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The TSA and Civil Rights

In Issues and Debate on November 24, 2010 at 10:58 am

I, like many Americans, am not terribly comfortable with being ‘pat-down’ or frisked in any manner. In all honesty such occurrences happen predominantly when one has either broken the law or has some health related necessity. With that said, I do question the very notion that such advanced airport screening techniques truly constitute a violation of civil rights as some have laid claim. The screening itself may very well be a personal violation in some sense, but its hard to see it as a constitutional issue considering our nation’s not so distant history with civil rights.

Pat downs and screenings have now become the hot issue of the moment as many in the mainstream media and middle America itself have come to criticise the techniques. This criticism is truly coming from both sides of the aisle and everywhere in-between, giving the debate a more legitimate flavor than many recent, controversial national security policies; namely warrantless wiretapping and the torture of so-called enemy combatants.

The irony of course, is disconcerting compared to the oft villified members of society who truly protested and faught warrantless wiretaps, torture, and even the misinformation campaign that led to the Iraq War. These activists were all too easy to ignore or label as some form of leftist fringe by both bias and complacent media outlets alike. This lack of true journalism from the mainstream ultimately prevented an honest debate on these issues from happening. With any luck we can avoid this problem concerning what has truly become an increasingly embarrassing issue for many travelers.

Regardless of how this debate turns out, the American public must come to accept some sort advanced security protocols in our nation’s airports. From shoe bombers to underwear incendiaries and subway bombs through Western Europe, our transportation systems have numerous vulnerabilities and are all too tempting a target to those wishing to cause massive amounts of death and mass panic. Compromise is key and though we must be pro-active in our national security, we must not find ourselves giving in to the vestiges of fear, for freedom means nothing without principle.

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Are we a Christian Nation?

In National Political News on November 23, 2010 at 6:32 pm

With the advent of the Christian Right over the past several decades, an interesting and often vitriolic debate has ensued. Many of the conservative persuasion are pushing for a return to more traditional Christian values, while many of the more liberal persuasion find themselves besieged by a call for any religious push. This push comes with some rather interesting dichotomies and contradictions. Those on the religious right feel a need to bring the nation back to some greater moral center, in some ways vis-a-vis the legal code and in others a more cultural call to arms. This debate has come to involve the founding of the nation and  what the Founding Fathers themselves appeared to believe. In this article, the modern, more salient arguments will be explored first  and the true meaning of the Founding Father’s words and actions will also be discussed in the latter end.

Religious Faith in the U.S.

With over 75% of the United States population responding as Christians, our nations is overwhelmingly Christian in its heritage and religious identification. This number alone appears to strengthen the hand of the Christian Right, but much of that changes when the varied number of Christian denominations and faiths is considered. When the nation was founded, the varied sects of Chritianity present was but a handful, today it is over 1500. These groups also differ greatly with respect to overall doctrine. Many groups consider themselves highly ‘progressive’ and liberal, such as Unitarian oriented churches, while others are far more conservative in the Evangelical and even Catholic mold. This diversity calls into question any universal Christian call for a more theocratic regime. Surely none of these faiths can make a claim to speak for all Christians or people of faith.

The Christian Right has gained a toe-hold within the Republican Party over 30 years in the making. With the 2010 mid-terms now complete and the Tea-Party movement taking a greater hold within conservative circles, another contradiction has arisen. With respect to the Tea-Party, many divisions exist among the rank and file and not the least of which is a coming inability to reconcile libertarian views from some with the more religious clarion call by many others. Though any platform for the Tea-Party is truly non-existent, the forces within the movement found themselves united in the recent election cycle by ambiguous definitions of freedom and the greater crisis created by the stagnant economy, particularly the unemployment rate. While these issues served as a tool to unite many in the Tea-Party, including some liberals, factionalism remains. If one listens to numerous radio and television broadcasts focused on the conservative viewpoint, the splintered nature of the Tea-Party movement and the Republican Party as a whole becomes all too apparent. These divisions will eventually cause many to leave the Tea-Party and push for alternate agendas primarily based upon differences concerning social issues.

Whether it be men of faith such as Jerry Falwell or conservative media magnates such as Glenn Beck, this call has focused predominantly on issues such as gay-marriage and abortion rights. This call has often been wrapped in some veiled, discriminate message over increasing the ‘freedoms’ and safeguarding the ‘rights’ of the nation’s citizens. This message attempts to create an argument that would ultimately appeal to a greater, more secular-minded audience. As the 2010 mid-terms have shown, the only message coming out of these conservative groups that resonates with middle America relates to secular issues such as unemployment and the weakening economy and including issues such as the national debt and debates over federal entitlement programs. The swing-vote in America is concerned less with Christian doctrine than many on the Right seem to believe, as many who voted Republican in 2010 also voted for Obama and the liberal agenda in 2008. This is one of the many reasons why Obama still retains a strong, legitimate chance at a second term.

