Saturday, July 30, 2011

Taxes explained -- "effective" tax rates create different picture

"Tax brackets" don't indicate true level of taxation on Americans

One of my favorite articles on the subject of effective tax rates -- the rates people actually pay on ALL taxes, not just income taxes -- is by Ezra Klein, a columnist with the Washington Post. Written in April 2010, the article is a little dated but still provides a clear picture of just what we're arguing about when we talk about raising taxes on the top 1 percent. We'll come back to that in a minute though.

First, a little background. People argue that the rich don't deserve a tax hike because they already have a tax rate of 35 percent, well above other rates available. Firstly, that tax rate is a bit deceiving -- only the richest of the rich actually pay that amount. The tax system is designed so that you are taxed a certain amount of dollars for the income you earn, and THEN all income earned after a certain amount is taxed at your respective rate. For instance, a person earning $300,000 isn't taxed at 33 percent (their supposed tax bracket), but rather 28 percent. See the brackets below for how that's computed:
Individual tax brackets for 2010
10% on income between $0 and $8,375
15% on the income between $8,375 and $34,000; plus $837.50
25% on the income between $34,000 and $82,400; plus $4,681.25
28% on the income between $82,400 and $171,850; plus $16,781.25
33% on the income between $171,850 and $373,650; plus $41,827.25
35% on the income over $373,650; plus $108,421.25
The tax rates don't represent the rates you pay if you're within a certain bracket, but rather what rate of tax you pay after a certain income is earned.

Here's another example, a more visual way of seeing how the income tax calculations are done:
400,000 - 373,650 = 26,350
26,350 x .35 = 9,222.50
9,222.50 + 108,421.25 = 117,643.75
117,643.75 / 400,000 = 0.294 or 29.4 percent
The income tax of a person earning $400,000 is 29.4 percent, much lower than the perceived 35 percent that people always cite. (The $250,000 income earners, often a point of contention for politicians, are taxed at the rate of 27 percent, not the 33 percent their bracket would suggest they be at and certainly nowhere near what millionaires would be taxed.)

Beyond that fact, however, distribution of taxes overall is significantly closer than people believe it to be. Income taxes are paid predominantly by the rich -- but the middle class and poor pay most of the payroll taxes. Since Social Security taxes are capped at $106,000 (that is, no income above that amount is taxed), those earning less than that amount pay the full tax rate, while those earning above that amount pay a significantly lower rate. For instance, a person earning $400,000 still only pays 4.2 percent (the current Social Security rate) on $106,000. So their Social Security tax rate is:
106,000 x .042 = 4,452
4,452 / 400,000 = 0.01113 or 1.113 percent
So taken together, the taxes that a person earning $400,000 per year pays is 29.4 plus 1.1, or about 30.5 percent. Again, that is almost 5 percent lower than people believe it to be (35 percent being the perceived tax rate for that income group).

Now, back to the Ezra Klein article. The argument made by many conservatives is that the rich pay all of the taxes in this country, that some people don't even pay any taxes at all. That myth is based upon the premise of income taxes, and that some people in the lower brackets are able to claim enough tax credits to offset what they owe to the government.

However, taken together, the gap between who pays taxes and who doesn't isn't as deep as you may think it is. As a proportion of the income earned, for example, the top 1 percent pays a fair share. In 2008, that group earned about 1 in every 4 dollars earned -- and similarly, they were responsible for paying about a quarter of all the taxes the U.S. took in. But that's true of nearly every income group in the country as well:

The effective tax rates reveal an even more startling picture (click the image for a larger view):

It's clear to see that the rich aren't facing as big a tax burden as conservatives portray. A large chunk of their income is going towards taxes -- but that's also true of other income levels, even those at the lowest quintiles. The top 1 percent of income earners have nearly identical effective tax rates as the next 39 percent of income earners, and the next quintile below that is barely taxed any lower. The lowest 40 percent of income earners see lower tax rates, but that's understandable seeing as they're earning less than ten percent of all income in the country.

We should keep these things in mind when we consider raising taxes on the richest Americans. They aren't paying 35 percent of all income, and raising their taxes back to pre-Bush levels won't make them pay those old "rates" either, since those rates were calculated in similar ways. Indeed, raising taxes on the wealthiest of Americans would cut the deficit by trillions of dollars in the long-run.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

500 blog posts: the challenges we still face

It's been a remarkable journey writing for this blog. Since 2009, I have posted 500 blog posts under the title of "Political Heat." It's been a pleasure doing so, and I look forward to writing another 500 -- or more.

