Thursday, July 29, 2010

Johnson fails to sell BP stock

Originally posted at

Ron Johnson continues to profit through his BP stock holdings...and he’ll likely continue to do so for some time.

Earlier this month, Johnson, the Republican-endorsed challenger to Russ Feingold in this year’s U.S. Senate race, announced he was intending to sell off his BP stocks. The move came after some financial disclosures of Johnson’s were made public, causing some to be skeptical of his commitment to the people of Wisconsin.

Johnson had previously expressed support for drilling anywhere oil could be found, including the Great Lakes region. When it was discovered that Johnson held hundreds of thousands of dollars in BP stock, it raised concerns about conflicts of interest between the oil giant and the GOP candidate for Senator.

So Johnson tried to stave off those concerns by insisting he would be putting his stock options into a “blind trust” on July 9. Days later, that changed when Johnson decided he could use the money from his BP stock to help fund his campaign.

This week, however, Johnson again changed his mind, announcing that he’s delaying the sale of his BP stock, not sure if he’s going to do it or not quite yet.

All this back-and-forth sounds very wishy-washy. Why is Johnson hesitant to sell off his BP stock? Is it because he wants to make a few extra bucks for use on his campaign? Johnson is already a wealthy millionaire, poised to outspend Feingold by huge margins. How much more money could he possibly need to buy this election, to continue funding advertisements that are lacking any truth to them?

It’s pretty clear that Johnson is basing his policy decisions around his own personal stock options. When he defended the actions of BP, and when he insisted that we should drill for oil in the Great Lakes region if the oil was there, it was likely due to the fact that he owned those hundreds of thousands of dollars in BP stock. Now, having failed to put his stocks in a blind trust, and having failed to sell of the BP stock like he promised, one has to wonder just how reliable candidate Johnson would be as Senator Johnson. When he tells us he’s going to support a certain initiative, can we trust him? Or will he go back on his word?

The people of Wisconsin have rarely had to guess as much with Sen. Russ Feingold. He’s been a true champion of protecting the Great Lakes and the environment overall since first taking office in 1993. With Feingold in office, Wisconsinites can be confident that they have a U.S. Senator in Washington watching out for their interests, especially on environmental issues like the preservation of Wisconsin’s natural resources.

If Ron Johnson takes Feingold’s seat in November, will Wisconsin citizens remain as confident in their Senator? Not very likely. It’s not a problem that Johnson owns stock in BP – he’s free to invest in whatever company he wants to. But the fact that his support for drilling anywhere (including the Great Lakes) in the wake of the biggest environmental disaster we’ve seen in the past few decades (perhaps ever), shows just how out of touch he is with the average Wisconsin voter, choosing to support policies with his billfold in mind rather than your best interests. His wavering stance on whether he’ll sell his stock, put it in a blind trust, or simply keep it, is troubling as well – he can’t make good on a promise he’s made to the people he hopes will elect him.

Johnson can’t be trusted with helping to protect Wisconsin’s environmental resources, much less vote with the people’s interests at heart. We need a senator with a proven track record of doing that. We need to re-elect Sen. Russ Feingold.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

After Milwaukee floods, Barrett leads, Walker bolts

Last week, the city of Milwaukee and its surrounding suburbs were hit by devastating rain showers that caused severe damage to the area. Sinkholes developed in several areas, including one that swallowed an entire car in a neighborhood blocks from where I once lived.

It was so bad that Scott Walker, gubernatorial candidate for the Republican Party of Wisconsin, asked for federal aide for the county – a somewhat ironic gesture since Walker himself is against most federal involvement in local government (he tried to refuse federal aide previously when the stimulus package was passed).

Over the weekend, Tom Barrett, the Mayor of Milwaukee and Democratic candidate for governor, canceled campaign plans in order to assess the dangers and damage in Milwaukee and areas surrounding his city. Where was Scott Walker?

He continued his campaign trips as planned.

This isn’t a criticism of Walker per se, not an essay on how he should have stayed home and followed in Barrett’s footsteps. Scott Walker is free to campaign as he scheduled if he feels he needs to. What’s more, he did swallow his pride, asking for help from the feds when he knew it was a task too overwhelming for him to handle on his own.

