Saturday, October 28, 2006

Security Now!

My lastest article in the University Standard...

Fans of the television comedy Seinfeld remember the episode “The Serenity Now” from the show’s final season. Dialogue from the first scene of that episode reads, “Frank: Doctor gave me a relaxation cassette. When my blood pressure gets too high, the man on the tape tells me to say, 'Serenity now!' George: Are you supposed to yell it? Frank: The man on the tape wasn't specific.” That humorous exchange is built on throughout the episode as George Costanza’s father Frank continues to yell “Serenity Now” to decrease his stress and blood pressure, but the yelling instead just fuels Frank’s anxiety and makes the situation worse. On October 17, 2006, President Bush signed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 into law. The President characterized the new law as “one of the most important pieces of legislation in the War on Terror”, but in reality the MCA is the equivalent of the US government yelling “Security Now!” The Military Commissions Act allows the federal government to take away an American’s basic constitutional rights while claiming to do so for the safety of the country.

The MCA has drawn a lot of attention from the national media as well as international media. Early on, the media focused on the clarifying of the Geneva Conventions’ definition of torture as it applied to the US government’s coercion of “unlawful enemy combatants.” Talk of water-boarding and stress positions was all over cable news, newspapers and Internet blogs. The MCA states, “As provided by the Constitution and by this section, the President has the authority for the United States to interpret the meaning and application of the Geneva Conventions and to promulgate higher standards and administrative regulations for violations of treaty obligations which are not grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions.” In layman’s terms, the President decides what is torture and what is not torture. The current coercion techniques are here to stay until at least 2009. Despite the outcry from the Left, this issue is not as cut and dry as it may seem. These coercion techniques (which some have classified as torture) may bring out information needed to stop terrorist plots and save American lives. On the other side of the coin, how can the United States continue to claim to be morally superior to terrorists and rogue nations when we are using the same type of methods they use? How can we now be outraged and demand justice be done if in the future captured American soldiers are tortured for information?

The new interpretation of the Geneva Conventions Article III by the United States is not nearly as troubling as the potential loss of habeas corpus for American citizens. The MCA clearly eliminates the writ of habeas corpus for aliens of the United States. The laws states, “No court, justice, or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider an application for a writ of habeas corpus filed by or on behalf of an alien detained by the United States who has been determined by the United States to have been properly detained as an enemy combatant or is awaiting such determination.” This is another gray area. Even though aliens in the past have been given the full protection of the Constitution when being held for a crime, the Constitution makes no mention of the protection of non-citizens.

The suspension of the writ of habeas corpus for non-citizens should not be the main concern however. Sec. 948a. (1) of the MCA states, “UNLAWFUL ENEMY COMBATANT – a person who, before, on, or after the date of the enactment of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, has been determined to be an unlawful enemy combatant by a Combatant Status Review Tribunal or another competent tribunal established under the authority of the President or the Secretary of Defense.” The President or the Secretary of Defense can declare anyone they wish to be an enemy combatant and hold them indefinitely—including US citizens.

Also, the first half of the unlawful enemy combatant definition is vague: “A person who has engaged in hostilities or who has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States or its co-belligerents who is not a lawful enemy combatant (including a person who is part of the Taliban, al Qaeda, or associated forces).” If a Muslim American citizen gave money to a mosque in Saudi Arabia and the executive branch later decided that mosque helped fund al Qaeda, that American citizen could very well be considered an unlawful enemy combatant and stripped of his constitutional rights.

The Military Commissions Act is unconstitutional. Article 1 Section 9 of the United States Constitution plainly reads, “The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.” There is no rebellion. There is no invasion. Of the 303 Republican members of Congress, only seven voted against the bill (no GOP Senator voted against the MCA). What happened to the Republican Party philosophy of strict interpretation of the Constitution? The MCA is yet another example of the GOP disregarding their conservative principles to maintain power. One of the main reasons the MCA was voted on in late September and signed in mid-October was the GOP wanted to paint Democrats who voted against the MCA as weak on national security only a month before the midterms. Power and the desire to hold onto power continue to corrupt the Republican leadership in Washington.

The Military Commissions Act of 2006 puts at risk American’s constitutional rights in the name of security. When President Bush addressed Congress just ten days after the 9/11 attacks he said, “Freedom and fear are at war.” Five years later, it seems fear is winning the war. Trading freedom for security is unacceptable. Legal challenges to the MCA are already being prepared and hopefully the courts will act quickly against this unconstitutional law. If this law is upheld through the judicial process it will be a dark day for Americans and I will have to start yelling “Hoochie mama!”

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

A Breach of Contract

Another article i've written for the University Standard...

With the midterm elections about a month away, I am reminded of the 1994 House and Senate elections. At the time of the ‘94 midterms, the Republican Party had gone 40 years without holding a majority in the House or Senate. The 103rd Congress, which served from 1993 to 1994, had a Democratic Party majority of 258-176 in the House of Representatives and a 57-43 majority in the Senate.