I wanted to take the time on this occasion to say a few words about where we stand as a country, as a state, and as a people in general. We're living in some pretty exciting times, though they are very polarizing and upsetting as well. Whether you're a Republican, Democrat, liberal, conservative, independent, or anything else for that matter, one thing is for certain: people are upset with the way things are in our society.

Jobs remain a primary focus for many -- nearly 1 in 10 are without employment and are actively seeking it. In Wisconsin, we're fortunate that less are unemployed...yet it still is a significant problem, especially for parts of the state hit hardest by the economic downturn of 2008.

Economic disparity is also a significant issue. Within the last decade, after promises of "trickle down" from conservatives following the Bush tax cuts that mainly benefited the wealthy, the rest of the population is seeing hardly any benefits from those cuts. The top .01 percent of income earners took home 6 percent of all income earned in 2007, double what they took home in 2000; the top 10 percent took half the nation's income according to the same study. (Remember folks: that was in 2007, BEFORE the economic crash.)

The rest of the country, however, has shouldered the burden of this economic mess. While the top 1 percent has seen their incomes (adjusted for inflation) quadruple since 1980, the median income for Americans has actually shrank.

Our nation's deficits have taken center-stage as of late, and have really been more a primary focus for Republicans than jobs have been -- even though that party had campaigned incessantly on it to win their seats back in 2010. Still, the nation's debt is a topic that must be addressed, one that requires us to ask ourselves hard and important questions regarding our values. Do we lessen the debt by asking more of our downtrodden, of the poorest and less-to-do Americans? Do we ask the rich to make a sacrifice of their own, to pay more in taxes? Do we do a combination of the two? The current crisis in Washington centers around this debate. For what it's worth, the American public has already weighed in on the topic, determining that they want the rich and corporate elite to do their part in helping the nation at-large.

Social issues remain a challenge as well. As the country shifts towards one of acceptance, the fight for same-sex marriage will heat up in the coming years. States like New York, which recently legalized the practice, will face stark opposition from conservative forces within their boundaries. States like Wisconsin will face a tougher challenge: with a constitutional amendment preventing any form of recognition, and a State Supreme Court unwilling to recognize that that amendment was passed in an improper way, it will take nothing short of another constitutional amendment to rectify the matter -- a process that can take years (and two legislative terms at minimum) to carry out.

Racial issues continue to plague our nation. Specifically in Wisconsin, a voter ID bill passed that, immediately upon Gov. Walker's signature, disenfranchised thousands of Latinos and African Americans who lack a photo identification card (it also disenfranchised thousands of elderly, too). With the closure of several DMV's across the state -- not to mention the fact that a quarter of DMV's are only open one day out of the month -- access to obtaining an ID may hinder the voting process.

But as we look forward to these issues and others, we must always remember: we are equals, we are entitled to our opinions, and we are allowed to be passionate over them -- but we must never assume that our opinion alone is the sole one to take, and that any other is unworthy of debate. Some conservatives irk me to no end -- but they have a right to display their beliefs, to organize and to vote for whatever candidates they wish to field. The same holds true of the opposite: MOST conservatives would probably find my opinions to be the wrong ones to implement, but MOST of them would probably also support my right to hold them. It's the extremists on both sides, who have made debate (and more importantly compromise) impossible to carry out, that we have to concern ourselves with.

What matters most is the recognition that we are all equals in the debate, that we hold equal sway in the exchange of ideas. When we start to demonize each other, when we start to think of conservatives or liberals as "them" or "other," we start to lose focus on the foundations of our country. We weren't designed to be a single-party nation (we weren't designed to have parties at all); we were designed to incorporate, allow, and foster a multitude of ideas for the betterment of our country.

I say a lot of things about conservatives on this blog. But I've never said that conservatism needs to be banished. And I never will. In this spirit, I hope you'll read the next 500 blog posts I make with this thought in mind: we may argue, we may fight, we may even become visibly upset with one another -- but we are all one people, no matter what differences we may hold. As long as we respect each other, respect democratic rights that protect these rights for us, our nation will flourish for generations to come.

