Monday, December 27, 2010

No death penalty for Wisconsin

The year 2010 will be remembered for a lot of things, most of them not so great. Tragedies, anger, and disappointment dominated the headlines for much of the year. It helps sometimes, in years like these, to look for silver linings, to see the positives that came out of the year rather than focus on the negatives.

The issue of capital punishment in America is one such issue, though for many it's still a depressing issue to consider. In 2010, the trend of death sentences declining continued, with the number of sentences nearly mirroring numbers in 2009 -- 114 in 2010 compared to 112 the year before.

The number of executions conducted in 2010 also went down a significant margin, down 12 percent from 2009 levels and a full fifty percent from 1990. Even Texas is seeing a decline, with juries in that state handing out only eight death sentences in 2010, an all-time low since capital punishment was reinstated in the U.S.

In our neck of the woods, not much has changed: Wisconsin is among the twelve states in the U.S. that doesn't have a death penalty. In 1851, following the gruesome 15-minute hanging of John McCaffary before thousands of witnesses, the state reassessed its stance on the death penalty, subsequently abolishing it. Among those twelve states, Wisconsin has been without a death penalty the third longest, behind only Michigan and Rhode Island.

But many in our state would like to see that change. In 2006, Republican lawmakers sought to get the death penalty back in our state, though they recognized there was no chance of that even after an advisory referendum turned out in their favor. In that same election year, Democrats took over the State Senate, making it impossible for Republicans to push for the measure.

With Republicans back in power, it's only a matter of time before they bring the issue back up (Gov.-elect Scott Walker, for example, supports the idea). But reinstating the death penalty in Wisconsin would take our state in the wrong direction.

Firstly, the death penalty just plain costs too much -- many experts consider this one of the reasons why prosecutors are seeking capital punishment less. With Wisconsin's multi-billion dollar budget deficit, reinstating the death penalty would be fiscally irresponsible.

More important than that, however, are the moral dilemmas facing the death penalty. Other states implementing the practice haven't exactly had a perfect track record, either sentencing innocent criminals to death or through carrying out the execution of innocents.

Furthermore, the state doesn't have the right to punish people in this manner. By conducting an action the state itself deems illegal, the government acts in a hypocritical way, telling the people it governs as "do as we say, not as we do." If we're to say that murder -- all forms of it -- are wrong, except in cases of self-defense, then it's wrong for the state to partake in the practice as well.

Wisconsin should take a cue from other states, both those that don't have the death penalty as well as those who have reduced their numbers over the years (only 12 states actually carried out death sentences in 2010). Bringing the death penalty back to our state, after nearly 150 years of it being abolished, would be a grave mistake. Besides being a financial disaster, it'd be morally wrong, too. We should reject the calls for reinstating the death penalty, should they come up again during the next legislative session.

Monday, December 20, 2010

FOX News makes you less informed, study finds

Does watching FOX News make you dumber? A new study shows that prolonged exposure to the conservatively biased news network causes you to have a skewed view of the world, more often than not being misinformed on issues of the day rather than having an actual understanding of them.

On a plethora of issues, FOX News misled its viewers more than any other media outlet. More believed that most scientists disagreed with the science behind climate change (untrue); more mistakenly believed that taxes on income were raised by the Obama administration (except for smokers, they actually went down); and more questioned whether the president himself was even born in the U.S. (he was).

FOX viewers were even more likely to believe, by significant margins, that certain historical events happened under Obama's tenure, when in fact they occurred while George W. Bush was president -- things like TARP and parts of the auto bailout.

These are troubling observations, especially when you consider the severity of the "information" being dispensed. One has to wonder whether FOX is simply a terrible news outlet or if they're blatantly hoping to misinform the public in a deliberate attempt to change things politically in this country. As time goes on, one has to assume the latter is the case, especially given how wrong the anchors and the pundits are on "more-than-daily" occurrences.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Why Obama comes out on top after tax deal

Following extension of the Bush-era tax cuts, it's apparent that many are frustrated with President Barack Obama, particularly those that he considers his base. Many are upset that the extension includes preservation of the tax rates for the wealthy. Most Americans, in fact, support raising taxes on the rich back to Clinton-era levels, when our economy wasn't in the terrible mess it's in now and our government was able to post a surplus.

But polls on Americans overall indicate that the president made the right move, that Americans can support this deal, especially since it will mean that they will get extended tax breaks as well as a cut in their Social Security income tax.

In two years' time, that cut may come to haunt Obama -- Republicans will pressure him to extend the cuts once again, causing the program to lose a significant amount of funding. It's clear what the Republicans' strategy is: defund the program as it stands now, and privatize it when they take over the government outright sometime down the road.

That's a concern that should be addressed in the near future, with one possible remedy being keeping the tax rate for Social Security at this new, 4.2 percent level but lifting the cap that only taxes the first $106,000 of income.

Until that time comes, Obama is set to benefit from this deal. In 2012, his administration will be credited with getting more cash in the pockets of more Americans. He should remind the public that the Republican Party -- and likely, his opponent in the presidential election -- supported holding the middle class hostage, and that the deal overall was his best option to preserve and protect wage earners across the country. He should also point out his willingness, from day one, to work with Republicans, who chose instead to hold their breath and hold the government captive from day one, using the filibuster a record number of times (interesting note: as of August of this year, the number of filibusters used in the past three years by Republicans totaled almost 20 percent of the number used in the past ninety).

It's a strategy that has worked before -- in 1996, Bill Clinton won re-election despite the fact that Republicans held the government hostage then, too, shutting down government for months before a compromise was reached. Clinton won out in the end, coasting to an easy re-election victory over Republican candidate Bob Dole.

Obama has an added advantage: he's got at least one of the houses of Congress behind his back. With the Senate still controlled by Democrats, the president is still able to get treaties signed, appoint executive officials, and perhaps most importantly, getting Supreme Court nominees confirmed with relative ease.

If this event has taught us one thing, it's that Obama can get things done, can make deals with the GOP when he absolutely needs to in order to get meaningful legislation passed that benefits the American people. The deal wasn't perfect -- the tax subsidy for the richest two percent and the tax holiday for Social Security will add to the deficit, with both issues being hot topics in December of 2012, when both will be set to expire.

But that won't matter much for the president, seeing as his re-election will come one month earlier -- and with polls leaning in his favor against GOP presidential prospects, that re-election vision is turning into more of a reality every day. The deal he has made, in order to help the middle class even more during this recovery, helps solidify his being president for another term.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Senate votes to end Don't Ask, Don't Tell

The U.S. Senate voted today to end "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the Clinton-era compromise that restricted gay and lesbian soldiers from serving openly in our military. The vote means that the bill, which has already passed in the House, will go to President Obama's desk, where he will sign it into law next week.

By removing the ban, Democrats -- and yes, some Republicans, too -- have acknowledged that a person's sexual orientation shouldn't matter if one wants to become a member of our armed forces.

President Obama hailed the move for homosexual rights, stating that it was "time to close this chapter in our nation's history."

It is indeed a victory for those that consider themselves gay or lesbian. It's a step in a positive direction, an acknowledgment from the government that restrictions on homosexuality needn't be made, usually have zero basis, and that such restrictions are an unfair discriminatory act against those whose lifestyle does no harm to the nation at-large, militarily or otherwise.

The change in military policy, in fact, changes only one aspect of our military's treatment of gays and lesbians -- homosexuals have indeed been allowed to serve since DADT was implemented. What changes is that the government can no longer discharge soldiers who are openly gay, which was the right move to make. But our military won't be weaker for having ended this ban, as some have suggested -- indeed, we have had gays and lesbians serve for almost twenty years now, without any problems!

The future looks bright for gays and lesbians in our country. More Americans support gay marriage, a majority supported lifting this ban, and schools across the country are putting into place anti-bullying rules meant to protect homosexual students.

Total equality is a long way off, and there are many fights yet to be won. I'm optimistic, however, that in my lifetime I may attend a wedding of a gay or lesbian friend -- one that won't only be full of happiness for their union, but that will also receive recognition from the state as valid, along with all of the rights and privileges that straight married couples receive.

Today's victory doesn’t mean that things are going to change overnight for the same-sex equality movement. But it IS a step in that direction, towards a more equal society.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Keeping church and state separate -- an excerpt

The following may become a part of the book I am working on. I'm currently writing a "defense of liberalism"/"primer for young liberals" book that is a basic outline of what the movement stands for. It should be ready for print sometime early next year.