Rather, this is a commending of Barrett, of the Milwaukee mayor doing something generous and selfless, and acting in a way that was beyond his call of duty. Barrett is the model example of how our politicians should be – a statesman who is warm and helpful, working with people directly in times of need, putting aside his own pursuits when others are facing personal difficulties.

Walker did his job that week; he assessed the damage then went off to campaign on the weekend. He did what Milwaukee County citizens expected of him, but not very much beyond that (besides, perhaps, the surprising request for help from the federal government).

Barrett, on the other hand, went beyond what was called for – he very well could have continued his scheduled plans, forgetting the people at home for a couple of days while he himself vied for support for his campaign. Instead, he helped not only his own constituents, but those of Milwaukee County as well – assessing the damage not only in his own jurisdiction, but investigating what work was needed in areas outside of the City of Milwaukee.

It’s not the first selfless act Barrett has committed. Last year, Barrett and his family attended the Wisconsin State Fair. Upon leaving for the day, the family encountered a domestic dispute that was getting violent. Barrett, after telling his family to get somewhere safe and to call the cops, intervened, defending a woman who would have been beaten severely by her grandchild’s father.

Barrett sacrificed his own body – and at the time potentially his life – in defending that woman, taking several hits from the attacker who was using a tire iron. The man who attacked Barrett and the woman, Anthony Peters, was sentenced to 12 years in prison this week. Barrett was there for the sentencing, serving as a witness for the court in determining what punishment was just for Peters. It was a stark reminder of the selflessness of Barrett’s character, of how he puts people first, sometimes before his own well-being.

This past weekend, however, we were shown that we don’t need those reminders – Barrett’s actions remind us frequently of the man he is. Putting aside the campaign for a moment – a campaign he’s currently losing according to most polls – he instead took a weekend off from getting votes, opting instead to work with those directly affected by the violent storms, to assist in the recovery effort.

We have a choice this November. We can elect one of two men to lead our state into the next decade. Both are career politicians – but one, unlike the other, will put aside politics and his ambitions when necessary in order to help others who are facing difficulties.

If it wasn’t clear before this week, then it should be clear by now: Tom Barrett is the man we need leading Wisconsin.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The legality of WikiLeaks

Is a website like WikiLeaks legal? The site famous for publishing leaked government information released tens of thousands of documents this week detailing just how bad things have gotten in the war in Afghanistan.

The documents gave details on unreported civilian deaths as well as covert operations of key leaders in the Taliban. It also discusses possible interference from Pakistani intelligence agencies and the growing difficulties of occupation within Afghanistan. Those that run the site allege that the documents also include information on possible war crimes violations as well.

The 91,000+ documents are mostly from the Bush era, between the years 2004 and 2009. As one military adviser pointed out, they don’t include the current operations on the ground in Afghanistan, including Barack Obama’s plans for withdrawal from the region (following a buildup of troops).

That same advisor, however, also asserted that the release of documents compromises the security of military personnel on the ground.
White House national security advisor Gen Jim Jones said the release “put the lives of Americans and our partners at risk.”
The government has a right to keep certain information secretive, information that, if released, could compromise the mission of our men and women fighting overseas. That said, other information should rightfully be in the hands of the American people themselves, especially if policy is being shaped around what many may consider a lie or a manipulation of facts on the ground. The war itself is waning in popularity, and with the release of these documents that sentiment is not likely to change anytime soon.

The only time that information should rightfully be kept from the public’s eyes is when it’s in the best interest of the public to keep that information hidden, or when the release of that information may cause someone else significant harm. Likewise, a person cannot defend themselves by citing free speech if their speech causes a direct impact on a person’s livelihood. A person’s free speech rights don’t supersede the rights of others to be free from direct harm – I can’t erroneously and purposely yell “FIRE!” in a crowded theater and expect no consequences when the mob tramples upon someone else, injuring or worse yet killing them. When I use one of my rights in a way that causes harm to others, it ceases to be a protected right.

But does the WikiLeaks release constitute such a threat? Information from the past few years being released won’t do much to hurt anyone, save for the reputation of the former president. And it’s not as if the people in Afghanistan don’t already know that civilians have been killed in this war, and to what extent.