Glenn Beck compares shooting victims to Hitler Youth

Beck's comments suggest shooting massacre in Norway are dismissible

I didn't have a chance to respond to this story earlier in the week, but I think it's important to get it out there still. The actions of people like Glenn Beck, who believe in their ideals so passionately, need to be addressed, condemned by as many people as possible as just plain wrong, detrimental even to our society.

Glenn Beck recently made a statement on his radio program regarding the bombing in Oslo and the shootings at a youth camp in Norway. What he said actually says so many things in just three short sentences, especially when you dig deeper into the mechanics of his statement:
[The camp] sounds a little like, you know, the Hitler Youth or whatever. Who does a camp for kids that's all about politics? Disturbing.
Let's examine this closer.

Beck is saying that the camp itself is absurd, comparing it to the Hitler Youth camps of Nazi Germany. Political organizations for the young, however, aren't uncommon -- indeed, just last month Scott Walker's own son was elected Governor at Badger Boys State. Beck's 9-12 organization has sponsored several political youth groups as well.

So it's Beck doing what he does best: acting in a hypocritical way. But what's most disturbing of all is Beck's total disregard for what prompted his statement in the first place.

These kids were SHOT AT, some of them KILLED, by a radical conservative lunatic with a vendetta against liberalism. Beck's statement, in ignoring that key point and jumping to criticism of the camp itself, says a lot more about his character than he's probably trying to reveal.

At one level, he's simply overlooking a terrible act so that he can talk about something else -- "this bad thing happened, but isn't this aspect of it weird?" If he can shift focus away from the murderous rampage, then he can point out the absurdity (in his own mind) of a camp for young progressives.

But on a more disturbing level, Beck's criticism suggests that the acts of the gunman are wholly dismissible, perhaps even justifiable, because, after all, these kids were just like the Hitler Youth (which, of course, is utterly untrue). In Beck's own mind, the true crime here wasn't the shooter's actions but rather that Labour Party kids were at a camp that promoted their progressive ideals.

Beck's lows have always been remarkable. But this is low even for him -- or perhaps indicative of just how awful a person he really is.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Another poll: Americans want reasoned approaches to solving deficit

Most support raising taxes on rich, oppose cuts to Medicare

The Washington Post performed a poll recently that asked respondents how they thought we should go about fixing the deficit our country is currently facing. Not surprisingly, most Americans support fixes that call for a sacrifice from everyone, not just the working and middle classes.

Some highlights from that poll:
  • Only a quarter of Americans feel we should cut Medicaid spending, while more than 7-in-10 oppose such a measure.

  • The numbers flip when people are asked about raising taxes on those earning more than $250,000 per year: 72 percent support such a plan while 27 percent oppose it. Even more remarkable than that, more than 55 percent said they "strongly" support such a move, while only 17 percent were "strongly" opposed to it.

  • To fix the Social Security situation, two-thirds of Americans support "raising the amount of Social Security tax paid by people with incomes over $107 thousand a year.
So with that in mind, will the Republicans respond to the demands of Americans, raising taxes on the rich? Don't hold your breath: it seems that the Republican Party is hell-bent on holding the country's economic standing hostage in order to make drastic cuts that the people don't want.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Lacking liberals' support, Obama approval rating down

Thirteen percent of Americans feel the president isn't liberal enough, driving approval down

Recent polling for President Obama reveals that a majority of Americans disapprove of his job performance.

45 percent of Americans believe the president is doing a fine job, while 54 percent believe that the president's handling of the country has been poor.

So does this mean that Obama is set to lose his re-election bid come 2012? Don't go there yet: there's reason to be concerned, but further reading into the polling data reveals something that many news outlets forget to mention.

The poll went beyond the traditional questioning and asked further of respondents WHY they disapproved of the president's job performance. A full 38 percent of the population felt that the president was "too liberal" in his decision-making process. 13 percent believed that he "wasn't liberal enough."

Combined with the number of people who believe the president is doing just fine, the number of people who like the president's policies or believe they should be more liberal jumps to 57 percent, while again 38 percent believe he's too liberal.

With numbers like those, Obama's only true concern is growing apathy from his base. If he cannot motivate that 13 percent to come out to support him at the polling booths, then he's going to face some problems, especially if the GOP fields a moderate option for voters. The more conservative the candidate that Obama faces will be, the easier it will be for the president to win re-election; but Obama also faces a challenge of keeping his base happy with his numerous compromises he's made over the years with Republican lawmakers.