The passage below is part of the chapter on religious freedom. I wish to offer this disclaimer before you read on: I consider myself a religious individual. I am a Christian, and believe that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior. But I don't support the idea that my belief, nor any other belief, should be legislated (read: forced) unto others. There is no place for religion in our government -- hopefully what I've written below will explain why I feel that way.

I don't despise religion, rather I celebrate it; but I also don't feel it belongs in the laws we enact.

Thomas Paine once wrote that the only church that mattered to him was the one in his own mind. No church (or any other religious body) should ever weigh its will or dogma unto any individual, unless that person voluntarily chooses to adhere to the principles and procedures that their belief employs.

It's a noble idea that was discussed at great lengths by one of the most important (though often forgotten) founding fathers. Sadly, his sentiments are often ignored by too many in our society, both today as well as in his own time.

Zealous, overbearing religious leaders, convinced of their divine authority, often try (to this day even) interjecting their views into government policy, thereby legislating a piece of doctrine that is based on faith, not on distinguishable fact.

If an individual chooses to adhere to the rules of a specific belief, they may submit to them as they please. But requiring everyone to submit to your rules (or, heaven forbid, someone else requiring you to submit to theirs) is a clear violation of the liberties we all consider sacred.

Religious zealouts will argue that their beliefs are meant to be treated as truth -- Jesus IS the son of God, as one example, and you can't argue against that "fact." Though it's a "fact" that I myself don't care to contend (I consider myself a Christian, and thus believe this as well), it's not anyone's place to force that belief -- or any other -- on anyone else.

You may ask, "Why is it a violation of a person's liberties to base law on religious beliefs?" To answer that, I ask that you consider a different belief for a moment, one not based on religion, and what it would mean to force it upon others.

If a person contends that the world is flat, he may be ridiculed, laughed at, or mocked; if he continues to make that contention, he may be shunned, belittled, or ignored. But he shouldn't be forced, legislatively, to believe the world is indeed round, even if policy is formed around the assumption that it is. If empirical evidence exists that suggests his beliefs are unsound, it is his decision to choose how to interpret that data presented to him -- no one should require him to hold those views.

Now consider a different example: what if a person were instead forced to believe in something that WASN'T empirically sound? What if people were coerced to believe the world was indeed flat, and that those believing otherwise had to accept rules and legislation surrounding that belief? It'd be unjust to say the least because people's lives would be legislated not just on an opinion, but on an opinion they knew was inaccurate.

Creating law based on religious principles is similar to basing it on flawed opinion: the religious zealot and the ignorant fool both put their trust in a belief that cannot be proven true. The only difference is that, with religion it's equally impossible to prove the belief false. That there is an inability to falsify someone's religious belief seems reason enough for many to justify enforcing it, for failure to prove something false in many people's minds means that it must be true.

But much like the invented religion of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, just because we can't prove something false doesn't make it valid. Basing our laws on so simple a premise could spell disaster in so many ways, not to mention oppress entire groups of people that don't adhere to certain belief structures.

For an individual who voluntarily chooses to be a part of a religious organization, and who purposefully chooses to take part in their dogma, faith can be a beautiful thing; nothing that I've said here should take away from the happiness and joy that religion can provide for many millions of people worldwide. As I've already mentioned, very few beliefs can actually be proven false; though that doesn't mean we shouldn't question them as individuals, we should do our best to embrace the many different belief structures present in our society, ensuring that individuals are free to choose the path that's the best fit for them. It'd be no better to force everyone into secularism than it'd be to force everyone into evangelism.

Still, when it comes to governance, the state must remain neutral. It must not legislate any belief (even the absence of belief), but instead provide a framework of laws that treat each and every one as equal. It must base laws on observable facts, not on the opinions of certain groups of people.

The individual must remain sovereign when it comes to religion, must be free to determine for themselves what course or path their life must take. Whatever force in our universe that did indeed create us never made it clear enough that this way or that way was the one TRUE way to live -- but they did bless us with free will, with the ability to come up with our own answers to life's greatest questions. What a disservice it would be for a man-made instrument like government to compel others to adhere to specific doctrines, to throw away the one true gift we know for sure our Creator gave to us: free choice to worship him/her/it/they (or no one) as we please.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Campaign finance reform preserves your right to be heard

Free speech is a wonderful, universal right that everyone the world over ought to enjoy. We Americans despise any attempts at abridging or circumventing this right; we consider it a "sacred cow," a privilege granted to us not through the benevolence of our government, but rather guaranteed to us by whatever force in this world terms itself our Creator.

We are all equals, regardless of where we may think we stand in society -- none of us, through name or privilege, is "better" than all the rest, nor deserves greater political rights because of who we are (or aren't).

It is that last sentiment especially that most of all embodies the liberal belief on campaign finance reform. While conservatives wrongly associate the term with a restriction of liberties, liberals look to reforms of how campaigns are financed as a righteous battle towards ensuring every voice, from people of modest means and living standards to those with insurmountable income, is treated equally.

Sadly, over the past couple of decades, conservative lawmakers (and their wealthy benefactors) have increased the influence and "speech rights" for the wealthy elite. Taking a skewed view that campaign donations are a form of speech, the right has perfectly and deliberately orchestrated a coup on the electoral process in America, allowing mega-corporations the right to take part in the influencing of campaigns with absolutely no spending limits.

If the right truly cared about speech rights, they would understand that spending limits are necessary in order to ensure the speech rights of ALL remain protected. With limits in place, everyone who can can donate whatever cash they can expresses their speech rights in a fair and decent way. But without those limits, the working-class family that somehow manages to scrape up $50 in support of their candidate pales in comparison, with regards to speech rights, to the mega-corporate elitists that are more than able to finance and produce multiple 30-second commercials on their own over national airwaves.

Lifting the restrictions on spending isn't enabling greater free speech rights -- it's diluting them, making it impossible for everyday Americans to have a voice. It's giving a bullhorn to the corporations while telling the rest of society that they're only allowed to whisper, and then telling everyone to engage in a shouting match under those terrible conditions.

Who will yield the greater influence, the person who can hardly be heard, or the corporate interests that are near-impossible to ignore?

In the marketplace of ideas, every voice deserves to be heard, with the democratically popular ideas gaining the most influence, eventually coming to fruition through the election of representatives that recognize them as popular and desirable. That formula fails to work when elected officials are unable to recognize popular ideas of the people at-large. When a multimillion dollar ad campaign is waged by corporate interests, and when the electorate makes misinformed decisions based on that flawed campaign, the people's true sentiments get clouded, and our lawmakers instead base their policy decisions on what's best for the corporate elite, not the people themselves.

Under a model of campaign finance reform, spending limits ensure that everyone's voice is treated equally, that no one's ideas are treated better or worse based on their class or level of income. Political rights, including the right to express your beliefs and opinions, should transcend forces that require a person to have a leg-up on everyone else within society to really matter.

A good idea is a good idea, whether it comes from Wall Street or Main Street. Don't let conservative beliefs on "free speech" ruin YOUR right to speak your mind, destroy your right to be heard. Campaign finance reform enables everyone to have an equal voice in our elections.

Friday, December 10, 2010

My begrudging support of the tax deal with Republicans

I don't like tax subsidies for the wealthiest two percent of Americans. It's an idea that sickens me. If Republicans are so concerned about the budget deficit, then they ought to think twice about appeasing this small segment of the population, and consider how much the deficit is going to grow thanks to the billions of dollars this tax deal is going to give back to the ultra-rich.

And yet...I cannot fault the president for choosing this route, for taking the less-than-popular view that a deal had to be made. I'm going to get a lot of "boos" for this, I'm sure. But the facts are the facts -- without this deal, tax rates for the remaining 98 percent of the population are going to expire.

Real, working-class Americans cannot afford a tax hike; wealthy Americans can. But because the GOP decided to hold this country hostage in order to ensure that the wealthiest of the wealthy could buy another yacht or vacation home (when everyone else is struggling to buy a home or to keep the one they've got), it's crucial that a compromise be met. The Republicans have shown that they're not going to budge on this issue -- and considering the issues they've refused to budge on in the past two years alone, this is probably as good a deal as we're going to get.

Austan Goolsbee explains it better, in his latest video message, viewable here after the jump:

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Scott Walker chases high speed rail, thousands of jobs, out of Wisconsin

Republican Gov.-elect Scott Walker has killed high speed rail in Wisconsin, dimming any chances of our state gaining thousands of jobs and becoming a leader in what's fast becoming the future of transportation both nationally and globally.

