Sunday, October 31, 2010

Yet again...this country is more liberal than you think

A new CNN poll is out, and yet again it only confirms what I've been saying on this blog: Americans are more liberal than the media depicts us to be.

Think that's crazy talk? Consider this statistic. 46 percent of Americans believe that President Barack Obama's policies are too liberal, while 37 percent believe that they're just right. That might seem like an indictment of liberalism, but another 13 percent of Americans believe that the president isn't liberal enough.

That means that, while the president's approval rating is only at 46 percent, his unfavorable rating is due largely to him not putting forth more liberal policies. 37 plus 13 percent -- or 50 percent -- of Americans like Obama's policies or believe they should go even further.

This election isn't going to be won by an electorate that is overwhelmingly conservative, but rather lost due to an electorate that is uninspired by Obama and his Democratic Party thus far. If Obama stays steadfast, and pushes more liberal policies in the future, the president and Democrats will recover in 2012 from the losses of 2010.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

WI AG Van Hollen: no misdemeanors for first-time OWI drivers

Two things you should know about Wisconsin and its Attorney General JB Van Hollen:

First: did you know that Wisconsin is the only state in the U.S. that doesn't criminalize first-time OWI offenses? When you commit an OWI, though you do receive a harsh punishment, it's not technically considered a "crime" but rather a "municipal violation."

Second: did you know only one candidate for Attorney General this year, Scott Hassett, supports making first-time OWI offenses a crime, while current AG JB Van Hollen believes that enforcement of such a law, a law that every other state in the country executes without question, would be too costly to enforce?

Whether or not it's too costly doesn't matter much to the families of those who have died at the hands of a drunk driver. More than 200 lives were lost last year due to drunk driving, with nearly 4,000 injuries the result of the deadly practice. With so much talk of cutting programs and moving our spending priorities elsewhere, you'd think that our own Attorney General would be willing to at least push for the state to address this issue. But not JB Van Hollen.

Driving while under the influence of alcohol is a reckless choice: if someone makes that choice, they ought to be held accountable to a standard higher than a municipal violation. That Wisconsin is the only state in the country that doesn't use a misdemeanor as a deterrent to drunk driving is telling, given the fact that our state has the highest drunk driving rate in the nation.

Forty-five percent of all accidents on Wisconsin's roads are due to alcohol being a factor. Imagine cutting that number down significantly if we simply created a new way to stave off would-be offenders. Upping the penalties for first-time drunk drivers would cause many to rethink whether they should be driving after their fourth or fifth drink.

Yes, there are stiff penalties already in place for first-time offenders, including forfeiture of license for up to 9 months. But these deterrents are clearly not working for Wisconsin. Adding an additional penalty of having a misdemeanor on your record would cause people to step back even further, to consider their actions a bit more, before making what could be the stupidest decision of their lives.

Vote Scott Hassett for Attorney General this coming Tuesday (or earlier!). Van Hollen's priorities won't protect the lives of those on Wisconsin's roads.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Can the private sector really flourish without the public sector?

I'm getting fed up with a tired meme. A lot of conservative politicians who are running for office are upset with the federal government's involvement in the private sector. Their argument lies upon a false premise: that the government cannot create private sector jobs.

Besides the obvious failure of comprehension -- anyone with an internet connection can read the CBO's report on the millions of jobs created as a result of the stimulus package -- the idea that an unrestricted private sector is all that's needed to create jobs is bogus.

Consider when, under the Clinton administration, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was passed. What happened then? Jobs went south of the border to where cheaper labor could be found. Additional free trade deals had similar effects: jobs, specifically in manufacturing, were exported from America to other countries in favor of cheap labor.

It's true that the public sector shouldn't be depended upon to provide work opportunities to the people; the private sector needs to provide the bulk of jobs in our country. But the public sector does play a vital role in creating work for people, directly through public works projects and indirectly through regulations that ensure American jobs stop going overseas.

Relying SOLELY on either private or public sectors to create jobs won't accomplish anything. Job creation requires a delicate balance of both, with the public sector laying out appropriate rules and regulations for businesses as well as the occasional contracted public works project, in order to provide a framework that's both fair and full of potential for the private sector to take advantage of.

