Monday, October 31, 2005

Some Insight Into The Far Right

A good chunk of the "punditocracy" has had the chance to weigh in on the Alito nomination, and thus far the opinions seem to be falling on strict party lines. Conservatives are ecstatic, though they have retreated almost universally from admitting that the main reason they like Alito is he's against a woman's right to choose. The Right knows that overt antagonism towards Roe vs. Wade tends to turn-off the moderate center. Democrats are being cautious of course, mainly because, at least at the Senate level, they have no other engaged state. It's either cautiously concerned or cautiously optimistic.

So, what has Bush really wrought with the nomination of Alito? From the Alliance for Justice preliminary report:

Despite President Bush’s suggestion that he values judges who are “restrained” and understand the limited role of the courts, Judge Alito has aggressively sought to curb Congress’legislative authority to tackle issues of national importance, voting to invalidate a federal prohibition on machine gun possession and part of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. For this reason, journalist and legal scholar Jeffrey Rosen, who supported the nomination of John Roberts, asserted that Judge Alito has been a “conservative activist” whose “lack of deference to Congress is unsettling.”

As anyone who follows legal and political matters is aware, "judicial activism" is one of the favored bits of political rhetoric repeated ad nauseum by Republicans whenever the issue of judges is raised. In reality, "strict constructionist" is just conservative code for a judicial activist that will re-interpret the Constitution in such a way as to foment the type of society that conservatives believe they want. After all, there has been precious little conservative outcry over Bush vs. Gore, widely regarded as the most activist Supreme Court decision in U.S. history.

Given that Alito is a strict reconstructionist , taking a look at his judicial decision making could offer some insight into the mind set of the Far Right.

In divided decisions in the area of constitutional freedoms, Judge Alito has: twice voted in dissent to uphold intrusive police searches of women and children who were not named in search warrants and were not the subjects of any investigation. In one of the cases, which involved strip searches of a mother and daughter caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, President Bush’s Director of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff – then Judge Alito’s colleague on the Third Circuit – sharply criticized Judge Alito’s position.

The Conservative Right has long been a vocal advocate of being tough on crime, but the question remains: at what cost? Alito's decision in this case demonstrates a judicial philosophy that the right to freedom from illegal search and seizure could have almost limitless exceptions at the discretion of crime prevention. This sets a dangerous precedent, especially given the Bush Administration's view of the expanded powers of the executive to curtail citizen's rights in the interest of fighting terrorism. One would think that a stance so clearly at odds with the express language of the Constitution would stir some alarm in conservatives, but then it doesn't involve the Second Amendment so probably not.

[Alito] upheld curbs on reproductive freedom. When the Third Circuit heard Planned Parenthood of Central Pennsylvania v. Casey – the case that, in the Supreme Court’s hands, became the source of the new standard for the constitutional right to abortion – Judge Alito was the only judge who voted to allow the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to require a woman to notify her spouse before having an abortion. Although both the Third Circuit and the Supreme Court in Casey allowed new restrictions on the right to abortion, both courts rejected his position. Justice O’Connor analogized the spousal notification restriction to common law rules that subjugated wives to their husbands and banned women from the practice of law.

Clearly, Alito's stance against a woman's right to choose is practically a given; after all, he is a Bush appointee. It would be folly to expect anything else. But Alito's decision in this case was predicated on the opinion that only a small subset of women seeking abortion would witthold such information from their husbands. Such an opinion effectively relegates that small subset back into a more "traditional" role for women: that of property.

The major issue that the Roe vs. Wade decision hinges upon is a Constitutional right to privacy, with which many, if not most, conservatives do not agree. The right to contraception, as laid out in Griswold vs. Connecticut, set the precendent of said right upon which the Roe vs. Wade decision was based. A judicial stance in opposition to this implied right could foreshadow the loss of numerous womens' rights; rights which, not coincidentally, the religious social conservatives do not wish women to have, as they do not agree with their narrow interpretation of Christian scripture.

Taking these examples, along with some other notable conservative positions, such as the Gay Marriage Amendment or the Patriot Act, one thing becomes clear: the true agenda of the conservative right is to curtail the rights of the American people. What appears to be a core belief on the social conservative right is that American society has evolved in such a way that many citizens enjoy rights that the conservatives believe are just not appropriate. This over-arching theme tends to define the difference between conservatives and liberals, especially given that a majority of the rights conservatives wish to have taken away effect women and minorities. This ideological shift represents a turning away from the libertarian tradition of prior years and towards socially restrictive religious dogma.

Alito could very well be the ideological victory that social conservatives have been working towards for thirty years; a rightward shift to the Supreme Court could remove one of the key protections the American people have against legislative tyranny. A loss of rights for women, fewer protections for minorities, strongly curtailed liability for corporate malfeasance and an institutionalization of religious symbology (Christian, of course), represent only a few of the many rights that conservative Republicans wish to see thrown to the wayside. It's hard to imagine a more fundamentally un-American role for the Supreme Court than to actively work at stripping the rights from American citizens. But that could be the reality to come.

If At First You Don't Succeed...

President Bush announced this morning that his new nominee for Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court will be Judge Samuel A. Alito, Jr., currently sitting on the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals. Alito has a reputation as a staunch conservative ideologue and has been compared frequently to Justice Antonin Scalia.

It's interesting that Bush chose to go to nearly the polar opposite of Harriet Miers in his latest pick. Though he often claims to not pay attention to polls (right...), apparently he does listen quite closely to his conservative base. And this is surely their pick, if ever there was one. Alito has a long record of judicial opinions that leave little doubt as to his ideological leanings.

Of course, the biggest issue that both sides of the aisle are concerned about is Alito's stand on Roe vs. Wade. I think this is a bit of a red herring and really not that important to the upcoming debate about his nomination. ANY nominee that Bush appoints to the U.S. Supreme Court is going to at least be ideologically opposed to abortion. Alito appears to also be opposed to Roe vs. Wade as a matter of legal philosophy, as well. Certainly if "Scalito" is as ideologically matched to his namesake as we've been led to believe, then it would seem that a woman's right to choose is at least in danger of being sharply curtailed. The end of Roe vs. Wade will not be by overturning, but by a thousand little cuts at the edges, until abortion, while still legal, will be so heavily regulated as to be effectively banned.

The question for the Democrats to answer, in regard to the coming confirmation battle, is whether or not it is acceptable to filibuster a nominee for ideological reasons. I think that it is appropriate and I suspect that the Alito nomination will become the "extraordinary circumstance" that nullifies the brokered "peace" between the parties. Further, an election win does not give either party the privilege of remaking the country in their own ideological image. Just because Bush received more votes in 2004 does not mean he has the right to govern as though the 50+ million that voted against him no longer have any say in their government. The Democrats need to take a united stand against this nomination; there's plenty of ammunition in Alito's record to motivate any faction of the Left.

My last thought is that those of us on the left need to start preparing now for the reality of a Supreme Court shifted to the Right. The Alito nomination is the culmination of 30 years of strategic planning by the conservatives to re-make the United States into the country they want. There are some major issues concerning the civil rights of individuals and the role of government in our personal lives that this new cadre of strict reconstructionists will have deleterious effect upon and the Left needs to prepare now to repair the damage.

In the meantime, it will be interesting to see how events play out. My suspicion is that many conservatives will end up having some serious buyer's remorse when they see just what kind of country will be wrought from conservative ideology. No right to privacy, severely curtailed labor rights, little if any protection from corporate malfeasance, severely reduced social welfare programs (of which the ten biggest recipient states are "red" states)'ll be a very different America.

Friday, October 28, 2005

The Antagonism Between Science and Religion

The issues in conflict pile up: Where did humans come from? How was the universe created? When does individual life begin? What role does religion have in mankind's understanding of the universe? These are the questions that have piqued mankind's curiosity since the earliest days. Originally, it was faith in the mystical that informed our understanding. However, after years of studying the world around us, science, reason and logic, have become our preferred ways of tackling these fundamental quandaries.

But that may be changing. From Reuters, via RedNova News:

A bitter debate about how to teach evolution in U.S. high schools is prompting a crisis of confidence among scientists, and some senior academics warn that science itself is under assault.


"Among the most significant forces is the rising tide of anti-science sentiment that seems to have its nucleus in Washington but which extends throughout the nation," said Stanford's Philip Pizzo in a letter posted on the school Web site on October 3.

Social conservatives have made it a central part of their political policy to challenge science in the public arena. Issues such as evolution, universal genesis, global warming and stem cell research, to name a few, are seeing renewed attempts at explanation via pre-Englightenment religious ideology.

"When ideological division replaces informed exchange, dogma is the result and education suffers," [acting Cornell President Hunter Rawlings] said.

