Monday, February 27, 2012

Scott Walker's "big media day" full of hypocrisies

Embattled governor made headlines on several fronts Monday

Monday was a major news day for Gov. Scott Walker, for three different reasons.

First, the Walker campaign announced that it would not seek to challenge any of the recall signatures against him, making the election certain to happen in a faster time-frame than predicted. John Nichols, on his Twitter account @NicholsUprising, observed:

Yet, there is a caveat to the announcement. As it turns out, Walker is hoping to use the challenges from the "Verify the Recall" group, a move the Government Accountability Board has yet to deem as legitimate or not. The GAB had previously said they didn't want outside organizations (i.e. that weren't directly affiliated with those being recalled) to submit signature challenges. The issue could likely go to the courts.

Next: Walker made headlines again when he stood up against a recent statement by a Republican presidential candidate. When Rick Santorum said last week that President Barack Obama was a "snob" for wanting more kids to go to college, Walker cautioned against such rhetoric, decrying the former senator from Pennsylvania's comments as foolish:
"I'll set aside the politics," the Republican governor said on MSNBC's Morning Joe. "The reality is, people want results, and in most of our states, there needs to be a mix. We need more kids in colleges and universities, also more kids in our technical schools because increasingly in states like Wisconsin, there are manufacturing jobs available, welding and high-skilled machining. We don't have enough bodies to fill those and we need to work hard.

Walker continued: "I don't care whether it's the president or anyone else, I'll work with anyone that wants to help us do that."
So even a broken clock can be right twice a day, it seems. Unfortunately, Walker's words don't match his actions, as he cut millions of dollars from colleges and universities across the state as governor. So much for helping improve secondary education in Wisconsin.

Which brings us to the third and final Walker item which grabbed the attention of the "interwebs" today, a complaint that the recall itself was "frivolous" and expensive, an unnecessary expenditure at a time when such monies could be used elsewhere:
"I mean, it's $9 million of taxpayers' money just to run this. Think about the number of kids we could help, think of the number of seniors we could help in our state with $9 million that we didn't have to waste on this -- this frivolous recall election."
Walker neglects to mention that more than a third of the number of workers in Wisconsin, and nearly half of the total of voters in the last election, signed onto the recall petitions to encourage an election for his removal. The law dictates that 25 percent is needed to create a recall -- the highest threshold in the nation. If Walker wants to whine about the costs of democracy, the costs to implement a right of the people (as written within the Wisconsin Constitution), he's free to do so.

But complaining about $9 million dollars that could be used elsewhere -- especially for "kids" and "seniors" -- is downright sinister. Walker made cuts well-over the $9 million he's now whining about.

In fact, Walker cut the budget to schools by more than $800 million, or about $635 per student, across the state. He made it difficult for school districts to raise funds on their own, too, creating a total shortfall of $1.6 billion dollars. When you go by those numbers, the $800 million figure is more than 88 times what Walker is complaining about the recall costing, and the $1.6 billion figure more than 177 times what Walker is worrying over. Cuts to programs for seniors and the medically disadvantaged -- in the hundreds of millions of dollars as well -- are similarly many times over what the recall elections will cost.

Then there are the tax cuts that Walker gave to corporations, tax cuts that were meant to spur job growth but have since failed in doing so (for reasons that can be explained by simple economics). Within the $2.3 billion that Walker gave away in state revenues, there was no word of caution, no hesitancy by his supporters or from the administration itself on the costs that doing so would create.

The costs of those tax breaks, by the way, are more than 255 times greater than what Walker is complaining the recall elections will cost.

To review:
  • Walker said he's not going to challenge the recall petitions directly, but he IS looking to have an outside group's challenges validated;
  • Walker criticized a presidential candidate from his own party for comments he made about a college education, but Walker himself made drastic cuts to secondary education across the state;
  • Walker is criticizing a $9 million price tag on the recall election, but fails to make the connection that his own policies are hundreds of times more costly than the challenges against him, his lieutenant governor, and several state Republican legislators.
Three major stories of Walker made headlines on Monday. In each, a bit of hypocrisy was thrown in, just in case we were forgetful of the kind of governor we had in Wisconsin.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The politics behind the Ryan Braun decision

Collective bargaining allowed arbitration process, facts of the case to come forward

When Ryan Braun tested positive for drug enhancement last year, the National League MVP stated right away that he would be vindicated, that the results (and his 50-game suspension) would be overturned.

This past week, that's precisely what happened.

Call me biased for saying so -- my favorite team has always been the Milwaukee Brewers, in good times and in bad -- but the decision to overturn the suspension was the right one to make. The circumstances surrounding Braun's testing were very circumspect, allowing for reasonable doubt over whether his urine sample had been tampered with (or otherwise affected by strange "travels").

Immediately following Braun's vindication, the Democratic Party of Wisconsin weighed in, commenting that the results were aided by the collective bargaining process:
There was a rush to judgement after the suspension was first announced, and Braun has said that this is just the beginning of him rehabilitating his good name.