Conservatives rail against any involvement of government, any attempts by the public sector, in assisting struggling small businesses or workers seeking employment. They deride liberals as being communists/socialists that seek to control the economic outcomes of the marketplace. In truth, it is corporate interests that are hoping to control the economy, through keeping the status quo in check and restricting those ingenious Americans (who have driven our country since its birth) from being a part of the marketplace.

Liberals don't want to control the economy -- they want to expand it to even more Americans with even more great ideas. You can't expand the economy through conservative principles, which oftentimes require you to be rich in order to participate in the first place. Instead, you need to expand access to the market through regulation of large corporations (who send jobs overseas) and some degree of assistance to small business owners. Only then can the economy expand, can middle-class jobs flourish, and can we preserve jobs from further being exported away from our country.

Don't buy the conservative hype: public sector assistance is needed in order to ensure a level playing field for all within the United States economy.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Idea of "career politicians" democracy in action

First posted on

There have been many criticisms made this election year regarding the career choices of candidates running for office, most notably those who are incumbents. Critics have blasted those seeking re-election as “career politicians,” condemning these candidates for getting comfortable with their position of power and forgetting the people they’re meant to represent.

Two incumbents in Wisconsin are being challenged in part on the basis of choosing politics as their career. Sen. Russ Feingold is one such candidate. Having been behind in the polls for the better part of this election season, Feingold has narrowed the gap to within a statistical tie with his Republican counterpart and manufacturing millionaire Ron Johnson. Second Congressional District Rep. Tammy Baldwin is also facing a challenge from hard-right Republican candidate Chad Lee, who is a strong proponent of term limits for members of Congress (Baldwin’s chances are significantly stronger than Feingold’s at this time).

Many backers of both Johnson and Lee are supporting these two candidates because they believe that a “career politician” is a bad thing. Their views, however, contradict those of our founding fathers.

The original document that put in place the first government of the United States of America was the Articles of Confederation. Among the many difficulties that the Articles posed in the governing process, one that irked the founders a great deal was the limit on terms an officeholder could hold.

Each legislator elected to the unicameral Congress under the Articles could only serve one term of three years. After that, they had to wait until another three-year term was up before they could again run within the district they wanted to represent. It became increasingly difficult for legislators to get anything done – imagine a Congress full of only freshmen lawmakers!

One of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Rush, was himself critical of term limits, and wrote publicly about the need to dissolve the Articles and replace them with a document that would abolish the practice:

“The custom of turning men out of power or office as soon as they are qualified for it,” Rush said, “has been found to be as absurd in practices, as it is virtuous in speculation. It contradicts our habits and opinions in every other transaction in life. Do we dismiss a general – a physician – or even a domestic, as soon as they have acquired knowledge sufficient to be useful to us, for the sake of increasing the number of able generals – skillful physicians – and faithful servants? We do not. Government is a science; and can never be perfect in America, until we encourage men to devote not only three years, but their whole lives to it.”

The remaining founders debated the issue, ultimately agreeing with Rush – term limits would be removed from the Constitution, allowing officeholders to remain in power for as long as their constituents wanted them there.

Term limits would later be imposed only on the presidency, following the four-term tenure of Franklin Roosevelt. But as far as term limits for members of Congress, no serious effort has ever succeeded, nor has it ever been really attempted on a grand scale.

Looking to the modern day call for term limits a little closer, it seems that Republicans only call for them when they’re the ones out of power. In 1994, the Contract with America, proposed by Newt Gingrich and his coalition of Republicans who would soon take Congress, failed in twelve years’ time to move the idea forward. So why do we believe that the same ideological cousins of this movement – the TEA Party – would do any different?

What’s more, term limits go contrary to popular opinion. If a candidate is elected to office 20 consecutive times, we shouldn’t really care – so long as it’s the will of the people, then representative democracy is functioning properly. The people should be able to say that they want to keep their representative in power; if there is a problem with that legislator, they are free to vote him or her out.