During the fall of 1994, the GOP introduced the “Contract with America”. The contract, which borrowed heavily from the text of President Regan’s 1985 State of the Union address, was written mostly by Texas Representative Dick Armey and publicized and promoted by Georgia Representative Newt Gingrich. Armey and Gingrich’s contract promised floor votes on several pieces of legislation if the GOP were voted into the majority.

The promised legislation in the contract focused on economic issues and congressional reform. In November of 1994, the American electorate voted out of office 34 Democratic incumbents and when the dust had cleared the GOP held a 230-204 majority in the House and a 52-48 majority in the Senate.

This amazing power shift in Washington was fueled by a document that promised Americans responsibility in government and fiscal policy. Despite the success of the Contract with America, the Republican Party over the past 12 years has shifted their focus from responsible spending and a more honest and open legislative branch to religious right pandering and big government.

As stated before, the contract made little mention of moral or values issues. Of the ten different bills promised in the contract, only two have a connection to values—The Personal Responsibility Act and The Family Reinforcement Act.

The PRA was described in the contract as, “Discourage illegitimacy and teen pregnancy by prohibiting welfare to minor mothers and denying increased AFDC for additional children while on welfare, cut spending for welfare programs, and enact a tough two-years-and-out provision with work requirements to promote individual responsibility.” This bill was basically welfare reform with a nod toward the problem of teenage pregnancy.

The contract describes the TFRA as, “Child support enforcement, tax incentives for adoption, strengthening rights of parents in their children's education, stronger child pornography laws, and an elderly dependent care tax credit to reinforce the central role of families in American society.” The TFRA was the only completely values-focused bill in the contract. The GOP made no mention of abortion, gay marriage, media censorship or gun ownership anywhere in the contract.

Yet, morality and family values are now the focus of the Republican Party that controls both the legislative and executive branches of the federal government. The current Congress (109th) has introduced or passed the following bills: Theresa Marie Schiavo's law, Family Entertainment and Copyright Act, Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, We The People Act (states religious freedom, sexual orientation and gay marriage are not in the federal court’s jurisdiction), Constitution Restoration Act (limits the federal judiciary’s jurisdiction in cases involving religious liberty) and Workplace Religious Freedom Act. These issues certainly should be discussed and possibly addressed by making new laws, but are there not more pressing issues in the US?

The Republican controlled Congress has done a complete 180 in terms of fiscal policy and the size of government since the 104th Congress. No two issues were hit more repeatedly in the Contract with America than a responsible fiscal policy and a smaller federal government.

The contract states, “This year's election offers the chance, after four decades of one-party control, to bring to the House a new majority that will transform the way Congress works. That historic change would be the end of government that is too big, too intrusive, and too easy with the public's money.”

Initially, the GOP made good on its promise. Spending was brought under control and the federal budget actually had a surplus after 2000. Then, President George W. Bush was elected president and federal spending increased dramatically.

Several reasons exist for this sudden increase in spending. President Bush, despite being a Republican in name, is in favor of a larger government while his predecessor President Clinton declared that “the era of big government is over” in his 1996 State of the Union address.

Another reason for the increase in federal spending is the GOP-controlled Congress no longer had to worry about an opposition President getting credit for federal programs and policies which they passed. An example of this would be President Clinton’s failed attempts to pass campaign finance reform and health care reform. Both of which were passed (in some capacity) during the Bush Administration.

However, these two reasons are not conclusive. Though spending did not skyrocket until George W. Bush became President, there was a significant rise in spending during President Clinton’s second term in comparison to his first.

September 11th is often cited as a reason for the increased federal spending, but it is often used as a convenient excuse for apologists of the current Republican leadership. The post-9/11 increase in spending has not been only on the national defense or military. Non-defense spending has increased to levels not seen since late 70s and early 80s. The percentage growth of non-defense spending during the Bush Administration has reached levels not seen since the Ford Administration.

Finally, the main reason spending has increased so dramatically since 1995 is the same reason spending was high during the pre-President Regan years: the Republicans have grown comfortable in their seat of power. The only difference is Democrats are supposed to be pro-big government and the GOP is, as the Contact With America continually stated, pro-small government.

Tax cuts are one area in which the Republicans and their current leader President Bush remain close to their conservative roots. The Bush tax cuts have contributed to the current thriving economy, but combined with the increase in spending the tax cuts have also contributed to a ballooning national debt.

Daniel J. Mitchell, PhD of the Heritage Foundation writes, “Regrettably, the benefits of better tax policy have been undermined, especially in the long run, by excessive government spending.” Economics is an inexact science in which many intelligent people disagree, but anyone can understand that the combination of lowering taxes and increasing spending results in debt. A debt which citizens of college age and younger will most likely have the responsibility of paying off through a much higher tax burden than the American workforce has today.

The GOP now focuses on energizing the religious right to win elections rather than responsible spending and honest government. A party that used to proclaim sensibility in fiscal policy has now sacrificed the long-term future of the US economy for the immediate satisfaction of the current robust economy.