The education issue is what is key, I believe. The continued effect of the phony "Evolution vs. Intelligent Design Creationism" debate is a very visible example of the push to replace science with medieval religious literalism.

The danger from this is twofold: first, as Rawlings notes, educational standards suffer:

"When we ask people what they know about science, just under 20 percent turn out to be scientifically literate," said Jon Miller, director of the center for biomedical communication at Northwestern University.

He said science and especially mathematics were poorly taught in most U.S. schools, leading both to a shortage of good scientists and general scientific ignorance.

U.S. school students perform relatively poorly in international tests of mathematics and science. For example, in 2003 U.S. students placed 24th in an international test that measured the mathematical literacy of 15-year-olds, below many European and Asian countries.

The second danger is that it creates a situation where people become antagonistic against science and believe that it is actually a danger to cultural values:

Brown University biologist Kenneth Miller believes the rhetoric of the anti-evolution movement has had the effect of driving a wedge between a large proportion of the population who follow fundamentalist Christianity and science.

"It is alienating young people from science. It basically tells them that the scientific community is not to be trusted and you would have to abandon your principles of faith to become a scientist, which is not at all true," he said.

As I've said in several previous posts: there is nothing scientific about intelligent design. It's just the creation myth dressed up to sound pseudo-scientific, not unlike astrology or phrenology. But the new resurgence of Biblical literalism in the United States also affects other widely held scientific theories, such as Big Bang cosmology. Scientific theories like Evolution and the Big Bang are not lacking in "established facts" or "filled with gaps" as some school boards, like Dover, PA, claim. Even saying so demonstrates a fundamental ignorance of the scientific method, not to mention the theories themselves. How can any school properly teach science when the school board doesn't even understand what is being taught?

Or, more importantly, why it needs to be taught?

With many controversial issues involving particularly medical science on the horizon, such as stem cell research, human cloning and beginning- and end-of-life issues, it is now more imperative than ever that our public schools return religious ideology to its proper place.

The science classroom is not it!

A Microscopic Cog In Their Catastrophic Plan

At long the last, the wait is over, at least partially. Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald handed down his indictments today in the Valerie Plame leak case and all five fell squarely on Vice President Dick Cheney's [now former] Chief of Staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

From The Smoking Gun:

Vice President Dick Cheney's top aide was indicted today on perjury, false statement, and obstruction of justice charges in connection with a special counsel's probe into the leaking of a CIA officer's identity.


The 55-year-old Libby, a White House power and proponent of the Iraq war, allegedly committed the crimes when questioned by Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald before a federal grand jury. During two appearances under oath, Libby was questioned extensively about his contact with several reporters prior to published disclosures about Valerie Plame Wilson, the CIA operative. While not charged today, Karl Rove, President George W. Bush's chief political adviser, remains under scrutiny by Fitzgerald, who reportedly plans to continue his probe of the 2003 leak (the original grand jury panel's term expired today). Libby today resigned his White House post as a result of the criminal charges, which were handed up in U.S. District Court in Washington.

Naturally, I have some thoughts on this.

First, I have to get this out there for everyone to read: today's indictments are not about Bill Clinton. Let me repeat that, so that all the Republicans, hate-wing radio jocks (I was subjecting myself to Rush at lunchtime), media pundits and, yes, even you, Paul Begala, can hear it loud and clear: This case is not about Bill Clinton! Stop talking about him. He ceased to be President 5 years ago. He was investigated and acquitted. Let's "Move On" already.

Second: Just because Fitzgerald didn't indict for the actual crime under investigation (leaking the name of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame) does not, ipso facto, mean Libby is being wrongly persecuted. No one has ever been prosecuted under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982. Ever. Yes, there has been at least one case where someone was threatened with prosecution under the Act, but the case was pleaded out. Moreover, no one, Libby included, commits perjury and obstruction of justice for no reason whatsoever. Plame's identity was still leaked by the White House; Fitzgerald wasn't able to get enough evidence to indict for that particular crime.

Third: Patrick Fitzgerald is a registered Republican, so no complaining from the Right that this is a partisan headhunt. Further, this case and these indictments have nothing whatsoever to do with Joseph Wilson. Period.

Fourth: "Scooter" Libby did not magically get this information out of thin air and it takes an amazing leap of faith to believe that he acted completely without the knowledge of any one else at the White House. That's why the investigation into Karl Rove is continuing. Particularly Dick Cheney cannot possibly make a credible claim that Libby acted alone. Even if he could, it is long past time that this administration take some responsibility for their political appointees.

Fifth and most important: What the Bush Administration has done here is compromise our national security for political partisanship. Valerie Plame's organization was a front company working to curtail black market nuclear weapon proliferation and the Bush Administration sacrificed that organization for a political cheapshot against an honest critic. Joseph Wilson was doing his patriotic duty by publicly exposing the dishonesty of the Bush case for war and both his wife and our security paid the price for it. Bush and Cheney have made it clear that they consider neoconservative hegemony more important than the safety and security of the American people and, now, the American people know it.

This investigation is going to hang like a dead albatross around the neck of the Bush Administration for next three years. Thanks to a Supreme Court decision during the Clinton witchhunt, it is legal for Wilson and Plame to sue the President and Vice-President and I have little doubt that they will. This will serve the vital function of keeping this ongoing investigation in the public spotlight well into the 2006 election season, and probably beyond.

Even better, certain Democratic lawmakers, John Conyers for one, have already begun calling for Congressional Hearings into both this matter and the larger issue of the Bush Administration's case for war. And well they should. This is a matter of national security and the American people, the people at whose pleasure Bush and Cheney serve, deserve to know the truth of what our government has been doing.

The old saying goes that "it's never the crime, but the cover-up" that escalates these sorts of scandals, and that remains as true today as it did during the Nixon debacle.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Taking It To The People

One of the recurring themes that Republicans often speak of is the idea of taking issues to the American people that are legislatively divisive. Numerous social issues, such as abortion or gay marriage, are spoken of in this way.

Unfortunately for President Bush, recent polling data indicates that taking certain issues to the people may not be such a great idea. One of those ideas is a discussion of impeachment.

Via Joe Baker from the Rock River Times:

Fifty percent of Americans favor impeaching George W. Bush if it is proven he lied about his reasons for invading Iraq, according to a poll commissioned by, a grassroots group that wants a congressional probe of President BushÂ’s decision to invade.

The poll margin was 50 percent to 44 percent in favor of impeachment. Ipsos Public Affairs, a non-partisan polling company, sampled the opinions of 1,001 U.S. adults between Oct. 6-9 to reach its results.

Now, I don't believe for one moment that the Republican-controlled House is going to begin impeachment proceedings against their President. Plus, as much as I may hope otherwise, I don't think the Democrats can win enough seats in 2006 to make impeachment a reality. But that's really not the point.

The point is that the American people are beginning to really question the war in Iraq and what its purpose is. Many Americans, both Right and Left, were willing to let the President fudge a bit on his causus belli, in the interests of patriotism and national unity. But there comes a time when a reckoning must be made, and the American people are beginning to cope with their fear of terrorism, a fear actively cultivated by the Bush Administration, and are beginning to question our leader. And rightly we should be; it's our responsibility as Americans to hold our leadership accountable for its actions.

The justification for the war in Iraq today is generally cited by supporters as providing freedom and stability for the Iraqi people. But that wasn't the reason Bush and Powell gave originally as to why the U.S. needed to invade Iraq. It was a portrayal of Iraq as an imminent threat to the United States; a claim that waschallengedd then and turned out to be completely false. The Bush Administration was savvy enough politically to realize that the American people would never support a nation-building excursion into the Middle East; in fact, Bush campaigned against such in 2000 as a response to Clinton's intervention in the former Yugoslavia. This begs the question as to whether Bush and crew deliberately lied to the American people about his real reasons for going to war. I believe he did and further, I believe the ongoing investigation into the Plame leak and the civil suit to follow could break into a wider investigation about this duplicity.

Taking the country into a war is arguably the most serious decision a President can make. When that decision is made in bad faith with the American people, then the President must take responsibility for the lives lost. Taking the country to war under false pretense is one of the most egregious abuses of power an American President can commit and he should face the consequences of that abuse. If the false pretense was accidental, then the President is incompetent and should resign. If it's intentional, the President is a criminal and, thus, impeachment is not only feasible, it is the responsibility of the House under the Constitution. That public opinion supports this is actually irrelevant from a Constitutional perspective, but is a very ominous sign for the President none the less.

One final note: For those who may think that the impeachment of Clinton was justified but would eschew the same for Bush, I will leave you with the words of former Illinois Republican Henry Hyde, when asked if the Clinton impeachment was retaliation for Nixon:

"I can't say it wasn't, but I also thought that the Republican party should stand for something, and if we walked away from this, no matter how difficult, we could be accused of shirking our duty, our responsibility," said Hyde.

