Monday, October 26, 2009

Abstinence-only education not right for Wisconsin schools

The state of Wisconsin is poised to pass legislation that would require schools statewide to provide students with a complete education on sexual health, including information on contraception and other methods for birth control.

Currently, schools in Wisconsin determine for themselves how far they want to teach their students about the "birds and the bees." Many school districts opt for "abstinence-only" education, which severely limits a student's ability to understand how to prevent a pregnancy or contracting a sexually transmitted disease.

Under the proposed bill, titled the Healthy Youth Act, Wisconsin schools would be required to teach a comprehensive sex ed class, complete with alternative pregnancy prevention methods. Abstinence would also be included as the best way to prevent a pregnancy or an STD.

Critics of the bill have called it an unwarranted attack upon the rights of local governments and school boards. Matt Sande, director of legislation for Pro-Life Wisconsin, told the Wisconsin State Journal that the bill would be a "violation of the principle of local control."

While local autonomy is an important thing to preserve, ensuring that Wisconsin teens get the sexual knowledge they need is also essential. Abstinence-only education gives students one option -- don't have sex -- and while we should encourage students to choose this option more than any others, we should also be realistic: some of these kids are going to have sex.

There are countless studies that show abstinence-only education doesn't work. Teens either have sex anyway or end up having an STD that complicates their health further down the road.

We should encourage schools to teach an age-appropriate, comprehensive sexual education program that includes information about contraceptive devices, as well as methods on how to prevent spreading sexually transmittable diseases. This program should also include abstinence as a primary method to prevent both -- in fact, the only method proven to do so -- but not the ONLY method mentioned.

Students deserve to know the facts on sex -- hiding these from them isn't going to make the problem of teen pregnancy go away, but may instead exacerbate the problem.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

FOX vs. Obama

The Obama administration has recently called out FOX News for what it really is, with some administration officials calling it "the communications arm of the Republican Party."

FOX News fans haven't taken it lightly: some conservatives have suggested that the president is behaving in a Nixonian manner, creating an "enemies list" the same way the disgraced ex-president did. Some have even suggested his administration is suppressing freedom of the press and free speech in general.

Is the Obama administration doing the wrong thing here? In a way, yes -- their objections to FOX News may have distracted the public away from important issues. By creating a "war" between the network and the White House, Obama has shifted the focus away from these issues and placed himself at center-stage.

But it's not entirely unwarranted. FOX News really DOES seem to operate as the media arm of the Republican Party. The loony rantings of Glenn Beck, the misinformation or distortion of the facts that Sean Hannity unleashes daily, the beyond rational control-freak mannerisms of Bill O'Reilly...and that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Criticizing the Obama administration is perfectly acceptable -- but FOX News is conducting an all-out assault on the president, and has been doing so since he became a viable candidate against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. They continued it into the general election, and have continued it still into his presidency.

The network's guests that have appeared since then have characterized the president as, among other things, a non-resident, a Muslim terrorist, a Maoist, a communist, socialist, fascist, etc., with very little objection from the anchors conducting the interviews. The stories themselves are hardly objective (something conservatives supposedly clamor for in the mainstream media) but instead show a clear bias against all things left of center, especially if it's related to President Obama.

The "editorial section" has a clear bias as well, which is fine (that's what an editorial is meant to be). Their bias, however, is usually based out of distorted facts, mistruths, and flat-out lies -- lies that never go corrected by these hosts.

So who started this whole mess? When FOX snubbed the Obama administration earlier this fall by not airing the president's speech to a joint session of Congress, the administration did not include FOX in its rounds on Sunday morning talk shows when Obama appeared on five different programs. Since then, the war on FOX has escalated, with FOX claiming a clear bias from the White House against their news organization (which is kind of ironic).

Obama's advisers aren't wrong to go after FOX (they have a right to be critical of the news organization just as the news organization has the right to be critical of them), but they're not doing anything good other than antagonizing an already energized base of conservative critics. Still, simply ignoring the criticisms launched against the administration may be a greater crime to commit -- FOX is disseminating lies and mistruths about the president and some reaction to it is certainly acceptable.

So no, the president isn't suppressing free speech, as some conservatives may argue. The administration is just fighting back against clear biases a conservative network news station is making -- often with little to no evidence to back those biases. After all, the freedom to speech extends to the office of the president just as much as it does FOX News. Until Obama pulls a "Chavez" (that is, physically takes the cable station off the air), such claims are bogus, and without merit.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

U.S. Attorneys "back off" prosecuting medicinal marijuana users

The federal government announced this week that it will no longer seek to prosecute patients using medicinal marijuana if the practice of prescribing it is legal within that patient's state.

In a memorandum to select U.S. Attorney's affected by the new policy, Attorney General Eric Holder wrote that, "Pursuit of these priorities should not focus federal resources in your States on individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana."