Statutory term limits are contrary to what the founding fathers wanted. But what about the people deciding on their own, through the elections process? Even then, it might not be such a brilliant plan. A person who has been in office for longer than the constituents want is rightfully removed if that is the sole reason behind their vote – but what if the alternative to the incumbent is someone who is worse, someone whose values contradict those of the constituency’s? Indeed, we have to ask: would it be right to vote out a five-term incumbent if what we’re putting into place is someone whose values mirror those of a neo-Nazi?

Now, Ron Johnson isn’t a neo-Nazi, nor is Chad Lee. No matter how much someone might dislike either man’s politics, we needn’t compare their beliefs to those of Nazi Germany circa 1939. Still, casting a vote for Johnson on the mere basis that Feingold has been a politician for most of his adult life is a vote based on a failed meme, as is a vote for Lee against Baldwin on the same criterion.

Career politicians are, in fact, what many of our founding fathers wanted for this country. Yes, they also wanted their constituents’ wishes to be adhered to, and if a newcomer came along that had ideas that those constituents agreed to, they could very well remove a lifelong delegate in favor of a new one. But the removal of an incumbent should be due to his or her values no longer matching those of their constituents, not simply because someone thinks it’s time for a fresh face. A fresh face alone could mean disaster for the people in the long run.

Casting a vote against Feingold, Baldwin, or any other incumbent in office right now isn’t wrong. It’s something that I myself disagree strongly with – but if you have a compelling reason to vote for someone else, that’s your American right to do so. Basing that vote on the mere fact that you dislike career politicians, however, contradicts the true meaning of representative democracy: that the right person is representing the true interests of the people whom they are meant to represent.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Democrats trying to appear more Christian than Republicans...a dangerous precedent?

The Democratic Party is becoming more and more religious this election year, using the irreligious (and un-Christian) actions of some in the GOP as reason why voters should select certain Democratic candidates.

To be sure, it isn't ALL Democrats who are doing this. But in two specific races, Democratic resources are being used to make sure the public sees the Republicans as anti-Christian.

In Delaware, Christine O'Donnell is having a difficult time during a year when most TEA Party candidates have been seeing more success with their polling numbers. Her difficulties are due in large part to videos released by comedian Bill Maher, who had O'Donnell on as a regular on his TV show "Politically Incorrect" in the 1990s. In one video O'Donnell states that she chose not to become a Hare Krishna because she couldn't handle being a vegetarian; in another, she admits that she once "dabbled" in witchcraft.

Rand Paul, the libertarian-leaning Republican candidate for Senator in Kentucky, is also facing the religious wrath of his Democratic opponent, who this week released a political ad questioning Paul's religious beliefs.

To be sure, the exploits and histories of both these candidates ought to be explored as deeply as possible. That O'Donnell chose Christianity on the basis of whether she could eat meat or not brings into question her character and ability to make rational decisions (most religious choices are made based on deeper convictions than food preferences). And that Paul allegedly forced a woman to worship "his God" called "Aqua Buddha" should make us question his integrity as a person, much less a political leader for the state of Kentucky.

But the charges against these candidates often relate to their "Christian-ness" more than their integrity. I've heard several progressive radio hosts in the last week alone belittle O'Donnell for her past rather than showing any respect for her doing something that most liberals would celebrate -- exploring a variety of beliefs and then choosing the best fit based on your experiences. Paul's lacking of a Christian belief structure -- a charge which Paul denies -- would also be something of little concern were he a Democratic candidate. It's his ideas that matter most, not whether he believes in a specific people's ideas of what God is like.

To be sure, I do view both candidates' religious experiences to be deeply troubling -- but not in the context of their not being Christian enough. We laugh when we hear about O'Donnell once being a witch, for example, but were she able to bring about a reasoned proposal to eliminate unemployment in our country, I wouldn't care whether she was, or even still is, a witch or not.

We twinge and criticize Republicans for using religious beliefs as wedge issues. We shouldn't be doing the same ourselves -- there are plenty of policy positions and backwards ideological stances available to debate TEA Party candidates on. We needn't be hypocrites -- after all, if Democratic candidates cannot defeat these extremist TEA Party candidates on issues and ideologies alone, then they don't deserve to be elected in the first place.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Please consider donating to Russ Feingold's campaign

What follows is more than an endorsement: it's a call to action.