Whatever the case, none of this would have been possible without collective bargaining protections won not through the goodness of the baseball owners' hearts, but because men that came before Braun stood in solidarity for something bigger than themselves.

And this is what Scott Walker can never understand.


As Braun's victory displays in dramatic fashion, collective bargaining is not merely about wages and benefits, it is the foundation for basic dignity in a workplace, and it radiates outward to all workplaces, whether it be a major league dugout or a welding shop, whether it's a police precinct or a classroom.
Over at Cognitive Dissidence, Chris Liebenthal (aka Capper) makes a similar point:
Braun was only able to take it to arbitration, and win the reprieve, because of an agreement between Major League Baseball and the Players Association. In other words, it was because of collective bargaining that Braun even had the opportunity to appeal, much less prevail over, the wrong decision and action taken by MLB.
But there were some that were skeptical of this position, feeling that it was a stretch to tie Gov. Walker and collective bargaining in general with the Brewers' star's recent arbitration.

From Freedom Eden, responding to Liebenthal:
Collective bargaining didn't overturn Braun's suspension. The FACTS of the case did.
The conservative-based Media Matters also commented on the DPW's assessments:
What is next? Was Gov. Walker somehow responsible for the Packers loss in the playoffs?
Given the governor's past year in office, can we really be so certain that he WASN'T??

Joking aside, these two conservative assessments disregard the overall picture. Yes, Braun won his case because the facts backed up his appeal. Without those facts, he probably wouldn't have had any recourse besides accepting the decision of Major League Baseball and serving out his suspension.

But the arbitration process itself is what matters here, at least in this debate. That the players are allowed to appeal the decision of the league is a significant part of this story, one that Freedom Eden and Media Matters overlooks:
Under the rules that govern drug testing arbitrations, MLB must prove that its workers followed every step of an intricate procedure designed to make sure that the sample tested is from the player tested and has not been mixed up along the way. The procedure is spelled out in excruciating detail in the collective bargaining agreement between owners and the players (Emphasis added).
That Ryan Braun's sample was handled in a terrible fashion definitely swayed the arbitrators' decision-making process. The facts of the case were of utmost importance in their conclusions. But that Braun had any opportunities at all to appeal the initial decision -- that of his unquestioning guilt, issued last year -- is wholly based upon an agreement between his union and the owners of MLB.

Collective bargaining played a role in vindicating Braun. Perhaps it wasn't a direct role, but without it being there we would have seen a different outcome with regard to the 50-game suspension and the legacy that Braun would have had.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Voting for others, Kleefisch acts as a hypocrite

Republican lawmaker chastises voter "fraud" while voting on behalf of colleagues

A Republican legislator is taking flack for casting votes in the state Assembly on behalf of his fellow lawmakers.

Joel Kleefisch, husband of Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, was caught on video making votes for other Republican legislators not physically in the Assembly. When confronted by the issue, Kleefisch defended himself, stating that it wasn't a practice wholly unknown to that body:
The bathroom counts as the chamber. And the parlor counts as a chamber if you are going to eat.
Kleefisch's defense is that his colleagues are technically present when he's casting their votes. But that defense runs counter to what his views on voting supposedly are.

Earlier last year, Kleefisch authored a bill that would have put immense burdens on how citizens in the state could vote in elections, a bill that was "watered down" (yet still controversial) to the voter ID restrictions we have today. For someone who vehemently opposes voter fraud in this state (where virtually none was seen before), Kleefisch's votes on his colleagues' behalf sure seems hypocritical.

Regardless of whether Democrats or Republicans do it -- both parties reportedly take part in voting-by-proxy -- the practice of casting votes for other legislators is still wrong. The issue has long been denounced in the past as well, by none other than Scott Walker himself:
The I-Team has confronted the state on this issue before, back in 1996 -- back when Governor Scott Walker was a state representative, wanting the behavior to stop and the rules to change.

"Change the rule to apply to people we are talking about who aren't in the chamber and aren't aware of what is going on," said Scott Walker.
If he still holds that opinion, Walker should take this opportunity to tell Kleefisch to stop voting in place of his colleagues immediately. It's not as if he's inaccessible to the governor.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

State GOP attacks equal pay for equal work

State Republicans make "purse-snatching" in the workplace easier to accomplish

A bill passed last night in the state Assembly would effectively dismantle the state's Equal Pay Act, making it more difficult for women across Wisconsin to remedy situations against their employers if they receive less pay for the same work performed as their male colleagues.

The bill had previously passed the Senate, and now goes to Gov. Scott Walker's desk for his approval. If signed into law, women in the state could only sue their bosses (in cases of workplace discrimination) to receive back-pay and legal fees. In other words, the law would strip women of their right to seek punitive damages from their employers.

Republicans who supported the bill claim that it will remove an undue burden on businesses, freeing up capital to create jobs in the state. But that assessment is wrong for two reasons.