It's not an overwhelming obstacle to take on, but it's one that will be necessary if the president hopes to stay in office for another term.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

With Hansen recall win, will momentum continue for Dems?

Democrat Dave Hansen wins in landslide, defending his seat against recall challenger VanderLeest

In the first of nine recall elections the state has to experience between now and August 9, Democratic incumbent Dave Hansen has defeated Republican challenger David VanderLeest. At this time, with 76 percent of the precincts reported, it seems Hansen has walloped VanderLeest by a margin of 2-to-1.

With Hansen's victory comes less pressure for Democrats overall to win every single recall contest out there. Those that are challenging Republican incumbents in recalls will need to flip at most five of the six Republican seats in order to take back the State Senate. That number could decrease again to four or three, depending on whether other Democratic incumbent senators are able to defend their own seats in the remaining two elections set up against Sens. Bob Wirch and Jim Holperin.

Of course, Democrats will still try to defend every seat they already have and gain as many of the six seats they are challenging. Still, every victory by Democrats takes them one step closer towards flipping the Senate, allowing a check on Gov. Scott Walker's boldly conservative agenda.

Will the momentum continue? It'd be nice of me to say to you tonight that, yes, Democrats will take this victory and run with it in all eight of the remaining contests. But the facts are that each race is uniquely different -- Hansen's challenger in this race wasn't exactly the most stellar of opponents, for instance, while other races are much closer.

Momentum for Democrats is certainly gaining (as is the case of Democratic recall candidate Sandy Pasch, who is now running even with Republican incumbent Alberta Darling), but the certainty of whether Hansen's victory tonight is indicative of the state overall is just too far unknown at this point in time. The fight will need to continue, as neither side is going to let up in light of tonight's results.

Still, tonight's victory is one worth celebrating. The count is officially 1-0 in favor of Democrats -- scratch that: it's 1-0 in favor of returning sanity to our state legislature, providing much needed balance in our government.

Herman Cain wrongly endorses restrictions of religious liberty

GOP candidate for president believes communities have right prevent religious worship

Republican Party Presidential candidate (and pizza entrepreneur) Herman Cain believes that local communities should have the right to deny religious groups (specifically Muslims) the right to build centers of worship within their limits. He is wholly, and without a doubt of any kind, wrong.

Our founding fathers believed strongly and passionately in the individual's freedom to worship any belief they deemed proper. The state's interference in such matters, even when endorsed by a democratic majority, couldn't curtail the rights of an individual to make this choice.

The right of people to peaceably assemble, too, was also deemed infallible by our founders. It was seen as tantamount to the preservation of our democratic rights, as not only a permissive act but one that was also necessary in order to foster a free exchange of ideas.

So important were these two ideals to our founders that they incorporated them together within the First Amendment to our nation's Constitution:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Regardless of anyone's personal beliefs on Islam, the right of people to practice it peaceably and to gather together as a congregation to celebrate it cannot be infringed. It's not only recognized as a legal right, but as a natural right as well.

Cain's beef with Islam likely stems from the actions of radicals within it who don't represent the religion's true beliefs. His concern with Sharia Law is also a paranoid attempt to stir up fear among the public. There isn't any chance of Sharia Law overtaking the country for the same reason that Muslims are granted the same religious rights as anyone else -- a strict respect of the separation of church and state would prevent it from ever materializing.

Herman Cain is wrong to be so restrictive on religious beliefs that don't adhere to his idea of the "mainstream," and he's wrong to believe it is indeed Constitutional to restrict a person's or group of people's rights. That he is considered a contender at all for the GOP presidential ticket is a shameful thing.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Five ideas that can help settle the nation's debt

Resolving the debt crisis needn't take away benefits to those requiring them

The current debate in Washington is centered upon ways to lower our national debt. Democrats want to raise taxes, but Republicans refuse to move forward without severe cuts to social programs designed to help the disadvantaged.

For what it's worth, I'm not an economist. I understand what people are talking about when they have these discussions, but I'm not one to sit around with a calculator by my side, endlessly figuring ways out that we can change things for the better in our country. Still, with that caveat in mind, I did want to present just a few ideas that I believe could make our country financially solvent again -- or at the very least on the path towards that goal.

