Thursday, March 26, 2009

GOP's irresponsible budget

In response to President Obama's charge that the GOP hasn't come up with an alternative to his budget plan, House Minority Leader John Boehner released a blueprint on the Republicans' plans for getting us out of recession.

Mainly, it's an irresponsible cut in taxes for the wealthy while gutting much of the government, a conservative's dream come true for how they'd like government to work (meaning not at all, if it is to be funded by so little).

Under the Republican Party's plan, the top marginal tax rate would be 25% -- a dramatic drop from the current 35% that America's wealthiest pay (but usually don't) -- and would affect those making over $100,000. Everyone below that amount would pay around 10% in federal taxes.

It is irresponsible and will destroy the government as we know it. At a time when Americans are begging their legislators to do more, to help alleviate the hardships they're facing, the last thing that can be considered is a cut in government spending and revenue this large.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Beck's Paine-ful Delusions

Recently, Glenn Beck had a Thomas Paine imitator on his program who had millions of YouTube hits for his rant on policies ranging from immigration to increasing taxes for government spending. Beck applauded this "historian" for truly representing Paine in the 21st Century.

Except he didn't. Paine didn't say much about immigration in any of his essays (he himself was one). Nor was he against taxation -- what ired the colonists, including Paine, was taxation without representation, not the practice of taxation itself. Additionally, Beck probably would have had some qualms with Paine for being a strong supporter of France and their revolution (so strong a supporter was Paine that they made him an honorary citizen). He also supported the idea of a minimum income -- otherwise known as a minimum wage.

Lastly, if Paine were truly alive today, he'd undoubtedly receive criticism from the conservative Beck due to his religious views. "My own mind is my own church," wrote Paine, who felt religious texts held little weight in his beliefs as they were second-hand accounts written by people who didn't experience the events themselves. "When I am told," he goes on to say, "that a woman, called the Virgin Mary, said that she was with child without any cohabitation with a man...I have a right to believe [her] or not...but we have not even this, for neither Joseph nor Mary wrote any such matter themselves. It is onlyl reported by others that they said so. It is hearsay upon hearsay, and I choose not to rest my belief upon such evidence. (emphasis his)" In addition to his religious beliefs (perhaps because of them), he was a strong advocate of the separation of church and state.

Beck and his guest -- the fake Paine -- portray the real Paine as a populist hate-monger, hellbent especially on closing the borders to immigrants. In reality, Paine, himself an immigrant twofold (first from Britain to America, then to France), would probably have supported a modest open-border policy, much to the chagrin of conservatives like Beck.

That Beck and this actor try to portray one of the most influential American writers of the colonial period as a xenophobic, hate-filled person is deplorable. They both ought to do more research into who the real Thomas Paine was.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

State GOP complains about $800 per person (except that's a lie)

The Wisconsin State GOP is complaining pretty hard about Gov. Jim Doyle's budget, stating that it taxes and spends money at a time Wisconsinites need it the most.

From "While unemployment in Wisconsin reaches new heights, Governor Jim Doyle is increasing government spending and paying for it by increasing taxes and fees by nearly $2 billion, according to a memo released by the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) Wednesday."

The article by the Republican Party of Wisconsin (RPW) goes on to state that under this budget, taxes will be raised by $800 for every citizen in the state.

That is highly misleading, however; while the average tax bill will go up by that amount, it is mostly aimed at income earners making more than the average Wisconsin family. In fact, the memo that the RPW references from the LFB also makes mention of the fact that Doyle's budget will increase "the federal credit for families with three or more children...[as well as] the income threshold at which the credit begins to phase out for married couples."

In other words, more families will be able to receive these tax breaks in Wisconsin.

The RPW is also alleging that unemployment has gone up under Jim Doyle. They forget that unemployment has gone up across the country -- in states both Democratic and Republican controlled -- and that Wisconsin has the 17th lowest unemployment rate in the country.

Franken Update

The lawyer for embattled (former?) Senator Norm Coleman is now saying that Democratic challenger (senator-elect?) Al Franken is probably going to win the trial case that has held up seating the former Saturday Night Live writer to the U.S. Senate since election night 2008.

However, the same lawyer also says that the Coleman team will be planning to appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court following Franken's probable win.

I'm all for fighting to the end in order to figure out who the rightful winner is (see Bush v. Gore). But Coleman, who originally wanted Franken to concede the race before the recount but then switched his opinion as soon as the recount showed Franken was in the lead after all.

All the votes that can be counted have been. Coleman, to the bitter end it seems, wants nothing more than to prolong his loss. He should concede defeat rather than deprive the people of Minnesota their right to have representation within the U.S. Senate.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Richardson ends death penalty

New Mexico governor Bill Richardson signed legislation today that ended the death penalty as a means of punishing those who commit heinous acts in his state.