It's your duty now, Republicans, more than it ever was in 1996.

Bush Beaten By His Own Base

The news is officially out: the Harriet Miers nomination to the Supreme Court has been withdrawn. Miers has claimed in a statement that she is refusing the nomination because she's become a burden to the White House. I doubt that's true. I think it much more likely that Bush and his advisors actually made the decision and asked Miers to bow out. Oddly enough, the loudest calls for a different nominee actually came from social conservative groups, who see a Bush Supreme Court nomination as key to their goal of rolling back the Enlightenment.

Now that wingnut shills like Ann Coulter are free to resume their hero worship of Bush the Younger, it's worth looking at the political ramifications of the Miers nomination and to ponder what comes next.

First of all, Miers was most likely Pro-Life and would have voted to weaken, if not overturn, Roe vs. Wade. I believe to a certainty because she would never have gotten the endorsement of James Dobson otherwise. Plus, Democratic Senator Harry Reid is a noted Pro-Life Democrat and was an early supporter of the Miers nomination.

Any new person Bush nominates will likely hold to this position as well, though it does bear mentioning that Bush is not nearly as socially conservative as his supporters would like to believe. He's made virtually no head-way in office on any of the pet social issues on which the religious right is focused. Miers was likely Bush's nominee much more for her corporate background and role in defining executive power in the Bush Administration than for her stance against women's reproductive rights.

Second, the withdrawal of the Miers nomination is a stark example of just how lame this "lame duck" President has become. His fiscal policy has been grossly irresponsible, his domestic agenda has completely stalled for lack of support and public opinion is turning against the war in Iraq. That's why, I believe, the next nominee Bush presents will be a dyed-in-the-wool religious conservative, in an effort to make peace with that part of his conservative base.

The only problem with that strategy, is that the Democrats will have free reign to hammer down a filibuster on a nominee like that, under charges that they are "too extreme" or "out of the mainstream". This will be especially true if the nominee is either Janice Rogers Brown or Priscilla Owens, both conservative judicial activists that have already undergone strenuous confirmation battles.

The good news about the retraction of the Miers nomination is that many conservatives are no longer willing to just take Bush at his word any longer. His support of former FEMA director Michael Brown helped hasten this decline in trust, but the Miers nomination sealed the deal. Bush has made it clear that loyalty among his "inner circle" is what he most values, qualifications be damned. No longer will "I know his/her heart" pass as proof-positive that a Bush nominee is qualified to hold one of the nine most important jobs in the federal government.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

"You know, I rather like this God fellow. Very theatrical, you know. Pestilence here, a plague there. Omnipotence ... gotta get me some of that."

Ah, like an audit notification from the IRS, something wicked this way comes from the Parents Television Council. L. Brent Bozell's little cadre of angry culture warriors are back again with their annual Top Ten Best and Worst Network TV shows of the year.

From the Parents Television Council:

"We provide this analysis as a guide for parents because it's very difficult to monitor all the shows that are appropriate for family viewing and those that are not," said L. Brent Bozell, president of the PTC. "We were alarmed to find that the three worst shows on prime time broadcast television are being marketed as family-friendly when, in fact, these shows are none other than wolves in sheep's clothing."

"Families should not be deceived. The top three worst shows all contain crude and raunchy dialogue with sex-themed jokes and foul language. Even worse is the fact that Hollywood is peddling its filth to families with cartoons like The Family Guy and American Dad. These two shows have contained scenes in which characters are shown having sex and topics such as masturbation, incest, bestiality, and necrophilia are routinely discussed.

So what shows are on the bad list? The Top Three are The War At Home, The Family Guy and American Dad. Now, I've only seen The Family Guy out of those three, and it's hilarious. Note that this list only involves the six networks: ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, UPN and the WB. Otherwise, HBO would fill the entire list by themselves.

The so-called "Good List"? A morbid collection of vapidity not fit for human consumption. Well, maybe not that bad. Extreme Makeover: Home Edition is pretty good. I also like The Bernie Mac Show and, as much as I hate to admit it here, I have been known to watch Reba on occasion.

I have a number of problems with the PTC's list in general. First of all, what they're calling "family values" is really "conservative Christian social values"; a fact which they choose not to disclose in their annual ratings. Frank discussions about sex, masturbation and even pot smoking, via "bad list" nominee That 70's Show, are not bad things, even for children of certain ages. Besides, if Jesus were alive today, does Bozell really thing He would watch the vacuous American Idol? Of course not! Christ would watch Rome...

Second, it is far past time that people recognize that animation does not equal children's programming. The Family Guy and American Dad are NOT children's shows even though they are animated. Just like The Simpsons and South Park and Drawn Together...the list goes on and on. The PTC continues to peddle the idea, year after year, that just because something is animated, it must be family friendly or it's some kind of false advertising.

Finally, the PTC is blaming network television when the real problem lies with the parents. According to their research, millions of kids are watching CSI. How far out of touch do you have to be as a parent to not realize that crime dramas are not children's shows? It's not the fault of the television networks that certain parents are irresponsibly using their televisions to baby-sit their children. There are entire channels of quality educational and children's programming available; PBS, Noggin and Animal Planet are just a few. Plus, every TV manufactured today comes standard with a V-chip. No parent has any excuse to complain that their children are watching things that are inappropriate. It is the parents' fault, not the the television channels.

Advocating for censorship under the guise of protecting family interests is blatantly dishonest. The PTC is not performing any kind of useful service to anyone. It is merely acting as some kind of media nanny; chanting "naughty, naughty" at people that enjoy television they find objectionable. Well, I find The 700 Club very objectionable but I don't think any sort of "alert" needs to be rushed out with the 5 o'clock news about it. I just won't watch it.

My advice to the PTC and the parents who don't want their children watching objectionable programming: turn off the TV. Spend some time with your kids. After all, it's only TV.

Now, enough of this reading and writing. Time to watch CSI: New York...

Justice Delayed May Be Justice Restored

Occasionally, I like to point out when an elected official actually does their job well and acts in the best interests of the folks that elected them. Sadly, this is all too rare, especially on the Republican side of the aisle. But not today...

The atrocities committed by Americans upon their fellow Americans prior to and during the Civil Rights era remain a black eye on the history of our country. Fortunately, some of our elected officials have noticed and taken steps that may begin to bring some justice to those who fell victim to the hatred and prejudice permeating the country in those days.

From The Boston Globe:

A new Justice Department office would investigate and prosecute ''cold case" murders from the civil rights era, under a measure approved by the Senate yesterday. The Unsolved Crimes Section would target pre-1970 homicides motivated by racial hatred that remain unsolved, often because of lax state and federal prosecution at the time they occurred.
The bill was inspired by efforts to reopen the case of Emmett Till, a 14-year old black youth who was murdered in 1955 after being accused of whistling at a white woman in Mississippi[.]


"We want the murderers and their accomplices who are still living to know there's an entire section of the Department of Justice that is going after them," [Republican Senator and sponsor Jim] Talent said in a statement. "We need to unearth the truth and do justice, because there cannot be healing without the truth."

With an air of bi-partisanship, I say "bravo" to Missouri Senator Talent and his co-sponsor, Connecticut Democrat Christopher Dodd. Talent has the right of it, I believe. There can be no healing, no complete bridging of the racial divide until we loudly and unequivocally proclaim, as a nation, our condemnation for these heinous acts.

This is the sort of thing that government should be doing; something that improves our society as a whole. Those who were guilty of perpetrating racially-motivated crimes deserve to live the rest of their lives hounded by the law. And those whose lives and families were torn apart by the ugliness of segregation deserve to have their grievances heard.

Now, I realize that there is a political motivation behind this bill. Certainly Talent realizes that, after the Katrina aftermath and in light of Bush's 2% approval rating among African-Americans, the Republican Party needs some political initiatives to woo black voters. However, this bill is still a winner, assuming it is signed into law by George "[W.]hat's A Veto?" Bush and assuming it gets proper funding from Congress.

Justice has been denied for too long in cases like that of Emmitt Till. But every time I see Edgar Ray Killen in an orange jumpsuit, I know that justice can be restored.

Thank you, Senator Talent and Senator Dodd.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

"American Girl" Under Fire

Most are familiar by now with the "American Girl" line of products: the dolls and storybooks that are modeled after various parts of American history. Originally a Wisconsin start-up, "American Girl" is now owned by Mattel, though the products are still manufactured in Madison.

Not surprisingly, "American Girl" products have been quite popular with conservative Americans. But that could be changing. "American Girl" has recently begun offering an "I Can" bracelets promotion, which is designed to raise money for Girls, Inc., an organization dedicated to empowering and educating girls and young women. One of the areas they teach about is reproductive rights, which has conservative religious groups up in arms.