In other words, U.S. Attorneys in states where they have legalized medicinal marijuana shouldn't seek out the prosecution of individuals who are using the drugs as part of their doctor's recommendations. The illegal growing and distribution of marijuana is still a criminal offense, and individuals partaking in those endeavors should still be sought after; but as far as patients using the drug, the Obama administration has made it clear that there are higher priorities than the cancer patient smoking dope because his doctor told him to.

The change in attitudes on marijuana policy is a big move for any administration to take. It's also a step in the right direction: the laws against marijuana users in this country are backwards and hypocritical. Marijuana is safer, in some ways, than other legal drugs, such as drinking and cigarette smoking. Marijuana isn't as addictive as cigarette smoking is; and it does less damage to your body than habitual drinking does (there has never been a single documented death due to marijuana overdose).

To be sure, there are still dangers with marijuana use -- no one is saying, for example, that driving while under the influence of pot is safe. But certainly a drug that has the ability to make those struggling with immense pain feel less of it is one we should consider legalizing, at the very least on a medicinal level.

Wisconsin governor Jim Doyle, in fact, recently stated that he would be open to a law in the state that would allow doctors to prescribe marijuana for medicinal purposes. And why not? There are certainly worse drugs a person can use; but if used properly, under the supervision of a doctor's care, marijuana can do wonders for a person's life, eliminating the suffering they would ordinarily feel without it.

There are drugs that are real problems for society -- ecstasy and heroin come to mind -- but there are many drugs that do wonderful things for society, too, that have helped people with various ailments, adding comfort to their lives when their absence would otherwise mean a life of unending pain. There are other drugs, still, that are deemed safe enough to be legal yet still are abused daily.

I would put marijuana in one or two of these groups -- it's just as safe, if not safer, than the drugs that are deemed safe enough to be legal, and has the potential to be a drug that can help thousands, if not, millions of lives.

It wouldn't be a terrible thing to legalize marijuana in Wisconsin, if only for medicinal purposes.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Liberalism's views on religion and morality: a refresher course

A common misconception of the liberal ideology is that it promotes a secular state. That's true, in part; we liberals do want a neutral government when it comes to religion, but we could care less about what the people themselves want to believe in regards to their faith. But conservatives who are pushing for a higher standard of morality in society often further believe that liberals want a moral-less society, one that abolishes faith and religion outright. Nothing could be further from the truth.

What are liberalism's views on religion, morality, and society? Liberals take a stance that is common among most Americans: let the people choose for themselves what to believe. With regards to religion, a person should be free to exercise their views without restriction from the state or any other force in society, so long as their views don't conflict with the rights of others.

Most liberals don't even mind when religious groups take part in ceremonies on public land or have symbols placed in front of city hall. Liberals do take issue, however, when only specific religions are allowed to place such markers in those areas. A Jew or a Muslim has just as much right as a Christian to place a symbol on public land -- in the eyes of the law, these separate faiths (or any other faiths) should be seen as equals.

Morality, on the other hand, is a touchier subject; while most Americans agree that people should be able to choose for themselves what faith is best for them, when it comes to morality everyone believes their faith or beliefs are best to legislate into law. Most can agree on core issues -- you won't find many who believe murder is an acceptable practice in our society -- but on other subjects, a great debate usually surfaces. What are we do about gay marriage, for instance? What about stem cell research? Or gun control? Liberalism looks at these issues of morality and focuses once again on people's rights. Laws on morality should focus on liberties, not a specific faith's views.

For instance, when looking at laws on gun ownership, we should ask ourselves what rights, if any, would be violated by banning a particular weapon. The right to own a gun is one that even most liberals acknowledge as one that shouldn't be infringed upon. But do restrictions on specific weapons deemed dangerous by society infringe upon that right, or do they in fact protect more Americans from dangerous criminals or accidents in the home? That is the debate we should be having with gun rights; it's not an "all-or-nothing" question of whether we should own guns or not, but rather whether certain restrictions of weaponry infringe upon the right to bear arms in our country.

Morality should be legislated in a similar way: we should ask, "What rights are removed from a person if this piece of legislation is passed? In what way will a person's livelihood change if this policy is put into law?" If it's a significant change, enough to affect how a person is able to live their lives, then liberals believe that it's an unjust law, one that violates a person's rights.

Ultimately, morality and religious belief are best left for a person to define for themselves. Yes, there comes a time when a certain moral code needs to be legislated over all others to keep order within society -- but this should be done to preserve the rights of everyone, not just a certain group of people. These rights should be derived from a secular source, not one that is religious in nature. In that way, it is applied equally unto everyone as well as justified by a similar structure, one based on rights, over a population.

If a person wants to subject themselves to their personal faith's moral code, then let them; but they shouldn't expect that same moral code to be subjected upon society itself. For that, we need a moral code that allows everyone the right to make that decision, to decide for themselves what's best for them, while still preserving the rights of the people.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Roland Burris: an unlikely hero?

