Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Al Franken becomes Senator Al Franken

Former Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) has conceded to Democratic challenger and former SNL comedian Al Franken, finally giving up a lengthy legal battle challenging the validity of a recount that Franken had (legally) brought up in the aftermath of the election nearly eight months ago. The concession came following a ruling from the Minnesota Supreme Court, which ruled in Franken's favor over Coleman's legal qualms.

With the victory, Democrats now control a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, though some of those Democrats are still conservative-leaning, Blue Dog Dems that favor a moderate fiscal policy. Still, it's all the more easier to pass important legislation now that Franken is the Senator from Minnesota.

US Troops out of Iraqi cities

Iraqi security forces took control of their own cities today as American military personnel left in what many are calling a major move in the six-plus year campaign to secure Iraq.

Many critics of the move -- among them former Vice President Dick Cheney -- maintain that the insurgency that plagued American soldiers in the months following the takeover of Iraq will return as we remove our troops from the beleaguered nation. But most Iraqis have celebrated the move, even as a car bomb killed dozens today and injured scores more.

While violence may spike up here and there during the transition, it is no longer the responsibility of the United States to curtail that violence. The Iraqi people need to become responsible for their own safety and security, and are in fact able to do that. Even George W. Bush said that, when Iraqis stand up we should begin to step aside and allow them to control their own lives. We should keep that promise to them, and remove our troops as they become more able to defend their own country.
Norm Coleman concedes to Al Franken, giving Democrats a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. More tonight...

Monday, June 29, 2009

White Firefighters win SCOTUS Appeal

he Supreme Court released its decision today regarding the so-called "reverse discrimination" case involving white firefighters from New Haven, Connecticut.

In a 5-4 decision, the Court overturned an appeals court ruling that allowed the city to toss the results of a promotions exam due to fears of litigation stemming from an overwhelmingly low number of minority applicants qualifying for the promotion. Justice Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion, stated that, "Fear of litigation alone cannot justify an employer's reliance on race to the detriment of individuals who passed the examinations and qualified for promotions."

The case was controversial on its own merits; affirmative action cases always are. But the case had additional drama added to it since Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor was part of the appellate court that had made the original decision to allow the city to toss out the exam results. Because of this, she is now susceptible to conservative criticism of her not being "in tune" with the Court's ideological beliefs (even though the person she would be replacing voted against the majority), and privy to claims of racial prejudices.

But the question before the Court wasn't whether affirmative action should continue or even if the practice was legitimate. The question was whether the city of New Haven had the right to scrap its tests in order to avoid a lawsuit. Sotomayor argued that they had that right; the Supreme Court rejected that argument, but only by a slimmest of majorities. It wasn't an outright 9-0 vote; it was 5-4 against the opinion that Sotomayor had joined in the appellate court.

I support the Supreme Court's decision in a constricted sense: the city of New Haven probably shouldn't have tossed out the exam results unless they could find factual reason to believe it was racially biased. But there is an argument to make for the opposing view; cities should have the right to defend themselves, too, if they believe they are vulnerable to claims of racial biases. This matter should be examined on a case-by-case basis. And while I agree with the ruling in this specific case, I don't necessarily agree with the precedent this case presents.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Sotomayor, Obama and Dems favored by public

More than six in ten Americans support confirming Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, according to a new Washington Post and ABC News poll. That's the highest rating a nominee has received since Clarence Thomas.

But Republicans remain skeptical -- only 36 percent want to see her confirmed.

What should be more troubling to Republicans, however, is the view Americans have on Roe v. Wade. According to the poll, six in ten once again would like to see Sotomayor uphold the landmark case that preserved the right for women to choose whether or not they should have an abortion. Among Republicans in the poll, men opposed such an idea, but women were split, with half believing that the precedent should stand.

Also from the poll, a majority of Americans approve of Barack Obama's job performance (65 percent), with the president receiving positive reviews in his handling of the economy (56 percent), health care (53 percent), and international affairs (a whopping 61 percent). Democrats in general received a 53 percent approval rating.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Music Video of the Week: Townes Van Zandt

Since I don't post too regularly on the weekends, it would seem only fair of me to leave you with some entertainment. So, each week I will leave a music video for you to watch, a song of inspiration or a song I just happen to have in my head that day. This week: Townes Van Zandt.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Strip Searches

The Supreme Court ruled today that strip searches for middle and high school students were unconstitutional if conducted without reasonable cause.

At age 13, Savana Redding was suspected of having prescription strength ibuprofen at Safford Middle School in Arizona. When school authorities searched her personal belongings and found nothing there, they demanded that she strip to her underwear.

The high Court heard the case, and determined (in an 8-1 ruling) that such searches were unreasonable. Typically, schools need only "reasonable suspicion" -- that is, just a slight belief without even much cause usually needed for non-school situations -- to search a student's belongings. But the Court has changed that rule, stating that, in situations like Redding's, a strip search was an excessive one, unreasonable even for the "reasonable suspicion"

This ruling is a just one; such a search is unreasonable and unnecessarily places the student in an embarrassing situation. If school administration cannot find drugs on a student by eye-contact and through searching their belongings, they shouldn't force the student to strip naked in order to discover they were probably wrong all along.