His refusal to cooperate with federal plans to create a line between Madison and Milwaukee means the loss of tens of thousands of jobs in the Badger state.

It's also a clear signal to the rest of the state, as well as the country, that Wisconsin is not interested in innovative job growth (especially if it goes against the interests of Scott Walker's top campaign donors [1][2]).

It's troubling that Walker, not even in office yet, can do so much damage to the state's image as well as it's job growth. Imagine what will happen when Walker, along with a Republican-led Assembly and Senate, yield real control in Wisconsin. The results could be catastrophic.

The next four years are set to be long, painful, and frustrating for Wisconsin families -- especially if the effects of the recession continue to linger.

Can we count on Scott Walker and his Republican allies to help those in need? I won't be holding my breath.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Today is the 30th anniversary of John Lennon's death. Remember him and his legacy by working for Peace.

(Also, take time to remember Elizabeth Edwards...)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Pearl Harbor Anniversary

Van Hollen to sue over health care law

Wisconsin State Attorney General JB Van Hollen is going to sue.

The top lawyer for the state, Van Hollen has made it clear that he intends to file suit against the federal health care law that was enacted earlier this year. Van Hollen had previously tried to press for a lawsuit following the law's passage, but without either house of the state legislature expressing a desire to do so, and without Gov. Jim Doyle's consent, he was unable to formally support the actions of other states filing suit or filing one himself.

With a new Republican legislature taking control in January, as well as Republican Gov.-elect Scott Walker endorsing the idea, it seems Van Hollen will get his lawsuit after all.

But do Wisconsinites want Van Hollen to move forward with his suit? Probably not. Though recent polls on the subject are hard to come by (especially at the state level), polls conducted in the winter of 2009 reflect strong support for some government action on the issue of health care.

Fifty-six percent of Wisconsinites favored the "creation of a health insurance plan that would be available to most Americans and administered by the federal government," similar to the public option, that would compete with private plans. A whopping 86 percent felt that "the federal government bares at least some responsibility" for ensuring the people of Wisconsin had adequate and affordable health insurance. And 72 percent felt that the state of health care across the nation was in a "crisis."

Assuming these attitudes haven't changed much over the past year, it seems appropriate to conclude that most Wisconsinites support the overall goal of the health reform bill that passed. It may be true that the people of Wisconsin disapprove of a mandate for coverage by 2014, but that doesn't mean that they want a complete repeal of the law either.

Despite these attitudes, it's highly likely that JB Van Hollen, along with other state attorneys general, would like to throw the baby out with the bathwater -- that is, they'd like to eliminate the entire law altogether, rather than simply remove the part on mandates.

While not perfect, the bill that was passed into law still does many great things. It forbids insurance companies from denying its clients coverage based on pre-existing conditions (starting in 2014 -- for children, the law ends this immediately). It allows consumers more choices for health insurance, creating greater competition in communities where only one or two insurance providers may exist. It requires insurance companies to spend eighty cents out of every dollar on actual health care costs (with reimbursements being sent to customers when companies collect above that amount). And it grants millions of Americans tax credits to help alleviate the costs of health care.

If this lawsuit were simply about removing the requirement to have insurance, it would have my support (at least in terms of being a legitimate suit to carry out). But the lawsuits that are being filed across the country are hoping to do more than that, hoping instead for a complete eradication of the law for political gain. Americans, despite what conservatives will argue, wanted health reform, with most approving of what was passed or wanting even more.

The lawsuit that JB Van Hollen is hoping to put forth will do more political destruction, will cause more harm to Wisconsin families, and will be a waste of taxpayer dollars. Van Hollen should reconsider his position on filing a lawsuit against the federal health care law, and think for just a moment what harm could come about thorugh such litigation.

The future of BadgerCare

Originally posted at

The Wisconsin State Journal last week discussed in no uncertain terms the danger that the state's Medicaid program, BadgerCare, is in. Newly-elected Republican lawmakers -- including Gov.-elect Scott Walker -- have expressed strong aversions to the program, which provides financial medical assistance to one-in-five Wisconsinites who can't afford coverage on their own. Nine percent of the state's budget is dedicated towards fulfilling the promise of providing everyone who needs it decent health care.

The program is touted as one of the better examples of Medicaid programs being dispensed in the country, providing every child in the state access to health care regardless of income levels as well as helping low-income families get the adequate medical assistance they need.

Friday, December 3, 2010

GOP holds government, people's futures, hostage

The Republican party made an interesting vow to the American people this week: they are promising to stall any legislation that may come forward until the issue of the Bush-era tax subsidies for the rich has been resolved.

A resolution to the issue seems near, with Democrats and Republicans signaling that they're likely to be extended, at least temporarily.

But until a deal is met, nothing else is going to get through. No resolution on ending Don't Ask, Don't Tell; no nuclear arms treaty with Russia; and no extension of unemployment assistance to those facing difficult times during the holiday season.

Merry Christmas, courtesy of the GOP.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Dean to Obama: move left, boost the base

Former Vermont Governor and 2004 presidential candidate Howard Dean recently spoke out about the need for President Barack Obama to reclaim his progressive base.

"You can't turn your back on [those who helped elect you] because if you do, it's going to be hard to find any friends," the former head of the Democratic Party told the AP.

Dean's right -- turning on the base is sure to keep Obama in trouble. Almost half of all Democratic-leaning voters would support a challenger to Obama in the 2012 Democratic primaries. If that happens Obama may seem weak, making it more difficult for him to win a re-election campaign.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Oregon mosque burned in reaction to Christmas tree bomb plot

Two tales of religious intolerance in a single community end with two different outcomes, one of them a sigh of relief, the other a tragedy.

On Friday evening, Mohamed Osman Mohamud, a Somali-born teen, attempted to set off explosives at a Portland, Oregon, Christmas tree lighting. The plot failed when Mohamud attempted to detonate the explosives from his cell phone twice, not realizing that the explosives provided to him were part of a sting orchestrated by the FBI.

Many lives could have been lost had Mohamud actually carried the act out with legitimate explosive devices. His capture is something everyone can be happy about.

Unfortunately, the event brought about violent backlash towards the peaceful Muslim community in Portland.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Despite these hard times, we have much to be thankful for. Enjoy your turkey (or any other meal you might have today)!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Sarah Palin's importance greatly exaggerated

On the day after her new book release, as well as the day after her daughter got third place on Dancing With The Stars, it seems appropriate to discuss just why it is that former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin is so gosh-darn intriguing to millions of Americans.

Of course, "intrigue" can mean different things to different people. There is a positive aspect to being intriguing and a negative one as well. Most Americans fall into the latter: more than half have an unfavorable view of her, and most believe the Tea Party endorsed conservative would be unfit to run the country, an office she has recently made clear she is considering pursuing.

Still, those who have a positive views of Palin do so with stark enthusiasm -- mimicking in some ways how liberals were excited over a senatorial candidate from Illinois in 2004. To truly understand that enthusiasm, from where it stems (and possibly, for us on the left, how to properly contain it), requires a deeper look at the half-term ex-Alaskan governor.

Conservatives see Palin as a powerful/protective mother figure -- indeed, she has embraced the title of "mama grizzly" that some have given to her. Her patriotism, her governing style, and her criticism of the Obama administration all fit this perspective: highly critical of anything left of her beliefs, she is unyielding in her remarks, even if they are sometimes (or more often than not, most times) based on fiction. Think of the mom you've seen during soccer/football/baseball games, who is screaming her head off in support for her son or daughter, who makes the T-shirt with her child's face on it, and who believes that every time her son/daughter falls down a foul should be called on the opposing team, even when her child simply tripped on their own shoelaces.

Palin's politics are much the same -- and the child in this analogy is the United States of America, at least when conservative principles are being applied to it. When Obama was campaigning for the presidency, making criticisms on the past eight years of Republican rule, it was Palin who led the charge of many within her party, making the case against Obama himself and not his policies. "Palling around with terrorists" became Palin's main talking point, encouraging her hard-right supporters to make similar assumptions about Obama's true allegiances based on false pretenses.

Palin's "protectorate mother" attitude appeals to her conservative followers, but it bewilders the heck out of progressives, who, according to neuro-political guru George Lakoff, base their ideology on the nurturant parent model of politics. "Progressive morality, like the nurturant parent model, is based on empathy and responsibility," Lakoff and his colleagues state in their 2006 book "Talking Points."