As noted, the advent of the Tea-Party brought together many differing groups, including many from both parties. Of these, a greater reactionary point of view was espoused to a percieved liberal agenda of the White House as well as congressional leadership. Though this percieved liberal agenda brought both libertarians and Christian fundalmentalists together, the libertarian mindset contains more of a desire for a laisezz-faire economic and political system when compared to those of the Christian Right. Many advocates of a libertarian mindset do not recognize any Christian demand for greater theocratic control. The libertarian viewpoint revolves around greater freedom of choice for the individual citizen, both socially and economically. These are the conservatives of the Barry Goldwater era, when many politicians had very real differences with their colleagues on the other side of the aisle. Goldwater styled conservatives would be remiss to think they should gain greater freedom from the liberal left, just to give it up under a Christian theocratically based regime. Our most recent Republican President struggled to meet these two demands coming from the Right, though his appeal to and election by the Christian Right was a quiet, political coup detat when one considers the moderate nature of other recent Presidents.

With factional differences within the Tea-Party yet to be worked out, the Christian Right has attempted to utilize the Founding Fathers in their rhetorical style. This rhetoric rests itself on the words of the Founders themselves and predicates itself upon what was nearly a completely Christian population at the time of the nation’s founding. Many on the Left disagree with this analysis, noting that most of the Founders were also highly educated, Enlightenment thinkers. The question at hand then truly entails as to which side is correct? The answer is simple and yet not-so simple. The truth is neither side is correct when one looks at the true history of this founding group. Some were truly deists, such as Thomas Paine. Others, such as Benjamin Franklin,weren’t devout, but saw the value of the religious organizations in support of a young and fragile nation. For most others, the Christian Church was something they publicly supported, but privately questioned. As many quotes by nearly any member of this founding group that the Christian Right can summon to support their cause, so too can quotes be dug up to contradict that very same viewpoint. Imagine John Adams and Thomas Jefferson using speeches to rally the people and support the churches that formed the foundation for communities across the nation, but contrasting that image with two elder statesmen questioning the merits of the church in their own private correspondence. This places both sides at odds with the differing perspectives espoused by the other. The Founding Fathers must have thought the Christian Church to be important enough to place a public value on their existence, but not enough to strengthen that place in our founding document, the U.S. Constitution.

Brad Childress and the dissolutionment of the Minnesota Vikings

In Issues and Debate on November 23, 2010 at 5:13 pm

Yesterday, Owner and Chairman of the Minnesota Vikings Zigi Wilf formally fired Head Coach Brad Childress. Though some were surprised, many fans and bloggers alike saw this coming as a once Super Bowl caliber team has failed to win more than 3 games this season. As a perennial Vikings fan, I must say that Childress’s tenure in Minnesota was not as fraught with missteps as many fans, bloggers, and ESPN talking heads seem to think.

When we look at Childress’s time as Head Coach, each year until this year has been a striking improvement. Through the 2009 season, the team had gone from a mediocre performance to a top tier team. One could attribute this to improved coaching and scouting. After all, the Vikings of this year are still a highly talented team, at least on paper. With respect to the coaching staff though, one could hardly be remiss to note the obvious dissension among the players both last year and into this year. As Coach Childress says goodbye, Leslie Frazier steps in and now we can have more discussion as to Fraziers qualifications and abilities. Alas this discussion will prove pointless as qualifications in sports are more often results oriented than otherwise. Frazier will get his chance to prove it.

Coach Childress had one lingering misstep throughout his time in Minnesota. Since before his time, the Vikings have a glaring problem at quaterback. Though the coming of Brett Favre in 2009 solved this issue temporarily, the honest truth is that Favre is not a long term solution. Brett Favre stands in NFL history as the franchise player of the Green Bay Packers and though he will end his career in Minnesota, memory of his exploits as a Hall of Fame quarterback have already been written in Green Bay. Unlike the Packers, the Vikings haven’t had a long-term quarterback in 2 decades. When compared with the Vikings up and down record over that time, this quarterback problem correlates well. Childress, as with Tice before him, failed to solve this nagging problem.

The coming of Brett Favre created enormous excitement and confidence. A confidence not just in the fan base, but seemingly within the team itself. It can hardly be questioned that Favre and a number of players have and continue to play at 100% effort, though the current season has shown that some players are failing to put forth maximum effort and team moral is ultimately low. Though Favre led the team to an incredible season in 2009, a player of even his caliber cannot do what is truly a coach’s job. With numerous sideline confrontations with Favre and Percy Harvin, among others, Childress was not holding up his end of the bargain. A change was needed areguably several weeks ago and now it has come.