Gay exorcism?

A video posted on YouTube recently depicts a gay exorcism. A teenage boy is held up in the air, placed on the ground, surrounded by parishioners, who shout, "Rip it from his throat!," and, "It's in his stomach!" while attempting to remove the "gayness" from him. It ends with the young man vomiting.

It's troubling that, in a society as advanced as ours is today, people still look at homosexuality as a disease, as something that needs to be cured of. Whatever your religious beliefs are -- you can believe it's a sin, it's wrong, or whatever -- it's disturbing that people still believe it's unnatural, it's an illness, and so forth. It's equally disturbing how far people will take their beliefs; this video is one example of that. At some point, I imagine, God wants us to accept the logical, the reasonable things in this world. We cannot rely on blind faith for every situation -- sometimes we have to use the judgment God has given us.

Sanford should Resign

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, who, this week, admitted to an ongoing affair and went missing for several days while visiting his mistress in Buenos Aires, Argentina, should resign from his post as governor.

But not because of the affair.

Politicians have had affairs for decades, centuries even, without it interfering with their jobs. We may not like their actions, but if they're able to perform their duties properly while still carrying on the affair, we should not demand a resignation; we should wait until the following election, and see then if we want new leadership, either in the primary challenges they may face or in the general election.

But when that politician comes who is unable to perform his duties DUE to the affair in question, then that politician becomes a liability. In this instance, Gov. Sanford's actions warrant resignation on his behalf.

Sanford left the country for several days to be with this woman. He left without anyone knowing where he was. What if his state had faced a cataclysmic event? How would he have been able to lead? He'd have to come home, for sure, but without anyone to contact him, how would he even know? And would he be able to come home in time to make a difference?

These are all questions that matter. Sanford's actions are shameful for sure: he had an affair during father's day weekend, of all things. But his actions as governor are also shameful: he left his state without a governor to lead it. If Sanford wants to take special trips to meet with this woman, he should consider if it's viable to remain governor, for the people of South Carolina's sake.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

GOP grabbing straws on Sotomayor

Several GOP Senators are causing a stir on Capitol Hill over Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. Most recently, these Republicans have questioned whether Sotomayor would uphold the Constitution in her rulings.

It's a silly question to even ask -- Sotomayor has years of experience as a federal judge, and you'd think that, if her decisions were a legitimate concern, something would have been done by now to remedy that (such as impeachment of a judge who is ruling outside the law).

If you're still not convinced, however, take a look at her record: not only does she have the years of experience a Supreme Court Justice needs, but her decisions have been consistently upheld (the Supreme Court has only heard five cases of hers of the 232 she has authored an opinion on, overturning only 3 of those heard).

It isn't right that these attacks are being made on Sotomayor. The Republicans need to do some actual research instead of carrying out baseless attacks upon her.

English-Only "Conferenece"

"English-only" legislation is something Republicans like to promote in order to divide the electorate in their favor. It's one of those issues that will always energize close-minded people, the kind that blame the economic crisis and unemployment on immigrants (this isn't a new phenomenon; such sentiments have been a fixture of our nation ever since immigrants began coming to our country).

But when ultra-conservative Pat Buchanan suggests, along with other conservative voices, that Republicans should actively support such legislation in order to regain seats in Congress, it may help to have mastered the language yourself.

While criticizing Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, Buchanan and other panelists suggested that Obama would force Americans to speak Spanish if English were not the official language -- all the while standing underneath a sign that read, "2009 National Conferenece."

Scare tactics won't help the conservative cause; and apparently, neither will spell check.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Dem's in Congress: Do something on Health Care already!

The health care crisis in this country is a monumental catastrophe: we spend more money on health care than any other nation, and yet tens of millions of us can't get basic coverage, while millions more are denied coverage because of "pre-existing" conditions.

72 percent of Americans support a public health insurance option. With numbers like that, you'd think that Democrats in Congress would get the idea.

But timid, moderate Democrats remain skeptical, and are still pushing for a compromise between them and uncompromising Republicans.

This raises two questions for these "Blue Dog" Democrats: first, after an election where Dem's won an overwhelming majority of seats in Congress (as well as the presidency itself) in large part due to public support for health care reform, does it make much sense to back down from a public option now? And second: after failing to see Republicans cooperate -- both presently and in the past -- on health care reform, why should we expect anything from them now?

With 59 (soon to be 60) seats in the Senate and 257 seats in the House -- not to mention a president just itching to sign reform into law -- Democrats need not worry about what the Republicans think. If anything, passing such reform will strengthen the Democratic Party's image, not weaken it, as millions of Americans will suddenly be able to afford medical coverage without fear of being denied coverage due to pre-existing conditions.

But this will only happen if the Democrats in Congress grow a spine.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Democracy isn't easy

Democracy never comes easy. Throughout history, it has been earned, through tears and bloodshed. With the U.S., it came through years of revolution (and even then, countless more years until some were truly free). In Britain, it was centuries of civil strife that brought about an eventual democracy. In India, it took radical ideas like passive resistance to gain democratic rights and freedom -- but just because the people refused to use violence as a means to an end doesn't mean bloodshed wasn't spilled in the process.

