Friday, July 31, 2009

Child's health trumps religious beliefs

A young girl lies motionless as members of her father’s Bible study group surround her. She’s unable to speak, to drink fluids, to eat, to even sit up. Prayers from these people surround her, but it’s too late. Hours later, she dies.

This gruesome scene would make sense if it happened in a hospital; if a young girl were dying, we could understand why her loved ones would surround her there with prayers and last minute tidings of hope.

Instead, this scene took place at her parents’ home, and took several days to develop. Madeline Neumann was 11 years old when she died of complications from untreated diabetes. According to her mother, she exhibited symptoms as early as two weeks before her death.

Rather than take their daughter to the doctor, Dale and Leilani Neumann enlisted the help of their Bible study group to pray her ailments away. In his sworn testimony earlier this week, Dale stated that, “If I [went] to the doctor, I am putting him before God.” This from a man who had once burned books in his library because the Holy Spirit told him to do so.

Dale is currently charged with second-degree reckless homicide. His wife received a guilty verdict earlier this year for the same incident.

This case brings forth an important question: is religious belief absolutely untouchable? That is, does the freedom of religion clause in the First Amendment protect parents who cause harm to their children due to their religious beliefs?

Everyone’s religion must be respected. From Christian to Hindu, Buddhist to Scientologist, everyone has a right to practice their religion as they see fit (this includes those who lack religious beliefs – they, too, can freely believe in no god or gods). This, however, comes with a caveat: people are not allowed to practice their faith if it is inherently trampling upon the rights of others. I can’t, for example, perform a human sacrifice if the subject is an unwilling participant.

Thus, not all religious beliefs are respected. Like all rights, they end when you begin to harm or burden others.

A religious belief does not allow you to ignore your responsibilities either. As a parent, you are responsible for your child’s well-being. Prayer is good, but if serious action is needed – say, a visit to the hospital when your son jumps off the roof of the house – then you have a duty to seek the proper medical attention as needed.

Madeline Neumann fits that example. For two weeks, she exhibited symptoms of a child who had an illness. In her final hours, she couldn’t even move, couldn’t even tell her parents that she loved them despite their actions having been responsible for her condition. And for what? So that her parents could show their devotion to God? Or so that they could prove to skeptics His power? The Bible itself tells us not to tempt God’s power (Deuteronomy 6:16 and Luke 4:12). So who are the Neumann’s to do so?

Leilani Neumann got the proper conviction when she was found guilty of reckless homicide; her husband Dale deserves the same conviction. They deserve to be punished for what they put their daughter through.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Domestic partnerships challenged in Wisconsin

Gay and lesbian couples statewide can begin filing for domestic partnership benefits starting on Monday. These benefits include hospital visitation rights, sick leave for when a partner becomes ill, and inheritance rights upon the death of a partner, among other basic privileges common for couples.

Domestic partners will be required to live with one another to prove partnership and will have to pay a fee of $115 in cash. They must also file for partnership benefits within the county they reside in.

It sounds like a pretty good compromise, in terms of the gay marriage debate in Wisconsin -- same-sex couples gain some benefits (but not all they would like) while opponents of gay marriage keep the supposed "sanctity" of marriage intact (at least, sanctity in their eyes). There's still a long battle ahead for gay marriage in the future, a battle still worth fighting for that should be continued. Even so, domestic partnerships are a step in the right direction in terms of granting gays and lesbians some recognition of relationship status in the state.

For others, however, any recognition of rights for same-sex partners is too much for them to handle. The Wisconsin Family Council (WFC) is mounting a legal challenge to overturn domestic partnerships in Wisconsin. Their argument centers upon the belief that such recognition amounts to "a legal status identical or substantially similar to marriage," which contradicts the state constitutional ban on gay marriage passed in the fall of 2006.

Such a challenge shows the blatant bigotry present within the WFC. Having zero effect upon straight marriages whatsoever, the domestic partnership law allows gay and lesbian couples the right to privileges without the hassle or the normal bureaucracy of gaining each privilege individually -- something they could do in the past anyway, but through a much lengthier and costly process, and without legal recognition from the state.