First, an increase in capital doesn't lead to job growth on its own; only demand for a good or service will. There's no incentive for a corporation to hire more people simply because they will have more money -- doing so cuts into their profits. Believing that this bill would do anything for jobs is foolish thinking.

Second, punitive damages are necessary because what's being done is unlawful and unconscionable. A business that disrespects its workers in this manner shouldn't simply be asked to pay back money their employees were owed to begin with; rather, such actions deserve to be punished, to create an economic reason not to do this in the first place, or again if it's happened before.

Think about it: we don't force a purse-snatcher on the street to simply return the stolen items to the victim, and nothing more. The offender is punished further than that, to deter similar crimes in the future and to send a message that what they did was wrong. Otherwise, that criminal would simply repeat the crime over and over again, until they can get away with it without getting caught.

The same holds true with regards to equal pay for equal work. What incentives are there for corporations to comply with fairness in pay if the only judicial "punishment" they are held to is to compensate their workers the wages they were already owed, especially if they can get away with it from time-to-time? Like the hypothetical purse-snatcher, the crime will only be deterred if there's a true punishment as well.

Republican lawmakers essentially made it easier for bosses to become purse-snatchers themselves to their female employees. If Walker signs this bill into law, it will simply add more reason why he and other like-minded legislators deserve to be removed from office.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Falk would restore Wisconsin's ideals

Former county executive has the experience to lead and the vision to repair our state

On both the national and state levels, Republicans have overplayed their hands, pushed an extremist agenda that has alienated a great deal of people. The worst thing that liberals could do right now would be overplaying their own hands.

Fortunately in Wisconsin that won't be much of a problem. The most progressive of candidates, former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, is a rational, decisive leader who can still appeal to a diverse voting bloc of people, especially one that is fed up with the performances of Gov. Scott Walker and his Republican allies in the legislature.

Falk brings a breadth of experience as a candidate, having previously served as County Executive for over a decade. She knows how to run a government effectively, has experience in managing budgets, and has successfully negotiated with unions during fiscal crunches, saving taxpayers tens of millions of dollars over the years.

Though I've previously criticized Falk for making a pledge to unions, she's effectively addressed that issue by coming forward and expressing her views directly to citizens as well, through press releases, op-eds, and even a Facebook note. Her defense of the issue has shown her willingness to accept criticism and an openness to explain her position with the people, a trait that seems to be missing from our current governor.

Besides, if Walker supporters bring up the issue of her pledge, Falk can respond with two simple words: Grover Norquist. Walker made a pledge himself to the conservative activist, promising him not to raise taxes for the rich (apparently it's OK to raise taxes on the poor, however).

If the people need to determine which candidate best represents their interests, they can look to these campaign pledges for guidance: Falk made a promise to organizations representing thousands of workers across our state, while Walker's promise was to one man representing a select group of million- and billionaires.

Falk would make a great candidate for office, the perfect person to restore Wisconsin, and would be more than capable of defeating Walker in a statewide election. We'd be fortunate in having her as the Democratic choice for governor when the recall election comes to fruition.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Politifact gets it wrong on what "majority" of Americans are

Being "close" doesn't make Rubio's statements true, despite Politifact's assessment

Assessing politicians' statements isn't a perfect science -- there are contextual things to consider that make their words appear in that "gray" area from time to time. And while we'd like to rate their statements to be true or false, they can sometimes be partially true or partially false.

That's the idea behind Politifact's ratings of political statements. The website that has charged itself the duty of determining the validity of what our leaders say created a system that places their statements on a scale, ranging from "True" to "Pants on Fire," a position that goes beyond "False" for being extraordinarily out-there. Between those three are also "Mostly False," "Half True," and "Mostly True."

It's not a perfect system to say the least. But you would think that, when analyzing a statement that would have a definite yes-or-no answer to it, Politifact could get it right.

Not so with recent statements from Republican Sen. Mark Rubio, who quipped at CPAC that a "majority of Americans are conservatives." It'd be easy to answer that question in either the affirmative, as True, or negative, as false. Either a majority (50 percent plus one or more) ARE conservative, or they're not (under 50 percent).

Polling on the issue indicates that a plurality of Americans consider themselves conservative, but that a majority identify as either liberal or moderate.

So the answer seems clear as day, right? The majority of Americans aren't conservative. Which would mean that Rubio was not telling the truth.

Yet Politifact rated Rubio's statements as "Mostly True."


The matter wasn't left unchallenged: MSNBC's Rachel Maddow had a scathing rebuke of Politifact's ruling:
"Seriously? Claim A: false. Claim B: false. Overall Politifact rating: mostly true!"
Politifact responded in-kind, explaining that:
Our goal at PolitiFact is to use the Truth-O-Meter to show the relative accuracy of a political claim. In this case, we rated it Mostly True because we felt that while the number was short of a majority, it was still a plurality.
But that's not how research and validation of statements work. Rubio's statements wouldn't stand up to scrutiny under any other standard -- if you talk to any number of Americans at any random street corner, six times out of ten you're going to find that they're not conservative.

