Archive | March, 2013

My Take on Gay Marriage

28 Mar

One topic has dominated media and social media lately – gay marriage.  The recent discussion started when U.S. Senator from Ohio (and Republican) Rob Portman came out in favor of gay marriage because of his son.  I say recent because this isn’t a new topic by any means.  We have been talking about gay marriage for years.  I as well as most people my age, have supported the right for same-sex couples to marry since I became active in politics.

I’m not surprised that the tide is turning in favor of marriage equality.  I have always thought that one day a majority of people would favor same-sex marriage.  In college I was surprised to learn that even some of my most conservative friends supported the right for same-sex couples to marry.  Towards the end of my college career, I learned that the issue of gay rights was no longer an issue of liberal vs. conservative, but rather that of young vs. old.  That is why the tide is turning.   Conservative columnist George Will pointed out what is happening when he said, “Quite Literally, the opposition to Gay Marriage is dying…”  The electorate is quickly changing.   Two things that seemed impossible just a couple of years ago, support for immigration reform and gay marriage are now within reach.

The only thing that has surprised me recently about the change in attitude of gay marriage is how quickly things have changed.  If someone told me last year that a Republican senator would come out in favor of gay marriage I would have been stunned.  After Senator Portman’s announcement, there has been an increase in U.S. Senators joining Senator Portman.  The senators who recently announced their support for same-sex marriage are Kay Hagan (NC), Jon Tester (MT), Mark Begich (AK), Claire McCaskill (MO), Mark Warner (VA), Jay Rockefeller (WV), Chris Coons (DE), as well as senators who were already on the record supporting gay marriage.  I think it is monumental that we have seen so many public officials come out in favor of gay marriage in such a short time.

The Supreme Court is currently hearing two cases that will have a dramatic effect on gay marriage around the country.  The challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California Prop 8 will be decided soon.  Regardless of the outcome, the nation is moving towards the right direction.  Public support for gay marriage is rising and is higher now than it was for Civil Rights in the 1950’s.  One of many reasons that I bring that up is that I believe that gay marriage is a civil rights issue.  The widow of Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King, voiced her support for gay marriage.  She saw it as a civil rights issue.

There are several arguments against gay marriage but it all boils down to one argument and that is religious objections, which has no standing on the law of our country.  Our constitution forbids making religious beliefs law of the land.  We were founded on freedom of religion, not the idea that everyone has to follow the majority religion.  It is for these reasons and many others that gay marriage should be legal in our country.

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Gun Control and the NRA

20 Mar

As many of you know, we are once again having a discussion on how to deal with gun violence in this country.  Last year there were several mass shootings in this country ending with a mass shooting at an elementary school.  The most horrifying part of the Sandy Hook elementary shooting was that most of the victims were no older than seven years old.  The shooting was even shocking enough to make some of the most adamant supporters of guns change their views on the issue.

I am concerned about gun violence, and not just the mass shootings that we have had in the last year.  The mass shootings last year were horrific, but they are hardly isolated incidents.  I’m from a southern suburb of Chicago.  I live in a safe neighborhood, but there are areas around me that have seen crime rates rise in recent years.  I don’t remember the last time the local news didn’t start with the first story being about a murder in the Chicago area.  What I don’t understand is, why is this accepted in our society?  According to the New York Daily News, there were 500 murders last year in the city of Chicago (as published several days before 2012 ended).  That’s around 10 times the amount of all of the mass shootings last year combined happening every year.

Almost everyone in this country realizes that there is a problem with gun violence, but we can’t agree on how to solve the problem.  I somewhat agree with the phrase, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”  That doesn’t mean we should make it as easy as possible for criminals and other dangerous people to have guns.  As it stands right now background checks are limited, and you can buy a 100 round magazine with no problem.   We also have a weakened Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms which is responsible for monitoring illegal weapons.  They don’t even have a permanent head of the ATF, only someone who is part time.

I don’t think there is any one thing we can do that will solve all of the problems, but I believe there are things we can do which would help stop some of the gun violence.  The first thing that can be done is for the senate to vote for a permanent head of the ATF.  I understand the ATF has made mistakes in the past, but that’s no excuse to leave the ATF without someone permanently running it.  We also need to expand background checks to cover every transaction of any weapon.

