Thursday, June 30, 2005

Future Congresswoman-Elect Cegelis

The DCCC wanted Christine Cegelis to raise $250,000 in campaign contributions by July 01, 2005. Thanks to a huge number of small donors (& a little help from Daily Kos) she made the goal with room to spare.

Money is important. The votes are more important. Therefore, donors & voters should consider supporting the rest of the current list of Democrat challengers:

John Pavich challenging Rep. Weller in the 11th CD,

Ruben Zamora challenging Speaker Hastert in the 14th CD, &

Dr. David Gill challenging Rep. Johnson in the 15th CD.

Each one is a significantly better choice to serve the public trust (as opposed to an incumbent that stays in because he "likes it"), shares the vision of the Democratic Party leadership, & is firmly committed to add this seat to the Democratic majority in 2006.

A little acknowledgement & support from the state Party leaders would be novel as well.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

From Whistleblower to Congressional Challenger

A month ago I commented on how wonderful it would be to have Coleen Rowley as a Democrat Congressional Challenger. Today she formally announced her candidacy.

She’s a fighter for the public trust & the Rule of Law. That makes her an excellent choice for Congress.

Former Minneapolis FBI agent Coleen Rowley, whose public criticism of the bureau set off an uproar over the FBI's pre-Sept. 11 counterterrorism lapses, said Monday that she will run as a Democrat for the U.S. House.

Rowley plans to challenge second-term Republican Rep. John Kline in Minnesota's Second District, which stretches across the Twin Cities' western and southern suburbs and as far south as Le Sueur and Red Wing.

She said she will formally launch her campaign July 6 with a pancake breakfast for friends and supporters on the driveway of her Apple Valley home.

[. . .]

Rowley said she will focus her campaign on the importance of "ethical decisionmaking by government leaders." She contended that Kline cannot represent the district's interests "because he's too closely tied to the administration."

Kline, a former Marine colonel, has been a steadfast supporter of President Bush's decision to invade Iraq and has defended the Pentagon's performance. In an op-ed piece in Monday's Star Tribune, he rejected allegations that military personnel have abused terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

[. . .]

"Republicans that are so closely associated with the president ... may not be what voters are looking for in 2006," Jacobs said. He said Rowley "is coming in with name recognition. She's got the law and order issue behind her. And how many times can you run as Time Person of the Year?"

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Sky's the Limit

Running for an elected office - any elected office - is a major undertaking at any age. Whether it's a tiny village or major metropolitan community with a population in the millions, the responsibilities of meeting the myriad of public trust needs are unbelievable. Today it's drought. In eight months, it could be snow measured in feet & car-eating potholes.

To perform the duties of a mayor or alderman of a municipality at 22 years old is huge. Peforming those duties while still in college is beyond huge.

The citizens of Gillespie, IL, have placed their confidence in two such people. Two overachievers, two high school friends, are now Mr. Mayor & Mr. Alderman. They are Young Politicians with almost-limitless possibilities.

Many times when the younger generation is in the news, it's for all the wrong reasons. Today, a story that gives the younger generation a vote of confidence.

Tucked between the cornfields of Macoupin County, Illinois, you'll find the small town of Gillespie. It's a town proud of its heritage and proud of its youth. Part of that youth is now running the town. Twenty-two year old Josh Ross is Gillespie's new Mayor. "I officially don't have a first name," says Ross. "I'm just mayor now. That's a switch."

Twenty-two year old Ryan Fischer is Josh's best friend, and recently elected city alderman. "It's different," says Fischer. Josh and Ryan were born and raised in Gillespie, even graduated high school together. Although four years later, the yearbook is still a bit of a touchy subject. "You still haven't written anything in my year book," says Fischer to Ross. "I'm still trying to cook-up something good," Ross quickly answers.

"They were both good students and good people, says Paul Skeans, Superintendent of the Gillespie School District. "They were toward the top of the leadership in their class and they've exemplified that since they've been out of school."

Ryan is now enrolled at S-I-U Edwardville, studying of course, Political Science. He also works for his uncle's pest control company. Ryan owns a successful lawncare and landscaping business. "For me, work was never a problem," says Fischer.

The two are dedicated to the town and dedicated to their jobs. "The best part about (my job) is knowing when I sit behind this desk or in a council meeting, I can make a difference for Gillespie, and that the decisions I make can effect a lot of lives very positively."

The political bug bit Josh when he was 16 and working with former State Senator Vince Demuzio as a page in Springfield. When he was 18, Josh became the youngest person ever elected to the Illinois State Board of Education. But throwing his hat into the ring for mayor created a new set of problems. "My dad said i'll support you, but my mom didn't talk to me for two weeks."

Ryan's mom was a little more receptive to the idea that her son was running for alderman. "He's a very good communicator for such a young man," says Julie Fischer. Both delivered a positive message to voters and the two easily won their races. In fact, Josh defeated the incumbent. "A lot of (the voters) said let's give the kid a shot," says Josh.

A feat that seems extraordinary to some, is nothing more than ordinary to others. "I think folks that don't do anything in their life are doing some thing out of the ordinary," says Ryan Fischer. "I think folks that keep working and trying to do a good thing are just living life. If you just sit around, wasting time, I think that's out of the ordinary.

As for the future? "The skies the limit," says Ross.

The sky’s almost the limit Mr. Mayor. Both of you have to wait 13 years before running for president & vice president.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Knucklehead Decision

The oral arguments for Kelo et al v. City of New London, 04-108, addressed the issue of local officials' proposed disposition of plaintiff's property qualifies as a public use within the meaning of the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution. The bottom line is a locality's right use eminent domain although the property is not blighted.

Susette Kelo moved to New London, CT, bought a home for its water view in 1997, & made extensive improvements. Wilhelmina Dery has lived in New London all her life. She was born in her house in 1918. She & her husband Charles have lived in the house since their marriage 60 years ago. They are three of the nine petitioners who own 15 properties in Fort Trumbull. They maintain their property. None are blighted or otherwise in poor condition. Their only problem: A land developer sees the land with dollar signs in his eyes. New London officials see greater economic growth to benefit the public at large. The combined perspectives outweigh homeowners' property rights, & blight is not part of the issue.

The Fort Trumbull area is situated on a peninsula that juts into the Thames River. The development plan includes a waterfront conference hotel at the center of a "small urban village" with restaurants, a health center, shopping & marinas for recreational & commercial uses. A riverwalk connect the waterfront areas of the development to the other coastal areas. Another part of the development will have 80 new residences within an urban neighborhood (most likely more “upscale” than the petitioners could ever afford) close to the state park & the new U. S. Coast Guard Museum. The rest of the development plan calls for research and development office space.

According to Justice John Paul Stevens, “local officials, not federal judges, know best in deciding whether a development project will benefit the community. States are within their rights to pass additional laws restricting condemnations if residents are overly burdened.” The Court’s majority ruling ignores the counter-argument from Justice Sandra Day O'Connor: “Cities should not have unlimited authority to uproot families, even if they are provided compensation, simply to accommodate wealthy developers.”

The governments & local officials have been exercising Divine Right & eminent domain for 500 yrs. – usually because someone wants to accumulate more personal wealth than anyone else rather than exercise a little altruism for the greater good. The practices have had some positive outcomes. When there are negative outcomes (as in this situation), they have destroyed people, cultures, history, & anything of intrinsic value.