Now, consider if the opposite claim were proposed: "A majority of American's AREN'T conservatives." That claim would be true without refutation of any'd be true, and the numbers would align with its accuracy.

So how can that statement be "True" if Politifact's rating of Rubio's claim is also "Mostly True?" The two are not compatible.

Politifact is wrong to label Rubio's statement as having any validity to it whatsoever. At most, the claim can be said to be "Half True," but it's barely even that, and more appropriately fits in the "Mostly False" category. The numbers don't fit the claim, and to rate it anywhere near "True" is a disservice to the readers of Politifact.

Resources for the primary election on Tuesday, Feb 21

Elections matter, and have consequences...VOTE!

Tomorrow (Tuesday, February 21) will be the first official election under the new districts formed (in secret, as it were) last year. Nevertheless, it's still important to have the information you need in order to vote tomorrow.

Since boundaries have been changed, so too have the places where you will vote (for instance, my personal location has changed by several blocks, from a school to a municipal building on the opposite side of my neighborhood).

Even though it's only a primary election, you should still consider voting. And if you don't know where to vote, that can be a problem.

Fortunately, you can find out very easily where you're supposed to vote, online or through a quick phone call to your Municipal Clerk.

If you live in Madison, you can go to this site, plug in your web address and see where you are supposed to go (it's that easy!). If you live outside of Madison, find your Municipal Clerk's office and call them -- they're happy to give you the proper information on where you're meant to vote.

Need more information on the candidates or on voting in general? Check out United Wisconsin's BE A VOTER website or the League of Women Voters for more information.

Remember: elections matter. We learned that last year, that even state and local elections have consequences. These primary elections, too, will have outcomes that can determine the future of our state.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Sen. Grothman: blame child abuse on non-married families

State senator aims to codify "nonmarital parenthood" as a "contributing factor" to child abuse and neglect

Amid debates on environmental deregulation, secret GOP emails, and the impending recall election against Gov. Scott Walker (and other Republican legislators), State Sen. Glenn Grothman circulated an email to his colleagues hoping to garner co-signers for a bill to address child abuse in our state.

A noble cause indeed -- in 2010 alone, there were nearly 40,000 reported cases of child abuse, and undoubtedly countless more that went unreported. Every day nationally, four children die as a result of abuse and neglect. The subject is nothing scoff at.

Yet Grothman's aims within this bill aren't to increase penalties on those that commit abuse on the weakest in our society. No, his plans call for something entirely different -- legally codifying non-married households as more likely to engage in abuse of children.

In an email sent to state lawmakers, Grothman lays it out there for all to see:
Under current law the board must distribute information about the problems and methods of preventing child abuse and neglect to the public and other interested organizations. They are required to include information to emphasize the role of fathers as the primary prevention of child abuse and neglect. This bill would require the Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Board to emphasize nonmarital parenthood as a contributing factor to child abuse and neglect. This relationship has been shown by many studies, including the National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect (attached). This study is put together by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as a report to Congress on the issue. In this report it is clearly shown that unmarried parents, a single parent with a partner, or a single parent greatly increases the chances for abuse and neglect to children. This is an important aspect that the Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Board needs to address to keep current and future children safe in their homes.
Emphases added.

Click the image below to see part of the text of Grothman's bill. In it, Grothman lays out that the Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Board "shall emphasize nonmarital parenthood as a contributing factor to child abuse and neglect."

The bill would be quite contentious indeed -- according to the KIDS COUNT Data Center, nearly a third of all kids in Wisconsin live in single-parent households or households in which one adult is not their biological parent (excluding step-parents).

What's troubling is that Grothman's assessment is technically correct -- households with non-married parents typically do see greater instances of child abuse. But are these cases due to the fact that they're non-married households, or is there something else at play?

There are countless examples of single parents residing in our state that raise wonderful families. Clearly, a household with a single-parent or with living arrangements where one adult isn't the biological parent of a child residing there aren't inherently more violent or abusive -- other contributing factors are promoting abuse to spike within SOME households that drive those numbers up.

Those other factors include abuse of drugs and alcohol, as well as clinical depression, but notably also in households with high levels of income disparity. That is, in families where the overall incomes of single parents (or co-habitating adults where only one is a biological parent) are within poverty levels, you tend to see more cases of abuse occur.

Indeed, research from the previous National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect found that, "children from families with annual incomes below $15,000 were over 22 times more likely to experience maltreatment than children from families whose incomes exceeded $30,000. These children were also 18 times more likely to be sexually abused, almost 56 times more likely to be educationally neglected, and over 22 times more likely to be seriously injured."

The current incarnation of the NIS (the one Grothman cites himself in his email to legislators) also shows that "strong correlations between socioeconomic status and all categories of maltreatment are consistent with earlier NIS findings on household income."

These aren't just families living in single-parent or "non-traditional" households. Those figures come from research into all family living conditions, including married households. Poverty, it seems, plays a bigger role than anything else...even family structure.