If their true motivation is to preserve marriages in the state, the WFC should consider non-governmental ways to do so, and should perhaps look at lowering the divorce rate of straights instead of trying to meddle in the lives of committed same-sex couples. Maybe then they'd look like promoters of marriage rather than the pushers of hate, something their current agenda makes them appear to be.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The "birthers" revisited

Responding once again to the claim that President Barack Obama is not a naturally-born citizen (a key requirement for anyone seeking to become president), state officials in Hawaii have inspected and confirmed that Obama was indeed born in their state...for the second time in less than a year.

"I...have seen the original vital records...verifying that Barack Hussein Obama was born in Hawaii and is a natural-born citizen," said Hawaii Health Director Dr. Chiyome Fukimo. He issued the statement earlier this week hoping to stave off the influx of phone calls his department has been receiving as of late.

"Birthers" -- those who assert that Obama is not a natural-born citizen -- will also be disappointed to hear of a resolution that passed unanimously in the House of Representatives this week commemorating the 50th anniversary of Hawaiian statehood. Within the resolution is a significant clause that asserts the following:
Whereas: the 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama, was born in Hawaii on August 4, 1961.
Why is this significant? The bill failed to garner any opposition, any vote against it, meaning that no one in Congress believes the "birthers'" story -- not even a single Republican lawmaker. You'd think that, if any lawmaker truly believed that Obama was born elsewhere, the resolution would receive a vote or two against it, or even some debate to remove the clause. Neither of the two happened.

Hawaiian law prevents any birth certificate from being released to the public; but even with this fact, Obama released his own certificate, long before he became president and was simply a candidate for the office. Two newspaper clippings from the time he was born also acknowledge his birth.

Which brings up an interesting point: how many people do these "birthers" believe are involved in this conspiracy? For this to work, you'd need to control two newspapers, the state of Hawaii, and all the proper officials who are qualified to view his certificate, who have inspected and confirmed the president's birth. Sounds very unlikely to me.

The true motivations behind this "movement" aren't to preserve the rule of law in this country, to right some perceived wrong; rather, they are to remove a president some consider to be "bad" (whether that's due to specific policies or due to some other superficial reasons, we can only assume).

Instead of conjuring up bogus conspiracy theories in order to defeat the president, these "birthers" ought to figure out a way to debate the issues in a productive manner. God knows they have the time to do so.

Sarah Palin inappropriately blasts the media

Sarah Palin officially resigned from the Alaskan governorship this week, ending her tenure with a scathing critique of the media.

"How about in honor of the American soldier, you [the media] quit making up things. And don't underestimate the wisdom of the people. And one other thing for the media -- our new governor has a very nice family, too, so leave his kids alone!"

Palin's comments address many of the controversies she has had within the year since she was picked to be John McCain's vice presidential running mate. To be fair, those controversies that have shadowed her since then have caused the public to view her negatively -- her approval rating has dipped significantly since emerging onto the national scene -- thus allowing Palin to make a claim of bias in the media.

But is it biased to report on the facts? Ethics complaints dogged (and continue to haunt) Palin, including the substantially significant accusation that she abused her power by firing the state's Public Safety Commissioner over his refusal to fire Palin's ex-brother-in-law. Such a charge is newsworthy, considering how Palin is continually talked about as a potential Republican contender for the presidency in 2008. It'd be biased not to report on these complaints, seeing as how omitting this information would greatly benefit Palin herself.

Then there's the accusation that the media unfairly place her children in the spotlight. It's strange that she considers this the media's fault, however, since at every juncture where the media has done so it has been done after her insistence. She paraded her family at the Republican National Convention (and the campaign trail overall) last year, so it's only natural that we talk about them. Her daughter is now a spokeswoman for abstinence-only education, despite the fact that a more balanced approach towards sex ed could have prevented her own unwanted pregnancy; so talking about Palin's daughter is newsworthy, too. And when David Letterman made an admittedly crude joke about said daughter, Palin was the one who took it out of context, insisting that Letterman was referring to her other, significantly younger daughter. Her insistence for an apology kept the media's eyes on her family, something that she could have avoided had she just ignored his joke like she has hundreds of other times with other comedians.

When Sarah Palin begs for the media to leave the new governor's kids alone, her request will probably be met with agreement from the media -- not out of respect for Palin, however, but rather due to the fact that his family isn't as newsworthy as hers. Hardly any other politician, in fact, has a family that is as newsworthy as Sarah Palin's is, through no fault but her own.