Upscale urban renewal to benefit others comes with a price tag in the form of sacrifices - voluntary or otherwise. In New London, residents will sacrifice their Victorian homes, a few personal intangible assets, & tranquility. The community will sacrifice the unique personality & charisma it once offered its residents & visitors. In Washington, D.C., residents will sacrifice their homes for an upscale retail complex & a baseball stadium.

Justice Stevens places his faith in local officials deciding in the best interest if their residents. In a perfect world, he’d be right.

In the imperfect world in which we live, the majority decision was nothing short of completely knucklehead.

Justice O’Connor shows common sense in her statement. She also shows that she has the high-quality character this country needs in a chief justice.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Legal - & Unconstitutional

The following essay is from John W. Whitehead. He is a constitutional attorney & author & founder & president of The Rutherford Institute. He provides an excellent argument for letting the Patriot Reauthorization Act die the death it deserves. Eroding the fundamental right of citizens doesn’t make them safe. It just makes them less free to live unoppressed lives.

How Liberty Dies: The Patriot Reauthorization Act

Do our representatives understand how we feel? Or don’t they care? The recent approval by the Senate Intelligence Committee to reauthorize and expand the Patriot Act’s powers leaves one wondering if Congress listens to the American people anymore. Equally worrisome is the fact that the critical discussions and decisions surrounding expansion of the Act are taking place in secret, behind closed doors. What do our government representatives have to hide?

Since the passage of the Patriot Act six weeks after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, 378 local and county governments and seven state legislatures representing millions of Americans have passed resolutions or ordinances opposing aspects of the Patriot Act that they believe to be at odds with the United States Constitution. One City Council member from Arcata, Calif., described his town’s ordinance as “a nonviolent preemptive attack” on the federal government’s revision of the Bill of Rights. Yet our government continues to ignore these concerns and push through its own agenda.

At a massive 342 pages, the Patriot Act violates at least six of the ten original amendments known as the Bill of Rights—the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Amendments—and possibly the Thirteenth and Fourteenth as well.

The Patriot Act was rushed through Congress, even though the majority of our representatives admitted to not reading it, reassured perhaps by the inclusion of a five-year sunset provision. But that sun does not seem to be setting on this chilling piece of legislation. Instead, the Senate Intelligence Committee is not only working to make the Patriot Act permanent, but also to expand its reach.

Among some of the widely cited concerns about the Patriot Act are that it redefines terrorism so broadly that many non-terrorist political activities such as protest marches or demonstrations and civil disobedience can be considered a terrorist act; grants the FBI the right to come to your place of employment, demand your personal records and question your supervisors and fellow employees, all without notifying you; allows the government access to your medical records, school records and practically every personal record about you; allows the government to secretly demand to see records of books or magazines you’ve checked out in any public library and Internet sites you’ve visited (at least 545 libraries received such demands in the first year following passage of the Patriot Act); and most egregious of all, it allows the FBI to enter your home through the use of a special warrant, search your personal effects and confiscate your personal property without informing you that they have done so.

Yet despite the many objections to these disturbing provisions within the Patriot Act, the Senate Intelligence Committee has wholeheartedly embraced the Patriot Reauthorization Act (PAREA), which takes government intrusion into the lives of average Americans to a whole new level.

For example, one “administrative authority” provision within PAREA, which would allow the FBI to write and approve its own search orders, represents a direct assault on the Fourth Amendment’s prohibitions against unreasonable search and seizure. Yet if Congress acts to approve what critics have termed “carte blanche for a fishing expedition,” the FBI will be in a position to conduct warrantless searches on people without having to show any evidence that they may be involved in criminal activities. This provision would also lift one of the last restrictions on special warrants for the FBI—namely, that the information be related to international terrorism or foreign intelligence.

Yet while government officials insist that the FBI needs additional tools to fight terrorism, a recent report suggests that all the FBI really needs to do is its job. A Justice Department report reveals that the same FBI that wants to do an end-run around our Constitution passed up on at least five chances in the months before 9/11 to locate two terrorist hijackers as they prepared for attacks on our country. The oversights were attributed to communication breakdowns, lack of urgency and bureaucratic obstacles, among other things. “What we found were sufficient deficiencies in the way the FBI handled these issues,” said Inspector General Glenn Fine. In other words, if the FBI and other intelligence agencies had simply done their jobs and followed up on leads, then there wouldn’t have been a need for the Patriot Act—and there certainly wouldn’t be a need for warrantless searches.

While it remains questionable whether the Patriot Act has really succeeded in protecting Americans against future acts of terrorism, these highly controversial additions to the Act will unquestionably succeed in gutting the Fourth Amendment. Of all the protections found in the Constitution, the Fourth Amendment stands as the final barrier between the privacy rights of Americans and the potential for government abuse of power. But if law enforcement officials can search your home and your records without having to go through a judge, then the concept of a man’s home being his castle will become as antiquated as the Model T.

Despite the fact that an increasing number of Americans are voicing their concerns about intrusions on their privacy, President Bush continues to express his support for extending the Patriot Act. One day after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Bush declared, “We will not allow this enemy to win the war by changing our way of life or restricting our freedoms.” Yet if Congress succeeds in continuing to pass legislation that is at odds with our Constitution, we will have handed a definitive victory to our enemies by allowing unchecked police power to triumph over individual rights and the rule of law in this country. At that point, our government will be no better than the dictatorships we have for so long opposed on principled grounds.

In a Jan. 2003 interview with the Los Angeles Times, constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley remarked, “Since 9/11, the Constitution has gone from an objective to be satisfied to an obstacle to national defense. . . As these changes mount, at what point do we become something other than a free and democratic nation?” Americans would do well to heed the warning behind Turley’s words: with every piece of Patriot Act-type legislation that Congress passes, our basic constitutional protections are being undermined and we are, indeed, moving further away from being a free and democratic nation.
Bottomline: The draft of the expansion of the Patriot Act from the Senate Intelligence Committee is worse. The language provides no additional protections for innocent citizens. Instead, it would allow the Justice Department & the FBI more powers to secretly acquire secret information about American citizens without any judicial review in advance & without the knowledge of those being investigated.

This is an excellent example of more resulting in less.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Adoption Option

An average old gal from the heartland provided information on the BLM’s mustang adoption center at the Eastern States Holding Facility located in Ewing, IL.

Since November 2003, Ewing has been home to the only permanent facility east of the Mississippi River where people can adopt wild horses can be adopted. The adoption center is about 100 miles southeast of St. Louis, just south of Mount Vernon on I-57. It is open to the public five times a year. The application for adoption is available to download.

For more information & a schedule for the year, check on the BLM’s website. Their Ewing telephone number is (800) 370-3936.

A much better alternative to the company in DeKalb – located in our own backyard – to protect a noble breed.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Legal vs. Ethical

The Roger Ailes blog had this article posted from the LA Times:

A U.S. military policeman who was beaten by fellow MPs during a botched training drill at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, prison for detainees has sued the Pentagon for $15 million, alleging that the incident violated his constitutional rights.

Spc. Sean D. Baker, 38, was assaulted in January 2003 after he volunteered to wear an orange jumpsuit and portray an uncooperative detainee. Baker said the MPs, who were told that he was an unruly detainee who had assaulted an American sergeant, inflicted a beating that resulted in a traumatic brain injury.