Roland Burris, a Democratic Senator from Illinois, is not someone I would suggest having as a political hero. Having received his Senate seat under suspicious circumstances -- from an appointment by Rod Blagojevich, the Illinois governor who tried to sell the seat to the highest bidder -- Burris isn't seen as the most ethical Senator within the upper house of Congress.

Recently, however, Burris did something that no other Democratic Senator has done, or has had the guts to do: he openly voiced that he will not support any health care reform bill that doesn't include a robust public option.

"I would not support a bill that does not have a public option," said Burris, adding that his "position will not change" on the matter.

Some may see Burris's comments as foolish or stubborn. But it's just as stubborn, if not more so, to actively say you won't support any bill WITH a public option, as some conservative Democrats and Republicans have said they will vote. Such stubbornness, in fact, goes against the will of the people, who overwhelmingly want a public option in the final bill.

Fifty seven percent of Americans, in fact, support a public option for health care reform, according to a new ABC News/Washington Post pol. What's more, a majority of Americans also want Democrats to pass reform without bipartisan support from Republicans if the end result would include a public option.

Sensing this, you'd think more Senators than Roland Burris would come out this strong in support of a public insurance option for Americans. It's troubling that more Senators aren't demanding this plan be a part of the final bill. Sure, many are fighting for it to be there, but there hasn't been a demand for it, the way Republicans are demanding it not be there at all.

For that, the Democrats seem to be wavering on the issue a little -- even Barack Obama has said that, while he wants a public option as part of the final bill, he would support a bill without it, too. The president shouldn't waver like this: he should be more forthcoming, more "sure" about what he wants in the bill.

Roland Burris is no hero, that much is for sure. But his actions this week take on heroic qualities.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Predicting 2010: Dems will still control Congress

It may be too soon to start talking about the midterm elections, but many conservatives and Republican-leaning commentators are predicting a big win for Republicans when the 2010 midterm elections come around. They point to the large turnout at TEA Party protests as evidence of this, as well as other knee-jerk reactions to the proposed policies made by so-called "socialist" Democrats.

Those "socialists," however, include a broad coalition of Democrats, ranging from the fiscally conservative Blue Dogs to the more ambitious Progressive Caucus. This "large tent" of Democrats have made it difficult for most Americans to gauge what the Democratic Party's goals and platform really are, as each Congressional Dem has a different take on every piece of legislation that comes to the Hill.

Nevertheless, Republican probably will pick up a few seats come November 2010 -- but not enough to substantially change Washington. While it's true that TEA Party protesters and other conservative interests represent a vocal group of actively engaged citizens, they're simply a vocal minority. They don't represent the majority of U.S. citizens that want higher taxes on the wealthy or the majority of Americans that want a public option in the final version of the health care reform bill.

Many of the "conserva-Dems" that won in districts where John McCain actually defeated Barack Obama for votes in the presidential election will undoubtedly face fierce competition from Republican foes. And with the large majority that the Democrats already have in both houses of Congress, there's really only one way they can go in 2010 -- and that's down.

But don't expect Congress to be controlled by the GOP in 2011; what's more likely is that Democrats will see only a few in their ranks leave. The Dems will still hold control of both the House and Senate; indeed, polling numbers indicate that Democrats are still favored, if just slightly, over Republicans in a generic ballot.

The Democratic Party definitely has some ground to pick up: the Republicans' strategy of obstructionism and the Democrats' failure to come together as a unified party have caused some within the public to think twice about supporting the ideas and policies that Obama and Congressional Democrats have proposed. Still, more Americans support those ideas and policies than don't.

We're a long way from seeing the GOP take control of legislative government, and still way off from seeing a Republican President come 2012. Unless something drastic happens, don't count on a conservative government for quite some time.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Justice of the Peace proves racism still prevalent

A couple in Louisiana last week wanted to do something many couples in love do: seal their relationship through vows of marriage. So they sought the Justice of the Peace in their parish and informed him of their intentions.

However, their dreams of marriage were dashed temporarily when they were informed that the Justice of the Peace refused their request. His reason? He doesn't perform interracial marriages.

Keith Bardwell has been the Justice of the Peace within that parish for over 30 years, dating back to the days when interracial marriages were illegal in many states in the south. Today, however, such restrictions on marriage are unheard of, relics of a racist past that most want to leave behind.

So when Beth Humphrey and Terence McKay sought out a marriage from Bardwell and heard of his own personal restrictions on marriage, their jaws dropped. How could a public official in this day and age still cling onto such sentiments? How can they still see so narrowly, still judge a person based on the color of their skin?


Keith Bardwell's racism is one example of how bigotry is still prevalent in America today. Bardwell himself claims he's not a racist -- but his actions clearly prove otherwise.