1. PERMANENTLY LOWER Social Security tax rates to 4 percent, ELIMINATE the Social Security cap altogether.
As it stands right now, you only pay 6.2 percent of your Social Security taxes on the first $106,000 you earn (though that’s temporarily at 4.2 percent due to a deal struck by Obama and Republicans in late 2010). That means everyone who earns under that amount pays a full tab, but millionaires and billionaires only pay 6.2 percent on the first $100K -- everything else is tax-free as far as Social Security goes. But if you want to make sure that Social Security is solvent, if you want to make sure the program doesn’t go bankrupt in the next half-century or less, you need a way to fund it. Eliminating the cap completely would do just that.

There are some who would argue that an elimination is unfair, that millionaires and billionaires shouldn’t have to pay into a retirement program they themselves won’t be taking part in. I counter that notion with this: Social Security isn’t simply a retirement program for the poor, its an investment in our nation’s elderly. It’s a moral program set up to help those who couldn’t afford luxurious retirement plans while they worked themselves hard supporting families of their own. Eliminating the Social Security cap altogether (while making the 4 percent rate permanent) is the way to keep the program funded indefinitely while still allowing the wealthiest among us to live a luxurious lifestyle by paying four percent of their paycheck annually towards this treasured pillar of the 20th century.

2. CUT FUNDING towards defense. This seems like a terrible idea on its surface. But when you consider the fact that we spend more on military spending than the next highest 14 countries COMBINED, it’s clear to anyone that our national priorities are unaligned with what challenges our country truly faces. In 2010, the entire planet spent almost $1,600,000,000,000 in military spending -- the United States accounted for 43 percent of that total. The next highest spender, China, was responsible for only 7.3 percent, and Russia held only 3.6 percent of that total. Our nation’s defense is important, critical as any other aspect to the future of America -- but is it necessary to outspend our next highest contender by nearly six times as much?

3. PUT AN END to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The time has come for our troops to come home. The cost of human life (Americans, as well as those that reside in the countries we’re currently in) during these two wars is enough reason to put an end to the wars.

But if that’s not enough for you, consider the financial costs as well. As of right now, the two wars have cost the country more than $1.2 trillion since 2001. Iraq alone has cost us nearly $800 billion, and the cost of Afghanistan is growing too, to just under $450 billion. We should either get out of both countries altogether or present a more financially stable, internationally cooperative plan that will alleviate the costs to our nation.

4. PUT A STOP to the Bush-era Tax Cuts. Estimates for the loss in revenue for the Bush tax cuts for the rich show that more than $2.5 trillion was lost (PDF). That’s a huge chunk of change -- to put it in perspective, the plan for health care that Democrats passed during the last Congressional session was less than half that, around $1 trillion. The top 1 percent of income earners reaped nearly 40 percent of the benefits of those tax cuts, while the bottom 60 percent saw less than a quarter of the cuts (even adding the next quintile of the income-earning population does little to change things: the bottom 80 percent saw less than half of the benefits as well, while the top 20 percent saw more than 52 percent of the total benefits).

Twenty-five years ago, the top 1 percent of wage earners took in 12 percent of all income and controlled 33 percent of the nation’s wealth. Today, they earn 25 percent of all income and control 40 percent of the wealth. That income disparity is due partially (but nominally) to the Bush tax cuts -- over the past decade, the top 1 percent saw their incomes grow by 18 percent, while the middle class actually lost income. Those that will tell you that trickle-down economics work are lying to you.

5. END THE LOOPHOLES that financial giants currently take advantage of. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney recently touted the American tax rates on corporations as being the highest the industrial world has to offer. On paper, this is true: American tax rates for corporations are the highest. But when all is said and done, when these financial titans file their taxes with all of the loopholes they are offered, the effective tax rates for corporations are actually the second-lowest of all nations within the OECD. To believe that corporations have it rough in our country is a belief that is shrouded in falsehoods, an omission of information meant to delude the American public.

If we closed these loopholes, we could lower taxes on corporations and still receive more revenue. That’s a compromise that both liberals and conservatives could get behind, one that we should be giving strong consideration towards.


These ideas may not create a surplus, may not even break us even within a decade's time. But they are ideas that should be put to the test, alongside responsible spending that doesn't hurt the people of America, that doesn't burden the working class people who depend upon programs like Social Security.