Baker, a Gulf War veteran who reenlisted after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, was medically retired in April 2004. He said the assault left him with seizures, blackouts, headaches, insomnia, and psychological problems.

The Pentagon initially said that Baker's hospitalization following the training incident was not related to the beating. Later, officials conceded that he was treated for injuries suffered when a five-man MP "internal reaction force" choked him, slammed his head several times against a concrete floor and sprayed him with pepper gas.

No one has been disciplined or punished for the assault, said Baker's lawyer, T. Bruce Simpson Jr.
Spec. Baker volunteered to pose as one of the inmates. The lawyers will probably argue that volunteering absolves the military from culpability because he was portraying "an unruly detainee who had assaulted an American sergeant." It's completely legal.

That's what happens, & unruly detainees deserve it. They bring it on themselves. Just because the physical security MPs used excessive force means nothing. Unethical doesn't make the act illegal. As long as no one mentions the N-word or the name of a despotic leader of a Third Word regime, Spec. Baker has no case, & the conservative media will hail the other MPs as heroes.

Is this a great country or what?

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Principal Underpinnings

Over 40 yrs. ago, Barry Goldwater thought "this country would be better off if we could just saw off the Eastern Seaboard and let it float out to sea." Today he would probably include the Western Seaboard in that statement. His ultra-conservative views contributed to his obtaining 36 percent of the popular vote for the presidential election in 1964. After 30 yrs., those views are worth a minimum 15 percent to campaigning senators & representatives. They successfully netted a presidency soon after that.

Back then, Mr. Goldwater was "The Grand Old Man" of a divided Republican Party that could do nothing right, & conservative was a dirty word. The members developed a plan, created think tanks, improved their communication skills, & united into one body with one mind.

The Democratic Party also experienced severe changes in the same amount of time. It is now wrong with every action, liberal is a dirty word, & the leadership continues to accomplish nothing but consistent failure - even after 10 yrs. of actively trying. Today, the Parties have achieved a successful, complete, 180-degree role-reversal. It took a total of 40 yrs.

The basics seem lost with almost two generations - almost. One of the best attributes of the Democratic Party is hope - hope the leadership will ultimately get it right. In an 1820 letter to William Charles Jarvis, Thomas Jefferson wrote "I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education."

In that spirit (& because no official list from the Party seems to exist), the list below offers various definitions for the word liberal. They are the values of the Democratic Party:

Responsibility - We are obligated to provide assistance to less fortunate people, improve the quality of education, & aid anyone who can no longer provide for themselves & their families. Children should go to bed every night with enough to eat. After working hard for decades, everyone has a right to retire with dignity. Social Security funds for retirees & the disabled should always be enough to keep people sheltered, warm, & fed. Our senior citizens deserve the financial ability to pay their household expenses & their medical needs rather than sacrifice one for the other. We also have a fiscal responsibility to keep the nation'srevenues high enough to pay its debt rather than pass it along to our future generations.

Labor - There has always been opposition between labor & business. With a proper level of compensation, employees are able to maintain their health & a reasonable quality of life. Adequate pay mean s a stronger buying power, which in turn results in higher business revenue. Democrats have always fought for the "little guy" against powerful corporations driving down wages & shipping jobs overseas. Stronger long-term economics depend on this fight.

Environment - We should always protect & maintain God's creations. Healthy ecosystems are just as important as labor & business. Abundant old-growth forests ensure clean water & air for plants & animals on land & in the water. Advances in the pharmaceutical industry greatly increase with resources from a healthy tropical rain forest. Protecting natural resources reduces pollution. Achieving the lowest pollution levels possible also protects children through the reduced levels of harmful carcinogens that result. Protecting children is protecting hope itself.

Health - All women deserve access to the highest quality gynecological care regardless of their economic situations. Future generations & their societal contributions depend on it.

The values of America's Democrats are complex for every issue. Responsibility, opportunity, & hope are the underpinnings. They ensure a high quality of life for people who work hard & play by the rules. In their entirety, they are nurturing selflessness filled with empathy & compassion. Leaders are accountable to everyone for remembering & maintaining these values.

Recently Larry King interviewed Lauren Bacall about her latest book. In that interview, she proudly declared (with gusto), "I am a liberal!" Always has been. Always will be. Popular or unpopular, she thought it would be a nice epitaph.

Liberal - Count me as one, too.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Beyond Conventional Wisdom

Academics provide research that typically never sees the light of day. The Report on the 2004 Congressional Races is unique in comparison. Eight unsuccessful Congressional challengers met soon after the election. They discussed their experiences. They wanted answers. They now have those answers.

The report is one of first-hand knowledge of the political campaign machine rather than the passive observational research. Most online rhetoric currently providing feedback loses focus on the empirical data proving the salient issue of the DCCPAC report: The DCCC is not actively recruiting. Recruiting & supporting Democrat challengers is its mandate. Consequently, if the DCCC refuses to recruit, the in-state Party “leaders” have no reason to expend resources to identify potential Congressional challengers. In parts of Central & So. IL, the Congressional races have even less importance. Of the nine challengers in the 2004 Election Cycle, the DCCC “targeted” one. One received 44 percent of the vote (& the DCCC is ignoring her this year). The rest received an average one-third of the vote.

For the 2002 Election Cycle, Rep. Lapinski & Speaker Hastert agreed to a deal. That ensured David Phelps losing, Rep. Shimkus winning, & Central & So. IL successfully providing a majority of votes to the GOP. Then-Gov. Ryan also allowed state employees to work on the campaign to re-elect Rep. Shimkus. To reciprocate, the IL district director for Rep. Shimkus worked on Gov. Ryan’s campaign in violation of the Hatch Act.-Obviously, David Phelps moved on with his life after this shattering experience. The loss effectively ended his future political career on The Hill & possibly throughout the state. When he was in Congress, he erroneously voted for allowing the president the power to declare war whenever he chose. I would hope that it was a decision his constituents wanted. After meeting him in his Harrisburg office, I felt he was a far better man for the CD & deserved more consideration from the Party than his “sacrificial lamb” status.

Gerrymandering is not limited to the Democrat Party. The GOP is constantly engaged in the practice. It backfires, too. Now both IL senators are Democrats after the 2004 Election Cycle that made the IL GOP a national laughing stock.

Rep. Shimkus schmoozes exceptionally well with all GOP-related groups & functions. If West Point had not accepted him as a plebe, he would have made a fine Lutheran minister – his alternative profession of choice. Currently, his legislative accomplishments include personal acknowledgements of his constituents in the Congressional Record & small pork funding for those near & dear to him. On the major issues, he’s a good soldier either providing a strictly GOP Roll Call vote or simply missing in action.

Personal injury lawyers are behind the failures of the Democrats in most of the IL 19th CD. Some live in the state. Some chose coastal residences. Their control remains regardless of geography.-To quote an online comment: “There is no commitment by the DCCC or DNC to establish a minor league where the best candidates can be targeted to run as challengers or when open seats emerge . . . Rep. Emanuel has been quoted as saying that there will be a $300K threshold for the DCCC to aide candidates. This is not a commitment to winning. The DCCC should be among the first PACs to give money to a legitimate candidate, rather than one of the last.” Instead, the organization spends millions of contributed dollars throughout the country to target & sacrifice.