In America today, we see this type of "quiet" racism the most. It's rare to see someone come out and admit they're a racist. But there are people who are still racist by their actions. This isn't illegal, and while it's unfair, a person has the right to base judgments on race.

However, when a public official acts out in a racist way, it's detrimental to society. Everyone should be equal in the eyes of the law, regardless of race; and if someone is planning to serve the public in a position within the public sector, they better be prepared to put their prejudices aside in order to treat everyone fairly.

A public official should resign from their position if they can't protect or serve everyone equally under the law.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Chain letter has it wrong; "Difference between Liberals and Conservatives" not as much as you'd think

Lately, I’ve seen a chain letter being circulated entitled, “The Difference between Liberals and Conservatives Explained.” It’s a very elementary view of the real difference between liberals and conservatives, and I’d like to take a moment to explain why each point isn’t a valid one to have been made.

-If a conservative doesn’t like guns, he doesn't buy one.
-If a liberal doesn't like guns, he wants all guns outlawed.

This is a common misperception that the right has of liberals. We don’t care if you have guns or not. Sure, some communities have outlawed handguns, but it’s not a liberal position to take; it’s a position a community has taken, and one that is unconstitutional. A specific weapon may be considered unfit to have, but banning weapons outright is an unconstitutional thing for a community to do.

Many leftists are avid hunters, and encourage people to have a responsible way. Guns that are for more than hunting or self-defense -- that is, guns that are military-grade or similar in stature -- are not appropriate in the minds of many liberals.

The right to bear guns, like any other right, comes with responsibilities. I have a right to free speech, but I don’t have a right to lie in court when I’m under oath. I have a right to hold whatever religious views I want to hold, but i don’t have a right to conduct human sacrifices. We have a right to bear arms, but not if those arms are incredibly lethal in the wrong hands. Thus, the right to bear arms, like all other rights, is not absolute. If you disagree, then perhaps you’d like to be the first to support the right of every American to have a nuclear weapon.

-If a conservative is a vegetarian, he doesn’t eat meat.
-If a liberal is a vegetarian, he wants all meat products banned for everyone.

I haven’t met a single liberal vegetarian who has told me I can’t eat meat. I have many friends who belong to PETA, but they all understand that being vegetarian and/or vegan is a lifestyle choice. They continue to encourage me that my ways are wrong, but they have that right -- they view the consumption of meat as morally wrong. If an American feels that strongly against something, certainly they have the right to encourage others to go against it as well. They may not win the debate, but they have a right to engage people in it.

-If a conservative sees a foreign threat, he thinks about how to defeat his enemy.
-A liberal wonders how to surrender gracefully and still look good.

This “point” is absurd; there’s no doubt in my mind that it has to do with the Obama administration’s call for diplomacy before action, and liberal America’s stance on the Iraq war. Yes, we wanted to get out of Iraq; but that’s because we didn’t belong there to begin with. We had won the war, and yet stayed as an occupier; we had invaded a country and killed tens if not hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions, in the process (estimates vary). The war had done more to damage America abroad than to help it.

But our position on Iraq doesn’t mean we are appeasers; it means that we want to use war only as a last resort. That’s the way it should always be. What’s so wrong with that? Why can’t diplomacy be a viable option before we go to war? Some call that appeasement, but they forget the true meaning of the word. We are not appeasers; we wish to keep the world as peaceful as possible, but we will use force when necessary. Remember, it was Bill Clinton who pushed for war in Kosovo, and conservative Republicans who opposed him.

-If a conservative is homosexual, he quietly leads his life.
-If a liberal is homosexual, he demands legislated respect.

Most conservative homosexuals, too, demand legislated respect. Most conservative homosexuals, too, want gay marriage rights. Look up the Log Cabin Republicans to find out about this subset of conservatives who support “legislated” respect.

A homosexual certainly has the right to demand legislative respect with regards to marriage just as a straight person already HAS such rights. The rights of a married couple are not derived from any church; an atheist couple can still marry so long as they’re straight. Thus, it isn’t so much a debate over religion and the institution of marriage in a religious sense, but more the rights of two people to enter into a relationship and have certain rights respected within that relationship. Certainly, a debate over whether gay and lesbian couples can have that respect is warranted in this country.

-If a person of color is conservative, they see themselves as independently successful.
-Their liberal counterparts see themselves as victims in need of government protection.

This isn’t true either; in fact, the statement itself is a stereotype (as all of these statements are), which makes it ironic since it discusses racism. Certainly non-white Americans, still the victims of violence in America, deserve to have legislation aimed at deterring violence against them. Such a thing is commonly called “hate crimes” legislation, and is criticized for being a law that specifically punishes people for murdering people of color.

But that’s not the point -- the point of the legislation is to deter people from killing others based primarily out of racism or other forms of hate (gender, sexuality, etc.). It’d be a hate crime for a black person to murder a white person simply because they’re white. We should deter all crime, but especially crime based out of hate.