In 2006, Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold was contemplating something deep. Something that most people don't think about when they go to sleep at night. He was considering answering a call that not too many people consider, and only a select few have answered successfully.

Russ was considering a run for President of the United States.

Ultimately, Russ never answered that call. Service to the people of Wisconsin was more important than running a dark-horse campaign. "I never got to that point where I'd rather be running around the country, running for president, than being a senator from Wisconsin," he said, adding, "this effort would dismantle both my professional life (in the Senate) and my personal life. I'm very happy right now."

And that's who Russ Feingold is -- a dedicated public servant, who has ALWAYS thought of his constituents first. Not even the temptation of the presidency could prevent him from honorably serving the people of Wisconsin.

This year, Russ is in the political battle of his life. Facing a candidate with an unlimited campaign war chest, as well as an energized opposition versus an apathetic general public (that has ordinarily supported him), Feingold finds himself behind millionaire Ron Johnson in a race that may define the attitude of the country.

The validity of the polls comes into question: Rasmussen, a conservative-biased polling agency, has done the bulk of them, drawing into question just how real the divide is in the state. And an internal poll from the Feingold campaign shows a dead heat in terms of who is ahead.

Still, Feingold is facing an uphill battle. Even if the internal poll is the correct one to take into account, sitting on the sidelines this year just isn't going to cut it.

It's not enough to vote anymore these days -- if you want to elect a true hero to the Senate, you can't win it without campaign dollars. And while I don't ordinarily believe in doing this, the reelection of Sen. Feingold is just too important to not help out.

Please, PLEASE consider donating to the Feingold campaign. You can go to my personal donation page here: Even a donation of $50, $20, even $5 can help. Then spread the word: get another friend to donate, or better yet convince a friend to vote (early or on election day).

Both Wisconsin and the country-at-large need this man in office. Don't let corporate interests win this one -- vote for the guy who's on your side. Vote Russ Feingold.

Thank you.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Keeping Kleefisch from debate unhealthy for democracy

Know much about Rebecca Kleefisch? You're not alone. The Republican nominee for lieutenant governor is relatively unknown through much of the state, save for Milwaukee where she once worked as a news anchor for that broadcasting area. Other than that, Kleefisch is a stranger, and even more unknown are her policy positions.

You would think that the Walker-Kleefisch campaign would want to expose her ideals and vision for the state a little more. But the campaign is purposely keeping her from engaging in any debate with her Democratic counterpart, Tom Nelson.

Why is that? Kleefisch has been described by many as being very similar ideologically to Sarah Palin. If voters in the state make that connection, it's likely that the Walker-Kleefisch campaign would lose some points among some independents and moderates in Wisconsin.

Kleefisch describes herself as 100 percent pro-life -- even in cases of rape or incest -- and anti-gay rights. But on other issues, it's entirely impossible to discern her views. At her personal campaign website, clicking on "Issues" will only reroute you to Scott Walker's campaign page.

But what stances we do see Kleefisch making, earlier during her primary campaign, are astonishing. Kleefisch believes that one of the qualifications for governor ought to be that he be a Christian man. Those are her words, not mine -- "My qualifications for governor are a Christian man." No need for that separation of church and state thing -- it's outdated anyway.

That the Walker-Kleefisch campaign wants to hide the second half of their ticket is quite intriguing. They know that Kleefisch's views might strike a chord with many moderate voters, and most mainstream Wisconsinites. Running on those views may sink their campaign in no time.

So the best solution? Make something it's the other guys' faults! The Walker-Kleefisch campaign has said that they wouldn't allow Tom Nelson the opportunity to debate Kleefisch because of the ads the Democrats have been running against the GOP campaign:

According to the campaign, the reason why Kleefisch won't debate Nelson is because..."Nelson and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Barrett are only interested in running away from their records and using false television ads to distort the record of Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Walker."