This person reminds us that last year Christine Cegelis “ran an extremely strong campaign, and lost to Rep. Hyde by only 12 pts. despite receiving no money from the DCCC or PACs, and being outspent by over 4-1. In fact she only received a total of $1,300 from three Democratic clubs. She didn't even receive money from the Illinois Dem. Party.” (The statement provides justification for referring to the “leadership” in a figurative manner – there is none.)

The facts are a national issue. Mark Brown, the Democrat challenger from OH-15, ran against the GOP incumbent with less than $5,000. He received 40 percent of the vote. While a lot of money for a campaign helps, the voters still have the last word. Yet, hearing a political party deflect culpability because a majority voted for these people is unacceptable & does not excuse them – especially the way contentious campaigns manipulate advertising & influence language framing.

The country now has a high school wrestling coach as Speaker of the House. It can only happen to a close associate of Rep. DeLay. Rep. Hastert needed to deliver IL to the GOP. He succeeded. We are a “colony of TX”, & the DCCC allowed it to happen through their inactivity.

With one exception, gerrymandering has certainly worked in favor of the GOP incumbents & has practically ended all Democrat representation south of Springfield. Without Democrats to represent congressional districts, the in-state office challengers have no hope of unseating their GOP incumbents.

Collateral damage for the greater good is one thing. For the DCCC to refuse to recruit Party challengers, that is blatant betrayal. They betray the voters. They betray the best interests of the public trust as a whole. As many pundits have said ad nauseam, this is politics.

The DCCC sacrificed IL, FL, & OH in 2004 & proved that that we have succeeded in nothing except selling our quality of life, our valuable democracy, our very souls. Ignoring the issue, not discussing it, simply getting on with life perpetuates the cycle. So many registered Democrat voters are tired of this. The diehards will continue voting “undecided”. As for others, the Party has already lost them.

Consequently, the Democrat Party is in the Minority because it has put itself there. As citizens & voters of this country, we deserve better. We have every right to hold our elected officials accountable. We should demand it every two years with every congressional election.

The answers will not come easily. The Party is massively diverse – an attribute certainly. The downside is that this same diversity brings an assortment of opinions. We absolutely need to confront this problem aggressively. Thomas Jefferson said, “Enlighten the people generally, & tyranny & oppressions of the body & mind will vanish like evil spirits as the dawn of day.” Therefore, we need to elevate political discourse beyond conventional wisdom. Ultimately, all voters become better informed to cast a ballot, & GOP voters who are Democrats in their souls will cast a Democrat ballot once again.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Live and Let Live

One of the effects of greater security in this country is greater limitations on public access to military installations. It’s possible to visit SAFB, Ft. Leonard Wood, etc. It’s just a little harder. Before the public could easily enter the facility at dawn or dusk & watch everyone stop.

At reveille & taps, for the raising & lowering of the colors, people stop. Whether they’re walking, running or driving, they stop. They stop & face the flag. The military in uniform salute. The civilians & military in civilian attire place their hands over their hearts. They remain this way until the music stops.

This level of respect occurs nowhere else. During parades, the colors pass. The crowd watches. During sporting events, the anthem plays, & the colors fly. The crowd goes about it’s business.

Some of these people fly their flags at home, day or night, in all weather conditions, completely unfamiliar with the Flag Code. Some human behavior doesn't change even after 200+ yrs, & once again, legislation is in the House to ban flag burning.

For me, the U. S. Supreme Court has already ruled on this issue – A law banning flag burning is inconsistent with the First Amendment:
“If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the Government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable. Punishing desecration of the flag dilutes the very freedom that makes this emblem so revered, and worth revering.”

I choose to remember the words of Evely Beatrice Hall, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” It’s a live & let live approach. – as long as these misguided fools never burn a U. S. Flag near me or on my property. That’s when I choose to remember the Second Amendment. I have the right to bear arms – during PMS.

Which reminds me -- My IL FOID is up for renewal.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Protecting A Noble Breed

I was pleased to learn that the U. S. House passed U.S. House passed H.R. 297. It’s an amendment to the a spending bill to restore the prohibition on the commercial sale and slaughter of wild free-roaming horses and burros. The Chicago Tribune has an article. Most of the IL Congressional Delegation was present to vote. Rep. Rush & Speaker Hastert chose MIA status. I wish this were the end of the issue. The Senate version still requires action.

H. R. 503, to amend the Horse Protection Act to prohibit the shipping, transporting, moving, delivering, receiving, possessing, purchasing, selling, or donation of horses and other equines to be slaughtered for human consumption, is the real uphill battle. It makes the ban permanent.

DeKalb, IL, in Speaker Hastert’s 14th CD, is the horse slaughtering capital of the U. S. The other 2 locations are in TX. While not in Rep. DeLay’s CD, it’s close enough for government work -- & no surprise here.

Most members of this Congress are the Baby Boomers – my generation. We grew up watching Roy Rogers ride Trigger. Almost every boy insisted on a cowboy outfit for Christmas. They wanted to be Roy Rogers, Robin Hood of the Pecos. They wanted ponies (preferably a Palomino that looked just like Trigger) of their very own. People visit Branson, MO, just to see Trigger. Next to him are Buttermilk & Bullet.

After Harry Morgan joined the TV show, M*A*S*H, the Cavalry & horses became additional characters. His love for the animal practically jumped off the screen.

I know this is a question of a few jobs. Using the facility for an insourced horse slaughtering operation is simply bad public administration. People can grow industrial hemp anywhere. A university research grant to NIU down the road could use the facility to develop products from this resource. Industrial hemp can provide all the necesities: food, shelter, clothing, & medicine. If animal slaughtering is the only industry possible, bison is a better choice – ask any nutritionist.

I’ll never understand the need to starve & slaughter a beautiful, noble animal. Protecting them is a Democrat value. One I fully support.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Cruising Through An Election

I can understand why it appears on the surface that Rep. Shimkus will cruise through another re-election in 2006. Several changes would have to occur to make that a misguided statement. There’s always hope.

First, the DCCC, the entire Dem Congressional delegation, & all local Party leaders from every county in the 19th CD would have to actively & publicly support the Dem challenger. Unlike the GOP, Dems refuse to do this for challengers.

Second, the County Party leaders would have to include a complete list of Dem candidates on their literature. At present, counties habitually forget someone’s name on the mailers & doorknockers. When they submit the list to the printers for every election, the list is missing a name. That’s easy to do for the local ballots. Therefore, precautions have to be in place to ensure accuracy. It is critical that county leaders require their employees to have every name, in every election, for every presidential & congressional listing, on every unofficial listing, before every printing 100 percent perfect. If the Presidential Election results in a tied race (by whatever calculation), the House of Representatives breaks the tie.

The DCCC would also have to place high value in IL, FL, & OH Congressional races. As part of the 2004 backroom dealing, all the Party principals completely sacrificed them.

Next, the DCCC & state Party "leaders" would have to actively seek out & welcome challengers. Giving up & withholding support because the incumbent says he's term-limited (I'll believe it when it happens. During an interview soon after taking office, he stated that he'd be in Congress 'as long as his constituents see fit to send him back.') is simply wasted opportunity.