-If a conservative is down-and-out, he thinks about how to better his situation.
-A liberal wonders who is going to take care of him.

The liberal, too, worries about how to help themselves out of the situation they’re in, as an individual. While a conservative and a liberal differ on what role the government should play in helping a person’s life, the liberal believes that the individual bears most of the responsibility in helping themselves out of the “rut” that they’re in. However, the liberal also understands that the weakest among us cannot always get out of that “rut” on their own -- sometimes, they need a little push, some help to get that person out of the gutter and back into work. The liberal also finds it immoral to leave a person who has just recently lost a job without any way to support themselves or their family (thus a rationale for unemployment help).

Certainly, a person who has no help whatsoever could be a bigger burden long term than someone who we choose to help -- if we don’t help them, they could end up being worse off, leaving a class of people who have no way to climb back up on the horse that bucked them to begin with. So no, a liberal doesn’t “wonder who is going to take care of them.” But a liberal does believe that a government can help a person who is down on their luck, to ensure that they once again become a productive person in society -- or at the very least have a fair shot at getting back there again.

-If a conservative doesn't like a talk show host, he switches channels.
-Liberals demand that those they don't like be shut down.

This may be true in a sense, but it turns the table on the argument completely. A liberal will indeed try to get a person they disagree with off the air -- but they’ll do so through market forces. Suddenly, the author of this chain letter feels that capitalism is a bad thing? If the market forces want a conservative off the air -- and certainly liberals are just as much a part of the market as their conservative counterparts are -- then shouldn’t the market do what its supposed to do and remove that person from the air?

-If a conservative is a non-believer, he doesn't go to church.
-A liberal non-believer wants any mention of God and religion silenced. (Unless it's a foreign religion, of course!)

Ah, but that’s completely false, too. The ACLU is often considered a liberal litigation group that often “attacks” the rights of Christians, but in fact it has defended their rights to worship in public many times, and have even defended a Christian group’s right to protest a gay rights parade. This fact troubles many conservatives when I bring it up, but it’s really simple if you look past the initial fear that you might have if you think liberals are Christian-haters: the fact is, liberals believe everyone should be allowed to worship whatever they want, so long as it doesn’t cause harm to anyone else. Even Christian students in schools have a right to pray to themselves.

But when a public school begins enforcing prayer, or when a City Hall building allows one religious display but denies another group the right to place theirs up as well, then there’s a problem. Favoritism in government isn’t acceptable; either all religions are respected or none should be.

I also had to laugh a bit at the notion that a "foreign" religion is somehow better in the eyes of a liberal. Did the conservative author forget that Christianity, too, is a foreign religion??? If we didn't want foreign religions here, wouldn't we be worshiping with Native Americans?

-If a conservative decides he needs health care, he goes about shopping for it, or may choose a job that provides it.
-A liberal demands that the rest of us pay for his.

This statement is full of several assumptions that aren’t necessarily true. First, the fact that someone can go out and shop for health care is erroneous. If a family’s provider(s) doesn’t have insurance through their employer, purchasing insurance themselves can be very costly, and it doesn’t always deliver (pre-existing conditions allow insurance companies to sell insurance to people while denying them the same insurance later on down the road without them knowing).

The second assumption is that a person can simply choose a job that provides insurance. Go ahead and quit the job you have now, and then try to just “shop for” a job that has insurance. Some may be able to pull this off, but it’s not always that simple. You don’t always just go “shopping” for a job; in this economy, you take what you can get, insurance or not.

Finally, the assumption that a liberal “demands the rest of us pay for his” insurance is flat out untrue, too. Even the liberal who is pushing for single payer care doesn’t do this; such a proposal would pay for EVERYONE’S insurance, not just his own, nor just for liberals (conservatives would get health care, too!). The public option plan being proposed by Democrats now is also not being paid for by others; it will be a self-sustaining program, wherein each person receiving insurance will still have to purchase in. Much of the costs of reform are coming elsewhere, as the health care reform plan from the Senate Finance Committee version lacks a public option yet still costs just shy of the plans that do have that option.

The last two points I don’t care to address, because they represent things that everyone, not just a liberal or a conservative, do.

-If a conservative slips and falls in a store, he gets up, laughs and is embarrassed.
-If a liberal slips and falls, he grabs his neck, moans like he's in labor and then sues.

-If a conservative reads this, he'll forward it so his friends can have a good laugh.
-A liberal will delete it because he's "offended".

Conservatives sue, too, not just liberals. And conservatives also delete messages they receive that they find offensive. It’s human nature, not a matter of political ideology.

In closing, I want to say the following: liberals and conservatives are different people, there is no doubt. But we are more similar than we think we are. A conservative, in my mind, wants to promote a person’s well-being by making it that person’s own responsibility. A liberal wants the same, but understands that some people aren’t able to do that on their own initially, and believes the government can play a small role in helping them at first.