There has been a lot of talk about the “gun show loophole” lately.  Anyone who goes to a gun show can buy a weapon without a background check.  Why is this significant?  According to a CNN article titled, “Universal Background Check: What Does it mean?” 40% of all guns purchased are through private sales; no background check is required.  That means that 40% of all weapon sales are done so without regard to who it is being sold to.  This isn’t about law abiding citizens owning a gun anymore.

The New York Times has an interesting article called, “In Some States, Gun Rights Trump Order of Protection.”  It outlines that there are some states that don’t require an abusive person to relinquish their weapons with orders of protection.  Spousal abuse is obviously a serious problem, and there is no reason why the abusive person should be allowed to keep their weapons.  The article also points out that the NRA has fought hard against any law that requires the abuser to relinquish their weapon or weapons.  I’m not suggesting the NRA supports abuse, but they are supporting a gun owner’s right over that of the abuse victim.

The issue of gun control has also made its way to the congressional race in my home district.  There recently was a primary in Illinois’ 2nd congressional district.  In the Democratic primary, there were essentially 3 front-runners; state senator Toi Hutchinson, former IL representative Robin Kelly, and former congresswoman Debbie Halvorson.  Both Hutchinson and Halvorson had high rankings by the NRA in the past while Robin Kelly ran on the issue of gun control.  New York mayor Michael Bloomberg had has his super pac run ads attacking Debbie Halvorson and Toi Hutchinson’s high ratings from the NRA.  Toi Hutchinson eventually dropped out and endorsed Robin Kelly.  I supported Robin Kelly partly because of the issue of gun violence.  Robin Kelly won the primary easily and is the favorite to win in the general election next month.

We are seeing gun violence all around the country, and not just in large cities.  The only thing everyone agrees on is that we need to do something to stop this violence.  I am optimistic that we can get something done (mainly background checks).  Despite what some people think there has been no discussion to take all of the guns away from the whole country.  That is an overblown, paranoid fear that the NRA is perpetuating.  The gun control legislation that has been proposed would not affect law abiding citizens.  I hope we can come together as a country and get something done to address the issue of gun violence.

The links to the articles I cited are

CNN: ‘Universal background check:’ What does it mean?

http://www.cnn.com/2013/01/14/us/universal-background-checks

 

New York Times: “In some states, gun rights trump orders of protection.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/18/us/facing-protective-orders-and-allowed-to-keep-guns.html?hp&_r=1&

What Happened to Civility in Politics?

14 Mar

One of the big news stories recently was the dinner that the Republicans had with President Obama.  It got me thinking, what happened to civility in politics?  I have asked this question (or something similar) of several people, including Chris Matthews and former U.S. Senator Russ Feingold.  They both had a similar response.  While there is more than one reason, part of it came from Newt Gingrich’s style when he was in Congress.  I agree that it is part of the reason, but certainly not the only reason.  Despite the divisiveness that has existed in politics, there have still been some lasting friendships in government over the years.

I believe that the congress and government in general was less vitriolic then it is today.  There are several reasons for that.  Throughout the years there have been lasting friendships in our government.  During World War II, Daniel Inouye and Bob Dole met and became good friends.  Both men remained friends when they were in Congress despite their political differences.  Their friendship lasted until the day Senator Inouye passed away in December of last year.  John F. Kennedy and Nixon were another unlikely duo who were friends while they were in the Senate.  Although it was more common for political opposites to be friends in the past, there have been several instances of this recently.

John Kerry and John McCain are two political opposites, who have remained good friends throughout the years.  Both men served in Vietnam and both were ironically the targets of smear campaigns when each of them ran for president (Both against George W. Bush also ironically).  The vicious attacks against both of them are another symptom of this recent era of politics.  In previous years vicious attacks weren’t as common as they are now.  The main reason for that is that politicians from each side of the isle aren’t forming the same friendships they once did.  It is a lot easier to go after someone on an issue if you aren’t friends with them.   Another thing to consider is that even if they are able to form friendships, the current political atmosphere makes it difficult to do so.