Calling it the "most difficult decision" in his career, Richardson signed the bill passed by the New Mexico legislature because he did not "have confidence in the criminal justice system as it currently operates to be the final arbiter when it comes to who lives and who dies for their crime."

I applaud Richardson's decision. I've always had mixed views when it came to the death penalty in practice -- I felt that it wasn't the proper way to punish a criminal, that it wasn't the state's business in deciding who lives or who dies, and so forth. I also saw the merits in executing person who commit acts so deplorable that keeping them alive seemed distasteful (someone who kills hundreds of people, including children, like Timothy McVeigh).

But at the same time, in a situation where perfection is required -- we don't want to take the lives of innocents -- perfection is lacking. Over 130 death row inmates have had their names cleared in the past ten years. That's 130 people who could have been killed...who knows how many more innocent people have been sent to their deaths.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Column for Dane101: Gay Marriage in Wisconsin

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

Last week, the California Supreme Court heard arguments regarding the legitimacy of Proposition 8, the voter-based initiative that placed a ban on gay marriage within the state. At issue was whether or not the will of the majority could define rights over protections afforded to the minority.

Such a question could potentially be posed in our own neck of the woods as well: In 2006, Wisconsin voters decided to approve a ban on gay marriages and civil unions within the state.

In Wisconsin, to amend the constitution requires a lengthier yet similar process. First, a measure must be brought before and passed by the state legislature. That measure must then wait until the next legislative session – two full years – which must also approve of it. Finally, the measure is put before a vote of the people, who decide either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to pass it.

Despite the longer time, at no point is there any requirement for a supermajority to protect the minority against the forces of mob rule, as is the model for the federal constitution. It’s very easy, therefore, to actually amend Wisconsin’s constitution (especially when you consider that legislators already represent the opinions of their constituents who eventually vote on the matter).

The fact that a tyranny of the majority exists within our state’s legal framework is only one reason to oppose the ban on gay marriage within Wisconsin. Another reason for opposition rests in the fact that those who support the ban have no legal justification outside of religious belief or tradition that says homosexuality is wrong. Gay marriage, however, can’t and won’t cause “harm” to anyone, will not “lessen” the marriage of anyone else, or force any church to perform any ceremony it doesn’t want to perform.

Who does benefit from legalizing gay marriage? Obviously, gay and lesbian couples who want a deeper, more meaningful commitment towards one another, the way straight couples do; and that should be reason enough to convince anyone with a heart. But, to those who think only in terms of money, there is also an economic benefit: Couples seeking recognition and marriage benefits wouldn’t move to states that provide them, keeping much-needed tax dollars in a state that’s already facing economic hardships.

Let’s evaluate our reasoning for disallowing gay marriage, from a conservative viewpoint: First, we have the “morality” argument, driven by a religious belief that homosexuality is sinful. By that standard, we’d have a laundry list of things we DO permit that we’d then have to remove due to biblical standards, including shaving and grooming of facial hair and the eating of shellfish (not to mention our willingness to start wars).

Second, we have the argument that homosexual relationships don’t lead to natural births. But again, that argument ignores key facts, among them the fact that straight couples who are incapable of having children, too, are allowed to wed.

Finally, there is also the argument that allowing gay marriage will lead to abuse in the system; that straight men or women will marry a member of the same sex simply to receive the benefits a marriage would grant them. That argument is moot, however, for two reasons: first, “marriages of convenience” already exist within the current system of marriage, and second, our government is perfectly content with recognizing such relationships as legitimate.

There are many reasons why gay marriage should be kept banned within our state, but those reasons are derived from a religious point of view. Churches or other religious institutions that carry out marriage ceremonies, then, shouldn’t perform such ceremonies. But the state should look beyond the religious rationale and consider the reasons why gay marriage would benefit our society, as well as protect the minority’s rights and wishes. If there isn’t a legitimate reason to ban gay marriage in Wisconsin, then the ban should be lifted.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Midterm Progress Report: Economics

In honor of the halfway mark of the first 100 days of the Obama presidency -- the mark by which all presidents since FDR have been measured by -- I will be posting a few remarks on occasion within the next week regarding the grades I would give Obama with respect to various topics. These will be short asides, different than my usual posts, lasting only a few sentences at the most with a letter grade following.

I will be grading Obama and his administration on the following six categories: the economy; foreign policy; social policy; health care; bipartisanship; and accountability.

Without further adieu, here's Obama's marks on the economy:

His stimulus package passed despite the Republicans dragging their feet. And though he hasn't yet been able to curtail pork barrel spending in Congress, the overall attitude of the Obama administration in terms of economics (lessening the burden placed on the backs of the middle and working classes) is reason enough to be optimistic for the future. The belief that the market is affected by every time he gives a speech is nonsense; were it true, it wouldn't even matter since Wall Street is driven by what impacts them, not the American worker. Overall Grade: B

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Chuck Norris is insane.

Chuck Norris, the famed martial artist and star of TV's Walker: Texas Ranger is insane. There's no other explanation for this behavior.