But don't tell that to Glenn Grothman. His bill to tie non-married families to abuse has a clear agenda: promoting his ideal of "traditional" families, labeling those that exist outside that vision as troublemakers. His changes to the Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Board in no way address the issue of household economics, merely labeling single parents and families of co-habitating, non-married adults as inherently abusive, without any evidence to explain why.

That evidence, it seems, would run counter to Grothman's motivations. Grothman isn't concerned with ending abuse in families with low-income levels -- he's more concerned in promoting his "family values" beliefs, injecting it into the law without care for those involved.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

"Wildly Gerrymandering"

GOP emails reveal intent to redistrict illegally

The emails that Republicans tried their very best to conceal were ordered, yet again, to be released today. Here's one such email, in which it's revealed there's a "plain-as-day" intent to use gerrymandering techniques in a Hispanic part of the state: (click on image to enlarge)

It can't get any clearer than using the words "wildly gerrymandering" to get your point across. The Republicans were out to create a stronger map to their advantage, an act that is morally and legally reprehensible.

Sloppy journalism reveals Wisconsin's pro-worker values

State flag not "union emblem," but contains positive elements of labor traditions

Recently, the website Politico published a story regarding President Barack Obama's visit to the Badger state, and his support for the union presence here.

There's no doubt that Obama likely supports the progressive uprising, but the author of the article, Donovan Slack, had a different take on why exactly it was more evident on that day than any other:
It's very clear what side President Obama is on here in Wisconsin.

Behind the stage where he will speak today are two flags: an American one, as usual, and right alongside it — and a flag for the local union, Wisconsin 1848.
Here's the scene as Slack saw it, with both the U.S. flag and the "union" one next to it (in blue):

Yep, that "local union" flag is in fact...the state flag of Wisconsin.


Knowing the different state flags isn't basic knowledge (did you know Ohio's flag isn't even rectangular?!). But describing a flag you're unfamiliar with as being a "union" flag without researching that claim first is sloppy journalism, lazy at its very best and indicative of a hidden agenda at its worst.

Yet, even within this tragic neglect of basic researching standards, there lies some truth to Slack's claim: the two men in the flag represent a "yeoman" miner and a sea-farer of our state's waterways. Other symbols -- a pic-axe and a shovel, an arm swinging a hammer, a plowshare -- are also depicted.

Though some of the industries from the time the flag was adopted have waned considerably, the two workers' inclusion in our state's flag (as workers, mind you, not corporate owners) reflects a state rich in labor history, even if it was designed prior to many important labor battles yet to be won.

In trying to tie Obama to the labor movement in Wisconsin, Donovan Slack definitely...well, "slacked" in doing the proper research. Yet in doing so, Slack opened up a discussion into the state flag itself, including its contents and their relevance.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Video Heat: Crossroads

Do we invest in corporatocracy, or in Wisconsin? The choice is ours to make

As we edge closer to the impending recall election, citizens of Wisconsin must ask themselves: in which direction should we go? We stand at a crossroads, but our destiny made by our own hand.

Monday, February 13, 2012

By refusing to release documents, state GOP continues to keep us in the dark

Republicans refuse to adhere to court order, keep 84 redistricting documents hidden from the public

The Journal Sentinel reported on Monday that Republican lawmakers are attempting to keep hidden 84 documents relating to the redistricting bill that passed earlier this year, despite a court ruling ordering them to release those documents.

Citing attorney-client privilege, Republicans are attempting to keep this information out of the public's eyes -- this, following revelation last week of another document that essentially told lawmakers dealing with the redistricting bill that what they heard their leaders say in public wasn't necessarily what the bill would eventually entail.

The attorney-client privilege is indeed an important one to keep private. No one is disputing that fact. But a judge has already ruled that the documents' importance to the public supersede that privilege, and that the Republicans (and their lawyers) must make them public immediately.

The Republicans have every right to dispute that ruling -- that is the way our courts work in a democracy, after all. Yet there's something telling in the fact that they refuse to go along with the order.

What is it exactly that they're trying to hide? What could be in those documents that isn't already public knowledge, that's potentially worse than the document that was released last week? These are the questions that have no answers, at least until the documents are put out into the light.

And those are the questions that are destructive to the democratic process itself. We already know that Republicans were hiding things before, telling the public one thing while legislating in an entirely different direction.

Keeping their constituents in the dark about what was really going on is bad enough. Refusing to release documents that a court has already ordered should be revealed indicates not only that the Republicans choose to behave in a discrete manner, but that they also don't care what you think once that fact has already been exposed.

Same-sex couples deserve marriage rights

Reasons for restriction of marriage rights to gays, lesbians lack logical bases

Social issues have dominated the headlines as of late as the Republican nomination for president has heated up. One of the issues that continually comes up (thanks in part to candidate Rick Santorum's extreme views on the subject) is the issue of same-sex marriage.