That is but one example of how a liberal and a conservative are different from one another; and yet, it’s also one example of how they are the same. We both want people to take care of themselves. How we get them there, we disagree; but while our means differ, we have similar goals for our ends.

We’ve seemed to have forgotten that over the course of the past couple of years. Perhaps its time that we all remember that. It will definitely cause some of us to cool our heads when we argue with one another; and that’s never a bad thing.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Four month old baby denied coverage for being "too chubby"

Alex Lange is just like any other infant in Colorado. He's healthy and he's breastfed. He's also a good size -- 17 lbs. Alex's weight, though heavier than normal, isn't anything to worry about. It puts him in the 99th percentile in terms of infant weight, but he can't do much about it, being that he's on a diet of breast milk and breast milk only.

Still, his weight has caused his parents much concern. Not because they feared their baby was obese, but rather because his insurance provider refused to cover him because of it.

Alex's insurance provider, Rocky Mountain Health Plans, only covered infants in the 95th percentile and lower with regards to their weight. Alex, therefore, was a prime candidate for being denied his insurance claims.

As was previously mentioned, Alex couldn't do much about this -- his diet consisted solely of breast milk. Most doctors recommend to mothers that they feed their child only breast milk in the early months of their lives. Alex couldn't go on a special diet to lower his weight, and being four months old he couldn't exactly get on a gym membership plan to shed those extra pounds.

So while Alex needed to see the doctor every few weeks or so, as every newborn does, his parents had to figure out a way to pay for all those visits as Rocky Mountain Health Plans had no intention to do so...until they buckled under media pressure from the event. Now Alex -- and all infants in his weight class -- can get insurance from that provider.

Alex's example is but a single instance within millions who find themselves being denied coverage by insurance companies for pre-existing conditions. Alex's case was quite unusual, however, in that, in a very short lifespan, he already had a pre-existing condition that was used to deny him coverage. Of all the people that his provider could deny, they chose a four month old infant, a patient that arguably needs more care than any other patient within their clientele.

What were Alex's parents supposed to do? When Alex got hungry, were they to say, "Not now Alex; we can't afford to feed you until you lose some weight"? Infants need to be fed several times a day, no matter what their weight is. But because Alex and his parents adhered to advice their doctor gave them -- advice that most every doctor will give in 99 percent of all cases -- his insurance company refused him coverage.

How is this fair? How is this American? Despite the happy ending, I'm not satisfied. I don't usually say that insurance companies are heartless corporations; for the most part, people who work for these companies are good people, and truly want to help the people they serve. But what else could you call this? What else could you cal an act so insensitive to the needs of a being so fragile?

It boggles the mind how one can be against health care reform, especially after hearing stories like this. Republican leaders, moreover, are doing little to help everyday Americans. House Minority Whip Eric Cantor recently suggested to a woman needing money for her health concerns to seek out a current government option (how ironic) or to seek out a charity to help her.

That plan, frankly, won't cut it: Americans need more than a charity to help them keep up with the rising costs of health care, now above $15,000 per year for a family of four. If they're paying for insurance, they ought to receive it, too. An economically viable plan should also be made available to those who can't afford private plans -- a public option to compete with the profit-seeking private insurers.

Maybe then people like Alex Lange won't have to wonder how to shed that "baby fat" in order to be covered by their employer.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Unwarranted fears over Obama's czars

Russ Feingold is a political hero of mine. I agree with him on 99 percent of all the issues. Occasionally, however, there comes a time when I do disagree with his position once in awhile.

Sen. Feingold recently criticized the power a president has to appoint so-called "czars" who are advisers and members of the presidential administration on special matters (like drugs or education).

"Our ability to conduct meaningful oversight of those who hold the levers of power and to evaluate whether they have the qualifications and character to carry out their duties may be undermined by the centralization of power in the White House," said Feingold.

Feingold's statements are noble in his attempts to have presidents, conservative or liberal alike, be held accountable for whom they appoint. However, it's a concern that he doesn't have to worry about too much, mainly because these czars aren't given much power over that which they supposedly are in charge of.

Surely, even the most liberal of us could see why these czars need oversight, right? They are given governmental powers and duties (and paychecks!) with very little approval from the legislative wing of the American government.

However, a closer inspection of the czars Obama has appointed shows that these are people who already hold jobs within the administration. The title of "czar" is simply that...nothing more. In other words, the work they're doing would be the same whether they're called a czar or not.

There are some czars that are created through legislative mandate; but a czar that is appointed by a president is simply someone who is already working for the administration and receives a fancy new title. It'd be like someone working for the Department of Health and Human Services who is overseeing the H1N1 vaccination distribution. To emphasize to the public that a person is indeed doing this job and making sure it's being done right, Obama could call them the "Vaccine-distribution czar." Their job hasn't changed any, but the public now becomes aware that a person is in charge of distributing vaccines across the country.