Interim Head Coach Leslie Frazier takes the reigns of a struggling yet talented team. With any hope, perhaps the Vikings can salvage a .500 record out of this season and find the confidence to move forward. Though Frazier has no true head coaching experience, attacking a man as soon as he enters the room appears short-sighted. Frazier like all head coaches must start somewhere and unfortunately his will be a baptism by fire.

Journalistic and Epistemological Dissonance

In Opinion/Editorial on November 12, 2010 at 1:05 am

As speculation about the meaning of this year’s election continues to pour in, we need to step back and understand the nature and structure of how our government is formulated.

From The New Yorker commentator Hendrik Hertzberg to GOP pundit Miguel A. Faria, Jr., there seems to be confusion in the press as to why the Democrats retained control of the U.S. Senate while the U.S. House was swept up in a Tea-Party tidal wave. For Hertzberg, “The Democrats retained their Senate majority by the grace of the Tea-Party, which in Colorado, Delaware, and Nevada, saddled republicans with nominees so weighted with extremism and general bizarreness that they sank beneath the wave so many others rode.” According to Faria, Jr. “if the entire Senate had been up for re-election in the same fashion as the House of Representatives, it is very probable, almost certain, that the Democrats…would have lost control of the Senate.” Now, granted Faria is a GOP air-horn, it is nonetheless disingenuous to treat the U.S. Constitution as an inconvienence. The very same document the GOP claims to champion cannot be made to justify any loss in the Senate. With respect to Faria, though, he gets the reasoning better than The New Yorker’s own Hertzberg.

The U.S. Senate is constructed to produce such an occurance as our nation saw in this year’s election. With 6 year terms and staggered elections, the constitutional framework carried out its task. It is important to note that this rarely happens to be the case, but a highly polarized political atmosphere should be seen as the most plausible moment by which such an occurance may come to pass. With that said, lets turn our attention to Hertzberg’s notion as to “the grace of Tea-Party.” The idea that somehow Tea-Party extremists in the GOP ranks caused a loss in three states and thus a retention of the Senate by the Democrats is foolhardy. Buck, Angle, and O’Donnell were hardly the only extremists running for office via the Tea Party Express (colloquially, that is). Political strategy is one thing, but every election is governed by the founding document and as such, must be analyzed with the U.S. Constitution at the starting line, not without a word, as in Hertzberg’s case, or as an inconvenience to one’s agenda, as Faria’s column suggests.

Putting aside the politics of the U.S. Senate, the over-arching question “what did the people truly say in this year’s election?” remains. Without question, the White House is feeling that it got shellacked, John Boehner is calling for change in Washington, and Mitch McConnell has a little spring in his step this fall. The numbers tell a bit of a different story though. In 2008, just over 53% of voters chose the Democratic candidate for the U.S. House, whereas just under 53% this year chose the Republican as Hertzberg rightly notes. The results were nonetheless more striking than these numbers suggest, but the numbers have a far deeper meaning than simple electoral victory and defeat. Our nation is simply divided. It is polarized to a much greater extent than many of us realize. This is the parsimonious reality of American politics today. The numbers don’t show a landslide, a mandate, or a call for sweeping change yet again just two years after many on the Left felt that Obama’s election had done just that. This year’s mid-term is reflective of a public that is anxious, unsure of  the nation’s needed course, all while more than 9.5% of them are unemployed.

The Race for Summit Avenue 2010

In Minnesota Political News on November 9, 2010 at 4:22 pm

Minus a potential re-count, its time for a general wrap-up of Minnesota’s 2010 gubernatorial election.

in terms of general speculation, this year’s gubernatorial election truly started on the back end of the 2008 election. In the DFL, more than 10 serious candidates began to enter the fray at the beginning of 2009. Two of those candidates were big city mayors currently running for another office at the time while deflecting questions concerning gubernatorial ambitions, one was the now out-going Speaker of the Minnesota State House of Representatives, many were current or former members of that same body, as well as the out-going Ramsey County Attorney and a retired U.S. Senator from one of Minnesota’s most well known dynastic families.

As the DFL field got the campaign under way, an impressive number of intra-party debates and Q & A sessions ensued giving the party faithful a far-reaching choice. From the Iron Range stalwarts Tommy Rukavina and Tom Bakk to the Twin Cities chief executives Chris Coleman and R.T. Rybak and Speaker Margaret Anderson-Kelliher, the party’s biggest names came out to battle for the state’s top job of which the party hadn’t held since the days of Rudy Perpich nearly 20 years past. In spite of some of the DFL’s rising stars though, former U.S. Senator Mark Dayton commanded the lead in early polling, proving his political career indeed had further to go.

