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Immediately after President Obama took office in Jan. 2009, I began to see unsubstantiated bumper stickers appear with slogans like, “How’s all that change workin’ out for ya?” and “Don’t blame me, I voted for McCain!” which I found both hilarious and saddening since the president had not even unpacked his suitcase before ignorant voters were blaming him for the state of affairs.

It was as if the direct links to the previous 28 years of Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Bush were completely erased the moment a black Democrat assumed office. After all, the president had not even addressed congress, much less signed any new legislation. But sure, the recession, the financial collapse, the burst of the housing bubble, the bank bailouts—all of which occurred before Obama took the oath—yeah, that was all his fault.

In other words, Republicans were all too willing to criticize the president for things that had nothing to do with his administration, and could not have since he wasn’t in office when they happened, and had no evidence (tangible or otherwise) to back up their claims.

If conservatives were so willing to blame President Obama for things that did not happen during his tenure, surely they will be equally anxious to decry the role of government and the office of the executive after witnessing decidedly sharp and notable declines resulting from several years of flawed, foolish, dyed-in-the-wool Republican policy from a puppet governor. Won’t they?

So let us examine the current affairs in the state off Wisconsin, shall we? Read the rest of this entry »

The first four years draw to a close. And between a fractured and disjointed Democratic minority, obstructionist Republican lawmakers, and a campaign year of gridlock and Executive foot-dragging on long-since approved regulation, we don’t really have a lot to show for them.

Sure, one of the big cuffs has now been taken off—reelection—but the truth is, what we’ve seen from our “golden prophet” isn’t anything less than we should have expected. After all, the Left has been so hell-bent on finding a figurehead for the Progressive Cause, we kind of didn’t bother to firm up our identity, develop sound policy, or decide how best to disseminate it.

In other words, we found our spokesperson long before we had a product to sell, much less a path to market.

The Right, however, doesn’t have this problem. If there is one thing we know for sure, it is what plans and machinations will be cultivated when the Right plows in a new field of political power, be it Executive, Legislative, or Judicial. We all know what the platform of the Republican party is: supply side philosophy, tax cuts (with the bulk of the benefit going to corporations and the top 1%), deregulation of corporations and industry, reducing the scope and life of social programs, weakening environmental and consumer protections, and finding a way to manipulate policy for their own political gain. Why is it any surprise to us that policy on all of these fronts is already waiting in the hopper and springs to life the day they take office?

Take Wisconsin, for example. After winning the election, yet before taking office, the Walker administration Read the rest of this entry »

Back in the 80’s, I was into sports cars in a big way.

I’m not talking about the average gearhead’s dream of Corvettes, Camaros and Mustangs. I’m talking the real McCoys, the top shelfers: the Lamborghini Countach, the Lotus Esprit Turbo, The Vector W8, and the much-hallowed Ferrari F40. I was a loyal subscriber to Car and Driver and though I didn’t yet know how to drive, my dreams of one day operating such a magnificent piece of machinery would enchant me as I poured over the pages.

Of course, it was all a pipe dream. I knew I’d never have $250,000 to spend on a sports car, and even if I did, what a wasteful purchase it would be. But it was the 80’s, the pinnacle of materialism, affluence, and ridiculous narcissism. It was inspiring to fantasize about the untold spoils that may lie ahead in my lifetime.

I recall my parents’ dreams of that time, their own hopes for the future. Nothing too greedy, and certainly more realistic than my visions of sports cars: worldly travel in later life, a small A-frame on a lake somewhere, spoiling their grandchildren at Christmas, possibly an early retirement. Those expectations hardly seemed to be unrealistic to me or to them. Back then the promise of Reaganomics and supply-side policy seemed destined to be profitable for everyone.

What they didn’t know at the time was that wages had reached their apex Read the rest of this entry »

Note: You may wish to read Part I on this theme from April of 2012. It examines the state of affairs regarding health coverage in the US.

The so-called debate surrounding health coverage in the US is fraught on all sides with a disorienting mosaic of platitudes, generalizations, falsehoods, suppositions, and extremism. One cannot even begin to consider the validity of any of the speculations being made because so many are purely to convince us that our lives, liberty, health, or happiness are in danger.

Such is the way of policy-making in these times.