From the Baptist Press:

The popular American Girl doll and book series has entertained millions of young girls through the years, but could one of its products actually be benefiting an organization supportive of abortion rights and homosexual causes?


"Parents need to know that this effort to promote self-esteem among girls is not as innocent as it seems," Ann Scheidler, executive director of the Pro-Life Action League, said in a statement. "While Girls Inc. has some good programs, they also support abortion, oppose abstinence-only education for girls, and condone lesbianism."

(Just as an aside: I love the air of breathless titillation the Baptist Press uses to stir latent horror at this lusty sinfulness. Oh, the shame!)

So what does Girls Inc. have to say about these accusations?

We recognize that any sizable group of girls includes those who face issues related to their sexual orientation or that of a family member and who face discrimination based on this sexual orientation. Girls have a right to positive, supportive environments and linkages to community resources for dealing with issues of sexual orientation.


We recognize the right of all women to choose whether, when, and under what circumstances to bear children. Reproductive freedom and responsibility are essential to other rights and opportunities, including pursuit of education, employment, financial security and a stable and fulfilling family life. Restrictions of reproductive choice are especially burdensome for young women and poor women. Girls Incorporated supports a woman’s freedom of choice, a constitutional right established by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1973 in Roe vs. Wade.

Elsewhere on their website, Girls Inc. does encourage an abstinence-only lifestyle, though they clearly advocate for responsible use of birth control if the alternative is chosen.

Leading the charge against the forces of female empowerment is the American Family Association, an anti-choice advocacy group pushing a petition to boycott "American Girl" products.

From their site:

Girls Inc. has on their webpage a statement saying they particularly support abortion and a girl's right to abort an unwanted baby. They were quite clear about their support for Roe, so there is no mistake or room for confusion on that count. Additionally, Girls Inc. supports contraceptives for girls.

They also support and offer resources encouraging lesbian and bi-sexual lifestyles, actually offering resources for girls. One of their publications states, "The emergence of a lesbian identity is an ongoing process, rather than an event."

Once again, it's a conservative group dead-set against women having any rights over their own bodies. Sex is somehow ordained to be the "property" of men and women are immoral if they want any control over their sexuality. How this archaic mindset can continue is a mystery.

Opposition to abortion I can understand, at least on its face. If a person really and truly believes that abortion is murder, then they cannot help but be opposed to it. But contraceptives? The number one cause of abortions is unwanted pregnancies, which, oddly enough, is exactly what contraception is designed to prevent. Put another way: it is impossible to be against abortion and against birth control at the same time and remain morally consistent. Unless, of course, the purpose of anti-choice groups is not to stop abortions but instead to control the sexuality of women...

The stance against lesbianism makes no sense either. There is no way to support the stance that homosexuality is morally wrong. Contrary to what conservative Christians believe, the Scripture does not support the view that homosexuality is a sin unless certain verses are either mistranslated or taken out of context. Surely there must be many conservative Christian scholars who realize this; they're as educated a group as any. That means that their discomfort with homosexuality has little to do with faith, and a whole lot more to do with being uncomfortable with those who are different.

The bottom line: "American Girl" is a good, wholesome (if expensive) product that supports organizations which work towards empowering young women. Despite what the social conservatives may wish, some American girls are lesbians. Some American girls have had abortions. Some American girls use contraception.

They are all American girls and deserve their rights.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Where Have All The Conservatives Gone?

I will not attempt a retelling of the particulars of the Plame case here; it's been much better documented by other bloggers (Atrios has been relentless) and is really quite a bit of conjecture at this point. The conventional wisdom says that Fitzgerald has some indictments prepared and will likely had them down this week, as the grand jury expires on the 31st. With a civil suit by Plame & Wilson also pending, the GOP is struggling to keep its head above water.

My interest in this case is to wonder, as above: Where have all the conservatives gone? At this point, only the staunchest of partisan Republicans are still claiming that this case is much ado about nothing. An undercover CIA agent had her identity exposed for political payback. Karl Rove and "Scooter" Libby have been at least involved enough to warrant multiple appearances in front of the grand jury. Yet, still, the Right seems largely silent on this matter.

Why? The outing of an undercover CIA agent is a treasonous act and should be recognized as such by both sides of the aisle. Valerie Plame's front company worked in nuclear non-proliferation, essential to our national security. A CIA agent was outed for political revenge and that outing has compromised a piece of our security against weapons of mass destruction. This is something for which, in years past, conservatives would have been vocally against. And yet, silence...

The Bush Administration's entire case for war in Iraq was built upon fabrication after fabrication, most easily disproved several years ago. Joseph Wilson was doing his job as an American by pointing out that a Presidential administration was building a phony case for war. Yet, conservatives despise him for it, given that he's in opposition to a President from their party. Again, why? Don't conservatives believe that protecting our CIA agents is important? Don't they think that the "War on Terror" is better fought when we have agencies working to restrict the black market trade in nuclear weapons? Conservatives nationwide should be praising the work of Valerie Plame and calling for the heads of those responsible for burning her.

And yet, silence. Or worse, defense of this heinous act. Why?

Pundits and the media both still claim that Bush's strong point politically is national security. How can this be? This is the President that was asleep at the wheel on 9/11. This is the President that has yet to capture Osama Bin Laden, whose capture he publicly called for "dead or alive". And this is the President whose administration is responsible for the outing of an undercover CIA agent working in nuclear non-proliferation. It is time to lay to rest the fallacy that the Bush Administration is strong on national defense.

Weak on defense. Weak on domestic issues. Weak on fiscal policy. Ethically challenged and under investigation. Yes, staunchly supported by conservatives of all stripes.


Sunday, October 23, 2005

Sunday Poetry Blogging

"America the beautiful"

Our New World,
this great misunderstanding,
this big meaningless atrocity.
The money makers shine their shoes,
press their ties,
smile their big white teeth,
slither back to their team,
replan their intentions,
and say they do it for me

Our big shiny world
the money making freedom fighters,
control with technology
conquer with strategy
tell us who's the enemy
tell me they're not like me
Kill their children
and smile with big white teeth,
scamper back to their holes
reiterate their lies
regain their control
and they do it in spite of me.

-by Malignant Vanilla [1998]

A modest genius, both poet and musician. I hope to feature more of his work on a regular basis.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Of Two Minds: Mandatory Sentencing In Child Sexual Abuse Cases

I preface the title of this post with "Of Two Minds" because that's the dilemma I find myself in on this issue. I cannot decide if I support this bill or not and, hopefully, some kind readers will relay their opinions to help inform mine.

My contemplation of this issue was spurred on by a conversation this morning on Wisconsin Public Radio (of which I am now a proud member!) with Representative Scott Suder (R - Abbotsford) about introducing "Jessica's Law" from Florida into Wisconsin.

From WisPolitics:

Wisconsin’s “Jessica’s Law,” named after Jessica Lunsford a 9-year old Florida girl who was raped and brutally murdered by a convicted sex offender, will require strict mandatory minimum prison sentences of 25 years to life for sex offenders who sexually assault children.

“It is time to bring “Jessica’s Law” to Wisconsin to protect our children,” Suder stated. “Wisconsin needs a mandatory minimum sentence for child sex offenders to keep these monsters off our streets and away from other potential victims.”

This issue seems like slam-dunk for Suder, at first glance. After all, who doesn't support protecting children? In his interview on WPR, he must have used the phrase " for the children" at least 100 times. And yet, maybe the issue is not so clear as all that. As I said, I am of two minds:

Samurai Sam, Father of Three

It would not take much to convince me that those who commit sexual abuse to children 13 and under should not be locked up, but rather executed. Painfully. In public. How can there be a more detestable crime, particularly given the vulnerability of the victims? Often times the perpetrators of such crimes are parents or other family members, which essentially shatters that child for the rest of their lives. I would likely sleep better knowing that no one caught committing such an act will ever be allowed on the streets again while my children are still children. I realize that abusive people are created by abuse and that they need treatment, not imprisonment, but I don't care. I don't want my children to be part of a statistical analysis of recidivism among serial child abusers. Better to lock them away, if only just to keep my children safe.

Samurai Sam, Aspiring Free Thinker

The notion of locking away sexual predators to protect future victims is compelling. However, it is also very problematic. Suder claims the law will be designed to discourage sexual predators from "flocking" to Wisconsin. However, it seems to me that sexual predation is largely a crime of opportunity. Plus, if we adopted "Jessica's Law" as a nationwide standard, as Suder suggests, then the playing field levels out again anyway.

Further, I believe mandatory sentencing guidelines are anathema to our justice system. Each case is unique, which is why judges must have the discretion to rule appropriately. The state legislature does not have sufficient involvement on a case-by-case basis to legislate such standards fairly. Plus, there is the added danger of an erroneous conviction. Sexual abuse cases are notoriously difficult to prove and false convictions are a very real concern.