This nation is a country of "do'ers," of people who have constantly strove for being the best in the world. But we're also a nation of helpers, of people that recognize we're ultimately judged on how strong the weakest members of our society are. We can help those looking for help realize the American dream while simultaneously raising the bar on ingenuity. If any country in the world can set out to prove it's possible, our nation, the United States of America, is precisely the place to do it.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

RoJo ignorant on Obamacare, civil liberties

Junior senator from Wisconsin forgets true assaults on liberties during his lifetime

Ron Johnson is a political novice, even while serving as a U.S. Senator for Wisconsin. Flashy talking points and exaggerated statements make for good campaign fodder, but it does little to solve societal ills or even accurately describe supposed "problems" within our country.
RoJo was recently on Bloomberg's "Political Capital with Al Hunt," a program that focuses on the federal government. Anyone who has followed Johnson knows the senator loves to say "Obamacare" is the single greatest assault on Americans' freedom in his lifetime. It is a Johnson classic; his "Stairway to Heaven."

For the record, in the senator's lifetime, America has endured segregation, the Cold War and the threat of terrorism (Emphasis added). That fact was not lost on Hunt, who pressed Johnson about his oft-repeated refrain and asked him specifically about the threat of communism.

"I wasn't threatened under communism," Johnson countered.

"You weren't threatened by terrorism?" Hunt asked.

RoJo paused, then said, "I'm talking about things that are imposed on me by this, by our government in America."
So Johnson believes that the health care package passed by Democrats in the previous Congressional term is worse than any other assault on people's liberties in the history of the United States.

Even throwing out the caveat that outside threats "don't count" -- a condition he conveniently adds only when confronted by it -- Johnson ignores (as was pointed out) Jim Crow laws, which undoubtedly restrained people's lives in much more direct ways than any health care law ever possibly could. It's troubling that one-half of our representation in the U.S. Senate disregards such a terribly dark chapter in our nation's past, all in order to make a great talking point.

In fact, Johnson has rarely stated, if ever at all, how this law is a restriction of liberties. For our own fun, let's run down the list of liberties that aren't affected by this new law...

* Speech
* Gun ownership
* Religion
* Assembly
* Warrantless arrests
* The right to vote
* Habeas corpus

Even property rights aren't affected by the health care law. Johnson and millionaires like him are free to pursue more capital, more income, without interference from the state. The health care law does nothing to limit that, and Johnson would be hard-pressed to provide evidence to the contrary.

Again, if Johnson wants to make statements that appear flashy and hit the gut of the American consumer, he's free to do so. But saying that Obamacare is an assault on Americans' freedoms is flagrantly untrue. The people who support Ron Johnson should consider just where his intentions lie, why it is he's so opposed to the new health care law. It surely isn't because of any assault on personal liberties.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A quick question on the rush to redistricting

GOP should consider stalling redistricting process

  • Following the election of now-Gov. Scott Walker, then-Gov. Jim Doyle put on hold the plans to begin a high-speed rail project between Madison and Milwaukee, as well as plans to repair the rail line between Chicago and Milwaukee. Doyle cited Walker's plans to halt the project once he became governor as reason to stop before his own term expired, even though it went against his own preferences.
  • In December before the new legislative term was set to begin, two Democratic legislators halted a vote that would extend the contracts of state government workers. Citing that "one of the worst things you can do is poke a sharp stick in the eye of a new employer," then-Sen. Majority Leader Russ Decker, a Democrat, voted against the bill (alongside fellow Democrat Jeff Plale and the entire Republican Senate caucus) because he felt union contracts would be best negotiated with the new governor rather than rushing it through the last weeks of a lame duck session.
Fast forward to the present: Gov. Walker and his legislative Republican majorities are set to vote on state redistricting plans, rushing them through passage, before a set of recall elections could potentially change party control within the state Senate (thus making it impossible to pass any more of their "ambitious" agenda). Whether or not the recall elections will be successful is unknown at this point -- Republicans could continue to hold majorities in both houses following the elections.

Still, this question requires serious consideration: should Republicans pay Democrats the same courtesy, respecting the eventual outcomes of the recall elections rather than rushing through legislation that the people themselves may not support? It would seem to be the proper thing to do. Then again, being "proper" seems to be the antithesis of the Republican Party these days.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Recall primaries serve political purpose for GOP

Delay tactic by Republicans posing as Democrats allow GOP agenda to carry on

Recall primary elections for the Democratic Party are being held today...but in my opinion, they are a total sham.

