in our country.

Hard-core conservatives will likely dismiss that idea, however, as they see funding such clinics as equivalent to funding abortion. But most of the services performed at family planning clinics are aimed at prevention of unwanted pregnancies.

Here's the big secret that conservatives either ignore or fail to realize: liberals hate abortion, too, and want to see the numbers drop as close to zero as possible. But the means toward that end should not infringe upon the rights of women. We should seek to eliminate abortion by economic means, providing services to women who may not be knowledgeable on the subject of preventative alternatives.

Abortion is a sticky subject, but no one, liberal or conservative, wants MORE of it. It's naive to believe that.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Huntsman joins Obama

Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman has been nominated to be the U.S. envoy to China within the Obama administration. Hunstman, a Republican governor and co-chair of John McCain's failed presidential campaign, is a moderate Republican in one of the most conservative states in the union, and considered a top contender for the Republican nomination for president in 2012.

Now that he's working for Obama, it seems less likely that he'll run against him, though it is not unprecedented.

With another Republican joining the Obama administration, it's clear that the president is still looking to bridge gaps between the two parties. Moderate Republicans, especially, have been receptive to Obama's call for bipartisanship, while the extremely conservative members of the party have pushed aside the notion.

Undoubtedly, Huntsman will be derided by those conservative elements of his party. But as the Republican Party shirks its members for wanting to cooperate, the party itself will begin to shrink and lose influence in Washington. In the end, the GOP will have to conform to the center or risk becoming obsolete.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

WI Supreme Court to review Gay Marriage Ban

Though it won't legalize gay marriage in the state, the Wisconsin State Supreme Court will review the legality of the gay marriage ban, passed in 2006 by a statewide referendum vote.

Under state constitutional law, a constitutional amendment must be passed by two consecutive sessions of the state legislature, after which the measure must be approved by a majority of the citizenry. As an added requirement, the amendment in question must only contain one provision to be decided upon.

The state ban on gay marriage had two provisions: first, it asked whether gay marriage should be banned; second, it asked whether government-endorsed unions between same-sex couples should also be banned, effectively making civil unions a non-option as well.

The Supreme Court must overturn the ban on gay marriage for two reasons: first, the ban was passed with two provisions placed before the people, and failed to take into account those who supported one provision but not the other. And second, the ban is unjust in that it unfairly denies couples their right to wed one another.

The State Supreme Court should overturn the ban, and state legislators should write legislation allowing gay and lesbian couples the right to be recognized as domestic partners, or better yet, married.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

No photo release; a mistake?

Does the public's right to know something override the government's argument that such knowledge could cause harm? The Obama administration's decision to reverse course and hold back pictures of abuse of detainees continues the Bush policy of supposedly protecting those in harms way -- mainly the US troops overseas -- as a result of releasing such evidence, in the form of terrorist attacks upon our troops.

But is such a fear rational? Consider the last time such photographs were released to the public. When the Abu Ghraib photos came out, the same retaliation was expected: we feared that the insurgency and terrorists in Iraq would attack our soldiers. In fact, according to, deaths among troops went down in the months following the April release of the photos. It went down two straight months, and casualties overall went down three straight months.

The age of transparency was supposed to be ushered in under this administration. Critics of Obama contended the same fears over the release of presidential memos that detailed our abuse tactics under Bush, but so far nothing substantial has come of it.

It's understandable why the government might see releasing these photos as dangerous, but there may be substantial reason to release the photographs as well. Those who support torture but may not understand what it really entails may instead become against it, much like how public opinion of the Vietnam War changed after images from the war entered the homes of Americans via living room television sets.

We shouldn't dismiss releasing these photographs so quickly; while the safety of our troops is of utmost concern, we also owe the public the truth about what actually went down under our watch. A long debate may be warranted in their release, but a debate nonetheless should occur, with all parties involved voicing their opinions and concerns over the photographs' release.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Reevaluating Miss California's answer

Carrie Prejean was reassured today by Donald Trump that she would keep her crown as Miss California despite breaking key provisions of her contract, including not disclosing the fact that nude and semi-nude photos existed of her. Prejean lost the Miss USA competition in large part due to her response to a question regarding gay marriage, in which she answered that she believed marriage should remain between one man and one woman.

In a previous post, I defended Prejean and argued it was wrong for the judges to fault her for stating her opinion. When I think about it now, perhaps I was wrong.

I still believe that Prejean and other finalists should, for the most part, not be "punished" for their opinions. But consider this extreme: if she had been asked about her opinion on stealing candy from children, and had answered that she was all for it, would it be wrong for the Miss USA judges to hold her opinion against her?

Ultimately, the judges make decisions on finalists based on whom best represents the Miss USA pageant. If a judge believes that a finalist's answer is not befitting the crown -- whether the question has to do with stealing candy or gay marriage -- then they have the right to judge her accordingly.