A site like WikiLeaks, then, should continue to function. At most, the U.S. government could prosecute whoever leaked the information to begin with, but even that seems like a violation of free speech rights. If you disagree, consider the rights a whistleblower should have at a private company. That person would likely get fired; but they wouldn’t get prosecuted. Perhaps the same ought to be true of the person who leaked this information – so long as the information doesn’t contain critical plans that could endanger our fighting men and women.

A leak like the outing of a CIA agent is one that I believe is a prosecutable offense – it places men and women who are in delicate situations in harms way. But a leak like the one we’ve seen this week, thus far, is not producing much harm.

Until WikiLeaks compromises real security of our nation and/or our troops, or until the information they leak causes or potentially causes direct harm to another individual, the site should continue to function.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Lessons from Shirley Sherrod -- Conservative media distorts reality

What lessons can we learn from the events of Shirley Sherrod's life over the past few days? The shameful display of how a conservative commentator can take down a single government employee is just another example of how conservative media work, appealing to the lowest common denominator (a white-vs.-black argument) while leaving out crucial information that would explain the entire thing. But what's worse than that, worse than the lack of investigative journalism on the part of right-wing media, is the lack of fact-checking by the administration over the matter.

It's become commonplace to assume that within all media -- left-wing, right-wing, and supposedly objective news -- that headlines don't always deliver context. In an effort to sell more copies, to bring in more viewers, or to get more "clicks," news agencies and bloggers alike need to create catchy titles to lure readers in.

Sometimes even within the news articles or web postings themselves context is missing. When this happens, rumors and gossiping rule the day, taking over what should be real investigative journalism and turning it into a steaming pile of horse manure.

Andrew Breitbart, a conservative commentator and contributor to various right-wing media outlets, posted a web video of Shirley Sherrod, an African-American employee of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, where she described an incident in her life where she pushed aside a white farmer's concerns to a lawyer so that he could work with his "own kind." The full video, later disseminated by the NAACP, shows that Sherrod learned within that incident that she was wrong, helped that farmer when it was clear that the white lawyer was doing an inadequate job, and discovered that it's poverty, not race, that matters in the end. Sherrod and that farmer, to this day, remain great friends.

Between the postings of both videos, however, the Obama administration decided to take action. Fearing backlash from right-wing pundits over the administration's supposed preference in hiring minorities over whites, Department of Agriculture head Tom Vilsack forced Sherrod out of her position as head of rural development for the state of Georgia.

"I reacted too quickly," Vilsack later said. "I should have taken the time to listen and learn."

A proper reaction would have been to talk with Sherrod, to have heard her side of the story. A proper reaction would have been to view the full video initially, not the sound bytes that Andrew Breitbart wanted us to hear. A proper reaction would have been to refute Breitbart's video and any other commentator's disapproval of Sherrod as just another example of the lengths the hard-right in this country will go to in order to discredit President Obama.

Instead, the administration took the cowards way out, reacting no better than any of those right-wing media outlets would have; they took action without thought.

If Obama is going to lead, if he's going to fight against those who are looking only to discredit him, this is not the way to do it. One does not cower in fear of those who make vicious claims without credible evidence -- they fight by using the greatest weapon available: the truth.

The administration should have known better anyway. As Keith Olbermann points out, conservative media today lacks substance of any kind, and is the "utter and complete perversion of journalism...It is words crashed together, never to inform, only to inflame."

If there's one thing this administration should learn from this incident, it is this: There are more appropriate ways to discredit such media outlets, more options available than taking the cowards way out. If this administration isn't brave enough to defend a civil servant like Sherrod over lies and distortions that we've witnessed this past week, then Obama and company are going to have a rude awakening come November of this year, perhaps even in 2012 after that.

Now, onto the next issue: conservative bloggers are claiming that Bo, the Obama family's dog, flies in his own private jet. Keeping in line with the way the administration handles these claims, without doing any research of any kind that may disprove such claims, what should the Obama administration's reaction be? Should they find Bo a new home, or simply put him down?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Bikers appeal to Dane Co. Board for safer roads

Madison has had, for quite some time now, a positive association as being a great city for biking. Dane County officials and concerned citizens are hoping to expand that association past Madison city limits and into more rural areas.