Don't take this the wrong way...I love democracy. Any opportunity to vote should be taken, should be granted for the people to help determine who they want to legislate on their behalf. And if I lived in a district where such Democratic primaries were taking place, I'd proudly cast my vote today for someone like Sandy Pasch or Jessica King.

The reason for the recalls is evident: Republican legislators are taking our state in a direction not appreciated by their constituents. The reason behind the primary elections for Democrats, however, is what makes today a sham.

Republicans posing as Democrats forced these elections being held today. They are unnecessary and serve just one purpose: to grant Republicans facing the threat of removal more time to carry out their agenda in Madison.

Indeed, Republicans are planning to pass sweeping changes to the state's legislative districts before the general recall elections, changes that could preserve their seats within the state legislature itself come 2012.

If not for the need for these primaries -- again, prompted because Republicans-in-Democrats' clothing forced them to occur -- the general elections would be held today rather than August 9. The Senate could have changed hands, and this egregious redistricting plan could have been prevented, could have been replaced by a compromise plan developed by the Republican-led Assembly and what may have been a Democratic-led Senate.

I encourage everyone to go out today to vote, if you're in a district that has a Democratic recall primary or another important election going on. But aside from the special election in the 48th Assembly district, today's elections will be somewhat bittersweet to me. In the end, these recall primaries serve no purpose except a political one, were only necessary to stall a process Republican legislators wanted to stretch to the fullest extent possible.

That's not democracy; that's dastardly politics, the kind the people of Wisconsin don't appreciate, nor deserve from their leaders.

Helping a friend with a rare opportunity

Local Madisonian has chance to work with Bear (Double Rainbow guy)

A friend of mine who I worked with (canvassing various neighborhoods throughout Wisconsin, promoting progressive causes) has accepted an internship with Bear, better known as the Double Rainbow guy. During her internship, she will be learning techniques in farming, including managing chickens, fruit plants, and legal marijuana, as well as learning how to use social media to its fullest extent, video blogging her exploits alongside Bear during the duration of her time there.

But Lisa Erin Brown needs a little bit of help as well. The internship will provide for her lodging and other forms of hospitality, but it cannot pay for her transportation. So to help get her out there, Lisa has set up a donations page via PayPal. You can find that page here.

Here is a video of Lisa that explains more about her opportunity:

And here is a link to the blog she manages: Escaping Fate

This would be a great opportunity for Lisa, who since her arrival to Madison just this year has become an integral part of the progressive scene in the area. She protested inside the Capitol over several nights; she's worked against Scott Walker's budget, going door-to-door in several communities within Wisconsin; she did the same thing in support of Democratic recall candidate Fred Clark; and she's continued to be a vocal presence within the Capitol, standing up for what she believes in, letting our state representatives know that real people are affected by the bills passed in this legislative session.

So if you can, be sure to help Lisa out. She's someone who is truly deserving of this internship.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Bachmann, Santorum sign marriage pledge, disregard history of slavery

Pledge asserted slave families better-off than present-day African-Americans

Two Republican presidential contenders are heeding some warranted criticism after recently signing a marriage pledge.

Michele Bachmann from Minnesota and Rick Santorum from Pennsylvania both signed "The Marriage Vow - A Declaration of Dependence upon Marriage and Family." The vow encourages candidates who have signed it to "defend" marriage (in a conservative view), supporting among other things the overall aim to dismantle the same-sex marriage movement.

There's no surprise that both Bachmann and Santorum were fast to sign the pledge -- both have been steadfast opponents of same-sex marriage for quite some time. But controversy beyond their stances seeped into this whole event when, apparently unbeknownst to the pledge signers themselves, the vow included commentary on slavery.

One line in the preamble of the pledge stated quite unequivocally that:
Slavery had a disastrous impact on African-American families, yet sadly a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African-American baby born after the election of the USA's first African-American President.
That line, however, is completely untrue: African-American slaves in most cases weren't allowed to marry, and oftentimes were separated from their children, where both parent and child were sold at auction to the highest bidders.

