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Archive for the ‘Issues and Debate’ Category

Birth

In Issues and Debate on July 13, 2014 at 12:49 pm

To My Son,

The day you were born is and will remain the most cherished day of my life,. You came into this world with a full head of hair, beautiful eyes and chubby cheeks making every aunt and grandmother in the area blush as if they were children once again themselves. To put it plainly, you came into this world well beyond my wildest hopes and dreams and you remain that way.

Someday the cynics and the skeptics will tell you that happiness is unachievable or complicated. It isn’t. Your existence completes my happiness and although having a child proved to be complex your smile makes my happiness a simple matter of rising in the morning to see what a true gift you are.

Your earliest months were fraught with difficulties in numerous ways, but once you found your smile, your voice, the world opened up for you. Your personality became infectious. I write this as you close in on six months of age and I can’t imagine what life was like without you. In the weeks, months and years to come I will expand on this blog with you. We have so many adventures to come and I’m bursting with anticipation at the thought spending the rest of my life with a son so beautiful.

 

With all of my love,

Dad

 

Walker’s Manufactured Budget Woes

In Issues and Debate on March 15, 2011 at 4:49 pm

Just days ago, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed SS AB/SB 11; the so-called ‘budget repair bill’ as prescribed by the Governor himself. As many already know, the bill was stripped of certain budgetary language as to contain no ‘fiscal impact’ and thus be passed by the Wisconsin State Senate without the 14 Democratic Senators present for a quorum and and a vote. While the question as to the legality of this action remains open, the truth is that the bill contains measures that will indeed have a ‘fiscal impact’ regardless of how you slice it. The bill not only curtails collective bargaining rights for teachers, but also establishes limits on collective bargaining rights for day-care providers and employees of the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics Authority. The bill also eliminates two non-voting director positions on the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinic Board that are required to be members of the ‘collective bargaining’ units of said employeess. Further reading of the law brings a repeal of collective bargaining rights for home-care providers and an addition of administrators to the Wisconsin Department of Administration. These additions come while other positions shift from ‘classified’ (civil-service) to ‘un-classified’ (professional) status. This makes hiring easier as civil service requirements need not be applied, but the addition of administration positions will undoubtedly have a ‘fiscal impact’ just as repealing of collective bargaining rights will. An increasingly contradictory part of this bill is continued discovery of administrative salaries and fringe benefits. While increasing administrative positions, Gov. Walker is opening the door for greater patronage and bureaucratic control. He’s giving middle management the store while stripping  public employees of the scraps they already receive when compared to the salaries of administrators who many a Republican and Democrat alike accuse of being the true source of government waste, ie. the bloated bureaucracy.

Furthering his views concerning unions and privatization, SS SB/AB 11 also contains provisions for selling public property, in particular that property used for the purposes of powering the state’s grid and as well as heating and cooling of homes. Though the bill doesn’t specify dollar amounts for such property, its stipulations will indeed have a fiscal impact on the state budget while padding the pockets of private utility interests such as those of the now infamous, and parodied, Koch brothers. Walker does indeed take care of his own, but his own don’t resemble anyone representing middle America.

With respect to Gov. Walker’s proverbial movement of pawns with respect to Wisconsin State Employees, new information has surfaced in recent weeks showing that Walker has done this before. In his years as a Milwaukee County Executive in the early 2000’s, Walker repeatedly stated the need for austerity measures to shore up the county budget. These claims were not only opposed by the County Board, but also by budgetaryt experts within the county itself. Walker repeatedly over-stated county revenues by millions and when those revenues failed to materialize, he instituted his own ‘austerity’ measures to save the county from fiscal damage. The truth is Walker continually proposed budgets with revenue estimates that were off the charts while debating the county board, agency heads, and at one time Governor Tom Doyle.