While Palin is able to come off as a nurturant parent to her base, her politics don't reflect such standards. She shuns anti-Christian belief structures, insisting that America is a Christian nation. She also believes in gutting government programs, including those that benefit the most disadvantaged of Americans, while supporting huge tax breaks to the wealthiest of wage earners.

Her attitude and her positions are exactly what the right is looking for. Conservatives are getting what they want out of any potential candidate: the unbending support of policy based on hard-right ideology and the assurances of protection from Washington liberals, a fear that is oftentimes exaggerated if it exists at all.

The rest of the country, however, is left dumbfounded by Palin. How is it that a supposedly "nurturant protector" can go against increasing aid to families that need health insurance? How can a person who is trying to behave as a sideline referee be austere in her defense of tax subsidies for the rich? How can such vile language emanate from a woman who is trying to come off to millions of Americans as a mother figure? (And is this behavior being repeated by her daughter Willow in an even more extreme way?)

This is why the rest of the American public (outside of the Tea Party faithful) can't get behind Sarah Palin: her contradictions and manipulation of facts outweigh the image she is trying to convey. While Americans don't want a government that creates a dependent class of people, they also don't want a government that is heartless and uncaring -- and through all the careful calculations, through the reality TV shows she puts her and her family through to gain more exposure, and through the Twitter and Facebook status updates where she puts her extremist views on display, Americans pointedly reject the notion that the country needs someone like her leading them, someone who is by all accounts focused solely on her own political advancement on the national stage.

But Palin is indeed charismatic: ignoring this point would be a mistake. She doesn't need any help working over a crowd, so long as it's full of her supporters. The base of conservative America follows her more intently than teenage girls follow the Jonas Brothers. And as the leader of the supposedly-leaderless Tea Party movement, the media tend to sensationalize her importance on the American political landscape.

Unfortunately for Palin, Americans don't support her views. More supported or wanted more out of the president's health care plan than felt it went too far, meaning that the majority of the citizenry was just as left or more so than the president on the issue. More are for tighter financial regulations on Wall Street. Most Americans support extending unemployment benefits to those who have been without work the longest.

Sarah Palin may seem like a popular woman, may have a strong hold on the media's attention span, but make no mistake: her views contradict the direction Americans want to take this country in. She's likely to receive a lot of attention this week due to her book and her daughter's third-place finish on Dancing With The Stars, but we shouldn't let that distract us from this known truth: America can't survive under the policies Palin is pushing.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Thoughts on economic regulations, and why they help society

Reasonable people within society can see problems associated with things being left unregulated. Most people don't like to admit it, but they do support regulation of some kind on most everything in life. An unregulated sport can result in massive amounts of injuries, or in illegal drug use to enhance performance on the field. Unregulated speech rights can allow a person to divulge state secrets to foreign enemies without reprimand. Unregulated rights to own any weapon desirable may lead some Americans someday to demand private nuclear arsenal. The examples could go on and on.

So why do some minds in our culture insist upon creating a completely unregulated marketplace? It's silly to believe that, in this singular aspect of life, things would actually be BETTER if left untouched, especially given the historical context of what types of societies unregulated markets create.

It was under less restrictive governments that we saw child labor, inhumane working conditions, unsanitary handling of food, and an extremely long work week without just compensation. Unregulated practices in the insurance industry brought about denial of coverage based on preexisting medial conditions (which sometimes resulted in the deaths of those who thought they were doing the decent thing by purchasing insurance). And despite huge losses, Wall Street investors and big bank CEOs saw huge bonuses the result of taxpayer bailouts, all because the government believed that placing any stipulation on how they could spend them would stifle economic recovery.

This isn't to say that ALL regulatory practices are good. Where regulations truly do inhibit economic prosperity, where "red tape" truly does affect the ordinary person's ability to prosper in a negative way, a remedy should be sought to correct the situation in question.

But the vilification of any regulation whatsoever, the belief that no reasonable steps should be taken to prevent fraud, abuse, or exploitation in the marketplace, is ridiculous. The only thing more insane than the belief that a regulation-free society is best for America is the supposed solution offered by those who believe such a thing: Free-marketers claim that any dastardly actions taken by corporate elitists can be countered by other free-market principles, such as not buying the product/service if you believe it's reprehensible to do so. But that wouldn't be the case, for example, if it were a product like health insurance, a situation where people NEED the product, could get charged a large amount for it, and receive very little in actual benefits compared to the dollar amount they spent purchasing the "product."

In other words, in a completely unregulated marketplace, you're being held at gunpoint. With some regulations in place, there's less incentive for corporate elitists to play the bandit. Regulations are put on the books in order to protect the consumer from corporatists that want nothing more than a profit. The free-market is allowed to stand in place for the most part, with unjust actions by uncaring corporate interests being punished by societal referees (aka the state).

Regulations are helpful to the American public. It's time to stop the nonsense, stop the tirade against the supposed belief that all regulatory practices are bad for the economy. It's a belief that isn't grounded on any factual evidence.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Body scanners at Dane Co. Airport, elsewhere, violate Fourth Amendment

Airports all across the nation are investing in full-body scanners to help prevent terrorists and other criminals from bringing weapons onto planes. The scanners are widely controversial, seen by critics as an invasion of privacy -- the images produced by the scanners allow those viewing them to see airline passengers as they would appear naked.

Though most Americans support the use of the scanners, a growing number of airline passengers are starting to have doubts about the machines.

Dane County Regional Airport is likely to get the scanners sometime soon, and General Mitchell in Milwaukee already has them. If Wisconsin travelers refuse to do the full-body scan, they must be patted down before boarding the plane -- a practice that is getting more invasive for many airline passengers across the nation, who often describe the pat-downs as "groping" or as coming close to what many consider sexual harassment in any other context.

Most believe the scanners are necessary -- but do they meet the standards set by our laws, and most importantly by the Constitution? Hardly. The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

The question before us is this: is the use of scanners a violation of a person's privacy rights, an unreasonable search of a person without just cause? If the scanners are being used on every passenger, then yes, it is. Checking the bags of every person boarding the plane is one thing -- even metal detectors make sense to an extent.

But these invasive searches -- allowing airport personnel to see its passengers in the nude or to be nearly groped in order to fly, is an unreasonable approach to trying to figure out if anyone flying that day is carrying a weapon. If there is reason to suspect a person might be carrying a weapon, a reasonable search of that person might be using these scanners. But until there is a just -- and reasonable -- cause to do so, the use of these scanners on all passengers violates the Fourth Amendment.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Earmark moratorium not even a dent in federal spending

GOP leaders this week announced they will push for a moratorium on all earmark spending -- the little bits of spending that appear in bills that have little to do with the actual bill in question. (Think "bridge to nowhere")

Commonly called "pork" by insiders, the ban on earmarks by the GOP plays right into the hands of Tea Party proponents, who voted largely for candidates that promised to end the practice of sliding unwanted spending into important bills being voted upon by Congress.

Any cuts to spending should be celebrated, especially if they're cuts that aren't necessary. Pork spending can be voted upon separately, can be created through bills on their own and, if believed to be important enough, passed by Congress and signed by the president, making them into law.

But while we can look at this moratorium as a good deal, it shouldn't be celebrated TOO much: earmarks make up less than three-tenths of a percentage point of federal spending.

This chart symbolizes how small a dent the moratorium will be, with the blue symbolizing the amount of earmarks currently part of the federal budget:

Just food for thought on the whole earmark debate.

Trending left: Americans continue to abandon conservatism

More signs that the American people are shifting to the left, and that the recent election results favoring Republicans are just a blip in the long run.

A new poll released last week shows that, while most Americans favor keeping the Bush tax cuts in place, a sizable number (44 percent) favor repealing them outright, or at the very least repealing the tax subsides for the top one percent of income earners -- those making over $250,000 per year.

On the issue of health reform, Americans are even more liberal: less than four in ten Americans want to repeal the bill that Obama and Democrats passed, while 58 percent of Americans want the reforms to either stay in place or go even further in changing the health industry.

Opposition to the health reform law is only strong among Republicans -- 61 percent of those in the GOP want its repeal. But both independents and self-identified Democrats want the reforms to stay in place or to do more to change health care in the United States, with two-thirds of independents voicing this opinion and 85 percent of Democrats concurring.