After that, the DCCC & state Party leaders would have to view voters in the districts as partially belonging to all political parties. Labeling districts as “solidly" Dem, Rep, or none of the above is disingenuous to all registered voters -- especially those hoping for change. It’s also a myth. Past election results are no guarantee of future results even in a “redrawn, decisively Republican district.” An entrenched “Dynastic Oligarchy” eventually falls. The GOP Committee Chairman, Ken Mehlman, has always known it. The Dems have to realize this as well. KS Party leaders are finally seeing this reality. It can happen in IL. The recent Smithton & DeKalb mayoral races proved that long-term incumbents can lose.

Lastly, the DCCC & local Party leaders would have to hold Rep. Shimkus accountable & be accountable because they need to justify their inaction to the people.

(a) Rep. Shimkus has a lackluster Congressional record (at best) – his BullyPatrol notwithstanding.

(b) During the Shimkus/Bagwell debate in October 2004, Rep. Shimkus mentioned insourcing to increase economic growth in Central & So. IL. He took the opportunity to comment on Olney’s five insourced companies. He didn't mention the German company that wanted to move to NC, nor did he mention the one insourced company that that had already outsourced itself. Localities have their taxpayers fund the financial incentives (e.g., tax increment financing (TIF)) to entice companies to movev into their regions. The same companies also leave the state before the localities can ever realize a return on their investment. In the end, insourced employment opportunities are temporary at best creating permanent outsourced quality of life issues for the residents. The insourcing study is 25 pages. Here's additional research for those with WSJ subscriptions.

(c) Rep. Shimkus is GOP campaign contributions & a vote on the floor (e.g., ANWR drilling, MTBE).

(d) He’s a “yes” man for Rep. DeLay & a recipient for campaign funds from ARMPAC.

(e) He keeps an employee on his payroll yet the person’s guilty of violating the Hatch Act. He sent this same employee to Europe in October 2004.

Throughout the country, political pundits recognize the IL Democratic Party as one of the strongest Dem. parties in the country. In a Congressional race, that in-state strength means nothing unless the Party leaders work with the DCCC. Unfortunately, the Party refuses to have anything to do with Congressional candidates. They leave the game of "Let's Make a Deal" to the incuments.

Many constituents in the 19th CD wanted nothing more than to see Rep. Shimkus voted out of office. They still do. There are voters in the 12th CD that want to move just to vote against Rep. Shimkus. Dr. Tim Bagwell was the best opportunity for that to occur in 2004. He's not in the pockets of special interest groups. The NRA gave him an "A" (they don't give Dems an "A"). He's a DPA & not a rich LLB or JD. He's new blood & not old school politics as usual. He's a man of the people to fight for the people.

Instead, all the 2004 Dem challengers -- except Melissa Bean -- were never even supposed to run due to the backroom dealing. Rep. Shimkus knew this. He campaigned for Justice Karmaier, not himself, during the entire 2004 Election Cycle. Why not? There was no reason to waste his time & resources on a guaranteed win. This type of political micromanaging from the “leaders” creates fissures in the Party, & they grow wider with every election. By 2010, they'll be irreparable. Rep. DeLay & Rove are counting on it.

Except for Christine Cegelis receiving 44%, every 2004 IL Congressional challenger received an average one-third of the vote. Already this year, the DCCC is actively recruiting men only -- completely ignoring Christine's 2004 44% & $167,000. She’s a candidate for Rep. Hyde’s open seat. She shouldn’t have to be a male lawyer or millionaire willing to self-finance until the DCCC says she’s “good” enough to support. Raising lots of money is always an issue. It shouldn’t be an excuse. As we’ve seen in the past, a candidate can raise millions & still lose. Therefore, spending it wisely is the real key.

The Dem Party is in the minority for a reason. The DCCC & the local Dem Party "leaders" have to give the voters a reason to vote for the Party representative. Instead, another lawyer has filed with the FEC to represent the 19th CD, & the DCCC is "out to lunch" as usual. Dr. Bagwell could be working on an alternative strategy. The latest scuttlebutt is that he’s in Washington drumming up money for his PAC. I also hear that not only is he not ruling out a 2006 Congressional run, he is gathering challenger candidates together from all around the U. S. to help all the "can't-possibly-win candidates" win.

In the end, a man who should've never been elected represents the 19th CD. To the chagrin of a majority of voters, he'll remain in office until he's assured of winning a state office (e.g., treas, SOS, gov) or receives a direct order from the spouse to stay off The Hill & stay home.

Until the DCCC & the entire IL Dem Party stop the backroom-dealing, ignoring potential candidates, & engage in some massive brainscrubbing, members of the Democrat Party will remain in the minority on The Hill & continue to reduce their numbers in local elections. Business-as-usual politicking is unacceptable for one simple reason:

The real “losers” – The public trust.

Friday, June 10, 2005

A Little Self-Enlightenment

Downleft wants to know what books I’ve been using to poison my mind. Some of them are listed in my Profile but aren’t sufficient for the questions presented to me:

Total number of books I've owned:
I have no clue & couldn’t venture a reasonable guess. The quantity has never been as important as the quality or what I can learn from them & apply to whatever I’m doing at this moment & to my life. It’s about being a better person tomorrow than what I am today.

The last book I bought is the book I’m currently reading:
The Eloquent President by Ronald C. White – Abraham Lincoln had a wonderful way of using the fewest words possible to convey the most power & persuasion. What’s even more amazing was that his audience typically vilified him for being a Washington outsider when he was first elected. Less than five years later, the same people felt incredible despair for a “family member” as they mourned him.

The last book I read:
What’s The Matter with Kansas? By Thomas Frank – Now I understand how the public can believe the GOP’s rhetoric, continue to support, it & argue vehemently for it although their quality of life is worse than ever before. How the DLC can remain clueless is beyond me. They should take this book to heart & use Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun by Wess Roberts, PhD, to enact radical change.

Five books that mean a lot to me:
Women Who Made a Difference by Malcolm Forbes – We always hear about the men behind a discovery, recorded history, an invention, etc. I like to know about the women no one ever mentions. Examples: D. W. Griffith learned everything from the real pioneer: Alice Guy. For anyone occasionally enjoying a touch fo the "home brew", thank a woman -- Mary the Jewess invented the still in the 1st Century C. E.

Glory, Passion, and Principle by Melissa Lukeman Bohrer – Eight women who found themselves in the middle of the Revolution. Nancy Ward was the leader of the Cherokee Nation helping the Patriots as much as she could. Some of the subjects were philosophes. Others were soldiers. Molly Pitcher & Deborah Sampson experienced combat for themselves.

America, Why I Love Her by John Wayne – A little-known book I was fortunate to find. Every time I find myself wondering why I even bother, The Duke reminds me that “our country stands today as the world’s oldest living Republic . . . If we fail our trust, Democracy fails."

Lincoln on Leadership by Donald T. Phillips – The man had a simple goal when he entered the White House: Keep the country whole. How does a person accomplish that goal when he’s the most hated person of his time? Contemporary “leaders” should commit every word of this book to memory.

Leap of Faith by Queen Noor – By far, the book that means the most to me. If I could only own one book, this is it. Although a autobiography, the book is an example of a female leader, international policy, public administration, women’s financial independence, varying religious beliefs, & the quest for peace in the most unlikely place on Earth. She’s a Nobel Peace Prize Winner that the Committee ignores every year. Ijust wish that she was still a U. S. citizen. That way I could encourage her to run for president. She's one of the best (if not the best) female leaders on the planet today.