At a Dane County meeting on Tuesday night, County Executive Kathleen Falk echoed the calls of those seeking to make the county a better place for bicycle enthusiasts.

“I don’t need to tell anybody in this room how important biking is to us,” she said.

The county has several plans to expand biking throughout suburban and rural areas outside of Madison. According to the Wisconsin State Journal, the county is currently working on expanding the Ice Age Junction trail near Verona, the Cam-Rock trail between Cambridge and Rockdale, and the Lower Yahara River trail that goes from Lake Farm Park to the McFarland-Stoughton areas.

Safety concerns are mounting for bikers, with some pointing blame at motorists who ignore bicyclists’ rights.

“I feel like the drivers don’t watch out [for bikers] very well,” Hans Noeldner, a bike advocate who resides in Oregon, told the State Journal.

So the county is taking the role of implementing safer bike trails alongside rural highways as well as busy suburban roads. Wider shoulders are being put in place, giving a larger buffer for bikers and drivers, ensuring a safer ride for both on what would ordinarily be hazardous streets.

What needs to change most of all, however, is the attitude of motorists. Too often bikers see cars whiz by them, disregarding their presence on roads that are meant to be shared by both motorists and bicyclists alike. Yes, bikers do have the responsibility of knowing their surroundings, of understanding the risk involved in biking near heavy-traffic or hazardous areas. But motorists, too, have a responsibility – of driving in a manner suitable to the situation they find themselves in, whether near bikers or not.

This goes beyond biking – too often on our daily commutes, we see belligerent drivers disregarding the other vehicles within their immediate vicinity, merging into traffic with little care. Imagine the traffic you experience on the Beltline, put that on rural roads, and you start to understand why bikers have concern for their safety.

We should applaud the Dane County Board for trying to make biking not just a Madison thing but a county-wide movement as well. Before bikers take to the streets, however, they need to make sure they’re going to be safe biking. Their ordinary routine of checking their brakes and fastening their helmets is not always enough – they shouldn’t have to worry about the motorists they’re sharing the road with being obnoxious jerks who abuse the privilege of driving.

Everyone needs to be responsible when they take to the streets. Neither cars nor bikes “own” the road, but with common sense, both can utilize it in a positive way.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

"Refudiate" Palin -- support mosque near Ground Zero

In an effort to show her disgust over a Muslim mosque being built near Ground Zero in New York City, Sarah Palin -- the half-term former governor of Alaska and possible 2012 GOP presidential candidate -- used her Twitter account to voice her opinion to her...sigh...hundreds of thousands of followers:

"Ground Zero Mosque supporters: doesn't it stab you in the heart, as it does ours throughout the heartland? Peaceful Muslims, pls refudiate."

"Refudiate," however, is not a real word. It doesn't exist. When bloggers caught wind of this, ridiculing her in the process, Palin removed her tweet and tried again. She also added another tweet, one in which she compared herself to William Shakespeare:

"'Refudiate,' 'misunderestimate,' 'wee-wee'd up.' English is a living language. Shakespeare liked to coin new words too. Got to celebrate it!"

So that's her excuse -- she's not an idiot, just an innovator! Like Shakespeare! The most important person in English literary history!

The thing is, William Shakespeare made up words on purpose, usually to fit his prose. Palin's contribution to the "living language" of English, however, is derived from her own ignorance on the subject.

Pushing aside her butchering of the English language for a moment, Palin's anger towards the mosque being built near Ground Zero is misguided. It's essentially saying, because a small handful of Muslim men attacked us nine years ago, that we must punish all Muslims, that we must lump them all together and refuse them the same rights afforded to other religions.

Thousands of people died; that should never be forgotten. But imagine the message it would send to the world to say, "Hey, we know those men were Muslim extremists, but you know what? We're not afraid to put a mosque here. We know it wasn't ALL Muslims who attacked our country -- just a group of militants." Can you imagine how powerful that message would be? How many Muslim minds we could change in one move like this?