As one who relies on cold, hard facts and supporting evidence, I find this “discussion” to be offensively weak on what I would call substantive arguments. So when real stories surface that expose the cracks in the fear-based memes built around our policy, I try to learn from them. For the hard truth about this crisis is that it is directly affecting people’s lives and livelihoods every day.

I saw one of my caregivers yesterday. I’ve known and depended on her for a long time, so I’ll gladly call her a friend. She’s single, in her early 40’s, educated, owns a home, and she runs a small business for which she is the only employee. She does well enough, but has had to take a second job from time to time when the business wasn’t covering the bills. She’s a hard worker, a kind person, and is both responsible and accountable in her life.

After six years, her business started to really take off. Read the rest of this entry »

Election Day approaches. I stay outside of the fray of political ads and commentary. I care not what the talking heads or SuperPACs want me to think or believe. Besides, I’m not really one for marketing ploys. Nonetheless, a decision looms, and I’ve still not made up my mind.

No, I’m not on the fence between President Obama or Governor Romney; there is almost nothing on the Romney platform that entreats my consideration, much less my vote. The problem is, there’s not much of the President’s record of the last four years that attracts me either. Sure, in toto it’s far more than the Republicans have offered (or even thought about), but compared to the high hopes and soaring rhetoric of 2008 it appears we’ve fallen woefully short.

There are a handful of things I like from this administration, namely its views on women’s rights, progressive taxation, fairness in immigration, and finally, though bungled terribly, gay rights. With some significant exceptions, I’ve also been proud of their shrewd foreign policy, knowing full well that Secretary Clinton deserves most of the credit. And while I’m glad there’s been a step in the right direction on health coverage, the political missteps and far-too-concessive approach that enveloped it left a bitter taste in my mouth and conclude it a hollow victory at best.

That’s about where my congruence with the President ends. Read the rest of this entry »

Sunday is the 42nd anniversary of the creation of Earth Day, a remarkable movement founded in Madison, WI by then US Senator and former Governor, Gaylord Nelson.

Earth Day has one central purpose: to encourage people to consider humanity’s impact on the environment and act in ways that reduce the negative effects on all ecosystems and species.

It is a simple goal, but has far-reaching implications and can be summed up in their most-recognized slogan, “Think Globally. Act Locally.” It was Senator Nelson who coined this idea, insisting that local action and education be the central method of Earth Day rather than protests and sit-ins.

“Act Locally” does not just mean in counties or municipalities, it means in our homes and businesses, and most importantly, our lives. Sure it means big things like urging local, state, and federal governments to pass laws that protect our environment, but it also means smaller things like being realistic about what we need to consume, Read the rest of this entry »

Despite all the hubbub—all the protests, tea parties, and lies about death panels—it seems that the media, the government, and practically the whole damn populace continues to miss, well, everything about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) and what it means for health care in the United States.

They miss what it does, what it doesn’t do, what it’s called (Obamacare? Really?), how it came into being, what the truly good parts are, what the truly bad parts are, and how this legislation walks the fine line between two more extreme options: the current system, which condones an unchecked health insurance industry that can discriminate against anyone at any time by denying coverage, leaves 50 million people uninsured, and sticks the rest of us with the bill, or Universal Health Coverage for all (also known as single-payer, government health coverage, or socialized health insurance).

Let me first disclose that I am not a fan of PPACA as a whole. And while it puts an end to some of the worst practices of the health insurance industry, which is good, it also rewards that same industry with a slew of new customers. That’s bad.

Before I dive into this quagmire, Read the rest of this entry »

I find myself disgruntled lately.

Shocked? I’m sure not, if you’ve read most of my other posts. But you’re probably asking, “What’s got you this time?” So here it is: our ridiculous two-party system of government.

I’m sick of Democrats. I’m sick of Republicans. I’m sick of party politics constantly trumping public policy. I’m sick of bickering, and empty promises. I’m sick of gerrymandering, and stalwart tactics, and of the threat of filibuster (because they don’t actually filibuster anymore you know). I’m sick of misleading 8-second sound bites by majority/minority leaders that exemplify denial and puerility more than reason and cooperation (of course, our attention spans and inane media have a lot to do with that – but that’s for another time).