I write this tonight because Iran is facing a crossroads. In a month's time, a week's time, perhaps even tomorrow, the people of that nation will have to decide: is democracy worth the bloodshed they have already seen, worth the bloodshed they are yet to see?

It's a dark question to have to ask. If given the choice, even some American citizens would opt out of democratic rights if it meant they're lives would be secure. No one wants to die for these rights; it is why we revere our fighting men and women, both past and present; for they are the ones ensuring our rights remain intact. We liberals often scoff at such comments made by conservatives, but it is true: without that security, the rights we have wouldn't come so easily to us.

Iranians are living proof of that tonight. The rights they are seeking are only going to be won through resistance to the Ayatollah, through showing him and other leaders of Iran that the people won't take having their rights stripped from them so easily.

Such action won't be easy to perform. The people have already seen death in their streets, bloodshed over the democratic rights that they seek.

There is something positive out of all of this though: despite the bloodshed, despite the repeated warnings by the Iranian powers-that-be, the people have not given up. They continue to march, to protest, to risk their lives for the rights they so desperately crave.

There's something inspiring in that.


Previously, I had written that the conservative politicians who were upset with Obama's cool attitude towards Iran -- his concern without condemnation -- was wrong. Tonight, I believe that Obama should make that condemnation after all. This is not a retraction; as I had written two nights ago, the situation warranted that American influence not affect the decision by the Supreme Leader of Iran to call the election fraudulent or fair. Since that time, the Ayatollah has called the election fair, and has threatened violence against his people.

That being the case, a condemning of Iranian leaders is very much warranted; and Obama has provided that condemning earlier this weekend. He should be commended for doing so.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Music Video of the Week: Tom Petty

A new segment that I hope you'll check back for each week. Since I don't post too regularly on the weekends, it would seem only fair of me to leave you with some entertainment. So, each week I will leave a music video for you to watch, a song of inspiration or a song I just happen to have in my head that day. This week, however, I picked a song that I listened to while canvassing during the election. Here it is: Mr. Tom Petty.

10-year old hunters

Would you trust a ten year old to hold onto your cell phone for you all day? How about your iPod? Even under complete supervision, many parents would probably squirm at the thought of ten year olds holding their most precious forms of technology.

It's not because they don't trust kids at this age; it's because they understand that children at age ten are more susceptible to be clumsy, to have a small attention span, and are more likely to be jumping around when they should be responsible while holding on to these fragile items.

But what if they were holding a weapon? Would you trust a ten year old, even with supervision, with a gun?

The Wisconsin State Legislature has approved a bill to allow ten year olds the chance to hunt with "mentors," who must be 18 years or older and stay an arms length distance between their counterpart at all times while hunting. The two must only have one weapon between them, as well.

While it's commendable that the state legislature wants to preserve the hunting culture in the state, it's naive to believe that such rules would be followed during hunting season -- just ask any parent if they want to stay an arm's length distance of their prepubescent child for an entire weekend. Chances are, these rules are going to be broken. Parents will let their kids wander off, multiple weapons will be present, and so forth.

The worst part of this legislation? Ten year olds won't have to take a safety class in order to take part. Perfect -- ten year old kids going on hunting trips without knowing how to properly put the safety on the gun. Anyone else see a problem here?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Conservatives Blast Obama's Iran Reaction

Much criticism has been made as of late regarding President Obama's attitude towards the democratic crisis in Iran. Many conservative commentators have stated that Obama needs to have a more active role in the whole situation, and decry the election that took place as fraudulent.

But would Obama calling out the election for what it was really benefit U.S. interests? Surely, we should promote fair elections whenever we can, and Obama should continue monitoring the fallout in Iran. But there is a case to be made that calling out Iran and meddling in its affairs TOO much could cause more harm than good.

Suppose Obama calls current Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad a liar and a cheat -- two things that, it's pretty clear by now, the Iranian leader is. Ahmadinejad can then use those statements to rile up anti-American sentiment, gaining more favor with Ayatollah Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran who strongly opposes western influence of any kind. Such a move by Obama, then, could have disastrous results (and I'll bet just as much criticism).

I suspect, however, that this concern from conservatives is amplified by their overall distaste for all things Barack Obama. It seems that, ever since he took office, the right has used every excuse possible to harangue his administration.

Even someone not too familiar with politics could understand the rationale for backing off Iran temporarily; why can't the right?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

In Defense of Liberalism: Progressive Taxation

***Every week, I will post a segment called "In Defense of Liberalism." I will look at several topics that usually get a bad reputation, as being too "liberal" -- the way conservatives use the word as synonymous as "bad." I will instead show how the topic is good for America, and how liberalism overall is a good thing.***

Progressive Taxation
Nobody likes paying taxes. That's why the IRS and taxes in general typically receive a bad reputation in our country.

But at the same time, few would argue that a system that gets rid of taxes completely would work out. We need taxes, not only for social welfare programs but also for infrastructure, defense and other items essential to the survival of our nation.

How we derive these funds, then, becomes the central debate. Traditionally, conservatives have preferred a "flat" tax, or one that taxes everyone at the same rate; in some conservative circles, they have also advocated a national sales tax to replace the entirety of income taxes.