On gay and lesbian rights, the country is moving towards liberalism as well. More than three-in-four Americans favor repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the outdated military policy that forbids gays and lesbians from serving openly.

As I've stated in other posts before this (1, 2), the country is trending towards liberalism despite the resurgence of the Republican Party in the midterm elections and the media's concentration of the Tea Party's antics. The turnout for this election year was largely conservative voters who were upset with Obama and Democrats in general, while those who normally support progressive policies were uninspired this time around to vote (only half of the state of Wisconsin, for example, voted in 2010, compared to nearly 70 percent who did in 2008).

Expect a resurgence of the Democrats come 2012, with Obama winning reelection as well. Though it will be likely a long, hard-fought election season, American demographics suggest that Obama won't lose, at least to those who have suggested they will run against him.

Friday, November 12, 2010

An Open Letter to Governor-elect Scott Walker

I wrote the following letter to Scott Walker, the governor-elect for the state of Wisconsin:

Dear Governor-Elect Scott Walker:

When I first heard about the proposed rail line between Milwaukee and Madison, I was pretty excited. As a Madison native who also has ties to Milwaukee, I knew that I would frequent the train several times a year as a passenger. I could visit friends, go to a few Brewers' or Bucks' games, take my son to various museums and events, and maybe even enroll in a once-a-week class through my Alma Matter, UW-Milwaukee.

My trips to Wisconsin's largest city would no longer be constrained by time restraints -- it would be as easy as hopping on a train and getting there without the hassle of preparing for a semi-lengthy car trip (no gas to purchase, no lunches to pack, etc.). I also learned the project might eventually tie Milwaukee and Madison up to the Twin Cities area, making it easier to visit family I have there as well (no more six hour mind-numbing car rides -- my family and I could relax on the train, read a book, and have very little to worry about).

As I looked beyond the impact that the rail line would have on my life, I began to realize that this project was more than a convenience for myself but also an investment in Wisconsin. The federal government established this project because it felt Wisconsin could capitalize from it -- jobs to create the rail line would number in the thousands, revenue from those jobs would be injected into the state, and commercial interests would develop around the rail, especially at the various stops the train might have made.

It was a shock to me when I read about how Gov. Doyle had ceased work on the project, citing his soon-to-be-replacement governor's insistence that it be canceled. I further read how you wish the money could be spent elsewhere, on Wisconsin's crumbling roads, and how the dollar amount for other projects the state was facing would number in the billions.

While I agree with you that our infrastructure needs require attention from all levels of government, passing up this opportunity would be a grave mistake. The project is going to happen, but whether it happens in Wisconsin or not is up to you and your incoming Republican legislature.

The future of our state is in your hands, Mr. Walker; and while I didn't vote for you myself, I am pleading with you, as my new governor, to make the right choice. Don't let thousands of jobs and potentially millions of dollars in revenue leave our state, go south of the border to Illinois or elsewhere in our country.

I don't view you as a villain, Mr. Walker -- I believe that you truly care about Wisconsin, and though we may disagree on some issues, I know your heart is in the right place. Thank you for your consideration, and may you make your decision with clarity and rational judgment.

Sincerely yours,
Chris Walker

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A few thoughts on Veterans Day

Today is Veterans Day. Many will overlook its importance, will forget to even think about it, or might not even pay attention to the many observances going on around our country.

But today is an important day nonetheless. We must not ever forget the important sacrifices our Veterans made in order to defend our country. These sacrifices included separation from loved ones, extended stays in lands not familiar to them, and in some cases perishing on the battle lines defending America from her enemies.

We may not always agree with the wars our country has waged. We may not always agree with the policies our leaders have established, the doctrines they have put in place that don't necessarily coincide with the values that Americans have long respected.

But this day isn't about our leaders; it isn't about political figures that have created wars, about lawmakers that have sent our soldiers into battlefields, whether justified or not.

This day is about those who served our country, who did what was asked of them, who defended our freedoms hoping they may last longer through the sacrifices they had made. This day is about those Americans who could have led a life of comfort, who could have said, "This duty is best left for someone else to handle," but who instead took on the role of defender so that their sons and daughters may see a better future. This day is about those who did what was asked of them, whether popular or not, because it was important, in their eyes, to keep America safe from danger whenever possible, and to fight its enemies whenever necessary.

So honor a vet today. Thank someone wearing the uniform. Tell a friend or family member of yours who may have served our country just how much you're thankful for their sacrifice. And if you can, give to the USO. It's an organization that does tremendous work for our soldiers, both abroad and at home.

God bless our veterans.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

What's in store for WI come 2012?

Originally posted at

With the political defeat of Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold, we're left to wonder: what's next for Wisconsin come 2012? First, we're going to see a larger electorate. This year's election was crippled by the fact that just under one-half of eligible voters bothered to show up. In 2008, nearly 70 percent of Wisconsin voters who could vote did.

Those voters were widely influenced by the presidential election -- and their votes for other offices trickled down respectively. Democrats running for federal as well as state offices cleaned house, riding on the coattails of Barack Obama as he coasted easily to electoral victory.

In 2012, strong Republican districts held by Paul Ryan, Tom Petri, and Jim Sensenbrenner will likely stay Republican. The same can be said of strong Democratic seats held by Tammy Baldwin and Gwen Moore. But expect Wisconsin's 8th Congressional district to once again be up for grabs -- and to be influenced by whichever party wins the presidency.

And which party might that be? Believe it or not, it's likely to be the Democrats. Barack Obama should have a relatively easy re-election campaign, especially considering who his GOP rivals might be. The further to the right the GOP goes, the more likely Obama will win -- especially if the GOP picks Sarah Palin, who very well could win the nomination (she has a favorable rating among Republicans of 82 percent, the highest among all GOP contenders). But Palin's favorability among voters overall is dismal -- more than two-thirds of Americans don't think she's qualified to be the next commander-in-chief.

With that in mind, let's return to Wisconsin: Herb Kohl, Wisconsin's other senator, will have to face re-election himself come 2012. Rumors abound that Kohl might retire rather than face another election (the aging senator will be 77 when the 2012 general election rolls around).

Incumbents generally do better than challengers, so if Kohl stays in it's likely he's going to keep his seat if Obama carries the state as well. If Kohl drops out, it becomes a tighter situation, and depending upon how far left the Democratic candidate goes versus how right the candidate for the Republicans is, it could be anyone's game in my view. In short, the senate seat will lean Democratic, with it favoring the Democrats more if Kohl stays put and/or if the Republicans field extremist candidates in both the presidential and senatorial campaigns.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A short absence...

I've had a short hiatus from this blog (my last post was about five days ago). In that time, I've been taking a break, working on some other writings (a book among them!), and overall just relaxing after what was a pretty stressful election season.

Tomorrow, you should expect a blog. And Veterans Day is Thursday -- don't forget to thank a Vet. Expect a blog on that day, too.

Ok. Bye now.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

How Russ lost

Originally posted at

Democratic incumbent Sen. Russ Feingold lost his bid to convince voters that he deserved another six-year term serving the state of Wisconsin. In his place come January will be a pro-corporate, anti-government conservative who has no political experience whatsoever in his lifetime.

How did this happen? Many of us are asking that question, some of us out loud to family and friends. Feingold was a champion of progressive causes, but also a staunch defender of the U.S. Constitution, so much so that his defense of gun rights went further than what Ron Johnson ever articulated during the campaign. Much of what led to his loss, however, transcended what people thought about Feingold himself and involved the national outlook, disregarding what candidate Johnson would provide for the state and focusing entirely on misidentifying factors in Feingold's career as Senator.

There are four main reasons as to why Feingold may have lost this race. First, Johnson represented a fresh face to Wisconsin citizens whereas Feingold was considered a part of the "Washington establishment." No matter how wrong that assessment was, the fact that Feingold had been in DC for nearly two decades didn't help his image as a true independent voice within the Senate chambers. Johnson, on the other hand, was a relatively unknown candidate, entering the race considerably late in May of this year. The people of Wisconsin never got to really know who Ron Johnson was (including the fact that Johnson opposed extending rights to victims of sexual abuse in the state).