I’m supposed to pass this question onto 5 additional people, but everyone I can think of has already received the list. Instead, I’d like to ask anyone reading this to answer the questions if they haven’t already.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

The Genesis of a National Transformation

Christine Cegelis is an excellent choice for Democrat challenger against incumbent Henry Hyde (IL-06). She has everything going for her. No one else is as viable. The DCCC or the GOP could try finding someone outside of the district (nothing says that the candidate has to live in-district). The idea’s a long shot at best.

Ms. Cegelis has an excellent history in business. She is an information technology (IT) Project Management Professional within the airline industry. That means she appeals to women, the airline industry, and IT professionals. She is an example of the new breed of female professional that is appearing across the U. S.

During her 2004 Campaign, Ms. Cegelis received 44 percent of the vote with $167,000. To many people in politics, this is not a lot of money. To a project manager that knows how to squeeze every cent out of a miniscule budget and make it count, she did quite well – especially since she was one of the IL challengers that was not supposed to run.

Ms. Cegelis is a wonderful candidate that has already proven that she can produce major results with almost no financial resources. At the same time, the DCCC continues to waste energy supporting anyone else and only succeeds at destroying its credibility.

Obviously, the Democrat Party regulars do not know how to work a spreadsheet & do not have a clue how to deal with a woman who can build complex business systems.

ATTN: Clueless lawyers and Party regulars -- Move over!

Christine Cegelis is indicative of a national transformation in its genesis and way out of your league.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Dean Dump

There's a lot of rhetoric floating around the media lately about Howard Dean's foot & mouth disease, his screaming, his fundraising abilities (or lack thereof) , the contributors that are noticably absent. The "impefections" simply make him human.

When compared to the other choices for the job, he was the best for DNC Chairman. Like everyone else, he has limitations. Unlike everyone else, he understands his limitations. He also understands that no two regions in the U.S. are exactly alike yet the Democratic Party is a national organization.

Dumping on Dean is almost a recognized political sport (but, then, what isn't because "that's politics"). I'd like to thank Mike Ziri for the following text from Katrina vanden Heuvel's blog:

Congressional Democrats never supported Dean for DNC chair. They wanted someone lower-profile and less hyperbolic. Apparently they wanted someone like RNC Chair Ken Mehlman. Still, it was more than a little surprising for Senator Joe Biden, who is not renown for his diplomatic temperament, to take a potshot at the chairman of his own party for rhetorical excess.

When George Stephanopoulos played a clip of Dean on ABC's This Week saying, that perhaps Republicans can wait in line to cast ballots because "…a lot of them have never made an honest living in their lives," Biden responded, "He doesn't speak for me with that kind of rhetoric. And I don't think he speaks for the majority of Democrats."

Really? Outside the beltway, Dean is immensely popular with the party faithful. He has raised tons of money and is using it to rebuild the infrastructure at the state and local levels. The same infrastructure Biden will need if he decides to run for president.

Besides, Dean's statement is precisely the kind of red meat party chairmen are supposed to throw to rev up their base. You don't hear Republicans pulling any punches.

So enough of the infighting. (Or enough of this kind of infighting. If Dems want to get serious about real internal debates, let's have one about how to end the war and occupation.)

But when it comes to taking on the GOP, Dean and Congressional Democrats should get together and smoke a peace pipe with some cancer patient's now illegal supply of medicinal marijuana. It will help ease the Party's suffering, and lead, perhaps, to better communication.

I'd like to think that Dr. Dean can return the Party to its own grassroots better than anyone else. Democrats are passionate about their values. He could help them project that image better. After the 2004 Election, they're desperate for a better image. The Party elitists have failed to dominate him the way they successfully dominate their peers. That's the problem. They can't control him. I see that as the positive. My concern is the elitists -- & the lawyers -- at the state & county levels.

Monday, June 06, 2005

North To Alaska

The Washington Post published a wonderful article about drilling ANWR. The title is What We Would Lose in Alaska. For me, these paragraphs say it all:

If our lawmakers could find a week to escape their delegations by walking out into the wilderness, to really compare the so-called "ice desert" with the unsightly Prudhoe Bay -- west of ANWR -- they would begin to understand what we're about to destroy. While Prudhoe Bay has a completely different caribou herd, that herd has appeared to prosper; the oil fields do not monopolize its calving grounds. ANWR's coastal plain, however, is in the heart of the Porcupine caribou herd's calving grounds. Virtually every federal and private biologist who has studied these caribou has concluded that oil development is incompatible with the herd's survival.

Build even one drill rig in the heart of the coastal plain -- along with the inevitable gravel-pad-cushioned buildings and pipelines and the gas-flared, steel town that is an oil field -- and we will irreparably damage our greatest wilderness. The administration's claim that drilling will take only 2,000 of the 1.5 million acres of available coastal plain is flawed. The supposedly small "footprint" of drill rigs will, like that at Prudhoe Bay, be linked by roads, pipelines, machinery and aircraft that will steal the silence, dredge gravel out of the rivers, monopolize the view and dominate several million acres of wildlife habitat. To claim that nothing will be damaged is the same as saying there's nothing there to begin with. America's last wild corner will be conquered by an industrial oilfield.

To know what's at stake in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is to demand its protection.

Jonathan Waterman is a filmmaker and author of nine adventure books, including the recently published "Where Mountains Are Nameless; Passion and Politics in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge."

The information above reminds us that the area is a refuge for a reason. It doesn't contain enough oil resources so it's obvious that drilling anywhere in the 1.5 million acres is a waste of time that won't stop there. The real "prize" is located offshore where the bowhead whales play. The Inupiat Eskimos are not happy. Click on the Green Ribbon icon to learn more & spread the word: Thou shalt not drill!!

Thursday, June 02, 2005

The "Good" Democrats

For the second consecutive day, I thank Craig Rhodes for the message text below.

The editorial asks a fair question. Many believe that Central & So. IL are "solidly GOP". Rove & the Unholy Trinity he placed in office must be grinning like a cheshire cat. I find it indicative of the sorry lack of leadership in the IL Democrat Party & the DCCC. We're here. We're vocal. We no longer accept the Party's backroom dealing. If this isn't enough for Mr. Muir, I received this article from the USDemocrat Yahoo! Discussion group. There are positives & negatives to everything. As proof Jeff Gillenkirk listed several reasons to switch parties (e.g., fun and profit). . .

The reasons are many, not the least of which is age. I turned 55 recently and, having lived more than half my life, I can't afford to worry anymore about the other guy. It's time for me.

As a Republican, I can now proudly -- indeed, defiantly -- pledge to never again vote for anyone who raises taxes for any reason. To hell with roads, bridges, schools, police and fire protection, Medicare, Social Security and regulation of the airwaves.

President Bush has promised to give me more tax cuts even though our federal government owes trillions of dollars to its creditors. But that's someone else's problem, not mine. Republicans are about the here and now, and I'm here now.

As a Republican, I can favor exploiting the environment for everything she's got. No need to worry about quaint notions like posterity and natural legacy. There are plenty of resources left for everyone, and if we don't use them, someone else will.