On issue after issue, threat after threat, problem after problem, the whole idea of passing laws and enacting public policy expeditiously is secondary, if not tertiary, to protecting “The Party” and weakening the opposition. Read the rest of this entry »

Note: Though I typically focus on public policy, this post is about politics, which is not the same thing and I try to avoid. However, in light of the election year, there is a valid point that I feel I must make on the principles of rational argument. I hope you will indulge me. 

Back in January 2001, I didn’t have any real problem with the Bush administration.

I mean, I didn’t like him, of course. After all, it was painful to hear him speak, so obtuse and inarticulate. I found it embarrassing to be represented on the world stage by such a tactless and ignorant buffoon. And I couldn’t believe that Americans could be so base as to (almost) elect the far-less-intelligent son of a one-term president whom we had booted out of office not 8 years prior. But all of that is actually just personal and cosmetic. When it came to policy, upon entering office, I was prepared to give President Bush a chance. After all, he had promised to be, in everyone’s understanding, a compassionate conservative, vowing on the campaign trail to focus on a strong military, education, cutting taxes, and aiding minorities. Didn’t sound so bad.

For 10 months, I just sat back and let it happen, and nothing really terrible came up. In fact, aside from a $200 advance on my next tax return (which I had to pay for later), I barely even noticed a change in “leadership.”

But in September, as you know, the proverbial feces impacted the oscillator and the bent of the administration shifted drastically. In the face of a national tragedy, an executive power grab ensued. As a nation and a culture, we’d been cold-cocked. And while we were still reeling from the cheap shot, the administration was Read the rest of this entry »

Congratulations, President Obama, you finally found your Presidential voice! Such a shame that it came so late.

It was a great speech-probably your best SOTU-employing powerful, statesmanlike language and stroking progressive ideals to the brink of political orgasm. Yes, it was a terrific speech; and it should be because the way things are looking, it’s likely to be your last.

This year, it’s easy to throw out a bunch of great ideas and bold initiatives, backed with powerful rhetoric; you’re talking to a congress that has already vowed to do nothing. But beyond the applause and standing O’s, past the bright Source4 spotlights and television cameras, there are legions of lamenting liberals, a plethora of pissed-off progressives, and an assload of angry Americans who are having trouble pairing the leadership in your language with the awkwardness of your administration.

For three years you’ve portrayed yourself as stumbling buffoons, unsure of your agenda. Your message has been fragmented and murky. Your communications have been guarded and timid. Your domestic policy wandering and perfunctory. We have come to expect very little from you in terms of actual leadership, and it shows in how easily Republicans have been able to effectively frame every – single – issue, successfully derailing your game plan before you’ve even left the huddle. Read the rest of this entry »

It seems we’re looking at yet another legislative session, in both state legislatures and congress, where partisan gridlock will be preventing any effective, relevant, or necessary legislation from passing. Just read about what’s going on in Wisconsin, Colorado, and the upcoming congress (here and here).

Most Americans have been screaming for three years for our legislatures to do something to help us, the common citizen. And despite hollow promises of “a laser-focus on jobs” and “reaching across the aisle” from legislators, it seems all of their time is spent arguing over non-job-related bills with obvious political motivations and assurances of furthering our political and ideological divide.

Naturally, this has me frustrated, pensive, and reflecting back on a different time.

There have always been political and ideological divides, to be sure. But at a time of such crises, with such a struggle occurring in so many households across the country, one might think that a few, maybe even a small majority of lawmakers, could actually push aside the inflexible and overbearing will of their parties and simply start to do something.

Perusing recent legislative history, bipartisanship seemed to be more commonplace. Look at Nixon’s Impeachment, the Reagan-O’Neill cooperation, the bipartisan vote to censure President Clinton, or the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (McCain-Feingold).

We’ve worked together before, even amidst other bitter ideological divides. So why can’t we seem to do it now, especially in light of the dire circumstances of so many Americans? Read the rest of this entry »

Yesterday, the Montana Supreme Court upheld a century-old law banning corporate spending in state and local political campaigns, thereby ignoring the US Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling from almost two years ago.

This is a remarkable ruling by the Montana High Court (a 5-2 decision in a conservative state, no less), and it lends credence to the arguments against Citizens United that have been made by the majority of Americans, legal scholars, and many members of both parties for the last year.

It will likely be overturned, of course. If the plaintiffs appeal, the US Supreme Court naturally will simply rescind this ruling, likely with another 5-4 majority decision. But for the first time, a notable panel of jurists has openly written in a majority opinion that the US Supreme Court’s ruling last year was, in essence, a steaming pile of feces artfully molded to appear as though it stood on legal grounds.