It's a historical omission that is nothing short of disgusting. To forget that slaves were refused the right to marry, much less the right to keep their families intact, in a pledge that is about preservation of families is a disgraceful action. It's disrespectful that the clause was even fathomed as legitimate enough to have been considered placed within the pledge; that it passed the supposedly scrupulous hands of several members within the organization sponsoring it is even more disheartening, maddening even.

The organization itself, the Family Leader, has since apologized for the inclusion of the monstrous statement in its pledge. But the candidates themselves have sullied their names in signing it. It was there, plain to see without any obstruction.

Having signed the original pledge, Bachmann and Santorum put themselves in a terrible position. Either they weren't thinking and just decided to sign any pledge that included barring rights to gay and lesbian couples, or they read the troubling clause and figured it must have been true, glossing over a disgraceful piece of our nation's history with rose-colored glasses they seemingly don't mind wearing. In both cases, it's troubling that these two contenders for the presidency are actually being given serious consideration by conservatives within the Republican Party.

Bachmann and Santorum ought to do one thing truly beneficial for the future of our country, to the future of their own party even -- they ought to totally remove themselves from politics altogether.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Republican leaders release redistricting maps

Potential for gerrymandering, lawsuits seen as inevitable

Republicans in the state legislature have released the redistricting maps that will redraw the legislative boundaries within the state.

The process, which is performed every 10 years in accordance to both U.S. and State Constitutional mandates, oftentimes benefits the party that gets to draw the maps. Gerrymandering, the art of politically drawing legislative districts in favor of your party, is likely to become a topic of great discussion within the next couple of weeks, perhaps entering the every-day vernacular of Wisconsinites across the Badger State.

It will be interesting to see what will come out of these maps. Northern Wisconsin and Milwaukee both lost a number of residents since 2000, but the Fox Valley and Dane County also saw gains. (Fun fact: The state as a whole grew by 320,000)

It's my hope that the maps will be drawn fairly and proportionally, not in a way that could benefit either party. But with the Republican leadership we've seen thus far in 2011, it wouldn't be surprising to see another political battle brew up over the entire process. In fact, for many it's expected.

Sen. Majority leader Scott Fitzgerald (R) isn't holding his breath either. Aware of the historic arguments created both within the state and nationally, Fitzgerald has already predicted that Democrats will likely sue over the proposed maps:
"Most of the times the courts have drawn the maps," Jeff Fitzgerald told the State Journal last month. "I'm sure (Democrats will) sue on this."
That in itself says a lot about how Fitzgerald feels things will go down. Rather than having confidence in the maps he has prepared, Fitzgerald is certain that they will be seen negatively by the opposition.

Which means the maps weren't drawn with Democrats in mind.

Which means they'll be great for Republicans.

Like I said before, I'm hoping I'm wrong on this. But "hope" doesn't change the fact that we have one divisive legislative body right now, due in large part to the leadership of the Fitzgerald brothers. It wouldn't surprise me any to see one helluva politically-drawn map. What would surprise me at this point would be seeing something done fairly and accurately, benefiting the people of this state rather than Republicans and their special interests.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Independence Day

Independence Day -- a day of celebration, of remembrance, of reflection and patriotism. A day when we recognize the birth of America, the foundations of our country and the beliefs that our founding fathers held when they determined that tyrannical rule would no longer be acceptable on this continent.

But what does that mean exactly? They’re pretty words -- they conjure up emotions of pride for many. Yet, to two different people (or 300 million) they can mean totally different things.

“Patriotism” to one person can mean something completely different to another. One person may view patriotism as an unyielding respect for the nation you reside in; another may see it as reason why you must never yield complete respect, must always strive for improvement within your homeland. This wide range of definitions, derived just from a single word, is why the Fourth of July is perhaps more meaningful than any one ideology can come up with.

For it isn’t the definition of Independence Day that matters most: the day is more symbolic than that, more uniting than any political belief can be. It means the same to a Democrat that it does to a Republican, is important to both liberals and conservatives.

We may be divisive a good portion of our political lives. We may disagree on most everything that comes our way. But for this one day, this recognition of the American idea of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness -- even if that means totally different things to different people -- that's what this day stands for. We’re one people even when we’re not; E Pluribus Unum, out of many we are one.

On this Independence Day, we should keep that in mind, use it to further our nation, our state, our communities forward. It has been through that sentiment that our nation has lasted for over 230 years. And it’s through that sentiment our nation, our people, will continue to persist.