Which brings us to the second reason why Feingold lost: he had to defend policy positions while Johnson was able to get away with saying little-to-nothing on what he'd do as Senator, outside of simple ideological beliefs he'd espouse. Feingold was proud of the many votes he cast, including for health care reform and against the big government bailout to banks and Wall Street. But few people took note of the latter, lumping Feingold in with the rest of the Democratic Party who mostly voted for the measure. With health reform, Feingold's vote made sense to those who would listen to him speak, but many Wisconsinites had already heard all they wanted to about the issue, and therefore despised Feingold for his pro-"Obamacare" vote (oftentimes lacking correct information on the subject in the process).

Needing to explain yourself in politics is never a good sign -- it places you in constant defense mode, making it difficult to get your message above the framing that others have placed you in. In other words, if your stances aren't "common sense" enough to stand on their own, you'll fail to convince the people to pick you instead of your opponent.

Feingold's stances were legit and reasonable, but became difficult to defend when framed in the context of the national discourse. Imagine having a great defense in soccer, but never being able to kick the ball beyond midfield. Even if the game ends in a 0-0 tie, soccer analysts will agree that your team was vastly outplayed. Johnson never scored any "goals" with anything he said, but the Feingold campaign didn't come close in their reasonable discourse to explain the Senator's positions versus Johnson's characterization of Feingold as just another "Washington liberal."

A third reason why Feingold lost is the all-important "money game." With Feingold being the number-one enemy of special interest groups in Washington, he became the biggest target for many to defeat on the left within the Senate. With those outside groups spending large sums of money, as well as Johnson himself spending more than $8 million of his own cash, the people of Wisconsin were barraged with anti-Feingold ads for the better part of the campaign. Before even the final two months of the campaign, Johnson outspent Feingold by nearly three-to-one. It topped that margin by election day.

Finally, Feingold's loss was due largely to voter fatigue, as some outlets have pointed out. People who were uninspired to vote stayed home, people who were annoyed by campaign ads ignored them, disregarding the importance of this race, and some people just flat-out refused to vote because of how crazy politics have been lately. A lot of those voters were first-time voters in 2008, who had supported the "Change" Obama and Dems had stood for but were disenchanted by the outcomes over the past two years.

It's important to note that beyond the main reasons why Russ Feingold lost his Senate seat, none of them include his being an ineffective leader. Quite the contrary: the reason Feingold even got close to Johnson in the closing weeks of the campaign was probably because of his stances, because of his ability to stake out progressive beliefs, keeping Wisconsin's interests in mind. Russ's liberal streak isn't to blame here -- he's been just as liberal in the past with no problems. The perfect combination of voter frustration, voter apathy, and misidentifying/purposeful negative framing of Feingold as "just another Democrat" beat him, not any new conservative ideals espoused by Ron Johnson. Despite the loss, we that to keep in mind that the people themselves aren't shifting more to the right, but rather those in the middle failed to understand who the real Russ Feingold was.


Still, it's disheartening to see such an important figure in our state's political history go down like this. It's a hard pill to chew, and though we may have learned more lessons through his loss on how to better defend our state against radical right campaigns, it's terrible that Wisconsin and the nation-at-large had to lose such a courageous legislator in the process.

Don't rule Feingold out of making a political return -- he will remain dedicated to pushing our state forward no matter what his future brings. And don't let his loss ruin your motivation to keep fighting on yourself. That is the worst thing of all to take from this election. Besides, Russ wouldn't want you to do that -- he'd want you to stay involved, to tackle the next big battle that we will face in the coming years. Wisconsin is red, for now. But with people like Russ leading the way, and with 100 Russ Feingolds right behind him, there's no telling what the people in our state could do, what great things Wisconsin can accomplish.

Forward. Always Forward.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Whatever the outcome, be proud of our democratic tradition

Despite anything that happens today -- whether Democrats pull off an upset or Republicans take over total control of Congress -- we cannot fault the system of democracy, nor of the system of governance that was guaranteed to us by the founding fathers, the U.S. Constitution.

Every two years, we are afforded the opportunity to select our representatives to be our voices in national government. This tradition has gone uninterrupted since our nation's inception, unaffected by wars, extreme poverty, or national disasters great and small. There aren't many countries on this small planet of ours that can make that claim, can say that their tradition of democracy has consistently worked for over two hundred years.

Yes, we've had some problems in our past. There have been a small handful of presidential elections chosen on the basis of the outdated Electoral College system, which doesn't always respect the democratic will of the people. There have been scores of people, over the course of many decades, who have been refused the right to vote on the basis of their skin color alone. There have been countless efforts, in recent years as well as the past, of fliers promoting the wrong election day, or warning citizens that if they vote they will face dire consequences. And there have been times where a majority of citizens have chosen not to exercise their democratic rights as citizens, have sat at home instead of taking part in the process to choose their representatives.

The process itself, as well as its outcomes, can at times be disheartening. We often rail against the number of political ads, the phone calls we receive during dinnertime, and the strangers who walk up to our houses in order to ask us a few questions about whom we prefer in this year's elections. But these minor annoyances are democracy in action, a citizen-led and citizen-run effort to determine the course our country will take, and should be celebrated even if they do cause us to roll our eyes once in awhile.

We also wince at the representatives we sometimes choose. A lot of people I know aren't going to be happy, one way or another, with the election's outcome in the U.S. Senate race in Wisconsin, for example. But whatever the outcome, democracy works. In races all across the country, incumbents will remain in place, and those who lose will peacefully step aside in order to preserve the democratic will of the people.

Few Americans acknowledge that point. While I may later write today of the losses that burn my soul, that cause me to be upset with the outcome of the process, I still CELEBRATE the process itself. I thank God every day that I live in a place as great as the United States, which allows me the right to have an equal voice in determining who should and shouldn't take part in our government's highest and most honorable offices.


Sunday, October 31, 2010

Yet again...this country is more liberal than you think

A new CNN poll is out, and yet again it only confirms what I've been saying on this blog: Americans are more liberal than the media depicts us to be.

Think that's crazy talk? Consider this statistic. 46 percent of Americans believe that President Barack Obama's policies are too liberal, while 37 percent believe that they're just right. That might seem like an indictment of liberalism, but another 13 percent of Americans believe that the president isn't liberal enough.

That means that, while the president's approval rating is only at 46 percent, his unfavorable rating is due largely to him not putting forth more liberal policies. 37 plus 13 percent -- or 50 percent -- of Americans like Obama's policies or believe they should go even further.

This election isn't going to be won by an electorate that is overwhelmingly conservative, but rather lost due to an electorate that is uninspired by Obama and his Democratic Party thus far. If Obama stays steadfast, and pushes more liberal policies in the future, the president and Democrats will recover in 2012 from the losses of 2010.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

WI AG Van Hollen: no misdemeanors for first-time OWI drivers

Two things you should know about Wisconsin and its Attorney General JB Van Hollen:

First: did you know that Wisconsin is the only state in the U.S. that doesn't criminalize first-time OWI offenses? When you commit an OWI, though you do receive a harsh punishment, it's not technically considered a "crime" but rather a "municipal violation."

Second: did you know only one candidate for Attorney General this year, Scott Hassett, supports making first-time OWI offenses a crime, while current AG JB Van Hollen believes that enforcement of such a law, a law that every other state in the country executes without question, would be too costly to enforce?

Whether or not it's too costly doesn't matter much to the families of those who have died at the hands of a drunk driver. More than 200 lives were lost last year due to drunk driving, with nearly 4,000 injuries the result of the deadly practice. With so much talk of cutting programs and moving our spending priorities elsewhere, you'd think that our own Attorney General would be willing to at least push for the state to address this issue. But not JB Van Hollen.

Driving while under the influence of alcohol is a reckless choice: if someone makes that choice, they ought to be held accountable to a standard higher than a municipal violation. That Wisconsin is the only state in the country that doesn't use a misdemeanor as a deterrent to drunk driving is telling, given the fact that our state has the highest drunk driving rate in the nation.

Forty-five percent of all accidents on Wisconsin's roads are due to alcohol being a factor. Imagine cutting that number down significantly if we simply created a new way to stave off would-be offenders. Upping the penalties for first-time drunk drivers would cause many to rethink whether they should be driving after their fourth or fifth drink.

Yes, there are stiff penalties already in place for first-time offenders, including forfeiture of license for up to 9 months. But these deterrents are clearly not working for Wisconsin. Adding an additional penalty of having a misdemeanor on your record would cause people to step back even further, to consider their actions a bit more, before making what could be the stupidest decision of their lives.