Recently, Norris said that the way things were going, he "may run for president of Texas" someday.

It's ridiculous how nut-jobs like Norris consider the Obama administration the end of America as we know it. They don't consider how our liberties were essentially destroyed under the Bush administration in the wake of 9/11. No, it's the "socialist" Obama who is going to destroy the nation at-large.

Norris ought to be ashamed of himself to be uttering such things, to be encouraging such behavior. It's petty and ridiculous, and unbecoming of a true American patriot, as Norris likes to pretend he is.

Feingold: Let the people choose their Reps

Russ Feingold wants to abolish the practice of governors appointing legislators to Congress and instead have elections to fill vacancies. The move would require a constitutional amendment at the federal level, and could potentially ward off problems like we saw with Rod Blagojevich, the former Illinois governor who tried to sell off Barack Obama's vacant senate seat late last year.

It's a move that would make a lot more sense -- often, though elected by the same constituents, a governor doesn't necessarily have the interests of the people in mind when making such a selection. It may even prevent a person from taking on an executive role: a senator may not want to become a cabinet member, for example, if their home state's governor is of the opposing party.

Less Christians now than 20 years ago

A recent poll suggests that America's attitude on religion is changing, and Christianity in particular is waning: only 76% of Americans define themselves as Christian, down from 86% in 1990. 15% now claim no religion in their lives at all.

This news is not exciting to me as a Christian; I'm not particularly happy that less and less people are seeking God for guidance. However, as a concerned citizen who sees the virtues of a secular government, the news is, to say the least, interesting.

For years now, under the Bush administration, religious doctrine has had (and still has, in some cases) a near-stranglehold on social policy in America. And while religious doctrine is good for those who practice it, it isn't meant to "rule over" those who don't believe in it. Not only does it wrongly impose rules over those who may not agree with them, but it also de-legitimizes religion by turning it into an oppressor in the eyes of the citizenry.

Separation of Church and State does not just benefit the state -- it also benefits the Church.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Last week in Review: Limbaugh-mania and Gay Marriage

There were a lot of things that happened last week, but here are two that I thought were worth noting...

Rush Limbaugh continued to dominate the headlines, especially since Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee, apologized for calling him an "entertainer" and not a leader in the conservative movement/Republican Party. Some Republicans blamed Rahm Emanuel for using the continuing story of Republicans bowing to Rush to his advantage when he mentioned it on Face the Nation last weekend. In My Opinion, if Republicans are going to be critical of Democratic leaders bringing this up, they should grow a spine and stand up to Rush.

Proposition 8 was brought up again in California's State Supreme Court, where the justices heard arguments from those who opposed the measure to ban gay marriage. The main argument? That voter-driven referenda doesn't always respect basic rights of California citizens -- for example, a ballot initiative could very well be brought up regarding free speech rights, and were it not for federal protections, a majority vote could remove it. In My Opinion, the opposition has a strong point -- which is why I don't support voter initiatives, even the one in Wisconsin (which is a bit different, but essentially the same process).

Friday, March 6, 2009

Where have I been??

So I've been MIA for the past couple of days...sorry for those who may actually read this thing. I got bogged down with a pretty serious flu bug that kept me from REAL work for two whole days. I haven't taken that much time off since high school. Anyway, keep an eye on the blog for the next couple days...I should have something to say about a lot of things that have happened over the past week.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Limbaugh -- the new "Don" of the Republican Party

It's official: Rush Limbaugh is the new "godfather" of the Republican Party.

For weeks now, several members of the GOP have been lining up to kiss the proverbial ring on Limbaugh's hand, to gain his approval after some have denounced him as the de facto leader of the Party.

His latest casualty? Newly-selected Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele, who late last week called Limbaugh an "entertainer" -- blasphemy as far as the dittoheads are concerned. This week, Steele apologized and stated that Limbaugh was indeed a leading voice in conservative politics.

Is it any wonder that the GOP is out of power in Washington? With so much pandering going on towards "Don Limbaugh," the average American gets left behind -- which is why I'm confident that the Democrats will be in power for a long time to come.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Dems criticize Obama's withdrawal plan

Democratic leadership in Congress have recently criticized Barack Obama's plan to withdraw troops from Iraq. Their main contention with the plan is that Obama plans to leave up to 50,000 troops until 2011 (the plan would have the remaining number removed gradually until August of 2010, down to the 25,000 to 50,000 number).

While I've always been a harsh critic of our occupation of Iraq, I feel that the president's plan adequately addresses the main concerns I have for the region. It does leave behind a large number of forces in Iraq -- but it does so only as a precaution and as a way to help the Iraqi army become responsible for their own security, over time.

An immediate withdrawal would be irresponsible; a phased withdrawal is more pragmatic. I don't like the size of the forces being left behind after August 2010, but I also feel Obama's plan is one that most sides -- conservatives as well as liberals -- can appreciate.