One other thing to note in Palin's comments from above is worth discussing. She makes this appeal to the media on behalf of the American soldier. This isn't rare for her to do; she has placed that line in her speeches many times before. She has done it so often, in fact, that if it didn't ring of politically motivated speech before, it certainly does now.

It is true that the American soldier fights for our freedoms, but he/she doesn't do so to benefit any one political party, much less a singular politician. Certainly, the American soldier doesn't fight for governors who have a beef with the media. That Sarah Palin continually tries to use the American soldier as a prop, a means towards her political ends, is sad, pathetic, and inappropriate for her to do. If she desires any future political career, she should cease from using these brave and valiant men and women to her political advantage.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

New Gallup Poll shows Americans want reform

A new Gallup Poll released late last week shows that Americans want health care reform, with a substantial number calling for reform to come sometime this year.

In total, 71 percent of Americans would advise their representatives to pass "legislation now being considered in Congress." More than half of those who want reform -- 41 percent of all Americans -- want it done sometime before the year's end. Only 24 percent would advise their representatives to oppose reform outright.

That Congressional Republicans and "Blue Dog" Democrats continue to stall on the issue speaks volumes, and is a figurative spit-in-the-face of every American who is depending on this legislation to pass in order to survive. Reform is needed; reform is wanted; but reform won't come, if this coalition of moderate Democrats and conservative Republicans has its way.

Listening to the radio today, a progressive DJ asked a female caller if she had insurance. She replied that she was one of the lucky ones. Insurance shouldn't be something for the privileged few and the "lucky" -- we should all be insured, we should all be covered, and we should all be treated fairly when it comes to medical situations, regardless of our income levels or jobs we may have.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Two sides on health care reform: reformists vs. obstructionists

When you get right down to it, it's clear that the Republican Party is an uncaring, obstructionist party bent on keeping the status quo intact. They care not for the welfare of the people, but rather for the welfare of corporate America -- and themselves. And if millions of Americans must suffer so that insurance companies can make an obscene profit, so be it -- all the better for the country, conservatives argue, while Republican lawmakers' wallets fill up with contributions from influential lobbyists.

To be fair, some Democrats are just as guilty -- they, too, have received sizable "donations" from the insurance lobby, which is spending $1.4 million a day to maintain a system of health care in this country that benefits their profit margins, not their customers. But Republicans in particular have had a stance of "politics first, citizens last" -- a far cry from their rallying point and slogan of "Country First" during the failed campaign to elect John McCain president.

Sen. Jim DeMint of of South Carolina, a Republican, has verbally expressed his desire to make health care reform Barack Obama's "Waterloo," rendering images of a battle between the GOP and Democrats rather than an important piece of legislation that would better the lives of millions of Americans. Republicans like DeMint don't see defeating health care reform as an important issue in itself -- the defeat of the reforms being proposed is more personal, aimed at Obama himself as a means toward his demise in 2012.

While the Republicans play politics, hundreds if not thousands of people will die because they lack the adequate coverage they need. This isn't limited to people without health care -- this includes people who are paying for coverage but whose providers refuse to pay for medical procedures necessary to their survival. During the August recess alone, over 1,800 people will die, if current trends continue. Another 400,000 will lose the coverage they do have during this month-long vacation.

The time for health care reform is now. Don't support Republicans that play games with the lives of decent Americans, who look to Congress and the president to help the nation in this time of crisis.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Obama's "birthers"

Have you heard of these Obama "birthers?" A sizable movement on the internet is demanding that the president be removed from office unless he can provide his birth certificate, proving he is indeed an American citizen.

These are the same people who claimed during the election that Obama was a Muslim and/or an Arab American working to destroy the country from the inside.

Pushing aside for a moment the blatant bigotry inherent in believing a Muslim or an Arabic president would be a bad thing, the fact remains that Obama is neither of these; he is a Christian and an American citizen, born in Hawaii in 1961.

Copies of his birth certificate have been provided to officials who have vouched for its authenticity. Certification indicating that a birth certificate exists is readily available for anyone seeking to find it in Hawaii. And newspaper clippings from days after Obama's birth show that his mother and father placed a birth announcement in the paper celebrating their new addition.