Prejean's right to free speech was not abridged in any way, shape, or form; she is allowed to hold whatever opinion she wants regarding gay marriage, even if some believe she is in the wrong. However, whether involved in a pageant, a job interview, or some other situation where your opinions are meant to represent the opinions of an organization as a whole, her opinions are fair game, and deserve just as much scrutiny as she received during the swimsuit competition.

Crist to run for Senate

Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida is planning a run for the Senate in his home state. Crist, a moderate Republican, will opt out of running for re-election to the governorship and instead throw his hat in the Senate race.

If Crist wins -- and he has a good chance of doing so -- it could signal to other Republican candidates that moderation is the way to go. Should he lose, however, the GOP may take it as a sign that moderate candidates cannot win, thus enabling them to run as idealists rather than pragmatists (because what else would they have to lose?).

For Democrats, this situation is not necessarily a "win-lose" -- should Crist win, we won't get that Senate seat we want, which ordinarily would be a losing situation. However, if Crist's victory tells Republicans that moderation is the way to go, it could lead to a less-hostile party for Democrats to work with.

Ultimately, our goal is to win Florida in 2010. But failing that, a Crist victory will move the Republicans to the center, which is still a great outcome for the Democratic Party.

Monday, May 11, 2009

GOP: Hey, maybe Lt. Dan could be Prez

Just to show how desperate the Republican Party really is, consider this little tidbit...

From CNN's Political Ticker:
Nicolle Wallace, a top adviser to George W. Bush and John McCain’s presidential campaign, is adding a few names to the list of Republicans who might lead the GOP out of the wilderness.

Top among them? Actor Gary Sinise.

"The natural strengths that an actor brings to politics would come in handy to anyone going up against Obama in 2012," she wrote. "We will need an effective communicator who can stand toe to toe with Obama’s eloquence."
Apparently, the GOP has forgotten that Americans hate political celebrities, which is why their commercial comparing Obama's popularity to Paris Hilton's was such a success.

All humor aside, it's really interesting to me that the Republicans have no problem with actors who come to their side, but when celebs champion liberal causes, they're suddenly "elitists." Talk about hypocrisy.

I personally have no qualms with celebrities taking up political causes; if Sinise wants to run for political office, that's fine by me. Actors are Americans just like the rest of us, and are entitled to the freedoms that any citizen receives. It's when members from either side of the aisle (but let's be honest here, mostly Republican) deride the other side as being cozy with the "elitist Hollywood crowd," then do exactly that which they criticize, that I start getting a little irritated.

Let's put aside the snobbery and hypocrisy and focus on the issues, shall we?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Obama: Newspapers 'wrestling' with changes

At the White House Correspondents's dinner last night, President Barack Obama told many jokes. But he did take a moment to comment on the status of newspapers in the country today.

"Across the country, there are extraordinary, hardworking journalists who have lost their jobs in recent days, recent weeks, recent months," he said. "I know each newspaper and media outlet is wrestling with how to respond with these changes. ... Not every ending will be a happy one."
Obama is right to worry; the newspaper industry has often been the sole voice of accountability when it comes to the government (think Woodward and Bernstein with Watergate). With its disappearance, there may be a void in whom would be able to access government records, meetings, etc. and reporting the information to the people.

Bloggers like to argue that they could fill that void. However, many bloggers get their information from -- you guessed it -- online editions of newspapers. Cable news channels could fill that void as well, but would only reach a select audience (those with cable).

Newspapers are important for another reason; they do more local sleuthing for a story than any other medium. Without newspapers, we lose that dynamic.

It'll be interesting to see how papers will adapt to the changing times. In the meanwhile, however, go out of your way, maybe once or twice a week, to purchase a newspaper at your news stand. You'll be supporting a dying industry, and might also learn something.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

GOP going extinct? Not quite.

The recent streak of bad luck that the GOP has had is causing some to question: is the Republican Party dead?

TIME magazine calls them an endangered species; Democratic strategist James Carville claims that there will be forty years of Democratic rule. Long-time Republican Sen. Arlen Specter is now a Democrat, and less than a quarter of all Americans consider themselves Republican or Republican-aligned.

The party of the elephant is having an identity crisis, struggling between becoming a right-of-center party or adhering to strict, ideological beliefs. The former pushes aside the die-hards; the latter, moderates and independents.

But is the party really that close to extinction? All signs point The reasonably-sized Tea Party protests indicate that there is a sizable number of Americans who still aren't sold on the Obama strategy of spending our way out of the economic crisis. It should also be noted that just four years ago the media was painting a similar portrait for the Democrats, predicting that Republicans would be in power for a long time to come.