Rather than creating a new position within the administration with no oversight or disclosure from the government -- a secretive post, by some conservative accounts -- a czar is exactly the opposite: it's a position within the administration that the president wants to highlight, and does so by creating the title of czar for a person who is already in charge of an important topic.

I have no doubts in my mind that Russ Feingold is only trying to make government more accountable, for this administration and for future ones. But his fears are unwarranted -- Obama's czars have no added power, and are simply czars in name only.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Mojave Desert "cross" case: treat all faiths as equal under the law

The Supreme Court today began hearing oral arguments on a case regarding the separation of church and state. At issue is whether a Christian cross in honor of fallen veterans that was erected in the Great Depression era can be legally placed on federal land, or whether the government can sell that land to a private party to keep it in place there. The cross is located within the Mojave Desert.

The federal government attempted to sell the small parcel of land to private interests in order to preserve the cross at the site it is currently placed at. The motivations behind the transaction were clearly to preserve a religious symbol on/near federal lands, with the sale having no benefits financially to the federal government in any way.

Were the federal government to treat religious organizations equally -- allowing other groups to set up shrines or symbols as well -- then there wouldn't be much of a problem. But the park refused to place a Buddhist symbol there in 1999, and stated its intentions to remove the cross to be equal to all faiths. Upon hearing this, the federal government denied the park the funds necessary to remove the cross, effectively allowing only one religious symbol to exist on that land.

By disallowing other religious groups from setting up shrines or memorials, and by giving preferential treatment to another religious symbol, the government is clearly violating the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. It has been "established," in other words, that a Christian symbol is acceptable on that federal land, with no others being allowed near it.

In its attempts to sell the land to private interests (a move that was struck down by a lower court), the government, too, was acting inappropriately towards a specific religious belief. They circumvented a judicial decision in order to avoid removal of a symbol that promoted a singular belief. In giving that land to a private entity, the government creates precedent for allowing public lands to become religious places. It also allows for governments to place whatever religious symbols it deems proper by selling plots to public spaces while still denying other faiths the same privilege by calling it a business transaction.

In essence, a local government could sell a plot of land within public space and call it legitimate without having to cater to other interests. James Madison Park near Lake Mendota could have a cross erected right in the middle of it if the city of Madison wanted to do so, under this precedent, and it would be perfectly legitimate because it was sold. But the city would be under no obligation whatsoever to treat other faiths in a similar manner.

If a church wants to place a cross at a public park, it should be able to do so; but so, too, should any other religious organization have that right. The government has no right to give preferential treatment to one belief over another. It also has no right to sell its land to religious interests unless it does so in a non-discriminatory manner. In other words, if the government is going to sell land to one religious organization, it must also be willing to sell land to all other religious organizations.

Christian symbols should be allowed in public places; so should Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, atheist, and any other religious symbols. The government should not promote one over the other, but rather all as equals in the eyes of the law. The right thing to do here is allow the cross to remain in the desert with other religious symbols being allowed a presence there, too.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

GOP no longer pushing Grayson apology

Republican lawmakers are backing off a measure they drafted last week condemning Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) for statements he made regarding the GOP's plan for health care reform.

"Don't get sick," Grayson warned. "If you get sick...die quickly. That's right. The Republicans want you to die quickly if you get sick."

Those are pretty strong words, but they pale in comparison when you look at the rhetoric conservatives have been throwing around in the debate. Some in the GOP have claimed that the Democratic Party's plan for reform would set up "death panels" that would be responsible for determining a person's worth to society, effectively sentencing the elderly and people with special needs to death because their health care would be a burden to the state.

Such statements are flat-out lies, but no member of Congress has been forced to apologize for saying them. Republicans last week, however, wanted Grayson to apologize for effectively saying the same thing about the GOP's plans for reform.

Realizing that passing such a resolution against Grayson would be near impossible without controlling Congress, Republicans this week stepped away from pushing the issue futher.

The rhetoric on both sides of the aisle has gotten too heated; both Democrats and Republicans need to ease up on the accusations. However, Grayson's comments weren't too far off: while Republicans don't WANT people to die, their plans for reform would do little to lower the number of people who die due to lacking coverage, currently estimated to be around 45,000 Americans per year.

Grayson is just as guilty as Republicans for trying to vilify the opposing party. However, Grayson's actions don't warrant an apology unless Republicans believe their actions do, too. And the actions of Alan Grayson certainly don't mirror those of Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC), who last month interrupted President Barack Obama during his speech to a joint session of Congress, calling him a liar during an event where decorum demands respect for the sitting commander in chief.

Wilson's actions violated longstanding tradition and respect; Grayson was on the House floor using time yielded to him. There is a difference, and there isn't any double standard by not forcing Grayson to apologize.