That statement is subjective and depends upon how you look at each advertisement. But even if it were factual, wouldn't it make more sense for Kleefisch to embarrass Nelson by confronting him about it in, say...a debate? Wouldn't it behoove Kleefisch to set the record straight in as many public settings as she possibly could, including debates with Nelson? And why, if the Walker-Kleefisch campaign is so adamant against keeping their lieutenant governor nominee from debates, is Walker himself debating Barrett?

Keeping Kleefisch from debating isn't something the GOP is doing on principle -- it's a deliberate move that's meant to keep the extreme conservative from gaining notoriety among the public. Keeping one-half of a gubernatorial ticket from the public's eye is a form of stealth politics, of keeping the people purposely ignorant on who could become Wisconsin's next governor, should Walker be unable to serve his term out if elected.

The people of Wisconsin deserve to hear from the people they're planning to vote for. That's why Rebecca Kleefisch ought to come out from the shadows and show Wisconsin who she truly is -- though it's understandable why Scott Walker doesn't want that to happen.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Do rights of the Westboro Baptist Church circumvent the rights of the grieving?

The Supreme Court last week heard arguments regarding the First Amendment rights of the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC). The group is notorious for going to soldiers' funerals and holding protests near their proceedings, holding signs with hateful words such as "God Hates Fags" and "Thank God for Dead Soldiers."

The WBC believes that God is punishing soldiers and Americans overall because of the nation's tolerance for homosexuality, abortion, and other hot-button issues. Every death caused, the group warns, is simply God showing he is angry with our ways.

The WBC is taking advantage of a Constitutional amendment that was designed to protect many forms of speech, but specifically political speech. The WBC is free to make their own speech as well. But critics wonder whether the right to invade a semi-private venue to express that speech -- such as a funeral -- is itself protected.

We see it all the time, actually: permits are required to hold a rally in downtown Madison, for example. Both major political parties have, in the past, set up "free speech zones" in order to cordon off dissent at their respective conventions. Would it be wrong to prohibit hateful speech at or around a person's funeral? It seems like, compared to the other methods of suppressing speech mentioned, the suppression of speech that causes emotional distress at a family funeral would be more just, if anything.

Think about it: if during a eulogy, a person out of the crowd started screaming obscenities, it wouldn't be wrong to remove that person -- they are disturbing the peace, disturbing the often-times religious ceremony of the family that is trying to say goodbye to a loved one. Why aren't the religious rights of these families of military men and women being considered?

The Constitution is clear on the rights of the WBC -- they're entitled to speak their minds and to promote their message. But doing so during a ceremony honoring a departed family member surely violates the rights of that family, to some extent religious rights and to another extent "unspoken" rights that are rarely articulated.

The Constitution, in fact, discusses such rights, through the Ninth Amendment, which states that the people retain certain privileges even if they aren't codified through law:

"The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."

Certainly a case can be made that a father has a right to say goodbye to his son without interference from hate groups that consider his son's death something worth celebrating.

In this particular case, we might not see such an outcome: Al Snyder didn't actually see the protesters until he turned on his television set, and wasn't bothered directly at his son's funeral itself. But the Supreme Court ought to consider the rights of others who weren't so fortunate, who had to endure hate-mongers that were within screaming distance of their children's funeral services.

As far as rights not necessarily expressed, one I can support (and that I believe most everyone can as well) is the right to hold a ceremony honoring a family member without purposeful interference from outside individuals. States should be granted the power to uphold that right through legislation prohibiting protests at funerals. The WBC still can voice their opinion, but their right to do so at such an event, especially those honoring soldiers who died defending this country, ought to be restricted.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Rest in Piece, Dan Johnson

An old high school classmate of mine died recently while serving his country. I just wanted to say a few words on this. I don't purport to know him well or to say that we were the best of friends...but Dan Johnson was a part of my life, however brief that time we knew each other was, and it wouldn't be right to let this moment go by without saying a few things that need to be said.

Dan Johnson was a remarkable person. I will always remember these things about him: He was always genuine, most always happy, smiling and cracking jokes, and loved by most everyone that was lucky enough to have him in their lives.