Among the GOP candidates seeking the party’s endorsement, only 2 candidates stuck it out well into the 2010 caucus/convention season. At the height of the GOP campaign though, as many as 9 official and potential candidates were in the race. The list included former Speaker Steve Sviggum, House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, State Rep. from Victoria Paul Kohls, former State Auditor Pat Anderson, former State Rep. Bill Haas, State Senator David Hann, State Senator Mike Jungbauer, activist Leslie Davis, and of course State Rep. from Delano Tom Emmer. Just as the state’s DFL heavyweights came out, so did the GOP’s, as Republican activists had a stacked deck to find a standard-bearer to replace outgoing Governor Tim Pawlenty.

With the gubernatorial campaign season in full bloom, U.S. Rep.’s Michelle Bachman and Tim  Walz decided to forego a run at  Summit Avenue in favor of re-election to their respective offices in D.C. Soon thereafter, specualtion concerning a possible run by former U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman was also put to rest, just as Coleman had been seen as the likely endorsee by many within the GOP ranks.

With the cuacus out of the way, DFLer’s had picked 2 among the several candidates as the convention season kicked in. Senate Districts across the state kept the politically minded focused as Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher drew the majority of the support. With former State Sen. Steve Kelley dropping out of the race shortly after caucus night and candidates Mark Dayton, Matt Entenza, and Susan Gaertner pushing for the primary, the DFL State Convention battle came down to just Rybak and Kelliher. In the end, Rybak bowed out respectfully and Speaker Kelliher walked away with the DFL endorsement.

The GOP endosement in contrast was a bit less hectic and proved to be the final say as the endorsement battle came down. In a year in which Tea-Party favorites rode the anti-incumbant wave to success nationwide, so too was it with Minnesota’s GOP. By the end of the endorsing convention, Tea Party favorite Tom Emmer had won the endorsement over House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, much to the chagrin of the local pundits.

The convention season ended in late April with Rep. Emmer gaining his stride for the summer. On the DFL side, however, Speaker Kelliher had to face Matt Entenza and Mark Dayton in the August 10th primary to become the true DFL nominee. Though a three-way race for the party’s nomination was thought to be a much greater news story as summer continued on, it would be Emmer himself stirring the pot and ultimately creating the most interest with a gaffe calling out the ire of the states food service waitstaff. To be fair, Rep. Emmer was open to suggestions on the minimum-wage to tip issue and even put himself in the line of fire to meet openly with those employed in the industry, but the politcal problem of message management (rather mismanagement) continued. With Mark Dayton seizing the DFL endorsement by the narrowest of margins in the DFL primary, Emmer could now focus on a single opponent with hopes of renewing his image and re-introducing himself to the voting public.

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Just like Franken/Coleman? Not quite!

In Minnesota Political News on November 3, 2010 at 6:36 pm

 

With mid-term 2010 over, Minnesotans awake today to learn that once again the election is not truly over, at least for us. Tom Emmer and Mark Dayton have found themselves and the state on the heels of an automatic recount in the Minnesota governor’s race. While it is easy to herald this as the second coming of the Franken/Coleman recount of just two years ago, the numbers are vastly different this time.

On the morning of November 5th, 2008, Norm Coleman held a 725 vote lead over Al Franken with 2.9 million ballots cast. This represents far less than one-half of one percent of ballots cast. In contrast, the Dayton/Emmer divide is just under 9000 votes at 8,854 and approximately 2 million votes cast. The margin is just on the cusp of one half of one percent, thus triggering an automatic recount under state law. Simply put the Franken/Coleman recount had almost 50 percent more votes cast with a margin of roughly 10% of that of Dayton/Emmer.  The numbers between these races are just not similar enough and the statistical odds are far easier to discern when comparing Dayton/Emmer to Franken/Coleman.

To put a greater perspective on this, lets consider some figures from FairVote.org. Accordingly, only 18 statewide recounts have occurred in the U.S. between 2000-2009 and of those only 3 have produced a change in the electoral outcome. Statistically this results in 1 out of every 961 races in that time period. On a percentage basis, this equates to a near one-tenth of one percent that such an occurence has come to pass. Further adding to mix, FairVote.org research tells us that the average change in the vote margin in recounts is 276 votes on statewide races studied between 1980 and 2006. This means that the average change in vote margin in that time was 0.041 percent. In Minnesota’s 2010 gubernatorial race, the margin was nearly 0.5 percent, at the edge of an automatically triggered recount. Simply put, despite the pundits and polemicists, the odds do not look good for Tom Emmer.

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