Despite all of this, conservative commentators have continued to give these so-called "birthers" -- those who still cling onto the claim that Obama isn't a citizen -- a place in the limelight, a forum where they can express their extreme views. Lou Dobbs went so far as to say that many questions remained unanswered -- a claim that was refuted two nights earlier on his own show, when guest host Kitty Pilgrim filled in his spot and debunked the whole mess (as pointed out on the Daily Show).

That these people continue to drag this issue on despite the overwhelming evidence that contradicts their claims, coupled with the conservative commentators who give these "birthers" a national forum, shows how desperate the right has become. Rather than debate Obama on the issues, the right has resolved to defeat his character through the manipulation of issues that aren't even fact.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

WI Supreme Court allows for more discrimination

The Wisconsin State Supreme Court issued a decision yesterday regarding the hiring practices of religious schools. In its decision, the Court found that private religious schools had the right to terminate current employees or discriminate against potential hires without concern for the Wisconsin Fair Employment Act.

The specific case before the Court dealt with a first-grade teacher who had claimed she was terminated unfairly from a Catholic school in Onalaska, Wisconsin. Wendy Ostlund, 53, was fired from St. Patrick's Elementary School, which operated under the Diocese of La Crosse. She filed a complaint, and throughout the legal process won judgments affirming her case of discrimination.

But in a 4-3 decision, the State Supreme Court ruled for the school and the Diocese, stating that the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article 1 Section 18 of the Wisconsin Constitution trumped the state's fair employment laws.

The ruling allows private religious schools the right to discriminate in the hiring (or firing) process, if they feel that such a move would better promote their religious objectives, giving private schools enormous leeway when it comes to discriminating employees based on age, race and/or gender.

Discrimination in the workplace should rarely be tolerated, if ever; the rare exception, however, comes when a job can only be performed by a certain type of person. A short person who is unable to lift heavy objects shouldn't be able to file a claim of discrimination if the job requires heavy lifting and the ability to reach high places. A person who is deaf shouldn't feel mistreated if they aren't hired for a job at a call center. And a person who has religious views contrary to those of a church's they're trying to work at, similarly, shouldn't expect to get a job from that church.

A church should be allowed, then, to discriminate against a person based upon their (the church's) views or upon any aspects of an applicant/employee they find to be conflicting with those views. Sadly, this means a church that doesn't believe in gender equality has the right to discriminate against women, or an ultra-conservative church that doesn't respect the rights of African Americans can discriminate against them in the hiring process if that's part of their religious dogma.

What's troubling, however, are the far-reaching consequences this ruling will undoubtedly have. Religious schools now have the right to discriminate without the basis of religious rule to back them up -- that is, they can discriminate simply because they are sponsored by a church. The Catholic Church doesn't discriminate against women in roles outside of the church itself (i.e. in classrooms). Age isn't a relevant discriminator either, as there is no dogma that says an older person is unable to educate younger minds.

Yet, the State Supreme Court ruling allows these scholarly institutions the right to discriminate simply because they are sponsored by religious organizations. No other private industry is afforded this luxury -- if you go into an Outback Steakhouse looking for employment, they cannot tell you that your age/race/gender is an issue, even though they are privately owned.

If churches want to discriminate based on religious belief, that is fine. But when a religious body discriminates against a particular group of people without justification derived from their belief structure, that is just plain wrong. Such hiring practices are not only detrimental to the cause of that organization, but they're also unfair in the eyes of society.

Churches should not be exempt from those rules -- they should obey them just as every other member and institution of society does.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Don't always believe the polling data

I try not to become too overwhelmed when it comes to polls. Granted, like many other political pundits out there, when I see a poll that works in my favor, I tend to play it up. When I see a poll that doesn’t, I’ll be the first to admit, I try to see if there’s any reasoning behind why that poll is flawed.

However, I don’t do it too publicly; rarely will you see me make any comments towards polls unless they are really out of touch with what America really believes in, or in how they’ve conducted themselves.

This is one such occasion where I take issue with a polling company. Rasmussen, who does a daily presidential poll, claims today that President Barack Obama has a net approval rating of negative eight percentage points, meaning that more Americans strongly disapprove of his job performance than strongly approve.