Perhaps the most interesting tactic Walker used to bring the Milwaukee County Budget inline was to allow property taxes paid by average homeowners to increase by 20% while looking the other way as businesses snubbed tax-assessors and/or filed for tax-exempt status with little to no oversight. As reported by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal, a re-assessment of these properties would save the average homeowner in Milwaukee an estimated $800 per year. Not surpisongly, many of these homeowners are also union members who now find themselves in Walker’s budgetary cross-hairs once again.

While property tax tricks maybe the most intersting of Walker’s tactics, the most humorous event in his time as a Milwaukee County Executive involves the lay-off of unionized county security officers and the eventual re-hire of those same workers as Walker’s action were seemingly shot down in court. When Walker laid-off 26 security guards in 2010 against County Board wishes, the union representing the guards sued. As an arbitrator granted the guards the right to their jobs back, Walker and the County Board had already hired an outside security firm to replace the guards at a cost of 1.1 million per year. As we stand now, Milwaukee County how has two sets of security guards, because Walker failed to listen to the County Board, failed to understand contract law, and continued to attack unions from the county level to the state level within a year.

Soon SS SB/AB 11 will be challenged in court against the claim that it has no fiscal impact and thus requires a no quorum to proceed, as all budgetary measures require in Madison. A recall is underway for 8 Republican Senators and 5 Democratic Senators with the 2012 election cycle looming. Such measures are popping up in many states as public employee unions find themselves pitted against Republican legislatures and governors alike. The next 18 months will be quite the roller-coaster ride not only for Wisconsin, but for the nation as a whole.

Radicals Everywhere

In Issues and Debate on March 10, 2011 at 2:35 pm

On Wednesday’s post here on this blog, much was made of radicalism in many aspects of American life and within many groups thoughout the United States. This couldn’t be more true as many public officials suffer from radical thinking themselves. Before I go on about that topic, I would like to post a video link of Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison testifying before Rep. Peter King’s hearings today on the Radicalization of American Muslims. This video is courtesy of Youtube and C-SPAN3. http://youtu.be/Faxbht2lCoQ

The emotions shared by Congressman Ellison underscore the greater point. Radicals exist in every religion, culture, and ideology and should not be held as a standard for any of them. As Congressman Ellison tells the story of Mohammad Salman Hamdani his emotions spread across the room. Hamdani gave his life on 9/11 to save the lives of people of all races, religions, and cultures who worked in the World Trade Center. In fact dozens of American Muslims died in the 9/11 attacks. Many were of middle class means, showing up for work everyday to support their families and should be applauded for their efforts as we applaud the workers of America en masse for their work ethic. Just as Rep. King faught against the so-called Ground-Zero Mosque that was indeed two blocks from Ground-Zero, he has opened the door for greater hatred and villification towards innocent and hard-working Muslims across the United States.

Despite the perception that the radicalization of American Muslims falsely requires a public hearing, Rep. King has his own issues relaying to the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and Sinn Fein. Rep. King has done little to dispel  this reality as his support for the IRA  in the 1990’s and so on raises eyebrows concerning his own intolerance and radicalism. This brings back Rep. King’s issue with the Ground-Zero Mosque and mosques in general. Rep. King has been known for gaffes in relation to the number of mosques in America, inflating the number of which may be involved in Islamic extremism, and failing to decry the radical actions of Christian fundamentalists such as the Westboro Baptist Church.

Rep. King and Radical Islam

In Issues and Debate on March 9, 2011 at 7:15 pm

Coming to you live on C-SPAN3 this Thursday, Representative Peter King of New York is planning hearings on the “extent of radicalization of American Muslims.” Rep. King and Rep. Cantor have in recent days, defended the need for such hearings that many civil liberties groups are referring to as a witch hunt. Citing the Fort Hood incident of 2009 and the New York City bomb plot of 2010, the Republican Congressmen and their supporters argue the need for such hearings “to try and assess how we can better work with the Muslim community in America to stop the spread of radical Islam.” Considering the nature of these hearings the truth of such a statement will depend upon how these hearings are conducted and what policy ultimately evolves from them.