Why does this matter to a liberal like myself? It's important because we need to understand what kind of opposition we are going to have in the future. Are we going to face a Republican Party that's closer to the center, or one that caters exclusively to the base? If the GOP goes centrist, it'll be more likely that we can cooperate with its members to pass meaningful legislation. But if it turns harsh right, we may be up for a fight. Then again, if it goes that far right, the party may self-destruct, caving in on its dwindling members who leave the party disgusted with its actions.

Whatever the result, the Democrats must be wary of one thing: they must not overreach. Right now, we are doing fine as a party, and for the most part Americans are happy with the ideas that President Obama has presented to them. However, should Obama and the Democrats begin to push past the agenda they were elected to fulfill, we could see a backlash of moderates moving back to the center-right.

Fortunately for Obama, he was elected by a broad-base coalition of Americans who want many things fulfilled, an agenda that matches Obama's own.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Column for Dane101: Smoking ban justifiable

I write a column for a local blog called Dane101, which focuses on issues pertaining to Dane County, Wisconsin. I will be posting my columns periodically on this blog as well, but do check out their site too. It's chock-full of goodies for Dane County residents. Smoking ban justifiable

It seems, for now, that a compromise has been reached between opposing factions of the statewide smoking ban debate: Such a ban is set to be signed into law sometime next week, but wouldn’t take effect until July 2010.

But is such a ban justifiable? In the past, I’ve been known to take a conservative view of this issue (which may be surprising to some of you reading this). I sided with the rights of tavern owners, whom I believed possessed the sole judgment in deciding whether they’d allow smoking on their premises. The laws of capitalism would dictate whether or not patrons would come into these establishments – in other words, if smoking was such a problem for customers, the “invisible hand” of the market would compel owners to change their policies.

Recently, however, I’ve had some time to reconsider the issue, and came to see that I instead hold the opposite opinion: The benefits of making bars and restaurants smoke-free – not to mention the rights of patrons to enjoy a smoke-free environment – outweighs the rights of owners to decide on their own the smoking policies.

Various studies have shown that smoking is dangerous, as is second-hand smoke; no one doubts these assumptions. Additionally, we can assume that patrons of bars and restaurants frequent these places not for the smoking but rather for the dinner specials, menu items, and so forth, that are a part of that bar or restaurant’s experience.

So if these patrons are seeking to have a pleasant experience, who are we to say that tavern owners have a “right” to essentially poison them? Sure, one can argue that the patrons don’t necessarily have to enter such an environment; if they wanted to, they could go to a bar whose owner decided, on their own, to make it smoke-free. But what if a restaurant, instead of allowing smoking, placed a few drops of arsenic in customers’ drinks? Do they have a “right” to do that?

That may be a bit extreme, but it makes for an interesting point: Owners of taverns don’t have an absolute right to run their businesses how they want, and are subject to government regulation when such actions protect the rights and livelihood of the people. Once the practices of these businesses are seen as harmful to the people who pay for their services, it becomes the state’s responsibility to determine whether or not restrictions can be applied toward these businesses.

Patrons of restaurants and taverns have a right to enjoy their dining and drinking experiences in relatively good health. With the negative effects of smoking hovering in the air above them, it makes sense to have a law protecting patrons from the hazardous chemicals that could possibly kill them. The owners’ objections to such a protection are not reason enough to excuse the declining health they’re giving to their customers. The smoking ban is not only justifiable, but commendable--the right thing to do for Wisconsin citizens.

Don't ask, Don't Tell

The "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy within our military is ridiculously outdated. Gay and lesbian soldiers who wish to be open with their sexuality should be able to do so without repercussions of any kind, just as soldiers who are openly "straight" aren't.

As it stands today, the United States is one of two NATO member countries who disallow open homosexuals from serving their country militarily; the other member country is Turkey.

The main fear, I suppose, is that straight soldiers will feel uncomfortable being gawked at by gay soldiers in the showers or barracks. But that's an irrational fear; if it were rational, wouldn't female soldiers have the same fear of straight men in the field?

Gay soldiers in our military aren't likely to cause much trouble; under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" there hasn't been much of a problem, and the only difference between keeping the policy and getting rid of it would mean being able to be honest with your fellow soldiers about who you were. It's time we got rid of this policy and allowed anyone who was fit to serve to do so, regardless of their sexuality.

Schwarzenegger: Let's talk about pot

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger recently suggested that his state should have an honest dialogue about legalizing marijuana for recreational use. Currently, marijuana in California is legal for those whose doctor prescribes it to them for medical conditions that they have.

Schwarzenegger, who once used the drug himself, sees the benefits of legalizing pot from the state's point of view: tax revenue. If we legalize pot, California (or any state for that matter) can place a tax on it to gain more dollars for the state's budget. Currently, California faces a $42 billion deficit.