Take a look again at how that was calculated: Rasmussen subtracts how many Americans strongly disapprove from how many strongly approve. The formula totally ignores all those who “somewhat” approve and disapprove.

If you were to take a look at their polls using a formula in that way (adding in those who somewhat approve and those that somewhat disapprove), Obama would come out on top with a net approval of three percentage points for the day, meaning more Americans approve of his performance (at least somewhat) than disapprove.

The Rasmussen poll is one example of how polling results can be altered in order to push a political point forward that isn’t really indicative of the public’s true opinions. On a daily basis, Rasmussen will report how Obama is netting a negative approval rating; yet, their own polling data shows this isn't the case.

Additionally, Rasmussen itself was founded by a gentleman who was a consultant for George W. Bush during the 2004 presidential campaign; and while this shouldn’t, on its own, be cause for concern, when it is coupled with the fact that other polls show a much higher approval for Obama, it should make one wonder whether or not Rasmussen polls can be trusted these days.

Previously, Rasmussen had held the title of being one of the most accurate polling companies in the nation. Today, due to the nature of their presidential tracking poll reports, that title is in serious doubt.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Walter Cronkite, beloved American, dies

Beloved newscaster and cultural icon Walter Cronkite died yesterday. He was 92.

Cronkite's legacy will forever be remembered. He was the one who brought us the news that a president had been assassinated, that a man had landed on the moon, that perhaps, just maybe, that war going on in Indochina was going to end, at best, as a stalemate. Never afraid to infuse his opinion -- but rarely stepping over that threshold of journalistic integrity -- Cronkite was welcomed into the homes of literally millions of Americans nightly.

It's no wonder that this man was the most trusted in the country. His sincere demeanor is widely missed today, in an age when integrity is exchanged for ratings in the news department at the various networks.

RIP Walter Cronkite.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Health care package passes Senate committee

The Democratic-led Senate committee on Health Education Labor and Pensions (HELP) has finally passed a health care bill ready for full consideration within Congress.

All ten Republicans in the committee voted against its passage, though they did slip in 161 amendments to the bill. Seems like bipartisanship is only a one-way street for the GOP, who scream for cooperation while digging their feet into the ground when its their turn to give a little.

Sen. Chris Dodd expressed to his colleagues that there were no hard feelings:
"Even though it wasn't a bipartisan vote, it was a bipartisan effort," said Dodd. "There were numerous contributions made, not just technical amendments, that our Republican friends were able to add to the bill. And they made it a better bill. That's the way it's supposed to be and I regret they didn't feel it was significant enough to support our effort this time around."
So, without Republican support, a health care bill advances on.

The bill would call for increased tax revenue derived from the ultra-rich. Families that earn more than $350,000 per year would see a tax increase, with a one percent increase starting there reaching a 5.4 percent increase for those earning $1 million or more.

That may seem like a lot, but it won't change much for these "ultra-rich" families, argues Michael Sean Winters of "America," a national Catholic weekly.
If you are making more than $350,000 a year, losing a bit of extra money to the tax man will not change your lifestyle. Maybe you would have to put off buying that bigger boat for a month, or doing the repairs on the Condo in the mountains, but you will still be able to afford the boat and the repairs. In turn, you will be helping the least advantaged in our society finally achieve what the Church has called a basic human right, access to good, affordable health care.
Winters is dead-on; while we do not, by any means, want to tax the rich to the poorhouse, the modest tax increase will do more good for people who can't afford insurance than it is doing for people looking to make improvements on their personal luxury items.

It's very interesting how such reform can bring together both proponents from the left (who have crusaded for such a plan for years) as well as allies from the social conservative right. Working together, this bill may just have a shot.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Sonia Sotomayor, and the empathy factor revisited

Much is made about the "empathy" factor in Sonia Sotomayor's judicial belief structure and Barack Obama's ideal qualities in a judge. I want to expand on that idea for a bit.

When applicable, precedent must be respected, unless law is passed or previous precedent was somehow flawed. That is the common law tradition in our nation, adopted from Britain when we were just colonies who later became states under a common union. There does arise, however, times when precedent does not present a just ruling; for that reason, an empathetic judgment is better than the precedent that lies before us.