Dan was involved in the detonation of bombs and other explosives, and his work in both Iraq and Afghanistan saved countless lives of many soldiers in the line of duty.

Dan will be missed by friends and family alike. I will personally always remember the goofball that always seemed to have a smile on his face. Hero, friend, all-around great guy. There is no doubt, he will be missed.

RIP, Dan Johnson.

NBC Chicago
Wisconsin State Journal

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Adventures in Early Voting

On Tuesday, October 5th, I did something that a lot of people reading this won't do until four weeks from now. I voted in the 2010 midterm elections.

Many wait until the first Tuesday in November to fulfill this civic duty, but while the idea of long lines (for both registration and voting itself), possible voter caging making your trip longer, and a crowded area meant to hold about half the capacity it eventually will may SEEM appealing to some, voting early allows a person the ease of no lines, no wait, and the ability to leave Election Day free to do other things.

It's kind of like filing your taxes before April 15. Most people do that -- why shouldn't we vote early too?

I arrived at 210 Martin Luther King Jr Blvd. around 11:50 Tuesday morning, having just left work for lunch about twenty minutes earlier. The City-County Building was relatively empty, save for the busy souls who are employed there, and I had no trouble looking up the elections room -- 103, right on the first floor, and as it was, right in front of me. Of course.

I entered a larger room with about four or five administrators inside, and one other person trying to vote that day. The older woman had come to fill out her registration information as well. Since I had voted in the primary earlier this fall, I was already registered, which meant I could skip to the actual act of voting right away. To learn how you can register before voting, click here, although you can do so when you vote, either early or on election day (again, taking less time if you choose to vote early).

A thirty- to forty-something man helped me with my ballot, though I was already familiar with the voting procedures before that time. Vote for one candidate per office, or check off the party you prefer the most if you want to do a "straight-ballot" vote. (Though I did vote for every candidate belonging to a particular party -- and if you're a regular reader, you should know which party that is -- I never choose that straight-ballot option. Call it makes more sense to support each person individually, at least to me.)

After I was finished and had reviewed my votes, I folded up the ballot and palced it in the envelope, sealing it with the envelope sealer on the man's desk. "I don't want to spread my cold anymore than I already have," I joked. Nobody laughed, just nervous looks.

By this point, apparently unknown to me, the number in the room had swelled -- to a staggering four people! I signed the envelope in the man's presence (the signature required a witness), and he assured me that my vote would be counted. "We'll send it to your polling place on November 2nd," he said.

In the end, the entire process took about 10 minutes, five of which were spent trying to find the room that was right in front of me the whole time. It could have taken longer had I needed to register to vote, but having had the experience of registering on primary election day earlier this fall, I know that it would have only taken five minutes tops to do so. (Requirements to register are here.)

Many people want to vote on Election Day because it's a familiar ritual that has been respected for many generations. I still remember standing in the voting booth with my parents when they "pulled the lever" -- a voting process that is unfamiliar to many now. It's a nostalgic feeling of worth, of performing your patriotic duty the same day as millions of other Americans.

But there's also a sense of pride in voting early. There's more than a feeling of "worth" involved -- there's a feeling of being one of the first to express your views, one of the first to help decide how our country will be run in the next couple of years.

Voting early is convenient (do it any day between now and Election Day), fast (hardly any lines), and ultimately helpful to others (it eases the work of election workers on Election Day, and lessens the line congestion for those who do vote on that day).

Make a difference this year, and vote. But make things a lot easier on yourself, too, by voting early. Your mind will be at ease knowing that you won't have to deal with traffic congestion and long lines at the polling places on Election Day.

In Madison, you can vote at the City-County Building at 210 Martin Luther King Blvd. near the Capitol building. For all other areas, you can vote early at your municipal clerk's office. A list of those places can be found here.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Who's worse for Wisconsin? Walker or Johnson? (PART II)

In my previous post, I asked a very important question, one that’s on the mind of many citizens in our state: who would be worse for Wisconsin, an incompetent leader or an ignorant one? In other words, who is a bigger threat to our state: Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Walker or Republican senatorial candidate Ron Johnson?