Finally, sexual predation on children is not a rational act, in spite of Suder's claims about the intelligence of the perpetrators. It's a mental illness that requires treatment and a mandatory sentence of 25 years really removes any incentive to offer that treatment. Suder claims, correctly, that no treatment is fool-proof. But the mentally ill have rights and it seems a dangerous step to begin denying those rights based on a perceived public good.

As you can see, the issue is quite thorny. Please comment on how you feel about this issue. Should "Jessica's Law" be passed in Wisconsin, or even nationwide? Or does the discretion need to remain with the sentencing judges and the focus be on prevention and treatment? "Jessica's Law" has received resounding support from prominent conservative groups and passed unanimously in Florida.

It's a tough question...

Thursday, October 20, 2005

"O Villain, Villain, Smiling Damned Villain!"

Tom Delay's Mugshot. Courtesy of The Smoking Gun.
I'm thinking doin' a little time for money laundering will wipe that smug smile right off his face.

Does Saddam Hussein Deserve A Fair Trial?

It's already being discussed in some legal circles as a defining moment in legal philosophy: The trial of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein for war crimes.

For an expert legal analysis of the trial, check out the Grotian Moment blog. It gives an excellent technical explanation of the various charges and discusses issues surrounding the trial.

The impact of the Saddam Hussein trial, in a political sense, settles around the debate of whether or not Hussein can and will receive a fair trial. I have already seen commentary by conservatives essentially saying that Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator and thus any trial ending in his execution is a fair and just trial. The problem is that the trial has broader implications on U.S. foreign policy.

First, the concern is that Saddam Hussein cannot or will not receive a fair trial.

From Human Rights Watch:

"The trials of former Iraqi government officials will be closely watched inside Iraq and throughout the world," said Richard Dicker, director of Human Rights Watch's International Justice Program. "The proceedings must be fair and be seen to be fair, and that means ensuring that the accused can vigorously defend themselves."


Problems with the tribunal and its statute include:

  • No requirement to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
  • Inadequate protections for the accused to mount a defense on conditions equal to those enjoyed by the prosecution.
  • Disputes among Iraqi political factions over control of the court, jeopardizing its appearance of impartiality.
  • A draconian requirement that prohibits commutation of death sentences by any Iraqi official, including the president, and compels execution of the defendant within 30 days of a final judgment.

    In Iraq's fragile political climate, the legitimacy of the court will be in question. To provide a measure of truth and justice for hundreds of thousands of victims of gross human rights violations in Iraq, fair trials are essential, Human Rights Watch said.

None of this indicates that Hussein cannot receive a fair trial, but the Iraqi Tribunal will have its hands full maintaining the legitimacy of the proceedings. A case has been made that an international war crimes tribunal, such as that in the Hague, would be a more appropriate venue for the trial. However, the Iraqi government has remained adamant in its desire to see Saddam Hussein tried in Iraq under Iraqi law.

There are essentially two main reasons why Saddam Hussein needs to have a fair trial and neither has anything to do with the righdefendant defendent, per se. The first, as HRW points out above, is that a fair trial is the only way to assure justice for the victims of Hussein's brutality. Few observers outside of Hussein's own defense team would be willing to argue that he's not complicit in a huge array of crimes against humanity. But "frontier justice" doesn't suit in this instance. For better or worse, Hussein must have a legitimate trial so that the millions afflicted by his reign can have their day in court to air their grievances. Such can help smooth the transition to a democratic, pluralistic Iraq. Moreover, a fair and sophisticated legal system is one of the bedrock underpinnings of a successful democracy. Bush can crow all he likes about the Iraqi elections, but voting alone is not going to create the stable democracy that Bush has identified as his latest justification for the U.S-led invasion and occupation.

Which leads directly into the second reason the trial needs to be fair and that is the effect of the trial on U.S. foreign policy goals in the context of the "War on Terror". In the first day of the trial, Hussein's defense centered around a refusal to recognize the court as legitimate based on his removal from office being illegal under international law. It's a fair point, frankly. The United Nations has openly stated that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was illegal under international law. Thus, it could be argued that any trial conducted by members of the new Iraqi government lacks legal standing, as that government was made possible by an illegal act. In order to quell this criticism, the tribunal must maintain the strictest standards of fairness and transparency. If the impression is given that the United States has a free hand to depose any ruler it wishes and then exert pressure to insure that said rulers receive punishment in accordance to U.S. policy goals, then the standing of the U.S. in world opinion could crumble even further.

Now, most on the Left will argue that the illegal invasion of Iraq has already done immense damage to the U.S.'s reputation as a supporter of human rights and freedom, and that's also a fair point. However, at this point the goal of U.S. foreign policy has to be damage control. The Bush Administration has struck a mighty blow to U.S. credibility in the world, and it must be a priority of succeeding administrations to mitigate this damage. Successful security policy for the U.S., in regards to terrorism, depends on the U.S's ability to woo allies for international anti-terrorism efforts. That cannot and will not happen if the trial of Saddam Hussein is seen as being tainted by U.S. interests.

Does Saddam Hussein deserve a fair trial? As an American, I have to say "yes" because that is one of the foundational beliefs that make us Americans. But in the larger sense, the victims of his regime deserve to see justice done, as do those that have lost their lives in the invasion that deposed him. Those that instigated the illegal and immoral invasion of Iraq had little regard for justice or the rule of law; many have lost their lives for the duplicity of these neoconservative warhawks. Our first step in repairing the damage they've done is to reintroduce America to the world as a nation that defends those principals. A fair trial for Saddam Hussein is a good start.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

More Republican Problems With Ethics

The perception that government officials are acting ethically and properly representing the voters is an essential ingredient to our democracy, both at the state and federal level.

Unfortunately, a study released Tuesday by Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, Inc. does not bode well:

There are no demographic groups in Wisconsin who believe the ethics in Madison have improved over the last decade. One of the major problems, looking at the total results, is that ourelected officials and citizens are moving further apart. Wisconsin residents seem to have muchless confidence in their elected officials and are questioning the ethics of their government institutions.


The most stunning number was that there were no Blacks who believed their elected officials put constituents' interests first.

The numbers are staggering, to say the least.

This, of course, leads to the question of why the trend has changed so dramatically since 2002, while remaining fairly steady for the previous decade. Perhaps the table below (Full report here)can shed some light on the matter:

Quite a fascinating correlation, isn't it? After the Republicans take control of the Senate and increase their majority in the Assembly to the largest since 1991 in 2002, the belief of Wisconsin citizens that their government officials are representing them plummets. Looking at bills like the Conscience Clause, sponsored by Pro-Life Across Wisconsin and the Concealed Carry bill, of which the NRA received an advanced vetting opportunity, it's not difficult to see exactly whom the Republicans of Wisconsin are representing.

Clearly, the ethical troubles of the Republican party do not end at the state level, either. One only need look at Tom Delay, Karl Rove, "Scooter" Libby, Bill Bennett, or Bill Frist, just to name a few, to see that the conservative ideology is ethically challenged across the board. It's time for the American "values voters" to wake up, and realize that they are not getting the representation the Republicans promised them in 2002 and 2004. Any party that denigrates the role of government cannot be trusted to run that same government. The examples are crystal clear, time after time. Conservative Republican ideology harms more people than it helps. It weakens our country both economically and security-wise, and does nothing to address the real social concerns of the American people.

Time to give the reins back to the party that knows how to govern. The Democrats are not perfect by any stretch. But they have acommitmentt to making the United States a better nation for more than just the wealthiest and most well-connected. 2006 needs to be the year that the 98% of us that are not wealthy enough to benefit from the Republican agenda take our country back!

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

A Step Into The Light

From Cervantes:

This is the cosmos that we have discovered with our senses, and our reason, and our wondrous tools. But it is very difficult for most people to accept, and most people do not accept it. Two hundred thousand years of cultural development, of attitudes about the world, of explanation, of belief; the bedrock of the social order in religious authority, the answer to the terror of death and the futility of bereavement, the anchor of purpose; all swept away in a few hundred years, in a devastating avalanche of nearly incomprehensible truth.

Cervantes makes a great point about the necessity of a changed worldview in light of cosmological discovery. I would also add that our increased knowledge of existence at its most fundamental level also leads to a profound shift in perspective. We are an intrinsic part of the universe and it is part of us. No meaningful difference can be drawn. The same building blocks, be they particles, strings or membranes, make up humans, animals, plants, rocks, the seas and the furthest galaxies. We've spent so much of our history creating whimsical designers and purposes for the human race; spent so much effort on separating ourselves from the rest of the universe, only to find that we were the poorer for doing so.