Could legalizing marijuana help California's budget woes? It couldn't hurt. Aside from the expected tax revenue from pot, however, is the argument of whether or not drugs should be made illegal to begin with.

What a person does with their own body should be their own business, so long as it doesn't cause any harm to anyone else. This includes what they do for a living, what they do in the bedroom, and what they consume, among other things. Drugs should be no different: if a person wants to smoke weed, what right does the government have in stopping them?

The only justification a government can make in making any drug illegal is if the community as a whole is at risk of its effects. Cocaine, crystal meth, and heroin are all examples of drugs that can cause serious damage to a community's ability to function.

But pot can be placed on a different level; similar to alcohol and cigarette use, pot causes no problems within the community that these legalized drugs already do. With the right amount of regulation -- including age limits, laws on driving under the influence, and other matters -- recreational marijuana use would be no different than recreational alcohol use. The effects of both drugs are the same; so why do we outlaw one over the other?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

My bout with the flu: a case for universal health care

So I got flu-like symptoms, and like the hypochondriac that I secretly am, I had to be sure -- I had to go to the doctor's and make sure that it wasn't the H1N1 virus, also known as the swine flu.

I arrived at the urgent care clinic and signed in. I was informed it would be a two hour wait...but in reality, I waited for about 45 minutes, tops. They handed me a mask and I read my book in the waiting room.

I was called back, blood pressure taken, temperature measured, so on and so forth, and eventually the nurse practitioner came in. She told me she didn't think what I had was anything serious; it was either the swine flu, strep throat, or the regular flu. So I had my throat swabbed and they inserted a strange tube in my nose. Not pleasant, but a small price to pay for piece of mind.

Speaking of small prices to pay, I should mention that I am a recipient of Badgercare Plus, the statewide program in Wisconsin that provides lower income families with health care coverage. I paid nothing to see the doctor today, and paid very little in prescription drugs that they had me purchase: $3 total for 10 tablets. Ordinarily, the price is significantly higher.

So you can understand why I support universal health care: if we can use public funds to ensure everyone receives medical attention, why aren't we? The benefits are staggering: a healthier workforce, a less-costly health care system, and everyone receives medical care.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Ms. Cal is topless -- is it relevant?

Indecent photos of Ms. California, aka Carrie Prejean, the famed campaigner of straight marriage, have surfaced on the internet, leading some to question the validity of her argument against gay marriage rights.

But are the pictures relevant to the debate on gay marriage? There are two sides to this: first, consider what mocking and degrading Prejean would entail. Any criticism of her may be taken as criticism of her choice to do with her body whatever she wants. That's a personal freedom that every American should have a right to, and is ironically partially the basis on which we can argue FOR same-sex marriage.

At the same time, we can look at Ms. Prejean's words and her actions and note a clear double-standard: while she holds no qualms over what she does with her body, what gay and lesbian couples do in the privacy of their own homes is not OK, which justifies her belief that gay marriage is wrong.

Ms. Prejean, being a public figure, is privy to such criticism and should, to some degree, expect it. However, those criticizing her should only do so in conjunction with the argument that her words and actions do not line up with one another. Forgetting to do so may carry dire consequences for the gay marriage movement, which could be seen as mean-spirited, thus giving conservatives reason to dislike the movement even more.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Rebranding the GOP: an end to (some) conservatism?

So the Republican Party is planning on rebranding itself in an effort to gain more members or supporters towards its goals. Currently, only 21 percent of Americans consider themselves Republicans or supporters of the GOP today, compared with 35 percent who call themselves Democrats.

Recently, the Republican Party has taken a swift turn to the left, causing some (like Sen. Arlen Specter) to jump ship to the more-inclusive Democratic Party. Moderate Republicans (what little remain) have been threatened by GOP Chairman Michael Steele who said he may withhold funds for these Republicans for supporting some of Barack Obama's economic policies.

If this situation is any indicator, as well as the various Tea Party/Tax Day protests held by conservative activists across the country last month, the rebranding effort may cause the GOP to turn even sharper right. If that happens, you can expect even more independents and moderates to go blue in 2010 and 2012.

However, there is the possibility that the Republicans will come to their senses and go towards the middle more. This seems like it would be a bad thing, but let's think about it for a second: the Democrats are already a center-left party. Republicans moving toward the center would only embolden the policies that Democrats and Obama are pushing for, and increase Obama's clout as a champion of bipartisan reform.

It's a win-win for Democrats: the GOP goes right, we get more support; they go center, we look better. In other words, conservatism, in some aspects, may be a dying breed in American politics.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Gone til Monday

I will be gone over the weekend, into Monday evening. I'll be visiting family up in the Fox River Valley area. So no, I didn't disappear into oblivion, in case you start to worry. I'll be back on here soon...until then, feel free to peruse the previous posts for something you might like/dislike.