Vote Scott Hassett for Attorney General this coming Tuesday (or earlier!). Van Hollen's priorities won't protect the lives of those on Wisconsin's roads.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Can the private sector really flourish without the public sector?

I'm getting fed up with a tired meme. A lot of conservative politicians who are running for office are upset with the federal government's involvement in the private sector. Their argument lies upon a false premise: that the government cannot create private sector jobs.

Besides the obvious failure of comprehension -- anyone with an internet connection can read the CBO's report on the millions of jobs created as a result of the stimulus package -- the idea that an unrestricted private sector is all that's needed to create jobs is bogus.

Consider when, under the Clinton administration, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was passed. What happened then? Jobs went south of the border to where cheaper labor could be found. Additional free trade deals had similar effects: jobs, specifically in manufacturing, were exported from America to other countries in favor of cheap labor.

It's true that the public sector shouldn't be depended upon to provide work opportunities to the people; the private sector needs to provide the bulk of jobs in our country. But the public sector does play a vital role in creating work for people, directly through public works projects and indirectly through regulations that ensure American jobs stop going overseas.

Relying SOLELY on either private or public sectors to create jobs won't accomplish anything. Job creation requires a delicate balance of both, with the public sector laying out appropriate rules and regulations for businesses as well as the occasional contracted public works project, in order to provide a framework that's both fair and full of potential for the private sector to take advantage of.

Conservatives rail against any involvement of government, any attempts by the public sector, in assisting struggling small businesses or workers seeking employment. They deride liberals as being communists/socialists that seek to control the economic outcomes of the marketplace. In truth, it is corporate interests that are hoping to control the economy, through keeping the status quo in check and restricting those ingenious Americans (who have driven our country since its birth) from being a part of the marketplace.

Liberals don't want to control the economy -- they want to expand it to even more Americans with even more great ideas. You can't expand the economy through conservative principles, which oftentimes require you to be rich in order to participate in the first place. Instead, you need to expand access to the market through regulation of large corporations (who send jobs overseas) and some degree of assistance to small business owners. Only then can the economy expand, can middle-class jobs flourish, and can we preserve jobs from further being exported away from our country.

Don't buy the conservative hype: public sector assistance is needed in order to ensure a level playing field for all within the United States economy.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Idea of "career politicians" democracy in action

First posted on

There have been many criticisms made this election year regarding the career choices of candidates running for office, most notably those who are incumbents. Critics have blasted those seeking re-election as “career politicians,” condemning these candidates for getting comfortable with their position of power and forgetting the people they’re meant to represent.

Two incumbents in Wisconsin are being challenged in part on the basis of choosing politics as their career. Sen. Russ Feingold is one such candidate. Having been behind in the polls for the better part of this election season, Feingold has narrowed the gap to within a statistical tie with his Republican counterpart and manufacturing millionaire Ron Johnson. Second Congressional District Rep. Tammy Baldwin is also facing a challenge from hard-right Republican candidate Chad Lee, who is a strong proponent of term limits for members of Congress (Baldwin’s chances are significantly stronger than Feingold’s at this time).

Many backers of both Johnson and Lee are supporting these two candidates because they believe that a “career politician” is a bad thing. Their views, however, contradict those of our founding fathers.

The original document that put in place the first government of the United States of America was the Articles of Confederation. Among the many difficulties that the Articles posed in the governing process, one that irked the founders a great deal was the limit on terms an officeholder could hold.

Each legislator elected to the unicameral Congress under the Articles could only serve one term of three years. After that, they had to wait until another three-year term was up before they could again run within the district they wanted to represent. It became increasingly difficult for legislators to get anything done – imagine a Congress full of only freshmen lawmakers!

One of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Rush, was himself critical of term limits, and wrote publicly about the need to dissolve the Articles and replace them with a document that would abolish the practice:

“The custom of turning men out of power or office as soon as they are qualified for it,” Rush said, “has been found to be as absurd in practices, as it is virtuous in speculation. It contradicts our habits and opinions in every other transaction in life. Do we dismiss a general – a physician – or even a domestic, as soon as they have acquired knowledge sufficient to be useful to us, for the sake of increasing the number of able generals – skillful physicians – and faithful servants? We do not. Government is a science; and can never be perfect in America, until we encourage men to devote not only three years, but their whole lives to it.”

The remaining founders debated the issue, ultimately agreeing with Rush – term limits would be removed from the Constitution, allowing officeholders to remain in power for as long as their constituents wanted them there.

Term limits would later be imposed only on the presidency, following the four-term tenure of Franklin Roosevelt. But as far as term limits for members of Congress, no serious effort has ever succeeded, nor has it ever been really attempted on a grand scale.

Looking to the modern day call for term limits a little closer, it seems that Republicans only call for them when they’re the ones out of power. In 1994, the Contract with America, proposed by Newt Gingrich and his coalition of Republicans who would soon take Congress, failed in twelve years’ time to move the idea forward. So why do we believe that the same ideological cousins of this movement – the TEA Party – would do any different?

What’s more, term limits go contrary to popular opinion. If a candidate is elected to office 20 consecutive times, we shouldn’t really care – so long as it’s the will of the people, then representative democracy is functioning properly. The people should be able to say that they want to keep their representative in power; if there is a problem with that legislator, they are free to vote him or her out.

Statutory term limits are contrary to what the founding fathers wanted. But what about the people deciding on their own, through the elections process? Even then, it might not be such a brilliant plan. A person who has been in office for longer than the constituents want is rightfully removed if that is the sole reason behind their vote – but what if the alternative to the incumbent is someone who is worse, someone whose values contradict those of the constituency’s? Indeed, we have to ask: would it be right to vote out a five-term incumbent if what we’re putting into place is someone whose values mirror those of a neo-Nazi?

Now, Ron Johnson isn’t a neo-Nazi, nor is Chad Lee. No matter how much someone might dislike either man’s politics, we needn’t compare their beliefs to those of Nazi Germany circa 1939. Still, casting a vote for Johnson on the mere basis that Feingold has been a politician for most of his adult life is a vote based on a failed meme, as is a vote for Lee against Baldwin on the same criterion.

Career politicians are, in fact, what many of our founding fathers wanted for this country. Yes, they also wanted their constituents’ wishes to be adhered to, and if a newcomer came along that had ideas that those constituents agreed to, they could very well remove a lifelong delegate in favor of a new one. But the removal of an incumbent should be due to his or her values no longer matching those of their constituents, not simply because someone thinks it’s time for a fresh face. A fresh face alone could mean disaster for the people in the long run.

Casting a vote against Feingold, Baldwin, or any other incumbent in office right now isn’t wrong. It’s something that I myself disagree strongly with – but if you have a compelling reason to vote for someone else, that’s your American right to do so. Basing that vote on the mere fact that you dislike career politicians, however, contradicts the true meaning of representative democracy: that the right person is representing the true interests of the people whom they are meant to represent.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Democrats trying to appear more Christian than Republicans...a dangerous precedent?

The Democratic Party is becoming more and more religious this election year, using the irreligious (and un-Christian) actions of some in the GOP as reason why voters should select certain Democratic candidates.

To be sure, it isn't ALL Democrats who are doing this. But in two specific races, Democratic resources are being used to make sure the public sees the Republicans as anti-Christian.

In Delaware, Christine O'Donnell is having a difficult time during a year when most TEA Party candidates have been seeing more success with their polling numbers. Her difficulties are due in large part to videos released by comedian Bill Maher, who had O'Donnell on as a regular on his TV show "Politically Incorrect" in the 1990s. In one video O'Donnell states that she chose not to become a Hare Krishna because she couldn't handle being a vegetarian; in another, she admits that she once "dabbled" in witchcraft.

Rand Paul, the libertarian-leaning Republican candidate for Senator in Kentucky, is also facing the religious wrath of his Democratic opponent, who this week released a political ad questioning Paul's religious beliefs.

To be sure, the exploits and histories of both these candidates ought to be explored as deeply as possible. That O'Donnell chose Christianity on the basis of whether she could eat meat or not brings into question her character and ability to make rational decisions (most religious choices are made based on deeper convictions than food preferences). And that Paul allegedly forced a woman to worship "his God" called "Aqua Buddha" should make us question his integrity as a person, much less a political leader for the state of Kentucky.