Medical Malpractice Caps Are No Magic Bullet

The State of Wisconsin is set to take another stab at capping non-economic compensatory damages in medical malpractice awards. Yet another attempt by Assembly Speaker Gard to make Wisconsin the least user-friendly state in the union.

From JSOnline:

Legislation that would reinstitute limits on jury awards in medical malpractice lawsuits is to be rolled out this week, although it has yet to win the support of Gov. Jim Doyle.

The proposal from Assembly Speaker John Gard (R-Peshtigo) and other Republicans would establish two sets of caps on what victims of medical malpractice can win in court. If the bill becomes law, awards for the pain, suffering and other non-economic damages of people injured as adults could not exceed $450,000; awards for those injured while under age 18 would be capped at $550,000.

The new caps would allow for adjustment to keep up with inflation and replace a 10-year-old limit on malpractice awards that the state Supreme Court found unconstitutional in July.

Unfortunately, this is just the kind of pro-business legislation that has, in the past, prompted Governor Doyle to cross the aisle and join with the Republicans. The state Supreme Court's decision left the door open for a reconsideration of medical malpractice caps, saying that while the one's in effect prior to July were unconstitutional, a re-defined version may pass judicial muster.

Medical malpractice award caps are one of the Golden Geese of Republican policy, the belief being that by capping non-economic, or "pain and suffering", damages, doctors will see a decrease in malpractice insurance premiums and will thus be drawn to practice in states with caps. The only problem with this scenario, is that there is no evidence to support that malpractice award caps have any such effect. In fact, quite the opposite (via Weiss Ratings Inc.):

Caps on non-economic damages have failed to prevent sharp increases in medical malpractice insurance premiums, even though insurers enjoyed a slowdown in their payouts[.]


In 19 states that implemented caps during the 12-year period, physicians suffered a 48.2 percent jump in median premiums, from $20,414 in 1991 to $30,246 in 2002. However, surprisingly, in 32 states without caps3, the pace of increase was actually somewhat slower, as premiums rose by only 35.9 percent, from $22,118 to $30,056.

What's more surprising is that Republican officials continue to push the idea that med mal caps are a "magic bullet" to solve rising malpractice insurance premiums, in spite of the clear evidence to the contrary.

Further, there is also growing evidence that non-economic damage caps don't even reduce the actual dollars paid to the victim.

From The Project on Medical Liability in Pennsylvania:

An objective analysis of the efficacy of medical malpractice caps on non-economic damages in medical liability cases shows that awards for non-economic damages - pain and suffering, physical impairment, disfigurement, marital losses, anguish, and inconvenience - do not significantly and systematically reduce overall awards to plaintiffs. In fact, limiting non-economic damages may be contributing to a rise in economic damage - lost wages, medical expenses (past and future), rehabilitation expenses, and other financial costs.

Clearly then, the Republicans in support of med mal caps must be sensing some kind of benefit from the supply side of the malpractice insurance industry; a gentleman's agreement that, in exchange for lucrative tax cuts and de-regulation, the insurance providers will ease the burden on potential GOP-voting medical practitioners.

Suprisingly, even this is not the case. From Consumer Affairs:

GE Medical Protective's finding was made in a regulatory filing with the Texas Department of Insurance (TDI),in a document submitted by GE to explain why the insurer planned to raise physicians' premiums 19% a mere six months after Texas enacted caps on medical malpractice awards.


According to the Medical Protective filing: "Non-economic damages are a small percentage of total losses paid. Capping non-economic damages will show loss savings of 1.0%."

The company also notes that a provision in the Texas law allowing for periodic payments of awards would provide a savings of only 1.1%. The insurer did not even provide its doctors that relief and eventually imposed a rate hike on its physician policyholders.

So, to recap, as it were, states with caps on non-economic damages in malpractice suits have seen higher damage payouts and greater increases in doctors' premiums than states without. Any fiscal conservative worth his/her salt should be scratching their heads and wondering where the benefit lies in this policy.

This appears to be nothing more than Republican rhetoric designed to play off a perception of unfairness among their rank and file constituency. After all, many if not most conservatives in the country have a rather strict qualification for what applies as "deserved". If med mal payouts are perceived as too high, conservatives believe that the victims are getting more than they "deserve", which is unacceptable to the conservative worldview. Note that said concept of "deserve" does not apply to the wealthy or to businesses; conservatives have been duped into believing that corporate welfare and tax cuts for the rich drive economic growth, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary.

The only group benefiting from this political boondoggle is the Republican party. It's a detriment to doctors because of higher premiums, a detriment to the insurance company because of higher payouts and a detriment to consumers because of higher medical costs. Looks like they've hit the trifecta again!

Monday, October 17, 2005

Meta-Blog Monday: The "God-Blogging" Conference

One area of the political blood sport in which Conservatives tend to do well is in organizing their grass-roots organizations. This penchant for keeping ideological allies on the same page was demonstrated once again, with the "GodBlogCon" conference held this weekend.

From RedNova:

What would Jesus blog? That and other pressing questions drew 135 Christians to Southern California this weekend for a national conference billed as the first-ever for "God bloggers," a growing community of online writers who exchange information and analyze current events from a Christian perspective.


Joe Carter, author of, compared blogging to the 95 Theses posted by Martin Luther nearly 500 years ago that launched the Protestant Reformation.

"It's like putting 95 blogs out there," said Carter, who previously said God bloggers offer an "uncensored and unadulterated" view of contemporary Christian thought on politics and organized religion.

Many bloggers are now writing about religious oppression, poverty and world hunger, instead of hot-button issues such as abortion, homosexuality and assisted suicide, said the Rev. Andrew Jackson, a seminary professor and pastor at the Word of Grace Church in Mesa, Ariz.

"With blogging you tend to break out of those circles and you see other points of view," Carter said. "There's a bigger world out there than gay marriage and abortion."

As a sometimes reader of Joe Carter, I actually applaud what he has to say concerning the GodBlogCon. One of my biggest criticisms of the Christian conservative political position is its intense focus on just a few controversial social issues, while ignoring quite a few others that are of crucial importance to all Americans. Yes, I understand that abortion is an issue that conservative Christians cannot back down on, nor do I expect them to. If one truly believes that abortion is murder, then one must oppose its legality in principal. However, there are numerous other issues that serve little purpose other than to energize conservative Christians at the grass-roots level to vote for the Republican party. It's the implied promise by the Republicans that voting for them will bring the United States back to some imagined Golden Age of Christian piety that never existed, except in the minds of conservative religious and political leaders.

One issue, by way of example, is the evolution vs. creationism "debate". The whole purpose of this debate is to redefine science in a way that grants equal legitimacy to metaphysical beliefs. It really doesn't affect evolutionary science per se, but could have huge ramifications in how we as a nation view beginning- and end-of-life issues. It also marginalizes the United States in the worldwide scientific community; a community, I might add, with which many Christians find ideological fault. It's not the science of evolution that makes many conservative Christians uncomfortable. It's the perception of the United States as having a national character that values science and reason over religion and faith.

The biggest reason I see for why these kinds of conventions are more rare on the Left is the lack of ideological stratification on the liberal side. It's really not so difficult to take the major social issues of the day, gather 135 conservative Christian bloggers and have 100% agreement in stance on those issues. The same cannot be said for the Left, as we're likely to have ideological views spanning a great many social philosophies. I believe the problem stems from a tendency towards moral relativism on the Left, while the religious Right bases its platform stances on perceived moral absolutes.

Looking ahead to 2006, I believe this is one of the chief hurdles the Democrats must overcome in order to make real progress on the national level. They have to be able to coordinate a coherent platform message, certainly. But more than that, they must at least try to break the nation out of the polarized ideological stasis we are in and change the perception that a coalition of differing ideals cannot be a coherent governing philosophy. We must show that the ideological intractability of the Right is not a sign of moral strength, but rather weakness, represented by policy errors of reckless inflexibility.

I truly believe that such a change can be made and it's nice to see that some on the other side of the ideological wall are beginning to take a more critical look at the politicians and political party to which they've been giving their support. Christianity, even the mis-guided socially restrictive kind, can be a great force for good in our nation, if only its energy is focused in a productive direction. It appears the bloggers at GodBlogCon may be taking the first steps in that direction.

Here's hoping...

Friday, October 14, 2005

Doyle Busts Out The Whuppin' Stick

In a follow up to a previous post of mine, Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle (D) today vetoed the so-called Conscience Clause bill passed by the Republican-controlled Wisconsin legislature.

This bill, which was not endorsed by any physicians groups, was intended to allow physicians to deny care to patient's based on the physician's ideology.