Senator Lindsey Graham has worked with Democrats in the past, and is now facing a primary challenge because of it.  I mentioned in the previous blog that former Indiana Senator Dick Lugar was defeated in a Republican primary.  He was targeted from the right primarily because he worked with former Senator John Kerry to pass the START treaty (which was signed between the U.S. and Russia to reduce nuclear arms), but also because he didn’t agree with his party on every issue.  Today’s hyper- partisan politics is yet another reason we have had the worst gridlock in our government than we have ever had before.  This isn’t because we are dealing with more divisive issues then we have in the past, if anything there were even more divisive issues that we had to deal with in the past.

The Civil Rights bills of the 1960’s were some of the most controversial and divisive bills that we have ever dealt with in our nation’s history, as was the case for the 13th Amendment towards the end of the Civil War.  The 1964 Civil Rights Act was much more of a partisan issue then the Affordable Care Act which passed several years ago.  There had been filibusters every time a Civil Rights bill was introduced.  After it passed, congress did what they were supposed to do, continue legislating.  Instead of doing that now, congress has become more polarized after debating a controversial issue.

Another unlikely duo in governing was former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill and former President Ronald Reagan.  They obviously disagreed on many political issues, yet they met for tea at the White House.  At the end of the day, they both tackled big issues like the budget and entitlement programs despite their differences.  I still think we can tackle the big issues, but things need to change in congress.  More friendships should be formed, and senators from both sides need to be willing to compromise to get things done.  I will close with a touching picture taken as Senator Daniel Inouye lay in state.  Former Senator Bob Dole has to get around in a wheelchair.  Even though it is difficult for him to stand, he was determined to honor his friend and wartime colleague.  The photo was posted by www.rollcall.com.

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Elections Make for Bad Governing

6 Mar

I’m going to start this off by saying unequivocally that I am obviously for elections happening, but elections have unintended (or sometimes intended) consequences.  Despite money’s influence in our elections, I think we are lucky to have a country which has regularly scheduled and usually fair elections.  That’s not to say that there aren’t side effects to our elections.

We have had intense gridlock either constant or periodically for the past 20 years.  One of the most divisive issues over that time has been health care reform.  In 1994 it led to the Republicans taking control of Congress and in 2010 it led to the Republicans taking over the House of Representatives.  It has also been a dangerous issue for Republicans.  The Paul Ryan Budget which privatizes Medicare cost Republicans a house seat in New York, and left several of their members running scared.  Governor Rick Scott of Florida recently decided to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act because he is facing a tough re-election.  Health care isn’t the only contentious issue or the only reason our government has had to deal with gridlock.

Elections aren’t just dominated by arguing between the two parties, the arguing has been even more so about in party fighting.  I believe it has dominated the Republican Party more than the Democratic Party.  However, Democrats have had instances with in party fighting.  In 2010, U.S. Senator from Arkansas Blanche Lincoln faced a tough re-election.  Even before the general election, she faced a tough primary challenge from then Lieutenant Gov Bill Halter who was more liberal.  She still won the primary, but it cost the party (and possibly her) vital resources for the 2010 fall campaign.  I have no doubt that the Republican Party has been far more damaged by in party fighting then the Democratic Party.

Both during and since the 2008 election Republicans have gone through an identity crisis.  During the 2008 election most of the Republicans running for president would constantly tell everyone that they were “the” consistent conservative.  During this election, the Tea Party was being born.  Sarah Palin’s selection as McCain’s VP pick energized Conservatives and started a movement which became the Tea Party.  Sarah Palin started going off on her own in the campaign, frustrating some Republicans.  She used ugly rhetoric, calling into question Barack Obama’s patriotism and even suggested that he is a terrorist.  The extreme part of the Republican Party reveled in it.  McCain and Palin may have lost the election, but it propelled Sarah Palin into the leadership of a new movement.

After the 2008 elections the Republicans were lost.  It happens with any party that loses an election.  Instead of moving to the center and choosing moderate candidates in elections, the Republicans chose to move farther to the right.  It may have worked in some races, but I think it has ultimately damaged their party.  I have no doubt that it cost them any chance of winning back the United States Senate in the last two cycles.  In 2010 their nominees for senate in Nevada (Sharron Angle) and Delaware (Christine O’Donnell) cost them very winnable seats.  In 2012 Senate nominees in Missouri (Akin), Indiana (Mourdock), and North Dakota (Berg) cost them seats they easily could have won had they nominated better candidates.  Their quest for a “perfect party” has cost them dearly and will continue to if they don’t learn their mistakes of the past two elections.