Saying we can't build a mosque near Ground Zero is like saying we couldn't build a church near the Oklahoma City bomb site. If such a proposal had been made, I doubt anyone would have had any problems with it. So why do we care so much about a mosque? If it were a mosque full of hateful, vengeful, militant jihadists, that'd be a different thing altogether. But it's not -- it's a group of law-abiding Muslims who would like to show he world how tolerant, how strong the United States can be.

This is a test of our resolve, of how we can "refudiate" the world's expectations. If we follow Sarah Palin's suggestion, we'll be failing it miserably.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Young Republicans challenge Baldwin's eligibility

Last week, many candidates for political office in Wisconsin filed their official nomination signatures by citizens from within their districts or around the state. Tammy Baldwin, the current Representative from Wisconsin's Second Congressional District, which includes Dane, Green, Rock, Jefferson, Columbia, and Sauk Counties, also submitted her papers.

The Young Republicans of Dane County challenged the signature papers that Baldwin submitted, charging that the address she supplied voters (as proof of residency within the Second Congressional District) was in fact her campaign headquarters' address.

While the allegations are true -- her address listed was indeed the same as her campaign's -- the Government Accountability Board (GAB) isn't likely to care much about it. Baldwin, being an open lesbian from the Second Congressional District since 1998, has received many threats from ultra-conservative constituents, who view her lifestyle as an abomination. The GAB has allowed Baldwin since the time she was first elected to use her campaign address on her signature lists in order to protect herself from bodily harm.

The move by the Young Republicans is one of two things: it's either a move of ignorance, of not knowing this is how Baldwin has done things for well over a decade in order to ensure her own safety; or it's a WILLFUL act of ignorance, a blatant attempt of using that information in order to make Baldwin look bad, to appease the very people that want her out of office by whatever means necessary.

It might do the GOP in the Second Congressional District (and elsewhere for that matter) some good to ignore the extreme elements of their base. Doing so doesn't just make sense politically -- it makes sense morally as well. They should reject the views of those extremist elements, reject them as part of their "base," and perhaps focus on real campaign issues rather than inconsequential concerns like Baldwin's voting address, a concern the GAB has already addressed.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Letter to Editor: New Smoking Ban

I submitted this letter to the editor to the Wisconsin State Journal. I don't know if it will be used, but I felt that if it wasn't, at least it'd be posted somewhere for someone else to read.

Dear Editor,

I read a boatload of criticism in the Journal Wednesday about how terrible the new smoking ban is, how it's an infringement on civil liberties, and how it's going to change the lives of smokers and bartenders alike, for the worse.

As someone who supported the smoking ban, I was especially offended by a letter chastising non-smokers for leaving terrible tips. As a former bartender myself, I can tell you from personal experience that a person's smoking habits don't matter when it comes to tipping. I've seen great tips from non-smokers, terrible tips from smokers, and vice versa.

What the smoking ban ultimately does is this: it bans smokers from spewing toxins -- poisonous materials within cigarettes -- in a closed-in area like a bar or restaurant, where the ability of patrons and employees to relocate, who do NOT want to poison themselves, is severely limited.

It is not at the discretion of a bar owner to determine whether they want to put small levels of arsenic in each patron's drink -- so why do we pretend to believe that it is a "right" of a bar owner to allow acetone, ammonia, benzene, hydrogen cyanide, and pyridine, among thousands of other additives found in cigarettes, to be dispersed throughout the premises?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Van Hollen, Obama on wrong side of 'Day of Prayer' lawsuit

J.B. Van Hollen, Wisconsin's duly elected Attorney General, has joined a legal challenge as a "friend of the court brief" to overturn a recent ruling that declared the National Day of Prayer as an unconstitutional establishment of religion within the federal government.

Van Hollen joins the brief as a supporter of the day of prayer, interestingly enough alongside President Barack Obama, who also supports the national recognition of God through prayer.

If the president wants to issue a proclamation encouraging others to pray on a certain day, he's certainly allowed to do so through his own First Amendment speech rights. What's at issue, however, is whether Congress has the authority to mandate such a proclamation.

Title 36 Section 119 of the U.S. Code states:

"The President shall issue each year a proclamation designating the first Thursday in May as a National Day of Prayer on which the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals" (Emphasis added).