But such taxes sometimes do more harm than good. Sales taxes, for example, shift the burden of taxation to the poor, who pay a higher rate on taxes than the rich would. Consider the following scenario...

Say two persons, Person A and Person B, are both buying new cars. Person A has an income of $30,000 a year, and Person B has one of $300,000. Let's assume there's a national sales tax of 20 percent (very close to what some conservatives are advocating).

Person A has found a car for $8,000, used but in fairly good shape. Their taxes are 8,000 x .20, which equals $1,600. Person B is able to buy a more luxurious car, and purchases one at $30,000. Their taxes, then, are 30,000 x .20, equaling $6,000.

Even though Person B is paying more than three times as much in taxes overall, Person B is paying less than Person A in taxes as a percent of their income. Person A is paying $1,600 in taxes from $30,000 in income; that equals 5.33 percent of their paychecks. Person B, meanwhile, pays $6,000 of their income from $300,000 of their income; only 2 percent of their income.

Proponents of the sales tax plan cite the fact that the rich buy more expensive items, and therefore shrink the "tax-gap." Buy my example clearly shows that isn't the case; even when buying more expensive items, Person B ended up paying less in taxes than Person A.

When it comes to a flat income tax, however, we're faced with a problem of practicality rather than equality. If we're going to tax everyone equally, then it means the rich and the poor have the same tax rate.

But this creates problems. We'd like to fund many programs to help the people of America -- ranging from health care projects to building interstate highways, and providing a proper defense of our nation. But to do so, we have to be able to generate enough revenue to pay for it.

Thus, we'd like to be able to tax quite a bit from the rich; but doing so comes at the expense of the poor, who would not be able to afford such a tax burden. Taxing the poor at a low rate, however, means that we also would tax the rich at such a rate, creating a potential bankruptcy of our nation's economy.

It makes much more sense, then, to tax the rich at a higher rate than the poor, and to create tiers between the two to tax different income levels as people are more able to pay. Through a progressive model of taxation, the rich are taxed at a level that still allows them to live a fairly luxurious lifestyle while the poor are taxed at a low enough level to allow them to survive. The government, in turn, benefits because it receives the proper funds necessary to run programs, pave roads, pay civil employees, and defend our borders.

Critics of progressive taxation contend that it's socialism in disguise, with extreme critics sounding the alarms of communism. To some extent, they're right, but only in the sense that any form of taxation deviates from true capitalism, into a sort of capitalist-socialist hybrid. What matters is whether capitalism remains preserved, for the most part. This system of taxation, after all, DEPENDS upon the power of capitalism in order to function; destroying that form of economics would have no benefits towards utilizing its gains.

The debate may wage on over how much taxes the rich should pay, but this fact remains: a progressive model of taxation is the only good model available to us at the moment, even if it isn't the most "fairest." All other forms of taxation unfairly hurt the poor (either directly by taxing them more, or indirectly by gutting government assistance programs). And while a progressive tax may seem unfair to those with higher wages, it doesn't do any irrevocable harm, causes no lifestyle changes, to those paying more.

Obama to grant benefits to gay employees

Barack Obama is set to announce that the benefits given to federal employees and their significant others will be extended to same-sex employees as well. Though in reaction to recent criticism to his inaction in repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the move is a substantial step in the right direction for the gay marriage movement.

But more should be done, argue critics, who believe the administration is not acting swiftly enough in opening the doors for gay and lesbian couples.

I happen to agree with that sentiment; more should be done to give all homosexual couples, not just those who work for the federal government, the right to wed one another. Having said that, I also feel that the movement is overlooking the significance of this move; not only are benefits being granted to gay and lesbian couples within the federal government, but this action also gives the movement new leverage in what the gay marriage debate is really about.

For too long, the argument on the right has been that gay marriage redefines the institution of marriage itself. This would be true if we were to mandate every church accept gay and lesbian couples -- but that's not the case. The debate isn't about the religious institution of marriage, but rather the federal recognition of gay and lesbian couples as married in a legal sense. Obama's move doesn't create marriage for federal employees, but it grants these employees to have the benefits a married couple would have as a federal employee.

There are over 1,000 federal benefits given to "married" couples that gay and lesbian couples can never have unless drastic changes occur. Is that fair? Not at all. There is no non-religious justification to keep gays from marrying; and when the right attempts to create arguments that aren't religious, they fail miserably, creating justifications that would also limit marriage for straight couples as well ("Marriage is for procreation" is one such argument).

It's time we stop this form of discrimination and begin giving rights to gay and lesbian couples. It's the only fair thing to do.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Palin accepts apology, uses it to political advantage

After comedian David Letterman issued an apology to the Palin family for a joke he made at their daughter's expense, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin issued this response:
Of course it's accepted on behalf of young women, like my daughters, who hope men who 'joke' about public displays of sexual exploitation of girls will soon evolve. Letterman certainly has the right to 'joke' about whatever he wants to, and thankfully we have the right to express our reaction. This is all thanks to our U.S. Military women and men putting their lives on the line for us to secure America's Right to Free Speech - in this case, may that right be used to promote equality and respect.
It doesn't get much more heartfelt politically advantageous than that.