Doyle wisely disagreed with this idea (via WisPolitics):

"One of the most sacred principles of our medical care system is that a doctor should always do what is in the best interests of a patient's health," Governor Doyle said. "But this bill would allow a doctor to put his or her political beliefs ahead of the patient's medical best interests. That is simply unconscionable. Medical decisions should be made by the patient and the doctor based on what's best for the patient, not on the doctor's political views."


"Because it puts a doctor's political views ahead of the best interests of patients, this legislation ought to be called the 'unconscionable clause,'" Governor Doyle said. "It is a disservice to patients and to our health care system, and it is in the best interest of all Wisconsin citizens that I veto this bill."

This veto should help bolster support for Doyle, as he faces re-election next year with less-than-stellar approval numbers. Doyle tends to trend a little too conservative for some Wisconsin liberals, with his ardent support for business interests. But he has been a courageous supporter of funding Wisconsin schools and has exercised his substantial veto power quite liberally, saving Wisconsin from a veritable onslaught of pre-Age of Reason social control bills pushed by the wingnut lobby and its pet Republican legislature.

I have little to add about the Conscience Clause legislation that I didn't already talk about previously. It is nothing more than a thinly-disguised attempt by conservative Christian lobbyist groups to legislate their narrow-minded morality and preempt any "Right To Die" legislation. This does demonstrate, however, how vitally important a Democratic governor is for Wisconsin; lest the state be dragged back into the 14th century by the pro-religion, pro-gun and anti-medical science Republicans.

Sweet Sisters

Olivia and Cecelia hangin' out.

Jesus Is Just Alright With Me

Anyone that stops by here regularly has probably surmised by now that I'm very hard on the conservative Christians. That's no accident, but not necessarily for the reasons that one might think. I come from a family full of conservative Christians and attended a Pentecostal church growing up.

I have a great deal of respect for the teachings of Jesus and I feel that the more politically vociferous Evangelicals are mis-representing the words of a great liberal thinker. To demonstrate, I've decided to list some of what I feel are Jesus' most important lessons and perhaps some reasons why Christians should not be supporting Republican party policies in opposition to their expressed beliefs.

"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be given mercy." Matthew verse 7.

As Governor of Texas, George W. Bush oversaw a record number of executions and denied clemency when it was asked him. Further, Abu Ghraib prison and Guantanamo Bay are surely not the constructs of a merciful ideology.

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God." Matthew verse 9.

Bush began an unprovoked war in another country, while taunting the violent extremists our young men and women were fighting (Everyone remembers "Bring it on!", right?). Pat Robertson has openly called for the assassination of a foreign leader. Major evangelical groups including Focus on the Family, The Family Research Council, The 700 Club and The Southern Baptist Convention, just to name a few, encouraged their members to vote for President Bush in 2004, advocating the Bush Doctrine of pre-emptive war over the peaceful teachings of Jesus. No one that supported war as a first option in Iraq, as Bush surely did, can claim to be following the teachings of Christ.

"And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise." Luke 6:31.

Otherwise know as the principal of reciprocity or The Golden Rule. Would the followers of Fred Phelps be willing to have their funerals picketed and their deaths mocked in the way they mocked the death of Matthew Sheppard? Certainly a true Christian cannot believe that Jesus would have approved of treating homosexuals like second-class citizens.

"If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me."[...]"Truly, I say to you, it will be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." Matthew 19:21, 23 - 24.

As a conservative Evangelical friend of mine pointed out, Jesus is not necessarily against being wealthy. After all, he was friends with Joseph of Arimathea. But Jesus surely didn't support the lusting after of wealth, nor the dedication to things that wealth can bring. The Republican party is the part of the wealthy, for good or ill, and supports legislative goals that shift wealth from the working class to the established wealthy. Christ would have done the opposite, I think.

"I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me." Matthew 25:40

The Republican party has been a tireless opponent of any government program that benefits the poor and downtrodden. Social Security, Public Welfare, Bankruptcy Reform,; these issues and more have found the Republican leadership on the opposite side from Christ.

"Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar's, and unto God the things which be God's." Luke 20:25.

Nothing more or less than Jesus expressing a separation between the church and the state. Laws mandating so-called Christian values, even when misinterpreted to the egregious extent that political conservatives do, are intrinsically against the teachings of Jesus. When the church becomes intrinsically linked to the state, the purposes of each become muddled. Both institutions are weakened.

It's also worth noting many of the the things that Jesus doesn't say. For instance, he never condemns homosexuality in any way. He never advocates for his teachings being used as the laws of any nation. He never speaks about abortion nor does he designate a lesser role in society for women.

The point is that the teachings of Christ and the pet causes of social conservatives in the United States are more often in contradiction with each other than in agreement. Jesus was a man of peace, that advocated for the poor and downtrodden. He spoke critically of the established religious and, to some extent, political leadership of his day. He dedicated his life to helping the disadvantaged and teaching others to do the same. These are all characteristics with which we liberals proudly identify and with which conservatives, at least in their public policy stances, clearly do not agree.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Taxes Are A Good Thing

That's right. I said it. Taxes are a good thing for America. Sadly, after about 3 decades of misleading GOP propaganda about what an evil burden taxes are on people and businesses, most Americans have forgotten why taxes are important. As a resident of Wisconsin, I face a higher tax cost than in many other states. But I don't mind, because I want the things that my tax money buys.

I would like to take a look at some of the misconceptions folks tend to have about taxes, many of them propagated by Republican party talking points, and also some of the benefits that come from taxes.

The property taxes in the State of are too high and need to be capped.

As a resident of Wisconsin, this issue is brought up almost weekly in one news medium or another. It's true that Wisconsin residents pay one of the higher property tax rates in the country. But what gets lost in bemoaning the tax burden is the benefit that goes with those taxes. Wisconsin ranks near the top in per capita spending on education and environmental protections; issues which Wisconsin voters continually support in elections year after year.

Now, the Republicans would have Wisconsin residents believe that it is government waste causing such high taxes; in fact, our Democratic governor has even echoed such sentiments. It's true that government should be managed as efficiently as possible. That's just good fiscal policy. There is no need, for example, to hire 10 state employees when 8 will suffice. Using tax dollars to create jobs as an end in itself is not something the government should be engaging in except in extreme circumstances, ie.: The Great Depression or the Gulf Coast reconstruction.

However, while all politicians and residents of any area will agree that government waste is a problem, no one can agree on what services they'd prefer to do without. Financially secure citizens don't want to pay for public welfare. Residents in Oklahoma don't want to pay for a bridge in Alaska. Those who find political bias in public broadcasting don't want to support the CPB. This list could go on forever but the point is: that's why we have taxes. Taxes take the burden of these public services and spread them evenly over the population based on the financial means of each individual. Those with more have a moral obligation to give more, as they have benefited from the economic opportunity available to them in America.

Also, in regard to property taxes, they are inherently unfair due to their regressive nature. They affect the poor more than the wealthy and they affect individuals exponentially more than businesses, which can afford attorneys and accountants to challenge rates and assessments. As an accountant, I've seen countless examples of businesses paying pennies on the dollar in property taxes compared to individual residents. This has the effect of starving local municipalities of revenue, resulting in poor roads, poor schools and a loss of services. These problems inevitably lead to voter referendums, particularly for school funding, which are voted down about 90% of the time because the voters are already paying high property taxes to subsidize breaks for large corporations. Before the voters of Wisconsin complain about their high property taxes, they really should ask why the Republican-controlled legislature keeps passing legislation giving favorable tax breaks to wealthy corporations that really don't need them.

Tax breaks for wealthy business interests help spur economic growth.

Rubbish. Supply-sider, free-marketeer spin designed to sell the American people on legislation that actually harms their economic interests. Taxes are a secondary consideration for business growth and expansion and really only come into consideration when other factors are equal. For example, manufacturing companies require extensive distribution networks to move their product to suppliers. They cannot do this without good transportation infrastructure such as roads, rails and ship docks. However, such infrastructure is very expensive to build and maintain. Thus, tax money is used to mitigate that cost and build a good infrastructure to attract businesses. Any savvy business manager is going to be plenty willing to weather higher taxes in exchange for a well-maintained infrastructure. Cutting taxes to attract businesses at the expense of vital services is a losing proposition that shifts a greater tax burden on those least able to pay.

Further, giving income tax breaks to businesses, under the auspices of an incentive to grow and create jobs, is also poor fiscal policy. Cash flow from tax reductions is not incentive to expand; product demand and competitive advantages are, to name a few. Tax cuts targeted to the poor and middle class result in greater demand for consumer goods, thus spurring business growth. Tax cuts for businesses result in outsize dividends to wealthy shareholders primarily and, not coincidentally, are an awfully nice "thank you" gift to wealthy political donors. They do little, if any, economic good and further concentrate wealth at the top of the economic ladder, a sure recipe for disaster in a capitalist democracy.

