Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Death of Democracy

Today Governor Walker signed into a law a bill that will make it significantly harder for hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin residents to vote.

Republicans have been positioning this law as protecting the integrity of the vote.  However the reality is that voter fraud in Wisconsin is not, and has not, been a problem.

Let's take a minute to look at the facts around voter fraud. Saturday’s Wall Street Journal pointed out that President George W. Bush made voter fraud a priority for enforcement, so the U.S. Justice Department went to work on enforcing it.  From 2002 to 2005, the Journal reported, 55 people were convicted nationwide of voter fraud.  That's barely one per state.

In 2008 Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen and Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm formed the Election Fraud Task Force.  This task force investigated 12 counties in Wisconsin including Dane and Milwaukee CountiesAfter 2 years of investigations the task force identified 20 cases of voter fraud in the 2008 election.

The DOJ and Milwaukee County prosecutors charged 11 felons for voting, six people for voter registration misconduct and two people for voting twice, according to a DOJ statement.

A 2007 study released by Brennan Center for Justice revealed that potential voters are unlikely to be found committing voter fraud. “It’s more likely that an individual will be struck by lightning than that he will impersonate another voter at the polls,” the study’s authors wrote.

The reality is that even Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen's task force has shown that voter fraud is not a significant problem in Wisconsin.  This bill solves a problem that doesn't exist.  In the mean time it makes it significantly harder for certain groups of people to vote.

Who does this bill effect?

The UW Wisconsin system has 173,000 students in it, that will no longer be able to use their student ID to vote.  They will either have to travel back to their home town and vote there, or go get a Wisconsin Driver's License or State ID with their current address on it to vote.  For many students moving is an annual event, so every year they will have to go get a new ID with their current address on it so they can exercise their constitutional right to vote.

Is preventing less than 2 dozen fraudulent votes worth making it harder for 173,000 students to vote?

Who else will be affected by this bill?  Good question, let's see.

Only 25 percent of African Americans and 34 percent of Latinos in Milwaukee County have valid licenses, compared to 71 percent of young white adults elsewhere in the state, according to a 2005 report from the Employment and Training Institute at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee.  This group is also one of the most transient in the state, moving sometimes more than once per year.

Is preventing less than 2 dozen fraudulent votes worth making it harder for tens of thousands of minorities to vote?

When you peel back the covers it's clear to see that this bill is in fact not about protecting the vote, but about protecting the power base of the GOP by trying to limit the ability of those who historically voted democrat.

Even though the GOP in Wisconsin has said we are broke, they estimate this bill will cost tax payers $8-10 million to implement.

But the real cost of this bill is the loss of voice for hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Great Guns - Why Does it Need to be All or Nothing?

The debate over concealed carry in Wisconsin has brought this issue to the forefront for me.  Guns have been a part of life in Wisconsin, and I suspect most of the United States since the inception of this great state.

Hunting is a significant part of our economy and I doubt that there is a person in the state who isn't friends with someone who owns a gun.

There is currently legislation proposed in Wisconsin that would make it easier for someone to carry a concealed weapon than it would be for them to vote.  To me this seems completely backwards.

I realize that the second amendment protects an individual's right to own a weapon, and I agree with that.  However I feel that with gun ownership comes certain responsibilities.  I also believe that there should be some reasonable limits in what type of guns people can own.

Let's face it, a gun at its core is built to kill something.  By its very nature it is a danger to others.  To limit this danger, people who want to own and carry a firearm should be required to take training on that weapon and how to safely us it.  We require training before you can drive a car, why is training before you can carry a gun so different?

Here are my thoughts on how to make things equitable in Wisconsin, balancing the right to own and carry a weapon with the safety of the public.

First there need to be some reasonable limits to what types of weapons can be purchased.  I believe it is reasonable to limit the ownership of fully automatic weapons, along with any handgun that has a magazine clip that holds more than 10 rounds.

Current semi automatic weapons allow you to fire as quickly as you can pull the trigger.  For me that is 6 times per second.  So I can fire six rounds per second manually pulling the trigger.  However when I let off the trigger the gun stops.  This should be adequate for anyone using their weapon for hunting or personal safety.   There is no need for fully automatic, or selectable fire weapons.

For handguns, there simply is no need for a weapon with more than 10 rounds in a clip.  Currently only our police and military are allowed guns of greater capacity.  This is because their line of work almost ensures that they will be put in a situation where gunfire is needed.  For the average citizen most often simply displaying the weapon is sufficient to prevent endangerment. 

But for me the real need is around training.  This is especially true for people who want to carry a weapon in their daily lives.  Police and military go through hundreds of hours of training to safely use their weapons.  This includes training on the weapon itself, the handling of the weapon and how to employ it.  Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, police have thousands of hours of real life experience with people.  They are able to identify when someone poses an actual threat, detect when a situation escalates and violence is a real risk, and possibly most importantly they know how to de-escalate a situation before the use of a weapon is needed.

Prospective concealed carry applicants should be required to attend training on when and where a weapon can be used.  For example it should never be used to protect material property.  Ever.  The weapon should only be used to protect the safety of humans, never someone's car or stereo as recent cases in Racine and Michigan have shown.

Additionally, to safely carry a weapon the owner should have to attend a minimum of 12 hours of training, including situational and live fire training, so that they can safely employ the weapon and make correct decisions when using it.