I want a party that doesn't worry about things before we have to. Republicans refuse to get hog-tied by theories such as global warming, ozone depletion, fished-out oceans and disappearing wetlands. The real problems -- if there are any -- aren't forecast to take hold for at least 50 years. So what do I care? I'll be dead.

As a Republican, I can swagger and clamor for war -- in Iraq, Afghanistan, Colombia, wherever -- even though I've never fought in one or even been in the military. I can claim that we're fighting for Democracy, ignoring reports of torture at Abu Ghraib, Bagram Air Base and Guantanamo Bay, and a spreading gulag of secret detention centers around the world.

Freedom, as every American should know after spending $300 billion for wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, isn't free.

As a Republican, I can insist on strict moral values when it comes to sex and ignore the growing moral chasms in business, politics, sports, journalism and the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church.

A society that loses control of its sexual urges faces unwanted pregnancies, socially transmitted disease, broken families.

Those overzealous about wealth, however, produce only a higher GDP, lifelong security for their family and more minimum wage jobs for the lower classes. What's wrong with that?

As a Republican, I can favor strict punishment of criminals, except for those who happen to be my friends or neighbors. Isn't that the very definition of community -- looking out for friends and family?

I will be pro-death penalty and anti-abortion, pro-child but anti-child care, for education but against funding of public schools.

As a Republican, I'll have a better chance of getting to spout my opinions in the media, which for some reason seems convinced that since Bush was re-elected with the smallest electoral margin of any sitting president in history, liberals are passe.

As a Republican, I'll say goodbye to "old Jesus" and hello to "new Jesus." Sure Christ started out as a liberal Jew, and look where that got him. Compassion, love and diatribes against the rich only encourage the weak and punish the most successful among us. The Jesus that Republicans worship is a muscular, decisive, pro-war crusader hard at work cleansing the world of evildoers, not, God forbid, turning the other cheek.

My decision to become a Republican didn't come easily. For years I clung to the idea that the foundation of a democratic society was our implied social contract, each of us committing some level of personal sacrifice to the common good of all.

I regarded taxes as dues we pay for better roads and schools, safe inspection of meat and dairy products, maintenance of parks and protection of wilderness areas. I see now that looking out for the common good resulted in shortchanging the most important element in this formula -- me.

Let Democrats continue promising the "greatest good for the greatest number." Republicans clearly have my number -- No. 1.

I'm sure a lot of my friends reading this will ask me, "How can you sleep?" My answer will be, "Who's got time? I'm busy earning money."

While they're bellyaching about rising deficits, the outsourcing of jobs and casualties in Iraq, I'll be marveling at the march of freedom in the Middle East, upticks in the GDP and the president's plan to link Social Security to the magic of the marketplace.

As a Republican, I simply won't listen to bad news anymore. Bad news doesn't get me or my family anywhere. If you don't have anything good to say about somebody, don't say anything at all -- unless it happens to be about a Democrat, of course.

This is in regard to your recent editorial in The Southern Illinoisan which I've included below.

Your editorial only confirms the suspicion of many of us here in southern Illinois that The Southern Illinoisan newspaper has drifted more and more to the right and continues to do so. To state or imply that there are no good Democrats puts you in the company of the likes of Ann Coulter, who has called for the death of liberals, and Sean Hannity who puts liberals in the same boat as terrorists. Your rhetoric, compared to theirs, is only a matter of degree but not kind. And to quote your most recent editorial, it is an attempt "to intimidate anybody with an opposing view to (your) beliefs and agenda."

You then reveal your many other prejudices by the none too subtle trick of using guilt by association. If there are no good Democrats then by association, gays, environmentalists, women who have to make the difficult decision to die or choose dilation/extraction etc. can't be good either. This may not have been your intent but it is still the consequence of the type of rhetoric you've chosen. It is the rhetoric of hate radio that has been used by the extreme right since Reagan did away with the Fairness Doctrine. It is designed to demonize/marginalize the opposition. Thankfully, the left has finally begun to fight back which, it seems, is the real cause of your discomfort.

And yes, you have the right to believe that any judge who doesn't rule the way you want is a "moron". But the reasons you offer are specious at best. The judicial branch of our government is, so far, the envy of the world. Our judicial history is replete with decisions that have gone against the will of the majority. This is how our system was designed and to think that it should be otherwise demonstrates a profound misunderstanding of our system of government. Furthermore, you give no reasons at all as to why your beliefs changed or what those beliefs are re: environment, marriage, etc which is what you use for your justification that there are no "good" Democrats. This reluctance implies that your beliefs would not hold up under scrutiny.

Meanwhile, to date, the Southern Illinoisan has astutely ignored The Downing Street Memo that is the smoking gun that confirms what many of us have suspected for sometime now; Bush and the neocons had already made the decision to invade Iraq in 2002 and based the case on lies. As an informed journalist, you must be aware of the Downing St. Memo by now and yet your paper is dead silent on it. 1600 plus soldiers dead and thousands maimed along with over 100,000 innocent Iraqi civilians, mostly children, over a lie and not one mention of it in the corporate media including your paper.

This illegal war coupled with documented environmental degradation, loss of civil liberties, official policies endorsing torture, lies about the new Medicare Bill, the "piratization" of Social Security, stolen elections, packing the judiciary, religion based gov., war profiteering, ad infinitum, by the Party in power, should be enough grist for your mill to reconsider why you left the Democrat Party. By your own reasoning, you are guilty by association when you identify yourself with a Republican Party that is guilty of all of the above.

Yes, contrary to your disingenuous claims, you left the Democrat Party, it did not leave you. But judging from your editorials as well as statements made by you and your editor, Meta Minton, on your radio talk show, it is no great loss.

Craig Rhodes

Jim Muir: What happened to the 'good' Democrats?

I grew up in a household where Franklin Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy fell in line right behind God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

My parents, especially my mother, revered the two Democratic presidents, all Democrats for that matter, and warned her children that Republicans "look out for the rich" while Democrats "take care of the working class."
"If you're carrying a dinner bucket, you'd better vote Democrat," she often warned.

Since I figured out at an early age that my family was working class folks, I certainly understood why my mother always used the word "good" any time she referenced a beloved Democrat. An example of how much influence that thinking had on my upbringing can be found in the fact that I voted for ultra-liberal Democrat George McGovern in the 1972 presidential election, the very first election I was old enough to vote. And it certainly would be a fair statement to say that during my 30-plus years of voting I've voted for far more Democrats than Republicans.

Despite those admissions and my upbringing I started to look at political issues altogether different a few years ago. I started to notice that some of those "good" Democrats were endorsing issues that went against my own personal beliefs. Partial birth abortion, same-sex marriage, environmental issues and inventing a new welfare program every week are only a few of the things I started disagreeing with Democrats about. In contrast, I started to look at what some of the Republican candidates (especially on the national level) and realized that their beliefs are closer to mine.

Maybe the best way to describe this transformation on my part can be found in a conversation I had with a longtime friend and high school chum who reads my weekly ramblings.

"Knowing how you were raised I'm really surprised at your conservative views," he said. "When did you leave the Democratic Party?"

My answer to that question was quite simple, but accurate.

"I didn't leave the Democrats - they left me."

And yet another example of that can be found in the nonsense that is now taking place in Washington regarding judicial nominees. The Senate is headed for a showdown as early as today over President Bush's conservative judicial nominees and the rights of Democrats to deny those nominees a final vote on confirmation by filibustering.