Rather then working to reduce federal spending and the national debt, Congress continues to pander to the religious base of the GOP. In this year’s midterms, polls are indicating the Republicans will at the very least lose a significant portion of their majority and possibly become the minority in both the House and Senate.

Moderates and small government conservatives have been alienated at a time when the GOP desperately needs their votes. The time is now for the Republican Party to remember how they became the majority in the first place.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

A Disappointing Present With a Promising Future

I recently wrote an article for the new metro-milwaukee/uwm University Standard. Check out their website if you have time. Here's my article on the Milwaukee Brewers...

A Disappointing Present With a Promising Future

Think back to September 30, 2005. The Milwaukee Brewers came into Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with 80 wins and three games to go in the season. The game that night started poorly for the Brewers. They were down 5-0 after five innings and it seemed the quest for a .500 record would have to wait another day. During the next two innings, the Brewers scored six runs capped off by Wisconsin native Damian Miller’s two-run homer which gave the Brew Crew a 6-5 lead. In the bottom of the ninth before a PNC Park crowd of 20,922, closer Derrick Turnbow struck out two of the three men he faced to record his 39th save of the year. Win 81 was in the books. For the first time since 1992, the Milwaukee Brewers would not lose more games then they won. Right fielder and Brewer elder Geoff Jenkins said that night, “It's an awesome, awesome feeling. It's not the playoffs or anything like that, but for us this is kind of our playoffs. It's a great feeling and something to build on for next year."

Fast forward to September 19, 2006. The Brewers lost their 83rd game of the season. Damian Miller, who has battled nagging injuries all year, did not play. Derrick Turnbow pitched one-third of an inning and gave up 1 hit, 3 walks and 5 runs (2 earned). After being down only one run at 3-2 through five innings, the Brewers did not score another run and gave up nine more for a final score of 12-2. Not exactly what Geoff Jenkins or anyone else in Milwaukee were hoping to build to in 2006.What are the reasons for this unexpected turn for the worse in the 2006 season after the promising building block that was the 2005 season?

3. Geoff Jenkins: Jenkins had a solid 2005 season, but it did not translate to a good 2006 season. His batting average in 2006 is .268 – down from 2005’s average of .292. His slugging percentage is .426 – down from .513. His on base percentage is .347 – down from .375. His homeruns and RBI totals currently stand at 15 and 67. In 2005, he finished the year with 25 homeruns and 86 RBIs. Geoff’s statistical drop off hurt the Brewers’ offensive production significantly and rumors circle around Miller Park that this will be Jenks’ last year in Milwaukee. 2006 may be an unfortunate end to his career as a Brewer.

2. Derrick Turnbow: 2006 has become complete and total meltdown for Derrick. The season started well for the Brewers’ ex-closer, but just before the all-star break in July it all unraveled. The statistical free fall for Turnbow has been well documented, but the key has been his lack of control. He still has the hard fastball, but his sometimes inconsistent control has morphed into just downright dreadful control. Over 67 and 1/3 innings last year, Turnbow gave up 24 walks. In 2006, he has given up 36 walks in 53 and 1/3 innings. Somewhere along the way Derrick lost something whether it be mental, mechanical or both. Hopefully, in 2007 he will regain that 2005 magic.

1. Injuries: The biggest reason for the Milwaukee Brewers not building on last year’s success is the injury bug. JJ Hardy, Rickie Weeks, Corey Koskie, Ben Sheets and Tomo Ohka were all being counted on as key contributors coming into this year and they all have missed two months or more in 2006. Few major league baseball clubs can sustain long term injuries to their starting shortstop, second baseman, third baseman and two starting pitching and still have a winning season.

As the 2006 regular season comes to a close, Milwaukee baseball fans are turning their attention toward next year. Yes, this year was a big disappointment, but reasons for optimism still exist.

3. The Young Guns: Prince Fielder, Corey Hart, Rickie Weeks, JJ Hardy, Billy Hall, and Tony Gywnn Jr. are 26 years old or younger. These are players on the upside of their careers rather than aging veterans (i.e. Geoff Jenkins) who are more likely to see a slide than an increase in their production. They all gained valuable experience this year (some more than others) and Fielder and Hall have already proven that they are legitimate middle of the order run producers.

2. Sheets and Capuano: Ben Sheets seems to be completely recovered from his recent back muscle injury troubles. A full year of both Ben Sheets and Chris Capuano would give the Brewers a legitimate one-two punch in their starting rotation.

1. Doug Melvin: Do not be fooled by 2006’s results. Doug Melvin is one of baseball’s better general managers. Unlike the losing teams of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, the 2006 sub-par performance was due more to bad luck and unexpected production drop off from certain players instead of management putting together a bad team. Rest assured, Doug Melvin will turn the Brewers back in the right direction sooner rather than later. The 2006 season is not an indication of the overall direction of the Milwaukee Brewers. They possess the talent and the management to play competitive and entertaining baseball in 2007.