All of this should be completed prior to an applicant receiving a permit to carry a concealed weapon.  Permit holders would be required to attend additional training every 2 years to keep their skills up so they can safely use the weapon.

Finally let's talk about where people can carry guns.  Currently loaded guns are not allowed in vehicles.  I think it's fair to accept that if someone is going to carry a gun, they are likely going to drive a vehicle.  Police already approach any car as if the owner is carrying so let's allow people to carry their weapons in their cars.  I don't believe that guns should be allowed in any tavern.  Alcohol and guns simply should not mix, and I believe a little common sense should make it clear that we don't want people bringing guns into bars.

Gun owners would still be able to buy handguns, albeit only allowed to hold 10 rounds. They would still be able to buy rifles with 20-30 round capacities and go through all of those rounds in 3-4 seconds. They would still be allowed to carry their handgun for their safety.

This preserves the essence of the second amendment, while at the same time balancing the need to keep the public safe from under trained weapon owners.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Why Should We Protect The Vote?

America has long led the world in democracy.  Our country was formed on the notion of no taxation without representation.  Revolution happened because the citizens of the colonies did not have a say in the laws enacted upon them by the English.  For 200 years we progressively fought and changed voting laws in this country to provide equality and a voice for all Americans in elections.

This is why I think it's imperative that we protect the vote.  And by this I don't mean enacting voter id laws, I mean we need to ensure that all eligible voters can vote, and make it as easy as possible for them to vote.

Like all freedoms, this voting freedom comes with some risk of abuse.   You've all heard stories of Chicago and the thousands of supposedly dead people that voted in elections in the 1980's.  Without a doubt these stories are partially true and voter fraud was real back then.

So how does voter fraud like that happen?  Well it was easy back then because everything was manual.  All lists were manual, registration was manual and there wasn't an easy way to ensure that someone wasn't voting in multiple districts. 

However with the advent of computers we can now easily ensure that people are not registering in multiple districts.  We can easily ensure that people in prison aren't voting, and we can easily ensure that the dead aren't voting.  This completely eliminates the primary methods that were used in Chicago to throw the vote to a particular politician.  In Wisconsin, from 2008 through 2010 there were less than a dozen cases of voter fraud identified in the state.  Virtually all of those were convicted felons voting before they were off supervision.  Something that voter ID laws wouldn't have caught anyway.

So if voter fraud is bad, why shouldn't we enact stricter laws about voting?  Well, I feel that voting is the backbone of America.  This is one of the few constitutional rights that every American has and should exercise regularly.  It's the duty of government to ensure that this right isn't infringed upon and that we do everything we can to encourage citizens to vote.

America is seeing a rash of voter ID laws, all of which claim to be protecting the integrity of the vote, when in fact they are simply making it harder for certain classes of people to vote.

These laws, while seemingly innocent, have the effect of stifling the vote of the poor, elderly and handicap citizens.  They do so by making citizens have to go to their DMV and get a state ID or drivers license.  They require citizens to purchase these licenses/IDs with money that they may not have available.  And most importantly they require them to travel and take time away from work to get these IDs.

If you've ever been to the DMV you know that it is a time consuming process on the best of days.  On the worst of days you may have to take a whole day to go get your ID.  In some parts of the country the closest DMV facility is an hour drive or more away.  For the wealthy that may not be a hardship.  But for someone who is working at, or near, minimum wage, and gets no paid vacation time this may be an unaffordable endeavor for them.

These laws will require that anyone who moves go get an updated ID so that they can vote.  For the poorest Americans, this could mean several trips to the DMV in a year if they have moved more than once.  This puts undue hardship on the poor, and elderly so that they can exercise their constitutionally given right to vote.

Yes it is critical that we protect the vote in America, but this means ensuring that all citizens are provided fair and easy access to voting.

Let's Abolish Marriage

Let's Abolish Marriage!

Yes, I said it, let's abolish marriage.   Now before you get all bent out of shape let me explain why I think we should do this.

I believe that the institution of marriage is an intensely personal thing and that the government has no place inserting itself in this personal act.

In America today the act of marriage bestows legal protections, rights and other ramifications.  And because of the religious movement in America these rights are limited to a man and a woman in most states.

So let's get rid of marriage as we know it from a legal perspective.

Instead the government should create a "civil union" which bestows all of the legal protections and rights that are currently given via marriage.  Each state would have the discretion to decide who can join a civil union.  Some states would decide that only a man and a woman could join a civil union, others would decide that same sex couples could join a civil union.  Regardless of the decision, all legal rights would be bestowed upon this union through the civil union.

Well what about marriage?  Aren't we hurting America by getting rid of it?  Absolutely not!  Marriage would still exist, but the act of marriage would belong to the church.  Each church could decide who it would marry.  Many would choose only a man and a woman, some would choose same sex couples and some would allow polygamist marriages.  The decision would be up to each church. 

Couples would receive no legal benefits from marriage, but would be married in the eye of their church and their god.  Which is after all, what the religious sect is concerned about.  Gay marriage to them, defies god and is an insult to the institution of marriage.  So let them keep marriage as their church sees it, and allow others with differing beliefs to get the same protections.

I believe this simple change resolves the whole issue of marriage in America.  It removes gay marriage as an issue for those whose religious beliefs are offended by it.  It allows couples of all sexes to get the same rights, good and bad, that come with today's marriage.

And best of all, it gets the government out of the marriage business, where it never belonged in the first place.

Do you think America is ready for this?