It is doubtful that these hearings could become another Red Scare a’la Joe McCarthy, though such hearings will surely feed a bias against American Muslims and fuel an already prescient fear. Rep. King appears to have to failed to appreciate other options in the interest of fostering positive relations with the American Muslim community. With that understood, Rep. King and his Republican cohorts do have more self-serving reasons to pursue such a course, as these hearings will undoubtedly give them a greater profile in the media, regardless of negative connotations, and serve to satisfy and ingratiate a vocal portion of the conservative base. They seek the debate more than the policy as the nation begins to roll into the 2012 election cycle.

With raised eyebrows, the spectre of scandals among organized religion should weigh greater upon elected officials as well as the malcontent of the mentally unhinged toward our government and populus alike. It is disingenuous to suggest that the radicalization of American Muslims is the only specific group by which the people of the United States should be concerned. This remains especially true as Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords remains in Texas under-going rehab from a gun-shot wound provided by a disaffected young man of caucasian origin. Unsurprisingly, we have yet to see the GOP majority conduct any meaningful investigation into severe mental illness and its deleterious affect upon the American public. Little investigation has been saught concerning the ongoing problem of child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church as well. All of this while one of their own remains in a bed from an assassination attempt that was as far removed from Radical Islam as one could get.

Despite the fear of homegrown terrorism, the U.S. Congress has failed to investigate past and current indiscretions by both the U.S. Government as well as U.S. originated corporations sponsoring terrorist organizations abroad. For its part, the U.S. Government has saught to embolden both dictators and rebellious groups worldwide in the interest of furthering American foreign policy and hegemonic control. Today it is the deteriorating situation in Libya, but we have also found ourselves in bed with the likes of Saddam Hussein and Bin Laden himself less than 30 years ago. With respect to U.S. corporations, U.S. trade sanctions have less meaning now than ever before. Numerous U.S. corporations as well as corporations from Western Europe, including complicit behavior by European governments, operate in Iran where state-sponsorship of terrorism is the norm. Many operate with U.S. contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan such as Blackwater (now called Xe) and Haliburton with extra-lagal status and little to no oversight from the U.S. Congress. Concerning the allegations of rape, theft, and murder by these corporations, one would think that greater congressional hearings are in order. As with Rep. King’s hearings beginning tomorrow, congressional hearings concerning the use of military contractors was simply a smoke-screen. An attempt to convince opponents that action was being taken when little had in fact been done.

Further concern arises from a standpoint of one who has been struck by the economic downturn as have millions of Americans. Such hearings belie a focus on the economic issues of the day that play a far more predominate role in the everyday lives of the American public than any other single issue. The GOP ran on a platform of fiscal discipline with a focus on jobs and the economy and yet everywhere we turn, we find a social agenda being pushed between the lines. From Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s attack on collective bargaining rights, to Speaker Boehner’s obfuscation concerning abortion funding and Planned Parenthood, gun laws, gay-marriage, English as a national language, and the so-called anchor baby debate, we see that the GOP majority has little concern for what the American public truly elected them for. The ‘shellacking’ of November 2010 was not a signal to push a radical social agenda, but a signal that the nation needs jobs and a stable economy. If Speaker Boehner and his GOP allies are correct concerning public support for their social agenda, one would be compelled to ask them why that same public voted President Obama into office just two years earlier? The GOP is playing a game that will ultimately splinter the party as the Tea-Party movement has already begun to do. The argument that America is a center-right nation may contain some truth, but the moderates that swung the 2010 election will not remain with the GOP as the 2012 election cycle looms. Without a coherent message and platform on jobs and economic growth and a continued focus on slash and burn budget proposals, the GOP has failed to counter Obama’s budget policy and have only succeeded in alienating more of the electorate.

Representative King may indeed pursue a more positive relationship with American Muslims, but along with his Republican colleagues he has lost focus on what truly matters. America is watching.