It's clear that Palin is using the situation to her political advantage. When your response to an apology like Letterman's is more than, "Yes, I accept his apology," and instead includes topics ranging from feminism to free speech, and ends with a line about our troops, you start to wonder: what is this REALLY about?

It's a political trifecta -- make it seem like you are an expert on feminist issues, rights to speech, and support the troops, and maybe the people's hearts will go out to you. Most of the time, however, the average person will see right through you.

Not so with the "Palinistas," who, despite Letterman's apology, continued to protest the comedian in New York City, though it was a small protest at only a few dozen protesters.

Wear green for Iran

Wear green sometime this week for Iranian democracy.

The elections in Iran were stolen when current president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won in a landslide despite all indications the race was a closer one between him and oppositional reform candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi.

In fact, looking at the previous election results (also between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi), Mousavi defeated Ahmadinejad in his (Mousavi's) home districts. But this time around, Ahmadinejad won by unbelievable margins, an impressive showing that raises serious doubts about the election's validity.

Clearly there is something wrong here. And everyday Iranians aren't taking it too lightly.

Show your support for democracy. Wear green sometime soon.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Letterman to apologize

Late night comedian David Letterman is taking heat for a joke he made at the expense of the Palin family, namely Gov. Sarah Palin's daughter, Bristol, who Letterman inferred got knocked up during a Yankee's baseball game by one of the players.

The joke was in bad taste, to be sure, but some took greater offense to it seeing as Palin's eldest daughter wasn't in attendance, but that her 14-year old daughter was.

It's pretty clear that Letterman was trying to have some fun at the Palin's expense. He wasn't intending to say that the 14-year old daughter would get knocked up, but rather the 18-year old one who is already famous for having a pregnancy (Bristol).

Tonight, Dave is said to be extending an official apology to the family. It's good that he does, but such jokes at the expense of politicians' children are not rare. Take John McCain's joke, for example, at the Clinton family's expense:
Why is Chelsea Clinton so ugly? Because her father is Janet Reno.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

State Democrats select youngest chair in nation

Wisconsin Democrats selected Mike Tate, who just turned 30, to be the chairman of the Party in the state. But don't let his age fool you: Tate is a brilliant strategist, utilizing the internet for grassroots campaigning long before the Obama campaign, as well as working with strong Democratic leaders such as Jim Doyle, Russ Feingold and Howard Dean. He also led Fair Wisconsin during its campaign to defeat the gay marriage referendum in 2006.

Though it wasn't a direct relationship, I've crossed paths with Tate on two separate occasions: first, in 2007 during the Democratic Leadership Institute, a weekend designed specifically for training young Democrats how to work in campaign settings; and second, during such a campaign setting in the 2008 presidential election for Advancing Wisconsin.

Despite his young age -- something I'm sure Republicans are going to criticize -- Tate represents the new generation of Democrats who were so instrumental in the election of Barack Obama and other Democrats nationally. The Party is sure to prosper during his reign as Chair.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Holocaust Museum Reaction (a bit of a rant)

I've refrained from writing on the Holocaust Museum shooting because, when I had tried writing earlier, I couldn't form a coherent thought on the subject. I'm frustrated with these extreme conservative acts of violence -- they need to stop.

I don't fault the ideology itself; I want to make that clear. It would be stupid to say that conservatism is responsible for the insane actions of a few die-hard psychopaths who feel that they're righteous in their actions, that they're doing humanity a favor by committing these acts of violence, of murdering their fellow man. The policies that conservatives espouse are nowhere near what those extremists believe.

I just wish I could say the same of some conservative commentators, whose vile rhetoric sometimes mirrors that of the extremists who are perpetrating these acts of terror. I worry, because I know for a fact that these extremists listen to and base their beliefs around the words of these hate-filled commentators.

I know this because I once came face to face with a potential extremist.

OK, I may be exaggerating a bit. But the situation is enough to strike fear into anyone who is confronted with it. While canvassing for a non-profit advocacy group last fall, working to get Barack Obama and other progressives elected, I met a vast amount of people whom I wouldn't label as "pleasant." They'd debate me, slam the door on me, or tell me to get off their lawn that minute. None of them, however, scared me as much as the man I met on the east side of Madison.

This homeowner told me he was an undecided voter; but when I went about trying to see how he felt about Obama, he let me know for sure how he felt about the man who was yet to become our next president.

He quoted FOX News commentators directly, stating that Obama's ties to ACORN and alleged terrorist William Ayers were despicable. I proceeded to go into my talking points (which I wrote myself), presenting him with facts that these allegations were wrong or greatly exaggerated. He then told me he'd never vote for a Muslim, or anyone who couldn't provide a proper birth certificate; when I refuted those claims, he instead directed his hostilities toward liberals in general, and we debated for a few minutes about the "facts" he tried to present to me ("liberals are nothing more than communists," is what I remember).

Then, he said the words that still send chills down my spine:

"Maybe I ought to bring out my shotgun, and remind this country what a real assassination looks like."