Though not specific in nature (but specific enough to enact a proclamation of prayer towards God), this law is a clear endorsement of religion -- a direct violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." This means that Congress cannot establish religious laws nor prohibit religious acts performed by the people (unless, of course, those acts interfere with the livelihood of others).

Van Hollen should not join the "friend of the court" brief, nor should Obama take part in defending the law Congress passed unconstitutionally mandating the president to issue such a day of prayer. If the president himself wants to issue such a proclamation voluntarily, he should be free to do so, but not through a requirement that Congress creates (nor to a specific entity like "God").

That declaration should also respect the rights of others to ignore such a proclamation, encouraging atheists and agnostics to take a moment of reflection in their own way. In fact, a "National Day of Reflection" would be much more appropriate, keeping the lines between church and state less blurred, the way that our founding fathers intended.

I am not an atheist; nor do I ascribe to a religion that is not Christian. I myself celebrate Christianity, celebrate Christ's sacrifice, and believe He will return to Earth one day to bring about the End Times. But I do not want any government official advocating any type of prayer whatsoever unless they're doing so as an individual -- that is, they shouldn't use their legislative (or even executive) powers to advocate on behalf of one belief over another. Christ himself discouraged such actions, and if we are to live as He wants us to, so should we discourage our lawmakers from taking part in public prayer.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Are Johnson's policy decisions based on his portfolio?

It appears that the Democratic Party agrees with a recent tweet I made.

The DSCC (Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee), which helps to elect Democratic candidates to the U.S. Senate, recently blogged about Ron Johnson's interesting investments -- namely, that Johnson holds between $116,000 and $315,000 of BP stock.

It was no wonder, then, why Johnson had told WisPolitics earlier this campaign season that he'd support drilling in the Great Lakes if there was oil to be found there.

"I think we have to get the oil where it is," the Republican nominee for Senate said when asked about drilling in the Great Lakes.

Where do Johnson's loyalties lie? If he can be swayed by his own stock options, what's to stop special interests from persuading Johnson to take a certain position on a policy issue through campaign contributions?

Fortunately another candidate with a proven record of helping Wisconsin citizens is out there -- Democrat Russ Feingold, who has served as the Junior Senator from Wisconsin since 1993. Feingold requires that most his campaign cash come his constituents themselves. In fact, in the past five years alone, more than 90 cents out of every campaign dollar has come from a real person, not a special interest group.

So we have an important choice we can make this election year: we can support one candidate who refuses to allow special interests from influencing his campaign, who wants the vast majority of his campaign dollars to come from real-life citizens (that candidate being Russ Feingold); or we can support a candidate who appears to make policy decisions based upon his own personal market portfolio (Ron Johnson).

The choice ought to be obvious: Wisconsin should send Feingold back to Washington for six more years.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

State Supreme Court relaxes ethics rules

WIth the Supreme Court nomination hearings of Elena Kagan taking center stage nationally, the actions of our own State Supreme Court last week went relatively unnoticed.

Earlier this week, the highest court in the state of Wisconsin formally changed their ethics rules on a split vote, choosing to allow justices of the Court to hear cases that involve their biggest campaign contributors.

Though recusal was at the sole discretion of the justices themselves prior to this, the new rule change makes it acceptable for a justice to sit on a case that involves someone who put wads of money into their pockets during the campaign season.

And let’s face it: if someone is giving you thousands of dollars in order to be elected a justice of the Court, are you really going to rule against them if a case comes up that piques their interests? More likely, a justice on the High Court in Wisconsin will find a way to justify a ruling that favors their important benefactors.

What makes this new rule even more laughable -- that is, if it weren’t so serious -- is the fact that the justices themselves didn’t even write it: Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, a contributor to numerous pro-corporate conservative causes (including a few State Supreme Court races), penned the new standards for ethics on the Court that were adopted this week.

It isn’t just a figure of speech when I tell you that big business had a hand in crafting this new rule: it’s as literal as it can get!