Libya and the Moment

In Issues and Debate on March 2, 2011 at 7:20 pm

courtesy The New York Times

As Moamar Gadhafi digs in within the boundaries of Tripoli, some poignant questions across the Western World are beginning to take shape. From the likes of Anderson Cooper, Richard Engel, and numerous correspondents camped out near or within Libya report, the revolutionary forces in Libya have much further to go before Gadhafi’s brutal reign comes to an end. For us witnessing this unfold from afar on our televisions, we wonder what this means for the Arab and North African regions and what is the endgame?

 

From the annals of academics attempting to analyze what has occurred in Egypt, Tunisia, and now Libya we are confronted with some sense of realpolik. The overwhelming sense that political sea-changes in the Mid-East will be felt across the globe and the pragmatic reality of might be left in its wake. President Obama finds himself in a precarious position as he walks a tightrope in an attempt to avoid the hawkish mistakes of his predecessor while being decried as an American apologist from his right flank. In contrast, recent polls of the American public demonstrate a growing support for Obama’s more patient approach to foreign policy and the nature of multi-lateral diplomacy.

Adding to the concern of Western observers is a nascent sense that America has not done enough to sew the seeds of revolution in the Arab world. As expected, this sense has come from Republican Leadership who have perfected the art of subtlety by arguing to the point of, but never actually revealing their support for, an American military intervention in the region. The more unexpected tone against the Obama Administration’s chosen response to the current Mid-East crisis is from more liberal-minded Arab-Americans who believe that America has lost a chance to shape the moment in the name of democracy and human rights. Once such observer is Ahmad Tharwat, who writes that

American youths, who used the social network to elect the first black U.S. president, have been missing. They are on the social network mainly to be entertained and to pursue happiness as an empty zero.

Tharwat’s analysis misses anything resembling  facts concerning his currently negative view of ‘American Youths.’ Without facts his voice is that of a pundit, little better than the talking heads on cable news programs. Tharwat goes further to add

America’s youths, however, are nowhere to be found, except spending ever-more billions of minutes on Facebook. American women spend more hours watching cooking on TV than actually cooking, liberating themselves from the kitchen to the couch.

Tharwat’s continued frustration would have me wonder; what exactly would he have ‘America’s youths’ do in this moment in history?

Further on his diatribe Tharwat continues to toss blame in America’s direction, accusing the nation that he lives in with relative comfort, of hypocrisy concerning everything from the treament of women to propping up dictators for oil and even throwing down the term financial jihadists with respect to Wallstreet. While his views contain some truth, Tharwat misses the point of debate and has a difficult time separating the message from the messenger. The message is one of equality, tolerance, and acceptance of the differences one has with one’s neighbors. I agree that the United States falls far short of this grand ideal, but that does not diminish the truth of that ideal. In Tharwat’s mind the current Arab uprising is a demonstration of the Arab youth expanding upon and improving the technicues and technology of the West to provide a greater social good. His words are an attempt to placate his own sense of displacement while competing with the West. No such competition exists. Facebook and Twitter were not created to solely entertain their varied users. The diversity of views displayed on both allow for an exchange of cultural ideals never before possible. The Youth of America do not wish to compete with their counterparts from the Arab world, they wish to have solidarity with them from revolutionary ideals to the more solemn moments of everyday life. The modern tools of organization created by the West were not created to divide, but to unite and foster greater understanding. Until those ideals are realized en masse across the globe, Tharwat’s thinking will remain and we will be no better off.

 

A Political Plea: Drop The Hyperbole

In Issues and Debate on December 28, 2010 at 6:15 pm

A Political Plea: Drop The Hyperbole.

This is a post from The Extinct Existentialist concerning the vitriolic nature of current American politics. I believe this post nails it well.