At that point I excused myself and walked away. I wasn't trained to deal with a response like that. I had been trained to debate policy, not the merits of assassination of a presidential candidate.

Since that time, there have been countless acts of aggression perpetrated by extreme conservatives. Most have ended in deaths for innocent, law-abiding citizens.

It sickens me, then, when I hear more vile from the conservative commentators these extremists admire and emulate. We continue to hear extreme rhetoric about the president -- he's a Muslim (said with an air of degradation), he's a socialist, he's a reverse racist. We hear the same about liberalism in general as well -- it's an ideology full of godless, moral-less, communists who want to control your lives.

Say what you will about the merits or problems with liberalism -- your views are yours to make. But having views that match the hateful rhetoric these commentators spew is one of the most disgraceful and cowardly acts you can commit.

These views are derived out of fear -- an unwarranted one that assumes liberals are enemies of the state. This fear, then is used to motivate those who oppose liberalism beyond a healthy level; anything that can be used against a liberal is then used. Obama's grandfather or father was a Muslim? Well, so is Obama, then! And remember this: Muslims attacked us on September 11!

Is Obama, then, complicit in the attacks? Of course not, and the commentators know this. But in order to feed the fear to their viewers, these commentators leave it at that, expanding on nothing more than Obama is a Muslim, and Muslims are trying to kill us.

Of course, these allegations misinform to the umpteenth degree: Islam isn't really a violent faith, and Obama isn't really a Muslim anyway. But the assertions strike fear in the extremists. In a way, these commentators want to strike fear, to get their enemies -- liberals -- out of office. They don't actually want violence -- they want conservative rule.

The byproduct, however, is this: a couple dead cops in Pittsburgh; a dead woman's health care provider in Wichita; a dead Unitarian church-goer in Knoxville, Tennessee; and now, a dead guard in Washington D.C. This violence will continue, I fear, so long as the nasty, hate-filled rhetoric of extreme conservative commentators fill the airwaves. It's time that we say "enough."

I'm not advocating restricting free speech. What I wouldn't mind seeing, however, is a boycott of these shows. Conversely, with radio, a massive call-in by liberals to shows like Rush or Hannity -- thereby plugging up the phone lines so that they'd HAVE to listen to us -- might be useful as well. Maybe then we can send a message to these voices of extreme conservatism. Maybe then meaningful debate -- not a shouting match -- can begin.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Bush 41: Lay off Sotomayor

I'll bet Rush goes after him next:
"And she was called by somebody a racist once. That's not right. I mean that's not fair. It doesn't help the process. You're out there name-calling."
The former president is calling for a fair hearing for Sotomayor. It's commendable that, out of all the negative attention Republicans have been giving her, a former leader can say kind words about her and lead by example. But, who will follow? That remains to be seen.

Rushing Sotomayor

Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation hearings are set to being July 13, leaving many Republican Senators upset. They charge that Democrat's are trying to rush the process, attempting to confirm the nominee fast so that any past discrepancies won't matter afterward.

But, as Rachel Maddow pointed out the other night, this time frame is on par for a nominee to be confirmed. As a matter of fact, Obama has said that he wanted Sotomayor confirmed by the summer recess on August 7 -- 73 days after he nominated her, which is roughly the average time frame for the current nine justices on the Court.

So why are Republicans having a hissy fit about this? Simple: they want more time to dig up her record, in hopes of finding something damaging about her past. Not that they haven't already called her a reverse racist enough. Somehow, that "game" hasn't played well with the American public: 48 percent of Americans have a favorable view of her.

Republicans on Republicans: We don't like ourselves

A new poll recently conducted among Republicans and person who identify themselves as leaning towards the Republican Party shows that members of the GOP don't think too highly of themselves.

Nearly one-third of all self-identifying Republicans have a negative view of the party, which could be attributed to the fact that nearly half of all Republicans can't really tell you who leads the party.

Some conservative lawmakers still contend, however, that they will make inroads in 2010. That's still a long way to go; anything is possible. But if these poll numbers hold true until then, it'll be an uphill climb for Republicans.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Column for Dane101: Pharmacists should do their jobs

I write a column for a local blog called Dane101, which focuses on issues pertaining to Dane County, Wisconsin. I will be posting my columns periodically on this blog as well, but do check out their site too. It's chock-full of goodies for Dane County residents. Pharmacists should do their jobs

On the 44th anniversary of Griswold v. Connecticut, the landmark Supreme Court case that granted women privacy rights with regard to contraceptive devices, Pro-Life Wisconsin held a series of special protests across the state in favor of pharmacists that refused to dispense contraceptive medication due to religious convictions.

While you’d think that the right-to-life movement would support birth control methods as a means to prevent unwanted pregnancies (thus reducing abortion in the country), you’d be wrong; any sexual behavior, in their view, should only be had with the intention of conceiving children. Such a viewpoint disregards basic rights one has over their own body, and favors a system of government where the state can interfere with what goes on in the privacy of one’s bedroom.

It’s through such thinking that pharmacists argue they have a religious right to deny a person contraceptive devices. Most notably, pharmacists in Wisconsin and abroad have begun to deny women Plan B, the so-called “morning after” pill, which prevents sperm from fertilizing a female egg but does not terminate an already-fertilized one. Such emergency contraception is especially valuable to victims of rape or incest, who fear the possibility of having a child as a result of their personal traumas.