As if this rule change weren’t bad enough, another terrible injustice occurred in the same week, in the same body that should be the bastion of justice for our state no less. During his campaign in 2008 against then-sitting Justice Louis Butler, current Justice Michael Gableman’s campaign created an advertisement that implied Butler, during his time as a public defender, helped get a man accused of child molestation off-the-hook -- and then, once freed, this man again committed another molestation.

However, the ad was a lie -- Butler lost the case, and the man went to prison. The second crime occurred after his prison sentence. Butler’s only “crime” was that he performed his job function as a state-appointed public defender.

Despite the lies in the ad, it was effective: it convinced many in the state that Butler was wrong for the job, and Gableman went on to win by a two percent margin.

So Gableman faced an ethics probe this year as to whether he violated long-adopted rules for campaigning (such as “no lying in campaign ads”). In light of the facts clearly showing that he did indeed lie in his ad, misrepresenting Butler’s character in the process, the Court deadlocked down partisan lines, effectively allowing Gableman to continue working for the Court without any disciplinary action.

In one week’s time, two different ethics questions were posed, each resulting in a relaxation of ethics rules for the State Supreme Court. The Court’s conservative faction has changed judicial norms to allow for judges and justices in our state to rule on cases involving their campaign benefactors, and to allow lies and misrepresentations in campaign commercials to go without reprimand of any kind.

In one week’s time, the Court has decided that corporate interests are more important than average citizens, that your voice means nothing when big business is whispering in the ears of Lady Justice.

It’s a terrifying thing how in just one week’s time the entire justice system within our state can go down in shambles. It’s high time we reform the judicial branch in Wisconsin to reflect a more honest system of justice for all, not just the privileged corporate elite that are having an increasingly direct role in selecting our judges and justices.

Wisconsin requires a judicial system that will reflect the morals and values of Wisconsin citizens who want justice for all.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Should Steele resign, would Palin be "improvement?"

With Michael Steele fending off demands from within his own party to resign as head of the GOP, several conservative members of the Republican Party are hoping a popular name among their ranks will take his place: former one-half term Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

Ridiculous as this may seem, it's not entirely an impossible scenario: even moderate Republicans across the nation have begun seeking out the endorsements of local Tea Party organizations, hoping to stave off possible usurpations of their seats through primary challenges of more conservative candidates.

Many may wonder (some like myself out loud): would a Palin-led GOP be a hindrance for Democrats, or a blessing in disguise? Many liberals may see her rise to power as threatening, brooding a potential presidential run for 2012 against Barack Obama.

But on the other hand, with Palin's polling numbers moving lower and lower as the public learns more about her, a Sarah Palin-led Republican Party might actually do more harm to the beleaguered GOP, causing the public to shift their support even more towards the Democratic Party.

So here I stand, conflicted: do I hope for Steele to stay in place, sure that his gaffes will continue coming and hoping that his remaining in place will prevent Palin from taking over a position of authority once more? Or do I hope that Steele relinquishes his post, that Palin takes over, and makes a bigger embarrassment of herself -- and her party in the process?

Is it too much to hope that neither happens -- that, perhaps Steele does resign, but that a reasonable, more balanced leader takes his place, who will lead the Republican Party away from such extremist views?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Examining why I choose liberalism

Every once in awhile, it’s good practice to examine your own personal beliefs and amend them as needed. For example, I like to examine, through my writing, why it is I consider myself a liberal. Much of it has to do with the fact that I cannot stand the alternative – becoming a conservative.

My aversion to conservative principles is not because I myself despise conservative beliefs. In fact, it’s far from that – I consider myself a Christian, hate taxes personally, believe that every person deserves a place within the free market (and deserves a chance to advance within that market if they are able to do so), that there is an inalienable right to own a weapon, and so forth.

Though those principles would ordinarily classify me as “conservative” by most, what makes me liberal instead is how I came to hold those beliefs, and how I choose to apply them in my own life as well as the lives of others.

I choose to be a Christian and recognize that not everyone in this country is going to make that choice – it’s my right to determine my own beliefs, and I must allow everyone else to have that same right as well if I am to expect everyone else to respect my own choices. Dictating my personal beliefs through codified law, therefore, would be a violation of the rights of everyone else who didn’t agree with my views, which are based on belief rather than admissible facts.