Obama: The Comeback Kid

In Issues and Debate on December 22, 2010 at 1:09 pm

Today, President Barack Obama signed the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell legislation that forced gay and lesbian servicemembers to live a lie for 17 years. This repeal is not only historic in terms of civil rights, but represents a campaign promise made by the President just over 2 years ago. Liberals and gay-rights activists have been chomping at the bits to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell as well as the Defense of Marriage Act since they passed through Congress some years ago. With the election of Obama and Democratic control of the U.S. Congress, the opportunity was ripe for some movement on these very issues. The irony of this repeal comes as Democrats will soon lose control of the U.S. House and the President has been perceived to be on his political knees. Within the past 2 weeks, President Obama has shown that this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Much to the chagrin of the liberal base, President Obama has recently saved unemployment benefits in a deal brokered with congressional Republicans to extend the Bush era tax-cuts. Though this move may have angered some on the Left, moderates are hailing it as a sign that the President is not without compromise as many conservatives stand speechless if not tearless. The Bush era tax-cuts represent an extension not just for the wealthy, but for all Americans and that is no small thing. With tax-cuts, unemployment benefits, and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell out of the way, word now comes that the U.S. Senate is ready to ratify the new START Treaty with Russia, reducing nuclear armaments and providing greater transparencies of nuclear arsenals for both nations. Surpisingly, many congressional Republicans have crossed over just enough to make all of this happen. The truth is, American Governance is a game of compromise and highly utilitarian at its core. Obama is ready to play this game.

Despite the Healthcare debate of 2009, President Obama appears to be at his best when he is being underestimated. This reality is analogous to the early days of the 2008 election season as well as the final primary battle the President endured with Hilary Clinton and the right-wing media. Obama prevailed at the time and he has prevailed this past couple of weeks. He has found a small slice of space by which to meet in the middle while maintaining a left-center position far greater than that of President Bill Clinton. He is able to garner plebiscitary support from political heavyweights on both sides of the aisle and may now enter his third year in office with some very real victories that cannot be tainted by Palin-esque euphemisms such as ‘death panels’ or ‘socialism, communism, fascism, etc.’ Expanding freedom for gays and lesbians cannot be viewed through some fallacious political kaleidoscope with pictures of Obama as Hitler, for Hitler dreamed of exterminating gays as some Christian fanatics do in America today. Obama cannot be decried by the Left for tax-cuts to the wealthy as those same cuts benefit a struggling middle class and provide extended relief for those who are unemployed.

Indeed as we look back on the first 2 years of Obama, we must not forget what great things have occurred. The President has put two women on the Supreme Court and the first Latina in the process. Though Healthcare Reform was hotly contested, the President pulled it off. General Motors has been resuscitated and is building electric cars, all while recently going public on Wallstreet. The stimulus package may not have provided new jobs for the unemployed, but all research suggests that it saved millions of jobs otherwise.  TARP has saved the economy from further ruin and is on a faster pace to be paid back than originally estimated. On the foreign front, Obama has stopped the spiralling of America’s moral standing on the world stage by simply cutting out the hawkish rhetoric of the Bush years. Combat operations in Iraq have come to an end, drawing down a war begun under false pretenses and conducted with little respect for America’s fighting men and women as well as America’s spiralling budget deficits. Has Obama accomplished everything promised? The answer is no as it is for all Preseidents, but the last two years have had successes yet to be fully measured and this President has much more time, opportunity, and political capital than his critics and proponents would like to admit. 2012 is still a long way off and there is much work yet to be done. Happy Holidays.

President Hails "Historic" DADT Step (via The Page by Mark Halperin)

In Issues and Debate on December 18, 2010 at 4:41 pm

Obama applauds Senate cloture vote in Saturday statement, says repeal "will only underscore the professionalism of our troops." THE WHITE HOUSE Office of the Press Secretary December 18, 2010 Statement by the President on the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010 Today, the Senate has taken an historic step toward ending a policy that undermines our national security while violating the very ideals that our brave men and women in uniform risk … Read More