One of the most famous rulings of the 20th century deals directly with pushing precedent aside in favor of an empathetic ruling. In Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court disregarded the established "separate but equal" guideline in order to tear down the destructive walls of segregation in America's schools. The ruling had far-reaching consequences, including helping "knock out" the precedent that upheld Jim Crow laws in the south. Thus, by ignoring precedent, the Court made the nation as a whole a more just one.

That ruling favored empathy over precedent; as Chief Justice Warren wrote in the concurring Opinion of the Court, the question wasn't whether "tangible" differences existed in the two schools, but rather whether segregated school children were affected by the fact that their schools were segregated from white children...
"To separate them [school children] from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone."
I'm, by no means, advocating the removal of precedent from our judicial system; neither is Barack Obama nor his judicial candidate Sonia Sotomayor. But there are instances when empathy do outweigh precedent, and they come, as Obama himself put it in the past, in the rarest of cases, "in those 5 percent of hard cases, the constitutional text will not be directly on point. The language of the statute will not be perfectly clear. Legal process alone will not lead you to a rule of decision."

It is in those cases, where the law is not clear, where precedent is not necessarily established or is unjust, when empathy can make the difference. For that reason, Judge Sonia Sotomayor is the perfect candidate for the job ahead of her.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Music Video of the Week: The Hangover / Teen Angst

Ok, so it isn't really a music video. For that reason, I'll have two videos here, one of the Tiger song from "The Hangover," the new comedy out from the guy who made "Old School."

But in case you're a stickler for REAL music videos, here's a great one I know you'll enjoy...Cracker's "Teen Angst."

Thursday, July 9, 2009

GOP criticism of stimulus unwarranted

Republican lawmakers are complaining over the amount of money being spent on the stimulus bill, and how the bill has done little to create jobs thus far. I’ve pointed out in the past, actually, that the bill has created or saved quite a few jobs, considering how short of a time it’s been implemented. However, I do agree that too little is being done right now, with most state governments opting to cover their budget deficits rather than use the money for its intended use -- to create jobs.

But the thing is, not all of the money has been spent yet. The GOP is trying to fool the American public into believing that all of it is already spent, when in actuality less than one-tenth of that total has been doled out. In fact, most of the spending won’t come until fiscal year 2010.

I could understand why some would be frustrated with the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress were the GOP’s lies actually true. But they aren’t -- they instead show how desperate the Republicans are, resorting to fear tactics like they always seem to do nowadays.

They criticize the stimulus for being too expensive and for creating very few jobs. But they haven’t even given the stimulus a chance to work. So how can you criticize something that hasn’t been put into real action, considering that only ten percent of it has been implemented? If they want to be critical at all, they should criticize how slow the money is being handed out -- but then again, that would mean they’d have to support it’s implementation, something that some Republicans still refuse to do.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Wisconsin Family Council: now, with more hate!

The Capital Times published a great article this week, responding to those who oppose the new protections afforded to same-sex couples in the state's budget, and labeling such opposition as what it is: blatant bigotry.

In particular, the article pointed out the clear, hateful agenda of the Wisconsin Family Council, a group who pushed for a constitutional ban on gay marriage and civil union rights for same-sex couples, which passed in a 2006 referendum. The group is now spearheading a plan to challenge the constitutionality of this year's budget protections for gay and lesbian couples, which include "the right to take family leave to care for a sick or dying partner, the ability to access a partner's medical records, and the right to inherit a partner's property." (Source: The Capital Times)

The budget, however, falls short of granting gay and lesbian couples marriage rights, a titular privilege that would bestow literally thousands of other benefits for same-sex couples, both at the state and federal levels.

Nevertheless, rather than worry about "protecting" the institution of marriage (a bogus claim in itself), the Wisconsin Family Council is instead challenging the benefits that are bestowed upon same-sex couples in a non-marital setting.

There is no reason behind this other than pure prejudice: why else would the group go after gay and lesbian couples who are not, in any way, going to alter the definition of marriage? And while being able to hate someone (or a group of someones) is a protected right, that right should not extend into denying others their right to live freely, as they wish to live.

The fears behind the gay marriage movement that social conservatives espouse are unwarranted to begin with. THere are no efforts to change marriage in a religious sense -- that would be impossible to begin with, seeing as there isn't a uniform religious ceremony anyway. Rather, the efforts to gain marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples are simply to grant civil marriage rights (recognition in a legal sense) to those who deserve the same secular rights as straight couples currently enjoy.