If you disagree, then you ought to ask the handful of conservative politicians who have said pretty much the same thing to apologize also.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Obama, the Olympics, and conservative criticisms

The 2016 Olympics have been decided; Rio de Janeiro is the selected site. Despite Barack Obama personally going to Copenhagen, Denmark, to lobby on behalf of the city of Chicago, the Olympic committee went another direction.

Obama had received unwarranted criticism earlier in the week for traveling to Denmark. Taking a day and a half trip overseas, to some, was in bad taste, especially with the health care debate still going strong and the situation in Afghanistan needing his attention.

Those critics, however, ignore several key things.

First, Obama took less than two days to get his two cents in to the Olympic committee. When looking at how many vacation days George W. Bush took, Obama has been working overtime by comparison.

Second, Obama didn't use this trip as "time off" -- he took this opportunity to meet with his top commander in Afghanistan to discuss strategy there. When Bush was on vacation, he didn't even bother reading important documents, such as the report that detailed how bin Laden was determined to attack America just weeks before the September 11 attacks.

Finally, had Chicago won the bid to host the Olympics, the boom to the economy in the Midwest would have been enormous. Construction projects and other employment opportunities could have reached as far as Madison. Millions, if not billions, of dollars could have been made in hosting the games.

Now, I don't bring up George W. Bush to re-hash old wounds; I merely want to point out that conservatives didn't have these same criticisms for him while he was on vacation (and he was on vacation a lot). Obama takes two days to go overseas to push for an Olympic event in America, during which he meets with a top military commander, and you'd think (by some accounts from conservatives) that he was abandoning his duties as president.

Those duties, conservatives often forget, include fulfilling his role as Head of State. In recent years, heads of state have lobbied for the Olympic games on their countries' behalf, and the other cities up for the 2016 games had their leaders do so, too. Had Obama not gone, we very well could be hearing criticism on that from conservatives now, with them blaming Obama for not lobbying for Chicago and thus being responsible for losing the bid.

As a political scientist from Drake University puts it, "If they knew what brand of toothpaste he uses, they'd be against it." The conservatives in this country are going against Obama over every issue he pushes for, simply because they want to defeat him politically. It's a shame, and hopefully the American people will see through it.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Doonesbury once again voice of reason: reject hostile conservative discourse

A recent Doonesbury cartoon by Garry Trudeau recently made my day.

A veteran political cartoon artist, Trudeau has been drawing Doonesbury for decades. His comics entertain thousands of readers daily through contemporary political humor, and some consider his comic to be an American institution.

Yesterday, reading Doonesbury in the Capital Times, I was once again moved by Trudeau's imagery and words of insight.

The comic began with a thought bubble emanating from the White House: "Remaking America is tougher than I thought..."

The next five frames shifted dramatically towards images of Hitler at a Nazi rally, book burnings, World War II battles, a Holocaust death camp, and a field of graves, the result of the war to end all wars. Words were juxtaposed within each frame, detailing the horrific scenery:

"The Nazis created a brutal, repressive society, left half the world in flames, and methodically murdered millions. They were the most evil force in history."

The final frame brought home the thesis of this week's comic. The narrator's caption read, "Understandably, current parallels are frightening." Below that caption, an adviser said to Obama, "The bill is stalled, sir." The president responded: "That DOES it -- I'm giving a SPEECH!"

The cartoon shows how absurd it is to compare Obama to Hitler or any other fascist elements. Hitler killed millions of people; imprisoned millions more; waged a war against the world; and had the ultimate goal of making the German race the rulers of the globe. Obama, on the other hand, wants to provide health care coverage to Americans who can't afford it.

Somebody, quick: call The Hague!

The previous president, too, unfairly received comparison of being Hitleresque and promoting a fascist state. Such comparisons were unnecessary, demeaning, and disrespectful to the office of the president. George W. Bush may have been an incompetent and immoral leader in the eyes of many, but labeling him a Nazi did little good for the discourse of this nation.

And so it's true, too, for Barack Obama.

It's disheartening to see these characterizations currently being placed upon the sitting president. Obama has done very little to deserve this treatment -- no political freedoms have been infringed upon thus far during his nine months in office. Some criticisms may be reasonable to make by conservatives, who see the president as going against everything they hold to be true. However, promoting seminars that promote getting your guns ready for revolution, and labeling Obama as a fascist/socialist/communist/dictator isn't just incorrect logically, but it's also wrong morally.

What message do we teach our children when we characterize people in this way? How do false accusations and belittling of character help us win a debate legitimately? Why are we content to scare people into accepting a position rather than utilizing the facts before us? We should be better than this. Our nation suffers when we disregard the real problems and instead invent false ones to worry over.

These characterizations need to end. When you spot someone call another politician a "fascist" or anything similar to that, call them out on that. Even if they're your political ally, their views are wrong on this and need to be corrected. This is something that needs to stop, and will help our country move forward when it does.