In the wake of the GOP "conversations" on the subject, as well as passage in Washington state of same-sex marriage rights (and legislative passage of a same-sex marriage law in New Jersey), it behooves us to review the subject matter, to examine what's behind the debate and why same-sex partners deserve to have the same recognition that straight couples are afforded.

Marriage is involved in two separate aspects of our society. On the one hand, there is a traditional sense of what a marriage is, usually viewed as a religious ceremony that links two individuals together as one. This is what is argued over when the right in this country talks about the "sanctity of marriage."

Yet there is a second version of marriage that's also important to keep in mind within the debate -- the secular, state-sanctioned marriage. No marriage, religious or otherwise, is valid in the state's eyes without a license granted to couples from the government. Upon issuance of this certificate (and agreement between the two parties involved), a couple is conferred basic contractual rights, including (but not limited to) visitation rights when one is in the hospital, rights of inheritance, rights to share health insurance plans, rights of custody, and so forth.

In fact, there are literally thousands of rights that are conferred to "married" partners, rights that aren't accessible to those who are in civil unions, domestic partnerships or other pacts that are offered to same-sex couples.

Flawed arguments
The arguments that opponents of same-sex marriage put forth often point towards a "protection" of one thing or another. Some arguments even try to connect homosexuality to other forms of relationships, connections that oftentimes fail to have any weight to them whatsoever once you truly look at them close-up.

The "slippery-slope" argument, for example, tends to believe that if you legalize same-sex marriage, then other forms of marriage -- such as polygamy, bestiality, etc. -- MUST become legalized as well through the same rationale that same-sex marriage would been legalized under. Some opponents of marriage equality also compare the practice of homosexuality to pedophilia, a comparison that is wholeheartedly without merit.

To combat these arguments, one needs only to look at what exactly a same-sex marriage would entail, and what specifically couples hoping to gain recognition are desiring: a same-sex marriage would create a state-sanctioned bond between two consenting individuals of the same sex. Compare that to what a "traditional" marriage is (a recognition of two consenting individuals of the opposite sex) and it's clear that the slippery-slope comparisons are outrageous ones to make:
  • A same-sex marriage is in no way going to lead to a polygamist marriage because both a same-sex marriage and a opposite-sex marriage limit the bond to two. The comparison between same-sex marriages and polygamist marriages is purely that both are unrecognized, nothing more.

  • Relationships involving bestiality aren't going to occur as a result of same-sex marriage either because the two are different, in that the latter requires both participants to be "individuals," not an individual and an animal, just as an opposite-sex marriage does.

  • So, too, is the comparison to pedophilia equally incomparable, seeing as same-sex marriage advocates are pushing for a relationship between two consenting adults, not a relationship that requires one of the participants to lack the facilities to give consent. You could make an equally convincing argument that opposite-sex marriages could also lead to pedophilia being recognized, as many cases of abuse occur between an older individual and a younger, opposite-sexed child as well. In both cases, the rationale lacks adequate argument.
Opponents of same-sex marriage also try to state that they're merely "protecting" the sanctity of marriage (more on that later), or "protecting" family values by limiting what relationships are recognized or not. But in many cases, families of same-sex households are just like children of any other family.

Scientific studies tend to agree: according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, "Children’s optimal development seems to be influenced more by the nature of the relationships and interactions within the family unit than by the particular structural form it takes."

The AAP adds, in another similar study: "There is ample evidence to show that children raised by same-gender parents fare as well as those raised by heterosexual parents. More than 25 years of research have documented that there is no relationship between parents' sexual orientation and any measure of a child's emotional, psychosocial, and behavioral adjustment" (Emphasis added).

Unsanctimonious -- and recognized -- marriages
The concept that marriage has always been sanctimonious is also a troubled view -- though likely to have been a part of many marriage ceremonies, and himself a married man, Martin Luther believed "[marriage] was a part of life and even a part of Christian life, but it was not a sacrament." Indeed, the religious pilgrims who came to America had similar views, as the Puritan Church (once it came to control Parliament in the Mother country) passed a law maintaining "marriage to be no sacrament."

Obviously, to a great many of people, marriage still IS a sanctimonious event, one that they choose to include their preferred religious belief within. But those words -- "choose" and "preferred" -- aren't accidental. In U.S. law, a marriage may have the blessings of a church (or other religious institution), but it cannot become valid unless the two partners enter into a state-sanctioned agreement as well.

And while it's true that a marriage may include a religious aspect to it, it's similarly true that a couple can purposely choose to omit such a ceremony from their vows as well. Couples who are atheists, or even couples who ARE religious but merely want to keep things simple, can wed at a courthouse or in a secularized ceremony, without any religious aspects whatsoever involved, and still have a valid marriage in the eyes of the law.

The reasons against same-sex marriage are important to those that want to preserve THEIR ideas of what marriage should be (some would even die for those ideas). But their ideas aren't the ONLY ones available -- indeed, couples have already formed same-sex relationships, living in a way that is already basically marriage but without the all-important recognition from the government that straight couples have.