Taxes on dividends are unfair because they represent "double taxation".

Dividends are not taxed twice. This canard gets trotted out at least once by every Republican president and since the average American doesn't have much of a stock portfolio, it tends to get a sympathetic ear from many conservatives simply because they don't understand why it's false. Corporations pay taxes on their profits. Individual shareholders pay taxes on their dividends. It's that simple. However, for a true example of double taxation, one only needs look at the payroll tax. Workers are charged payroll and income taxes on the same gross earnings, a very regressive tax policy which affects the poor and middle classes to a much greater extent than the wealthy. And, speaking of wealthy, that's exactly what you have to be to have much earnings from dividends anyway. Take a $20 stock with a $0.25 annual dividend: you would have to own about $1 million worth of this stock just to have dividend income equal to the poverty level. Certainly taxes on such are not a significant burden on any investor.

The estate tax is really a "death" tax and strips families of their wealth.

Yet another example of conservative Republican dishonesty on fiscal matters that don't affect most Americans. Are you sensing a theme yet, dear readers, because you should be. The estate tax is not a tax paid by the person dying. It's paid by the person inheriting the estate. Plus, it only affects estates worth more than $2 million ($4 million for married), thus excluding 98% of Americans anyway. It's worth noting that in during the Gilded Age of the "robber barons", a definite nadir in responsible corporate culture, it was considered vulgar to pass along great wealth just to one's offspring. At that time, the estate tax was 90%! It's an amazing triumph of political chicanery that the Republican party has managed to sell impoverished conservatives on the notion that it is only fair that a wealthy heiress like Paris Hilton not have to pay one penny of taxes on the unearned billions she will one day receive from her parents.

Samurai Sam is nothing but a "tax-and-spend" liberal.

Damn right I am! I want the services and benefits that government can provide and I believe it's my responsibility to help pay for them. I am proud to be a tax-and-spend liberal; it's a much more socially and fiscally responsible position than being a borrow-and-spend neoconservative like George W. Bush. Without taxes, there would be no middle class in America. Taxes help re-circulate wealth and prevent it from accumulating with the wealthy elite. Given the Republican policy towards taxation, it should be more apparent than ever just what constituency they are representing (Hint: it's not poor Evangelicals in Alabama).

I hope this post doesn't come off as too dull and pedantic, both because I believe wholeheartedly that this is a crucial issue facing our country and because of how that would reflect on my chosen career! This latter-day Republican fiscal policy towards taxation is both irresponsible and cuts against the ideals our country was founded upon. It represents a real danger to our economy and our way of life.

I leave you with some wiser words than mine:

The subjects of every state ought to contribute toward the support of the government, as nearly as possible, in proportion to their respective abilities; that is, in proportion to the revenue which they respectively enjoy under the protection of the state - Adam Smith, An Inquiry Into The Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, 1776

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

What's On Your Beginner's Mind? 2008 Edition

Worked so well the first time, I thought I'd make it a regular feature.

I'm interested today in two things:

1) Whom do you think will run for President in 2008 and why? Republican, Democrat, Green, Libertarian, whatever.

2) What are the biggest issues that a candidate has to take a position on to get your vote?

For the Democrats, I think Joe Lieberman and Joe Biden will run, though neither of them will win in the primaries. Both are too conservative and Joementum has a losing track record already. I also suspect that, despite claims to the contrary, Hillary Clinton, Russ Feingold and Al Gore will all throw their hats in the ring as well. All three could be potential winners, though Feingold does not have quite the same national exposure as the other two.

I would like to see Russ Feingold with Wesley Clark as the Democratic ticket. Together they present a balanced sphere of expertise. Feingold is appealing to me for being socially liberal and being courageous enough to take unpopular stands as a Senator. He voted against the Iraq war and against the Patriot Act, for example. Clark has the foreign policy experience and the connection to the military that will be crucial in working to clean up the messes Bush will be leaving. Plus, I don't see the Republicans pulling another "Swiftboat" boondoggle and having it work on Clark.

Realistically, however, I believe the nominee will be Hillary Clinton with Barack Obama.

For the Republicans, I'm at a loss as to who they'll run. Bill Frist was a potential candidate but his pending SEC investigation will not sit well with the Wall Street set. Rick Santorum is a joke and is about to get buried in 2006 anyway. Rudy Giuliani is conservative by New York standards but likely too liberal for most Republican voters. As for Condi Rice, let me just say this: the day a black woman wins the Republican primary, I will change parties. Not going to happen in 2008, certainly.

My realistic impression: John McCain, possibly with Rudy Giuliani as his running mate.

As for the issues, I'm looking for a candidate that first and foremost takes a stance in opposition to the Iraq war. No mealy-mouthed "Hey, it's an OK war but I would have fought it differently" half-stance such as John Kerry tried to make play in 2004. I also want to see a more fiscally conservative White House. It is past time to re-balance the federal budget and roll-back the tax cuts for the wealthy. Put the tax cuts where they can do some good, if we must have them. And we shouldn't have them until the government runs a surplus again. Time to remind the American people that taxes are a civic responsibility and pay for the things all Americans want.
Socially, a woman's right to choose, predicated on a Constitutional Right to Privacy, needs to be vigorously defended as does a re-affirmation of the separation of church and state. By 2008, social conservatives will have had eight years to erode our personal freedoms and the next Democratic President will need to repair that damage. I also want to see a more honest discussion about homosexual rights, mainly protection from employer discrimination and the right to marry. As a small matter, it's time to scrap the Gay Marriage Ban and Flag Burning Ban Amendments. Our Constitution is to guarantee rights, not restrict them, and these were just fodder for Bush's conservative base anyway.

So, what do you think?

Faith Should Be No Defense For Intolerance

Given all the contentious social issues that divide liberals and conservatives, homosexual rights continues to be the one I understand the least. Further, I am completely baffled at how those in opposition to homosexuality on ideological grounds can continue to act as though denying rights to gays is a positive moral position. Even for conservative Christians, who try and claim dogmatic reasons (which are very suspect) for their stance against homosexuality, the staunchness of said opposition makes little sense. There are literally thousands of more concrete issues that the Bible forbids, and yet the incorrectly interpreted prohibition against homosexuality strikes one of the loudest chords today.

However, it's the ongoing reluctance of eduated professionals, doctors, in this case, to recognize equal rights for homosexuals that really leaves me puzzled.

From Red Nova:

A California appeals court heard arguments Tuesday in the case of a woman who sued her doctors after they refused to artificially inseminate her, allegedly because she is gay.

The physicians are appealing a ruling that prevented them from raising religious freedom as a defense in the test of whether doctors can deny treatment to gays and lesbians.


Drs. Christine Brody and Douglas Fenton should be allowed to explain "what went through their hearts and minds when they did what they did," [Defense Attorney Carlo] Coppo told the three-judge panel.

The question of religious beliefs is irrelevant! It is ALWAYS wrong to discriminate against people based on their sexuality, whether such discrimination is technically legal or not. This same religious-based defense has been used in the past to deny civil rights to certain groups and is no less evil when used for such today.

The doctors contend they denied treatment because Benitez and her registered domestic partner of 15 years were not married.

This defense is so intellectually dishonest that Brody and Fenton should hang their heads in shame for even attempting it. Of course, Benitez and her domestic partner were not married: the state of California denied them that right in 1999, as it continues to deny them that right today. This is nothing more than the doctors' lawyers attempting to add a facade of moral righteousness to what is clearly a case of two bigots discriminating against a lifestyle with which they do not approve.

California Superior Court Justice Gilbert Nares lays out what is so important about this case going forward:

"As we all know, this is going to the U.S. Supreme Court. It's just a question of when."

A Supreme Court that will be trending very socially conservative by then. A ruling against a compelling interest in preventing discrimination based on sexuality by the Roberts Court could open the door to a potential re-examination of anti-discrimination rulings over the past 30 years. Given what I believe is Roberts' clear inclination as a judge to side with corporate interests, I am not instilled with much optimism for when the Benitez case reaches that docket. Anti-discrimination laws are a burden on employers; a burden which many business owners would be more than happy to shed.

My final thought on this is just amazement at the level of self-righteous arrogance Drs. Fenton and Brody demonstrate by their dismissal of Ms. Benitez's request for treatment based on their beliefs, as though they have some intrinsic right to impose their beliefs on another person's life. Let's not forget: these doctors did not just deny Benitez the right to have safe medical treatment. They denied her the right to conceive a child by the method of her choosing. They denied her the dignity of exercising the same right that any other woman in the country already enjoys, just because Fenton and Brody judged her lifestyle to be unacceptable by their standards. They forced another person, another American, to bear the burden of their intolerance and then asked the court to let them justify it with their religious beliefs.

What understanding of "freedom" can justify such treatment?