If the Wisconsin Family Council wants to promote marriage how they want to see it performed, that's fine; let them do so. But they shouldn't do so at the expense of those who may have other definitions of what marriage should be (gay or otherwise).

Pushing beyond marriage, however, into banning rights for domestic partnerships that have nothing to do with marriage shows just how misguided and prejudiced the group really is. They ought to be ashamed of themselves.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The legacy of Robert Strange McNamara

The legacy of Robert S. McNamara is a mixed bag. On the one hand, you have the architect of the Vietnam War, the man responsible for the buildup of forces in one of the most tragic and ill-fated wars in American history. On the other hand, the man also helped keep the peace between the U.S. and its Cold War adversaries during a very tumultuous time.

McNamara was an instrumental player in the Cuban Missile Crisis, an event in which the United States and the Soviet Union came closest to direct nuclear warfare. McNamara, some historians assert, was responsible for averting a proposal to hit Russia with an air strike, a move that would have undoubtedly led to retaliation with the U.S.S.R.

Following his "stint" at the Pentagon -- McNamara served the longest term as Defense Secretary since the post was created -- he became president of the World Bank, where he championed the idea of improving lives of others around the world as a means towards peace rather than the militaristic methods he once espoused.

In his later years (and even during the end of his tenure with the Pentagon), McNamara had serious misgivings about the war being fought in Indochina. His change in attitude of the war is reflective of the views most Americans were having as well -- the population favored the war initially, but after seeing the effects of the war and its toll it took on American soldiers' lives, many began to see the failings of the domino theory of Cold War containment. Most saw our presence there as being a mistake -- including Robert S. McNamara.

"The Fog of War" is a great documentary worth checking out, as it details the life of Robert Strange (yes, that's his real middle name) McNamara, especially the era of the Vietnam War. My personal feelings on McNamara aside (I feel his actions were gravely wrong), as a student of the Cold War era, it's worth getting to know one of the major players of that period and doing so in-depth research on the man who ran the war America wish it never fought.

Scott Walker: wrong for WI health care

How is it that we are satisfied with a system of health care in this country that kills more than seven times the number killed on September 11 every year?

I ask that question because I am disgusted. I am fed up with the conservatives in this country who want to assure me that “socialized medicine” is the greatest evil we face today from Democrats in Washington. When we talk about this “evil,” however, we neglect the evils that are perpetrated daily in order to preserve the status quo for health insurance companies, who are more concerned with making a profit rather than helping those they supposedly serve.

I write this in conjunction with a statement I recently read on the internet. While perusing Scott Walker’s election website (the Milwaukee County Exec is running for governor), I came across this anecdote regarding the health care crisis we currently face:

“We must make quality, affordable healthcare available to hardworking families, through market based solutions like competition, transparency, and tax incentives, not Canadian style programs that put bureaucrats in charge of your health care decisions. You should be able to choose your doctor, not have government make that decision for you.”

It’s been quite some time since I’ve felt more disgusted than after reading that comment.

Walker wants market based solutions to fix the crisis? Market based solutions helped FORM the crisis! It’d be like fighting a fire with a tank of gasoline. In other words, it’s not going to solve anything.

Over 45 million Americans are currently uninsured. That’s nearly one in every six persons. In 2007, eight million children were uninsured. In 2000, 18,000 deaths were linked to people not having insurance. In 2006, that number shot up to 22,000, with nearly 140,000 deaths occurring between the years. That’s what we have gotten through the market based solutions that Scott Walker is proposing.

Walker states, in so many words, that a public option would place bureaucrats in charge of whether we can see a doctor or not. But we have that through the current system today! Patients are routinely told that medical procedures are too expensive to warrant them the health they’re paying for, and preexisting conditions prevent millions of Americans from getting the preventative care they need. How’s THAT for a market based solution?

A market based health care system in no way benefits the people; rather, it benefits corporations that are looking to make a profit. So long as profit is involved, the corporations that are meant to provide us with care will not do so, pinching every penny they can pinch in order to make that extra buck – at your health’s expense.

Do we really want to go on supporting such a system of health care? Do we really want a governor who supports such a system? The answer is a resounding no: 72 percent of Americans support a public option.