What this debate amounts to, then, is ultimately discrimination in a state-sense. Churches are free to discriminate couples from marrying in their doors any time that they choose to do so -- there's no denying them that right, as doing so would interfere with the beliefs of that particular faith. They do it to this day even, with same-sex couples as well as straight couples who they deem living outside of that church's belief system.

But denial of the right to partake in a state-sanctioned event on the basis of being a gay or lesbian couple is, in effect, discrimination without merit, since the state is not permitted to discriminate on the basis of a particular group's belief. It's fine for the state to define what a marriage is in order to truly protect the interests of the state -- but no interests are being threatened whatsoever within a same-sex union.

The state itself has no right to tell a gay or lesbian couple that their relationship is less valid than a heterosexual relationship. As outlined above, there is no basis for that denial. And financially speaking, whether a person marries in a straight marriage or same-sex one doesn't matter. Either way, the same amount of benefits would be conferred onto that couple.

Is there a right to same-sex marriage? In the sense that there is also a right to opposite-sex marriage, there surely is. The benefits granted to married couples may change, but the right of any couple (be they hetero- or homosexual) to receive the recognition they deserve should not be infringed upon on through the government's hand.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Video Heat: One year longer, One year stronger...

A message of thanks from Political Heat

A special message from Political Heat. As we approach the first year anniversary of the historic protests in Madison (and all across the state), we owe many thanks for those involved with this people-powered movement.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Union "pledge" the wrong route to take

Restoration of union rights shouldn't be based on "if-then" functions

Some unions in the state are insisting that, whoever the eventual nominee against Gov. Scott Walker may be for his impending recall, they should pledge to veto any budget passed by the legislature that fails to restore collective bargaining rights for state workers.

Both of the Democratic candidates who have announced their intentions to run against Walker have weighed-in on the issue. Former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk has made the pledge, while State Sen. Kathleen Vinehout has declined.

Pledges have become a recent fad within the world of electoral politics, mostly a fixture of the right but not unheard of to be part of progressive politics either. Signing onto a pledge gives a candidate a double incentive: they assure funds and a mobilized group of people will be willing to support them during their election run; and they lessen the chances of a primary challenge from within that group down the line.

The problem with pledges, however, is that they leave politicians restrained to act a certain way once in office. Indeed, it's the fear of retaliatory pressures from Grover Norquist's "no-tax" pledge that has prevented negotiation at the federal level among Republicans and Democrats over how to stave off a growing debt crisis.

The route taken by Vinehout, to disregard commitment to such a pledge (though not necessarily ruling it out as a possibility either), is the proper and nobler approach to take. We shouldn't restrain our candidates to behave a certain way through the use of this or any other pledge. Doing so not only restricts our lawmakers but also may alienate a large base of moderates, who don't want any recall candidate to appear as a pawn of the unions (a misconception, to be sure, but one that isn't easily dissuaded by the use of such pledges).

Furthermore, the pledge itself is unnecessary for Vinehout to make -- her commitment to restoring collective bargaining should be evident by the fact that she was one of the 14 state senators that went to Illinois to avoid filling quorum, thus stalling the bill that eventually removed those rights nearly a year ago.

Citizens should make electoral judgments based upon how candidates have acted in the past and what they say they'll work for in the future. We shouldn't limit any recall candidate to performing their job as governor in a strict "if-then" function. Doing so will hurt Wisconsin when that time comes, and is damaging politically to our own cause now.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Democratic women lead the way for recall effort

Vinehout, Falk lead the way "Forward" for Wisconsin

State Sen. Kathleen Vinehout made it official today, announcing that she would run against Gov. Scott Walker in the impending recall election later this year.

Of course, she will have to survive a recall primary round with her Democratic colleagues first. Thus far, only one other Democrat has formally entered the race -- former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk.

Though more candidates are likely to surface (Democratic as well as independent), it's encouraging to see the first two official contenders for the Democrats are both progressive women. In fact, this follows the trend from last fall's senatorial recalls, when five of the six Democratic candidates (and both of the successful challengers who won) were women.

This isn't to say that men aren't qualified to challenge Walker -- both genders are fully capable of producing sound candidates, and the idea that a man/woman can do better than the other is backwards thinking. But women are greatly underrepresented in our state, and having our first female governor come about as a result of this recall would only make the occasion that much more historic.

Regardless of who the eventual nominee may be, that two women (nay, two Kathleens!) are leading the way is a positive thing for gender equality in our state. It's one way that Wisconsin is showing it's ready to move "forward," especially after dealing with a governor who has moved us in the opposite direction in such a short period of time.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

GOP lawmakers stifle democratic process, deliberately lie to the public

Behind closed doors, legislative leaders plotted to purposely misinform voters

If you are still one of those Wisconsinites struggling to find legitimacy within the senatorial recalls set to commence later this year, listen up: aside from all the right-wing assaults on our values, and deliberate violations of rules and law within their chambers, there's now significant evidence that shows the Republican leadership intended to say one thing to the public while saying something entirely different behind closed doors.