Utah is one example of the most conservative candidate succeeding.  In 2010, incumbent senator Bill Bennett was defeated in a primary by Mike Lee.  Mike Lee went on to win the general election.  The reason why he was able to win is because Utah is one of the most conservative states in the union.  This strategy of looking for the ideologically perfect Republican hasn’t and won’t work everywhere.  Karl Rove and Newt Gingrich see that but many in their party don’t.  Richard Lugar lost his senate primary to Richard Mourdock in Indiana.  Lugar was targeted by the Tea Party because he worked with Democrats on several issues including the START treaty.  Lindsay Graham of South Carolina may face a challenge in the Republican primary next year because he has worked with Democrats.

I have always believed (with both parties), that it is a bad idea to always look for the candidate that perfectly fit their party.  The Democrats got the senate back in 2006 because they found a coalition of moderate, conservative, and liberal Democrats.  What incentive does any Republican have to work with Democrats if they are constantly under the threat of a primary challenge?  The main reason that we have had such intense gridlock recently is because many Republicans are afraid to stand up to their party.  It may make for good politics, but it makes for really bad governing.

Sequestration and the Budget

2 Mar

As many of you know, sequestration or spending cuts have taken effect.  While I believe that we need to take steps to solve our deficits, I don’t think sequestration as a whole is the right approach to our deficit.

We need to deal with our long-term deficit, but there are ways of dealing with it without hurting our recovery.  The tax increases in the fiscal cliff deal will help, but these are nowhere near what we need to tackle our deficit.  I don’t believe we should be looking at cuts in government spending right now unless they are targeted in a way that won’t hurt the recovery.  Republicans keep saying that we don’t want to end up like Greece or the rest of Europe, but what Republicans are proposing is very similar to the austerity measures in Europe.  European countries enacted cuts during the Great Recession.  The results have been disastrous.  Some of the countries have slipped back into a recession because of the cuts.  During a recession governments should focus on growing rather than dealing with deficits.

As it is, fewer tax dollars are being collected because of the recession.  Budget cuts impact the deficit more without damaging the economy when we have recovered from the Great Recession.  Don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean we can’t deal with the deficit in other ways.  We could end subsidies to oil companies and fix our tax code to generate more revenue.  Big oil and multi-billion dollar companies don’t need a tax benefit to stay functional.  G.E. for example has not only avoided paying taxes, they receive money through our tax system.  Fixing this problem isn’t just about tax fairness; it’s a small step we could take towards dealing with our deficit.

In the long-term, I think we will have to adjust our entitlements so that they can have longevity.  In the 1980’s congress and President Ronald Reagan worked together on Medicare Reform so that the program could stay solvent.  We need to make changes to our entitlements in the near future.  This by no means we need to privatize everything, it just means we need to make changes like raising the retirement age by one year.  There are many options on the table that are viable options, but Paul Ryan’s budget is not one of them.  The deficit needs to be dealt with but we need to be putting most if not all of our attention towards other things.

We should be putting all of our energy into growing at pre-recession levels.  The private sector is making steady improvements, but the government needs to help.  Something needs to be done to improve our country’s infrastructure.  We have thousands of bridges that are structurally deficient.  So we have people out of work and bridges that need work done.   Why can’t we pass a bill to repair our country’s bridges and roads?  It would put people back to work and fix our bridges.  There is some bi-partisan agreement that we need to repair roads and bridges, but both parties are having trouble on agreeing with how it should get done.  During the Great Depression we put people to work by building things.  Even if some of the work is temporary, it is vital because it gives people employment until the private sector can fully recover.  I’m not suggesting that government do everything, but it should definitely play a role in recovering our economy.  I supported the stimulus, but I don’t think it went far enough to have the effect it was suppose to make.  While I don’t think these cuts will be the end of the world, I don’t think they are a good idea during a recovery.