While the debate is controversial, one may find themselves laboring pretty hard to choose a side on this issue. On the one hand, a woman’s right to determine when to have a pregnancy should be respected; on the other hand, religious beliefs ought to be respected as well. We don’t want to force pharmacists to perform an action contrary to their religious convictions; but we also don’t want those convictions forced upon women who may have differing beliefs. Put another way, this debate is a battle, for some, over which of the two rights is more absolute.

In this instance, however, it would appear that the woman’s right overrules the pharmacist’s. His or her job is to dispense drugs prescribed to patients, not to play God over a person’s life. It’s the definition of their occupation – after all, pharmacies don’t employ Christian Scientists, who believe in the power of prayer over medicine, do they? Doing so is not only detrimental to the patient, but also bad for business!

We’ve also got to consider which right, if violated, would be more detrimental to either party. The pharmacist may be outraged by their having to fill the prescription out, but ultimately it’s the woman seeking her medication, especially if it’s emergency contraception, who would be more wronged by being forced to have a pregnancy she didn’t want to have.

Thus, a woman’s right to prevent a pregnancy outweighs a pharmacist’s right to deny her medication on religious grounds. At the very least, a pharmacist with strong, religious convictions should be required to direct a woman seeking such medication to another pharmacist willing to fill it; it would be understandable, however, if we required more from them, and mandated that pharmacists fill out every prescription that comes to them. After all, we expect them to perform that task for other medications; why shouldn’t we expect it for ALL medications?

Monday, June 8, 2009

Tiller Killer: There's more of us out there

Scott Roeder, the right wing extremist/terrorist who shot down abortion doctor George Tiller a little more than a week ago (while in church, mind you), called the Associated Press today from his jail cell and told them that he knew of "similar events planned around the country as long as abortion remains legal." When asked to elaborate, he would not.

Yet, back in April, such thoughts were "outrageous" and whoever drafted such a report deserved to be "fired," according to Newt Gingrich.

A report on left-wing activities was also released by the Department of Homeland Security, but no one seemed to care that the agency was balancing it's ideological threats. The fact was, conservatives hated being told there were conservative terrorists, and thus found whatever way they could to deride the report.

Except now we're seeing examples of conservative extremism in everyday life. Gun nuts who fear Obama is going to take their guns killing cops; anti-abortion zealots killing women's health practitioners; and anti-liberal whackos breaking into churches to shoot up a couple people. Think the conservatives that decried this report will have anything to say about it, will say anything about the Roeder claim? I doubt it.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Right view WI: Chavez says it, so it must be true!

The people over at Right View Wisconsin are complaining once again about President Barack Obama. This time, they're concerned with what the dictator Hugo Chavez is saying about the president.

Chavez recently jested that Obama had moved more to the left than he or Fidel Castro.

What's interesting is two things: number one, while under the leadership of President Bush, our standing in the world didn't seem to matter much to these writers on the right; if a world leader was critical of his policies, it didn't matter because what he was doing was in America's best interests. Suddenly, it matters a lot to them, enough to warrant concern when a world leader makes a joke at our expense. And a joke about socialism is a joke that conservatives don't take lightly.

The second thing that's interesting is that, in the grand scheme of the American private sector, the percentage of private industry that we have nationalized under Obama is minimal; in fact, it's less than a quarter of a single percentage point. Check out this graph from the Atlantic magazine's blog:

What socialism looks like:

What's clear is that, under Obama, the percentage that we've become socialist -- that is, the percentage of the economy we have nationalized -- is minimal. Only .21% of the economy has been "taken over" by "Comrade" Obama; and while the right will deride any change of industry, we should take a moment to slow down and truly examine just how "horrible" things have gotten under a president whose ultimate aim is to PRESERVE capitalism, much like FDR did during the Great Depression.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Obama in M.E. part II: conservative criticism

President Barack Obama's tour of the Middle East and Europe continues to garner criticism from the fringe right, who are likening his trip to an "apology tour" for America.

While terrible and horrifying things were done under the Bush administration, Obama's tour has been anything but an apology tour. Rather, in fairly specific terms, Obama has laid out his goals and expectations for the Middle East, calling on both the Palestinians and Israel to cooperate with one another towards a common goal of peace in the region. (Following his speech, Israel lifted several checkpoints on the West Bank that restricted movement for the Palestinian people.) Obama also promoted the virtues of democracy to a region riddled with undemocratic regimes -- despite what you may have heard Elisabeth Hasselbeck and others say to the contrary.

Conservative critics of Obama have continually maintained that he is part of the "blame America first" crowd. That "crowd," in fact, doesn't actually blame America but rather the conservative policies that have ruined our image abroad. Conservatives, seeing the attacks upon their policies, have instead spun them to look like attacks on the nation itself in an effort to make liberalism look more un-American.