Are we all communists, then? Of course not. But clearly we all believe a market based approach to health care is not what’s best. Maybe someone should tell Scott Walker that.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Palin resigns; Presidential contender?

Gov. Sarah Palin, the former vice presidential nominee to John McCain in the 2008 presidential election, will not seek reelection to her Alaskan post when her term expires in 2010. She also announced that she plans on resigning from office at the end of the month rather than face a "lame duck" session within the Alaskan government.

Announcing that you won't seek reelection is usually a strong indication of higher aspirations, such as a potential run for President in 2012 against Barack Obama. Resigning from office completely, however, is a move that isn't common for anyone to do unless they have been caught up in a scandal. It's possible that Palin is seeking to avoid fallout from the recent controversies she's been a part of during her tenure as governor since the election.

It's a move that she probably hopes will allow her to avoid being called a "do-nothing" governor since she won't be seeking reelection. It also gives her a chance to say she hasn't been TOO corrupted by being in government too long -- making her appear as an "outsider" with experience.

But does Palin actually believe she can beat Obama? Current polls show that she his highly popular among Republicans, which means she could feasibly win the nomination. But among Americans overall, she remains a controversial figure.

Her resignation could either change that or be her political suicide. In my opinion, it's the latter.
Alaskan Gov. Sarah Palin will not seek re election, a strong indicator that the former VP nominee has higher aspirations. More tonight...

Thursday, July 2, 2009

An Independence Day Rant

With the Democrats landing a monumental victory in gaining the disputed Minnesota Senate seat (thus attaining the 60-person supermajority needed to break Republican filibusters), many long-time supporters of progressive causes are expecting a great deal of work to pass through Congress with relative ease.

They shouldn’t hold their breath. Democrats are stalling, with some in Congress remaining skeptical over spending packages and “controversial” bills that are the very reason supporters voted for them in the first place. Constituents want health care reform, economic recovery, a sound foreign policy and so much more. But what they’re getting is much of the same from Democrats of years past -- that is, disappointment, appeasement to conservatives and bills lacking substance.

It’s discouraging that, while Congress was controlled in both houses by conservatives during the tenure of President George W. Bush, an enormous overhaul of laws were rubber-stamped by the Republicans that the right-wing base drooled over. Today, we’ll be lucky if environmental legislation isn’t watered down more than the rivers we’re actually trying to water down. The health care crisis isn’t looking much better either, with conservative Democrats insisting upon a “trigger” clause, or legislation that would only take effect if the insurance companies don’t shape up in a few years on their own. The gay rights movement continues to face an uphill battle as well, with the president doing little-to-nothing on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” or on working to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act.

Meanwhile, conservatives continue to insist that our party is one full of socialists, out of touch with mainstream American values, that our Supreme Court nominee is a “reverse racist,” that we’re endangering the world with our foreign policies and so much more. These lies are nothing to worry about for the most part -- a majority of Americans can see right through them -- but they are annoyingly present, nonetheless, and cater to an already radical base of the conservative movement that is prepared to use violence as a means to reach their political ends.

This shouldn’t be happening -- the American people chose change on election night. Sure, a sizable minority is making a lot of noise over the change Obama and Democrats want to implement. But that noise is coming from the fringe, from the few who remain dedicated to the principles of Reagan -- the very principles that are partially responsible for the economic mess we now see ourselves in. The vast majority of Americans, however, still support the core principles that put Democrats in office in November, that delivered a supermajority in the Senate, expanded a majority in the House, and put the first African American president in the White House.

They want a public option on health care; resolution in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; economic stability and regulation on corporations; a growth in the number of jobs available to Americans; government assistance to those seeking a secondary education; a strengthening of our civil rights and liberties; a promise to all Americans, regardless of race, sex, orientation, or religion, that they will be treated equally; and the right to live their lives the way Americans should: freely and in pursuit of their goals.

This Independence Day, remember that you’re part of the greatest country that ever was. But remember this as well: there is so much more we can be, so much greater we could become. Call your representatives in Congress -- Tammy Baldwin, Russ Feingold, and Herb Kohl -- and tell them to support the progressive agenda that Democrats should be fighting for. Then tell them to tell their colleagues, too, what they’ve been hearing. It might just make a difference, and that’s why our country is so great: because every little helps.