I hate taxes, but recognize them as a vital part of life, as being part of the government’s revenue needed to ensure society keeps moving forward. Without part of my income going towards taxes, businesses would be unable to use interstate highways, fire and crime protection would be a luxury afforded only to those who could pay for it, those without high-paying jobs and no insurance would be without help, and so on. Taxes are a dreaded part of life – but they provide the very things we all take advantage of in society, from public parks to vital life services.

Though I support a free market and reject most forms of socialism (with the exception being those services that are necessary for a functioning society to have), I do believe that an unregulated economy is dangerous to support. A market should be free from most constraints, but when it starts to work at the expense of the people, when it exploits those workers whose backs support it, it becomes predacious, harmful to the lives of most and beneficial to the ruling elite.

People have a right to defend themselves, but if a weapon is destructive in society, or if it could possibly destroy society itself, it warrants restrictions. Assault weapons were rightly restricted under this definition, seen as potentially destructive if placed in the wrong hands (much like a nuclear weapon would be, albeit in an extreme example of what I’m trying to get across here).


There is a belief prevalent among “liberal haters” that all liberals are godless sexual deviants who are pro-abortion and anti-gun. While such people could be characterized as liberal, a liberal can also be someone who celebrates their religious beliefs openly, who conceals their sexual identity in public, who is personally pro-life, and may even own a weapon or two themselves. What differentiates a liberal from a conservative is more than personal preference – in my experience, a person’s ideology is based more upon how far they want to enforce their own beliefs onto others against their will.

A “liberal” who wants to enforce a godless state is not a liberal. A “liberal” who wants to force women into having abortions (something that I’ve never encountered) is not a liberal. A “liberal” who wants to deny a person gun ownership no matter the circumstance is not a liberal.

But a person who wants to allow others to pursue their own life’s ambitions, who sees the merits of CHOICE in religion, sexuality, health decisions, and even whether to own a weapon or not, and who wants to preserve these rights for others is, in my mind, acting liberally. A person who sees the merits in SOME regulations (such as the marketplace, gun ownership, etc.) is also acting as a liberal, so long as these regulations don’t stifle a person’s livelihood. And support of government programs, if they act to help disadvantaged Americans to realize their potential, to help them pull their own bootstraps up if they are having trouble doing so, well, I consider a person who holds such views to be a liberal, too.

These are beliefs I can support, beliefs I can stand behind. Because, in the end, these are beliefs that help the average American, help benefit our country as a whole, and move our nation forward as we venture into the next century.

This is why I am proud to call myself a liberal.

Conservative Amnesia

There seems to be a new problem among some prevalent conservatives out there these days. Some might call it lunacy, but others recognize it as something more dangerous than that: voluntary amnesia.

Two prominent conservatives, one a member of the GOP and the other a famous political commentator, have forgotten recent history in exchange for scoring political points with those they hope to influence.

Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele recently criticized the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress for prolonging the Afghanistan war, a war that was begun by a Republican president and is still supported by the Republican Party. Steele mistakenly characterized the war as Obama’s, telling supporters that it was a war "of Obama’s choosing."

The funny thing is that Obama never even voted for the Afghanistan war – he was still in the Illinois legislature when the war began in 2009. Obama’s recent push for the war is part of an overall strategy to begin drawing down forces in 2011.

Then there’s the king of talk radio’s recent lapse in memory. Rush Limbaugh, speaking on his radio program this week, criticized Obama’s handling of the economy, saying he believes Obama is purposely making things worse to avenge for slavery in America.

As absurd a statement as that is – Obama’s descendants were actually slaveholders on his mother’s side – it’s even more absurd by this little ditty provided by Limbaugh in the same rant:

"Obama tanked the economy on purpose, both as payback for 230 years of racial oppression and because Obama simply doesn't like America," Limbaugh said, ignoring the fact that the recession began during the Bush administration.

These two voices are symbolic of the contemporary conservative movement. They are selectively forgetting history, voluntarily omitting information they knew about in favor of repeating lies that will benefit their point of view. It’s wrong, and these two talking heads, and every other conservative that employs their methods, should feel shame for doing so.