Debate should continue to be encouraged in this country, and conservatives have every right to argue their points when it comes to foreign policy. But the strategy continued by some conservatives, employed primarily during the Bush years but carried over to the present, is detrimental to the debate; it shifts focus away from repairing America's image in favor of tarnishing their opponents' names for political gain. In the end, that is more un-American than anything those conservatives are complaining about.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Tank Man: Tiananmen Square

Let us never forget...

Recruiter killing just as bad

I should have written this earlier, but time constraints prevented me from commenting on it. I already wrote on Dr. George Tiller's death at the hands of a conservative extremist...but equally worthy of mention is the death of William Long this past week, a military recruiter who died at the hands of Abdulhakim Muhammad, who attacked Long and his recruiting partner Quinton Ezeagwula (who suffered injuries as well). Muhammad attacked the two because of past abuse done to Muslims captured by the U.S. military.

As was the case with Tiller, Long's death is unjustifiable. Muhammad had no right to take this man's life, to engage in violent tactics to achieve his goals. Such brutality is cowardly; a person with true character engages in civil debate, protests in non-violent ways, and certainly refrains from murder as a means to their end.

Having said this, and once again mentioning how terrible both incidents were, I must mention one thought going through my mind right now: it's a bit ironic how both murderers were driven by religious convictions to do something against both of their belief structures. I'm not saying religion is to blame by any means; I'll defend the right to freely worship to my dying day. What I'm getting at is this: religious fanaticism isn't prevalent in any one religion, but is involved in many different faiths. It isn't just a Muslim thing, or a Christian thing, or any other religion's thing; it's something to be concerned of in all religious structures. Fanatics are everywhere.

We should be wary of putting too much faith in our own beliefs. Otherwise, we may be driven to do terrible things. Tolerance of others, even those we despise, can be a wonderful thing. It's part of what makes us American -- that, despite my disagreeing with you, I'll still allow you to hold your own beliefs.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Obama in the Muslim World

President Barack Obama is presently embarking on a tour of the Middle East, set to deliver his campaign-promised speech to the Muslim world tomorrow in Cairo, Egypt. He does so in hopes to normalize and better relations with a region that currently has a negative view of the United States.

Such a goal is admirable, and Obama should be commended for his ambitions. There will, of course, be criticism from the fringe right (see Milwaukee Craigslist Political forum), who will bring up his "bowing" incident once more and, in conjunction with this trip of goodwill, insist that Obama's interests lie within the Muslim world, not with America.

Such assertions are bogus, and shouldn't be taken seriously. Reaching a hand out to other nations or cultures is a sign of strength, not weakness. Anyone in charge of the world's sole superpower can flex the might of that nation's military; but such action only antagonizes those we wish to influence. It takes true character, true strength to have patience and understanding (when feasible) to engage in dialogue before resorting to arms (as a last possible solution).

Obama has that character, and deserves the respect of every decent American citizen.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Thoughts on Domestic Terrorism/Extreme Conservatism

A man is dead because he provided late-term abortions to women in Wichita, Kansas. Dr. George Tiller was killed in his church while performing his duties as an usher on May 31, murdered because of his belief that he was helping women who had no option in regards to their own health.

The abortion debate is one where, whatever opinion you have, you're pretty much going to hold it regardless of any argument you hear from anyone opposing you. I don't plan on writing anything here that has to do with why you should be pro-choice, why you should support so-called "late-term" abortions, or anything of the like.

What is of concern is the rising trend of conservative extremists taking up arms and taking the lives of law-abiding citizens -- and doing so because of political differences. Whether you're killing cops in Pittsburgh because you fear liberals are going to take your guns, or you shoot up a Unitarian church in Tennessee because of their tolerance of liberal beliefs, it's still just plain wrong.

Say what you will about those you disagree with -- at least you're still using words. Taking the lives of others because of fundamental disagreements is not only horrendous, it is cowardly. Because they couldn't form the policy they wanted through democratic means, because their beliefs weren't good enough for them to practice while others went about their own business, these extremists (terrorists, even) took the "law" (the "law" of their own ideological beliefs) into their own hands.

There was much criticism this year about a report that detailed a potential rise in violence possibly happening in response to Barack Obama's election, the Democratic takeover in Congress, and other liberal gains across the country. Conservatives derided the report as offensive, and demanded an immediate apology from Department of Homeland Security Director Janet Napolitano. But as these events transpire, it has become increasingly clear that such a scenario isn't all that improbable. We may be seeing an increase in violence from the extreme conservatives of our country in response to their frustration with liberalism.

Who is at fault here? Obviously the actions of these heinous crimes are the responsibility of those who have performed them. But partial responsibility, not of the murders but of the sentiment these criminals have, may lie with those who engage in dangerous rhetoric. Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly, and the like have all derided liberals as evil, likening them to Stalin, Hitler, communists, fascists, big-government radicals, terrorists, and so forth.

Such is their right; I'm not arguing that we should hold these commentators responsible for the rhetoric they spew, no matter how disgusting it is. However, I do hold them responsible for creating the atmosphere of frustration, the very atmosphere that has driven these extreme conservative terrorists to commit these actions. I should not live in fear because I have liberal views; I should not be worried that someone is going to act in a violent manner against me for writing what I believe in.

Tonight, that fear is inside of me, just a little bit.