The Montana Court’s decision is useful and important, but not really a surprise to us, right? I mean we, the uneducated masses and wanna-be lawyers of the nation who love to wax legal on the weekends, have been calling “Bullshit” on Citizens United for two years! Read the rest of this entry »

I love Christmas for all the right reasons.

Despite all of its faults, its overwhelmingly misguided practice, and it being the single most successful marketing scam in the history of mankind, it’s still a great idea.

No, I don’t mean Santa Claus (fun though he may be), nor presents wrapped in yards upon yards of paper made solely for ripping up and throwing away, nor chopping down trees to put them in our living rooms for a month and then toss out with the garbage (maybe we should wrap them up in used wrapping paper!), nor wasting hundreds of thousands of kilowatt-hours of electricity to power tiny, twinkly lights; the number of which is meant to serve as a proportional indicator of one’s enthusiasm for the season.

The idea I am talking about is what I, and others, refer to as “the Christmas Spirit” – the idea that Christmas can serve as an annual reminder to be a little more generous, more courteous, more merciful, even nicer. A time to look at those with less and feel some empathy, hopefully enough to actually reach out and help them. A time to look at those with trials greater than our own, whether it be in health, or happiness, or love, and extend our own good fortune to them. This is the time of year for us to give pause, count our blessings, and share them with others, especially strangers and those in need. Read the rest of this entry »

Ever since my youth, when I began to define my moral, ethical, and political philosophies, there has been an aspect of conservatism that I’ve never understood and have yet to hear a reasonable, rational explanation in its defense. It is, in essence, a fallacy and a blatant refusal to accept the reality of life.

The aspect of conservatism to which I am referring is the notion of adhering to tradition, of keeping things back, of holding on to “the way things were.”

**NEWSFLASH** – There is but one constant throughout history, and that is Change.

I cannot think of a single incidence in history where any attempt, by any entity, at holding firmly to a traditional practice, belief, or ideology succeeded in keeping change at bay forever. It may take longer, it may be more difficult or even violent in process, but in the end change always occurs, whether those in power like it or not. Read the rest of this entry »

It takes a certain fortitude to enlist in the military.  A fortitude that, I am not ashamed to admit, I never had.

Despite a deep respect for those in my family who served in the armed forces and a lifelong fascination with all things military, at a young age I knew in my heart that I didn’t have what it takes. Be it a disinclination to take orders without question, fear of a painful death, or a reluctance to kill others in the name of possibly misguided policy, I was fully aware then and now that I would not have made a good soldier, sailor, or marine.

It is this same awareness that makes me so grateful for the men and women who have and continue to serve our nation.  Fortunately not everyone has the same hang-ups and hesitancy that I had as a youth, and because of that I am blessed with the privilege of liberty and the honor of holding our veterans in the absolute highest regard, honoring them, and thanking them as often as possible. Read the rest of this entry »

As the Republican 2012 lineup jockeys for position, a familiar and all-too-misleading premise continues to be tossed around – that the United States Government should be run like a corporation.

I categorically reject this notion. It is dangerous and offensive to our citizenry and the American way of life. Let me explain why.

First of all, corporations are solidly and solely executive-based organizations. The policies of a corporation are not created by a legislature. They are handed down as edicts from the executive branch: Presidents, VPs, executive officers. Little to no input is taken from the majority of Read the rest of this entry »

It’s true. We need oil.

In the short-term our entire infrastructure is dependent on oil. Since it is used to make gasoline, diesel, kerosene, natural gas, propane, plastic, heating oil, and industrial fuel, it is obvious that we can’t simply stop using it tomorrow. This is a fact and to ignore it and think otherwise is both ignorant and futile.

However, here is another fact. Oil is finite. Someday we will run out, plain and simple. The length of time before that happens may be disputed, but nonetheless, we will run out one day. And there’s no making more of it. It took hundreds of millions of years to make the batch we’re blowing through. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.

That being said, assuming an extended existence of humankind (a significant assumption, mind you) and therefore its need for energy, one must logically conclude that we will need another source of energy at some point. Personally, I would argue that we need it quickly, now, while we still have oil to burn in the interim. We should be using our quick and easy fossil fuels not for individual and corporate profit but for collective betterment and for producing better ways to harness infinite and renewable sources of energy such as wind, solar, geothermal, and hydroelectric.