There are countless questions raised by the ongoing debate, but the most obvious one is why shouldn't these appointees be allowed an up-and-down vote? And let me emphasize that the vote should happen regardless of whether Republicans or Democrats hold the majority of seats.

The current Senate battle is extremely important to Democrats because of a single fact - during the past decade or longer the Democrats have moved so far away from the mainstream that they now rely more on getting their liberal agenda accomplished through the court system than through the legislative process. In short, the Democratic Party is counting on liberal, activist judges not to interpret laws, but instead to make laws.

A case in point can be found in a decision handed down last week in Nebraska.

U.S. District Judge Joseph Bataillon struck down Nebraska's ban on gay marriage ruling the measure, which defines marriage between a man and a woman, is unconstitutional.

The most amazing thing about the ruling is that Nebraskans had passed the constitutional amendment with a 70 percent majority. Can there be a clearer demonstration of the arrogance of activist judges who push the liberal envelope? In essence Bataillon's decision took the matter of same-sex marriage out of the hands of the residents of Nebraska. So, the logical question is why referendum votes on issues like same-sex marriage if liberal-leaning judges have the authority to say those votes and those people's opinions do not count? Judge Bataillon's decision is a slap in the face to Nebraska residents and tells them they do not have the right to shape their own constitution the way they want. Whatever happened to the democratic process?

And of course this decision also clearly indicates that, without a federal marriage amendment, same-sex marriage is destined to be imposed on the entire country by the courts. Bataillon's decision is also an example that it matters nothing what the will of the people is and that the agenda of the far left will continue to be battled in the courtroom and not Congress.

The Democratic Party playing the role of obstructionist in blocking an up-and-down vote on judicial nominees is the same party my parents talked about, and it's certainly not the party of FDR and JFK.

And with all due respect to my late mother, it would be very difficult these days for me to put the word "good" in front of Democrat.
JIM MUIR is a columnist for The Southern Illinoisan.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Tort Reform, No Solution

THANK YOU to Craig Rhodes from the SIDemocrat YAHOO! Discussion Group for this little gem:

Tort reform won't solve medical malpractice insurance problem

For months now, much of the local corporate media have essentially taken the side of the medical malpractice insurance industry in the debate over how to solve the malpractice insur ance problem. The industry is pushing hard for caps on non-economic damages and these media voices have gone right along with the program, equating such caps as being the only "real, meaningful reform" - as The Southern Illinoisan did in its editorial o f May 18th.

The trouble is, experience shows that caps will not solve the problem, because they don't address the real causes of the problem. Their only certain result is to further line the po ckets of a heavily monopolized and unregulated insurance industry, while undermining the people's right to have compensation for their injuries determined by a jury of their peers.

The main causes of the rise in medical malpractice insurance rates are a) the medical malpractice insurance industry is heavily monopolized, b) the insurers lost money on their inve stments when the stock market went bust, and c) they are not regulated in Illinois. Thus when insurers lost money on the stock market, they were able to price-gouge doctors to recover their losses. The insurance industry in Illinois is exempt from the S tate's anti-trust laws. One company, ISMIE Mutual, controls nearly 60 percent of the market. That firm turned a $19 million profit in 2003, doled out pay raises to most of its officers and over $773,000 to its board of directors.

Thus, medical malpractice premiums have little to do with increases or decreases in payouts. The inflation-adjusted amount paid out by insurers per doctor for medical malpractice cl aims in Illinois peaked in 1991 and has declined since then. Yet while claims have declined, the total amount of premiums collected by ISMIE has been increasing rapidly. In 2004, the same year it jacked up rates through the roof, ISMIE paid out 10 perce nt less in total claims than it did in 2003. The difference between the amount of premium dollars it took in and the amount paid out in claims in 2004 was about $270 million.

Insurance companies make most of their profits by investing premium dollars, not by charging premiums in excess of payouts. When interest rates are high and the stock market is boom ing, insurers lower their premiums to get more dollars to invest. When interest rates drop or the stock market declines, insurers sharply raise their premiums and reduce coverage in order to recoup their losses. This is called the "insurance cycle" and it is simply a normal part of the business.

What is unusual about the current situation is that the heavily monopolized and unregulated industry in Illinois reacted to the "down" phase of the cycle by price-gouging like never before. In his recent testimony before the House Committee considering the malpractice insurance legislation, Jay Angoff, national expert on insurance reform and former director of Workers' Compensation for the State of Missouri, remarked: "Companies a re supposed to lose a little money on their underwriting, on their insurance business because they make so much money on investment income. . . . Well, last year for the first time in 25 years, the industry actually made money on insurance, on underwrit ing before investment income." Angoff added that now "the industry is swimming in money," and that surpluses have roughly doubled in the last couple of years.

Because "excessive" payouts on malpractice claims is not the real cause of the problem, damage caps are not the answer: They do not bring down insurance rates. In the first 12 years after California enacted a $250,000 damage cap in malpractice cases, malpractice premiums rose 190 percent. According to Weiss Ratings, an independent insurance ratings agency, between 1991 and 2002, states that had adopted damage caps experienced prem ium increases of 48 percent - a greater increase than in states without caps.

Thus, the real impact of caps is that they will rob the real victims of medical malpractice of an opportunity to receive full, fair compensation for their injuries. It will also dis criminate against the poor, the elderly, children and stay-at-home parents, since these victims will not have lost wages or other significant economic damages - and if their total damages are capped at $250,000 or even $500,000, they will have great dif ficulty finding an attorney willing to take on expensive, risky and complex litigation.

When truly serious wrongs are committed - whether by a doctor, a careless or drunk driver, or a greedy corporation that markets an unsafe product - jury awards play an important rol e in our society by creating a strong deterrent against negligent and inhumane conduct. In other words, they provide a vital incentive for physicians to use extreme care when treating patients, drivers to drive carefully and businesses to operate respon sibly. Damage caps will undermine this incentive.

The notion that there can be a "one-size-fits-all" limitation on pain, suffering and other intangible damages offends basic concepts of social justice and common sense. Are we the p eople really willing to say that someone who loses their sight, or a limb, or who is paralyzed for life, has only suffered $250,000 worth of damages (less attorney's fees and any uncovered costs)? Then don't let our representatives take away your right to have a jury of your peers determine the appropriate measure of damages. Don't let them weaken the jury system, one of the proud hallmarks of American democracy.

We do need meaningful reform to contain the medical malpractice insurance problem. But a real solution would attack the real cause: The monopoly control of the industry and the lack of regulation by our toothless Department of Insurance. Let's remove the insurance exemption from our anti-trust laws. Let's force real competition by creating a public insurer, as many states do for workers' compensation. Let's police insurance compan y investments better. And, if we really want to do something about the volume of malpractice claims, and the volume of medical errors that kill 131,000 people annually, making it the fourth leading cause of death in the United States, then let's turn ou r attention to the 5 percent of doctors who are responsible for 54 percent of malpractice payouts and the inadequate system of medical regulation that allows this small minority of physicians to keep inflicting harm.

Let's not impose a phony "solution" that will line the pockets of the insurance industry - at the expense of physicians and malpractice victims alike.

Rich Whitney

The author, Rich Whitney, is a Carbondale lawyer and ran for Illinois state senator under the Green Party. He's a progressive, intelligent political activist with integrity.

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