via The Page by Mark Halperin

Xenophobia, Homophobia, and the United States Senate

In Issues and Debate on December 18, 2010 at 3:22 pm

Today, December 18th, 2010, the conservative argument of working hard, individual achievement, and merit took a back seat to political tactics and false ideals. The long held tradition of judging a man not on the faults of his parents, but on the merit of his individual achievement has failed to be recognized by the current Repbulican minority via the DREAM Act. The Act was pushed by liberal leaders in Congress to allow young immigrants brought to the United States illegally by their parents a chance at citizenship through a college education or service to the People of the United States through the armed forces. As the vote finally came down on a Saturday session of the U.S. Senate, Republicans filibustered and Democratic Leadership failed to garner the 60 votes needed for cloture. This failure provides a context by which to begin a new dialogue as activists and campaigners begin thinking about 2012. The DREAM Act represents the first step in a commom sense approach to immigration reform. This commom sense has been stifled by Republican Leadership and the conservative mantra of self-determination has proven to be mindless rhetoric. Whether it be xenophobia, fear of liberal-leaning Latino voters, or simply the misplaced pride of a minority party, congressional Republicans have failed to live up to the American concepts of what freedom is. Empty rhetoric is not governance and it is hopeful that this display is not a preamble to the Republican Majority that will soon take the reigns in the U.S. House.

With the DREAM Act sufficiently squashed and the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell at the forefront of a lame duck Congress, the U.S. Senate voted 65-31 to repeal a foolish policy and proving that the U.S. Congress is not entirely devoid of reason. With that said, the Nays on repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell came predominantly from Republican Senators bent on pushing a false moral premise that is at odds with the very notions of freedom laid out by our founders over 200 years ago. Unlike the DREAM Act, conservatives see gays in the military and in society at large through the moral kaleidoscope provided mostly by the Christian Right. Though the rhetoric contains arguments concerning the well-being of those serving in the military via unit cohesion and war-time disruption, the truth is that many conservatives have a moral problem with openly gay members of the military as well as within the American community. As the Christian Right and their allies may see gay and lesbian citizens as representing some sort of moral corruption, the true moral corruption exists when freedom is denied. Consequently, this form of rhetoric mirrors those against blacks as the military moved to racially integrate the armed services over half a century ago. Those arguments failed then as they have today.

Contrary to the belief that the DREAM Act was a form of amnesty, the Act truly lays out a path to citizenship with some very difficult requirements. Under the Act, applicants would be required to wait 10 years, have a high school diploma or GED, pay back taxes and application fees, and either be attending college or serving in the military. Beyond that, applicants must be free of a criminal record; a requirement that many members of Congress would fail to fulfill. This ‘path’ is no easy task and represents a foundation for citizenship that many Americans have only through birthright. Without common sense immigration reform that is free of xenophobia and political gamesmanship, this nation will fail to live up to the ideals of freedom or what Abraham Lincoln called “the last, best hope of Earth.”

Minnesota Recount Update

In Issues and Debate on December 5, 2010 at 3:57 pm

The recount in the Minnesota Gubernatorial Election is now down to the last days, with Dec. 7th as the deadline for  Minnesota recount officials to submit results. While Mark Dayton is meeting with members of the Democratic Governor’s Association, supporters of Tom Emmer continue to challenge ballots at recount locations across Minnesota. The challenged ballots have been a source of tension between election officials and the Emmer camp since the recount began. With ballot challenging underway, Emmer supporters have continually challenged other aspects of the recount as well. This all comes amid rumors of a ballot challenge quota instituted internally among the state’s GOP recount staff.

Reports are continually arising concerning frivolous ballot challenges such as those ballots containing no vote for any candidate in the gubernatorial race. Such challenges seem superfluous, but may serve well as stalling tactic, as well as one more reason to pursue a court challenge once the Minnesota Canvassing Board reviews all challenged ballots and certifies the election come Dec. 14th. Among other tactics apparently being used include a challenge by Emmer supporters to the call for additional tables at the Hennepin County Government Center on Dec. 1st. According to Minnesota Public Radio, allegations of bias have been tossed around concerning Plymouth City Clerk Sandy Engdahl as well as Hennepin County Elections Manager Rachel Smith. These allegations only serve to stir the pot and delay the inevitable. The Emmer camp appears to be challenging ballots en masse with hopes of overcoming a nearly impossible deficit of nearly 8700 votes. Without question this strategy can only serve to provide evidence for potential legal action.

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