But the charges against these candidates often relate to their "Christian-ness" more than their integrity. I've heard several progressive radio hosts in the last week alone belittle O'Donnell for her past rather than showing any respect for her doing something that most liberals would celebrate -- exploring a variety of beliefs and then choosing the best fit based on your experiences. Paul's lacking of a Christian belief structure -- a charge which Paul denies -- would also be something of little concern were he a Democratic candidate. It's his ideas that matter most, not whether he believes in a specific people's ideas of what God is like.

To be sure, I do view both candidates' religious experiences to be deeply troubling -- but not in the context of their not being Christian enough. We laugh when we hear about O'Donnell once being a witch, for example, but were she able to bring about a reasoned proposal to eliminate unemployment in our country, I wouldn't care whether she was, or even still is, a witch or not.

We twinge and criticize Republicans for using religious beliefs as wedge issues. We shouldn't be doing the same ourselves -- there are plenty of policy positions and backwards ideological stances available to debate TEA Party candidates on. We needn't be hypocrites -- after all, if Democratic candidates cannot defeat these extremist TEA Party candidates on issues and ideologies alone, then they don't deserve to be elected in the first place.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Please consider donating to Russ Feingold's campaign

What follows is more than an endorsement: it's a call to action.

In 2006, Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold was contemplating something deep. Something that most people don't think about when they go to sleep at night. He was considering answering a call that not too many people consider, and only a select few have answered successfully.

Russ was considering a run for President of the United States.

Ultimately, Russ never answered that call. Service to the people of Wisconsin was more important than running a dark-horse campaign. "I never got to that point where I'd rather be running around the country, running for president, than being a senator from Wisconsin," he said, adding, "this effort would dismantle both my professional life (in the Senate) and my personal life. I'm very happy right now."

And that's who Russ Feingold is -- a dedicated public servant, who has ALWAYS thought of his constituents first. Not even the temptation of the presidency could prevent him from honorably serving the people of Wisconsin.

This year, Russ is in the political battle of his life. Facing a candidate with an unlimited campaign war chest, as well as an energized opposition versus an apathetic general public (that has ordinarily supported him), Feingold finds himself behind millionaire Ron Johnson in a race that may define the attitude of the country.

The validity of the polls comes into question: Rasmussen, a conservative-biased polling agency, has done the bulk of them, drawing into question just how real the divide is in the state. And an internal poll from the Feingold campaign shows a dead heat in terms of who is ahead.

Still, Feingold is facing an uphill battle. Even if the internal poll is the correct one to take into account, sitting on the sidelines this year just isn't going to cut it.

It's not enough to vote anymore these days -- if you want to elect a true hero to the Senate, you can't win it without campaign dollars. And while I don't ordinarily believe in doing this, the reelection of Sen. Feingold is just too important to not help out.

Please, PLEASE consider donating to the Feingold campaign. You can go to my personal donation page here: Even a donation of $50, $20, even $5 can help. Then spread the word: get another friend to donate, or better yet convince a friend to vote (early or on election day).

Both Wisconsin and the country-at-large need this man in office. Don't let corporate interests win this one -- vote for the guy who's on your side. Vote Russ Feingold.

Thank you.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Keeping Kleefisch from debate unhealthy for democracy

Know much about Rebecca Kleefisch? You're not alone. The Republican nominee for lieutenant governor is relatively unknown through much of the state, save for Milwaukee where she once worked as a news anchor for that broadcasting area. Other than that, Kleefisch is a stranger, and even more unknown are her policy positions.

You would think that the Walker-Kleefisch campaign would want to expose her ideals and vision for the state a little more. But the campaign is purposely keeping her from engaging in any debate with her Democratic counterpart, Tom Nelson.

Why is that? Kleefisch has been described by many as being very similar ideologically to Sarah Palin. If voters in the state make that connection, it's likely that the Walker-Kleefisch campaign would lose some points among some independents and moderates in Wisconsin.

Kleefisch describes herself as 100 percent pro-life -- even in cases of rape or incest -- and anti-gay rights. But on other issues, it's entirely impossible to discern her views. At her personal campaign website, clicking on "Issues" will only reroute you to Scott Walker's campaign page.

But what stances we do see Kleefisch making, earlier during her primary campaign, are astonishing. Kleefisch believes that one of the qualifications for governor ought to be that he be a Christian man. Those are her words, not mine -- "My qualifications for governor are a Christian man." No need for that separation of church and state thing -- it's outdated anyway.

That the Walker-Kleefisch campaign wants to hide the second half of their ticket is quite intriguing. They know that Kleefisch's views might strike a chord with many moderate voters, and most mainstream Wisconsinites. Running on those views may sink their campaign in no time.

So the best solution? Make something it's the other guys' faults! The Walker-Kleefisch campaign has said that they wouldn't allow Tom Nelson the opportunity to debate Kleefisch because of the ads the Democrats have been running against the GOP campaign:

According to the campaign, the reason why Kleefisch won't debate Nelson is because..."Nelson and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Barrett are only interested in running away from their records and using false television ads to distort the record of Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Walker."

That statement is subjective and depends upon how you look at each advertisement. But even if it were factual, wouldn't it make more sense for Kleefisch to embarrass Nelson by confronting him about it in, say...a debate? Wouldn't it behoove Kleefisch to set the record straight in as many public settings as she possibly could, including debates with Nelson? And why, if the Walker-Kleefisch campaign is so adamant against keeping their lieutenant governor nominee from debates, is Walker himself debating Barrett?

Keeping Kleefisch from debating isn't something the GOP is doing on principle -- it's a deliberate move that's meant to keep the extreme conservative from gaining notoriety among the public. Keeping one-half of a gubernatorial ticket from the public's eye is a form of stealth politics, of keeping the people purposely ignorant on who could become Wisconsin's next governor, should Walker be unable to serve his term out if elected.

The people of Wisconsin deserve to hear from the people they're planning to vote for. That's why Rebecca Kleefisch ought to come out from the shadows and show Wisconsin who she truly is -- though it's understandable why Scott Walker doesn't want that to happen.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Do rights of the Westboro Baptist Church circumvent the rights of the grieving?

The Supreme Court last week heard arguments regarding the First Amendment rights of the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC). The group is notorious for going to soldiers' funerals and holding protests near their proceedings, holding signs with hateful words such as "God Hates Fags" and "Thank God for Dead Soldiers."

The WBC believes that God is punishing soldiers and Americans overall because of the nation's tolerance for homosexuality, abortion, and other hot-button issues. Every death caused, the group warns, is simply God showing he is angry with our ways.

The WBC is taking advantage of a Constitutional amendment that was designed to protect many forms of speech, but specifically political speech. The WBC is free to make their own speech as well. But critics wonder whether the right to invade a semi-private venue to express that speech -- such as a funeral -- is itself protected.

We see it all the time, actually: permits are required to hold a rally in downtown Madison, for example. Both major political parties have, in the past, set up "free speech zones" in order to cordon off dissent at their respective conventions. Would it be wrong to prohibit hateful speech at or around a person's funeral? It seems like, compared to the other methods of suppressing speech mentioned, the suppression of speech that causes emotional distress at a family funeral would be more just, if anything.

Think about it: if during a eulogy, a person out of the crowd started screaming obscenities, it wouldn't be wrong to remove that person -- they are disturbing the peace, disturbing the often-times religious ceremony of the family that is trying to say goodbye to a loved one. Why aren't the religious rights of these families of military men and women being considered?

The Constitution is clear on the rights of the WBC -- they're entitled to speak their minds and to promote their message. But doing so during a ceremony honoring a departed family member surely violates the rights of that family, to some extent religious rights and to another extent "unspoken" rights that are rarely articulated.

The Constitution, in fact, discusses such rights, through the Ninth Amendment, which states that the people retain certain privileges even if they aren't codified through law:

"The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."

Certainly a case can be made that a father has a right to say goodbye to his son without interference from hate groups that consider his son's death something worth celebrating.

In this particular case, we might not see such an outcome: Al Snyder didn't actually see the protesters until he turned on his television set, and wasn't bothered directly at his son's funeral itself. But the Supreme Court ought to consider the rights of others who weren't so fortunate, who had to endure hate-mongers that were within screaming distance of their children's funeral services.

As far as rights not necessarily expressed, one I can support (and that I believe most everyone can as well) is the right to hold a ceremony honoring a family member without purposeful interference from outside individuals. States should be granted the power to uphold that right through legislation prohibiting protests at funerals. The WBC still can voice their opinion, but their right to do so at such an event, especially those honoring soldiers who died defending this country, ought to be restricted.