Here’s another fact: the world’s need for energy is growing. With the population over 7 billion people, and more and more of those people (and their economies) becoming dependent on oil, it isn’t simply a matter of sustaining our oil production to satiate our current thirst. Rather, we must continue to increase production in order to keep up with the growing demand. Read the rest of this entry »

As I have said, I am a sap when it comes to dogs.

Recently I read about Rufus, Target, and Sasha, three stray dogs who together saved the lives of up to 50 US soldiers in Afghanistan when they prevented a suicide bomber from entering a barracks on base. The bomber got the door open but Rufus and Target had latched on to his legs, preventing him from entering. Sasha was barking wildly, alerting her friend, Sgt. Chris Duke, to the danger. When the bomber realized he could go no further, he detonated his vest.

Sasha, the smallest of the three, was injured so badly that she had to be put down. Rufus and Target were both horribly burned over the majority of their bodies. Thanks to the soldiers, they were nursed back to health and survived the attack. This Reader’s Digest article has the whole story.

Keep in mind that these dogs were only curs. They aren’t purebreds, or show dogs. They were simply mutts, strays from a war-ravaged country who, despite having no reason to care about humans, acted out of instinct and loyalty to the soldiers they had befriended. Even though they probably did not know their lives were in danger, their acts were still, by all accounts, heroic. They selflessly put themselves between their friends and danger, giving fur, skin, and blood in the process and, in Sasha’s case, the ultimate sacrifice.

Can you blame me for being a sap over dogs, when I see what three strays are capable of?

Unfortunately, this post is not about dog heroism. Rather, it is about human incompetence, selfishness, and cruelty. Read the rest of this entry »

In case you hadn’t heard, the US Congressional approval rating just hit an all-time low. According to a recent NBC poll, the country’s approval rating of Congress just dropped again, to a measly 12%. It’s amazing that so few Americans have confidence in what the founding fathers had intended to be the most powerful branch of the US government.

Even more amazing, however, are the re-election rates of those very same members of Congress. Historically, congressional re-election rates are quite high. Normally hovering around 95% in fact.

What can we glean from this inconsistency? It appears that while the vast majority of people disapprove of Congress as a whole, an even larger majority doesn’t believe their representative is part of the problem. I know I don’t. My representative is ethical, responsive, resistant to special interests, and generally an all-around good public servant in my opinion. Perfect by no means, but acceptable in most ways. Or so I believe.

Nonetheless, Congress stinks. I know it; you know it; we see it every day in headlines and sound bites. Problems are either addressed too late, poorly, or left ignored altogether. It seems that the issues – OUR problems – are nothing more than opportunities for political jockeying by the key players in both power parties. When things like humans-Americans-losing their homes, their jobs, or their health insurance are used as nothing more than chances for politicians to display their political ideology, something is seriously wrong.

Well, I have a solution. What if we fired them all? What if every two years we fired each and every one of them? That’s right, 100% turnover in every congressional election. Read the rest of this entry »

I like to talk about public policy. I like examining an issue from multiple angles. I like reading the results of other’s research and seeing what sort of solutions and ideas stem from it. I like considering the numerous viewpoints on any issue, as well as people’s informed personal opinions. After all, that is what good policy is based on: research, data, reason, truth, weighing outcomes, compromise, dialog, all tempered and driven by an intent to produce a sound policy that will benefit the largest group of people over the longest term.

Unfortunately, most of the time, when I try to get a policy discussion going with a given group of people, the response I get from someone (or all of them) is, “Do you really want to talk about politics?”

***NEWSFLASH: Policy is not politics.***

Public policy involves a search for truth, the common good, sound research, careful examination, and yes, action by our government.

Politics, on the other hand, pretty much stands in the way of all of that.

I’m not sure when these two very different nouns became so closely enjoined in people’s minds, but it seems you can’t simply have a discussion about the right thing to do to address an issue of the people’s interest without somebody either clinging to a political ideology, blindly defending a political party’s standpoint, or pointing fingers at a presumed political adversary.

Politics is everything that seems to inhibit, hinder, deflect, regress, repeal, water down, suppress, or detract attention from sound public policy. Read the rest of this entry »

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