In other words, Republicans were told by their leaders that they were going to lie to the people of Wisconsin on purpose.

It all involves the redistricting maps that Republicans rushed to pass earlier this year, plans that, in their haste to enact them sooner, were both flawed and disenfranchising to thousands of citizens.

The memo said in language that can't be misunderstood: "Public comments on this map may be different than what you hear in this room. Ignore the public comments." In other words, a clear intent to misinform and lie to the public.

We already knew that many Republicans have lied this past year in our state -- one needs only to hear Gov. Scott Walker speak for a brief moment to receive a fresh example. But this memo provides direct evidence that the leadership in our state's legislative body directed the party's caucus to purposely ignore their lies, to accept and even sign a loyalty oath of sorts promising not to reveal what was really going on within the lawmaking process.

For directly attempting to disrupt the free flow of ideas, an aspect inherent in every legitimate democracy, Republicans in the legislature deserve to be removed from office, either within the next scheduled election or in the upcoming recalls targeting four of its members.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Video Heat: The Scott Walker Two-Step

Governor lies on issues of taxes, balancing the budget

The latest installment of Video Heat focuses on Scott Walker's claims that he's 1) balanced the budget and 2) done so without raising taxes of any kind. Both claims, it turns out, are flat-out lies.

Cuts to workers' pay (predictably) responsible for job losses in Wisconsin

Study from a year ago foresaw job losses coming from Act 10

In March of 2011, shortly after Gov. Scott Walker and his Republican allies in the legislature forcibly passed Act 10 into law, UW economist Steven Deller predicted that the reduced purchasing power of state employees would create a loss of more than 20,000 jobs within the state of Wisconsin in the next year or two.

Following the publication of that study, there were three months of job gains and six months of continuous job losses. The net result was 20,400 jobs gone since the study's release, including 35,600 jobs lost since June.

It should also be noted that the three months of job gains came about during a time when Walker's predecessor's budget was still in play. Net job losses began in July, the first month that Walker's own budget was implemented.

It was also the first full month that paychecks for state workers saw diminished wages, following a three-month court battle over whether Act 10 was passed in a legal manner or not. After that court ruling, state workers had to contribute more of their own income towards their pension and health plans, both of which were already supplied by differed payments to those workers. The result of that reduction in pay contributed greatly towards a loss in jobs in the state overall.

In other words, the premonitions of Deller seem to have been fulfilled (or exceeded), regardless of whether you start from March, when the law was passed, or July, when it was implemented. Jobs have been lost, and a big reason why is because of the cuts in pay to state workers, which has in turn diminished their purchasing power.

It was clear from the beginning that Walker's "reforms" wouldn't do a thing for job creation, would actually have a negative impact towards the economy in the state. Neither tax breaks for corporations nor pay decreases for state employees can create jobs for Wisconsin -- demand for work is stifled by both.

Economist Steven Deller knew this right off the bat, but it doesn't take a doctorate in economics to see, right now, that things AREN'T working under Gov. Walker's watch.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Gov. Walker likely part of John Doe investigation

Proximity to those arrested raises reasonable questions over Walker's involvement

UPDATE (Feb 3, 5:30 PM): Gov. Walker set to meet with prosecutors.

(Original post)

I have stayed relatively mum on the subject of the growing John Doe investigation, commonly referred to as "Walkergate" in some circles. The reason for this silence is that each new development that came out created new questions, never really any answers, and any assessment I could have made would only be speculation on my part.

Yet, with the latest round of arrests in the investigation (involving the illegal campaign activities of several county employees from the time Gov. Scott Walker was Milwaukee County Executive), there's ample room to speculate with some degree of certainty, to wonder aloud, "What exactly was Walker up to at that time?"

So what can we extrapolate from the latest arrests? The mere fact that Walker's proximity to those involved (both physically and politically) leads us to conclude that Walker himself is involved in the investigation in some way.

That doesn't mean that Walker is necessarily guilty (nor innocent). We can assume, however, that Walker's actions while he served as county executive (and campaigned for governor) are being examined closely, given the direction the investigation has recently taken.

It would be naive at this point to assume otherwise -- Walker worked mere yards from these people, who were engaging in illegal activities. It only makes sense that investigators would question whether Walker had a role in it as well.

When you take the time to think about it, that's a huge development. Previously, the question over the governor's role in John Doe was an enigma, one of those questions that couldn't be answered one way or the other. Now, it's clear that Walker has to be part of the investigation, again given the fact that he worked in the same offices as those who were arrested (not only that, but was also in charge of those offices).

There is still much unknown about the John Doe/Walkergate investigation, and much of the speculation is purely that: just speculation. We don't know of anyone's guilt or innocence at this point, let alone the guilt or innocence of names that have yet to be made public. But it's reasonable to believe, for reasons I outlined above, that Gov. Scott Walker is a main focus of the probe, if not the main focus.