Sunday, January 30, 2011

Who Really Wants to Build on the Wetlands Surrounding Lambeau Field?

Wealthy businessman (and Green Bay Packers Executive Committee Member) John Bergstrom called in a favor with new Governor Scott Walker in order to get legislation allowing the team to build on protected wetlands near Lambeau Field for a proposed retail-entertainment center called Titletown Sports District.  It was hoped that Bass Pro Shops would anchor the retail component.

However, the environmentally-conscious company has distanced itself from the project, stating that it does not build on wetlands.

Governor Walker persists in saying he can change their mind (just as he insisted he could get the federal government to allow Wisconsin to use those rail project funds for roads).  I expect the outcome to be the same.

But what I find interesting about the coverage of this issue is that the Wisconsin media (and bloggers critical of the special treatment for Bergstrom and destruction of wetlands in general) have downplayed or ignored the role of the Green Bay Packers organization in this project.  Bergstrom was acting on behalf of the Packers in seeking special treatment.  Why ignore that fact?  Do we want to avoid criticizing our beloved Packers?  Or do we fear that voters won't care as much about the wetlands as long as it's the Packers who want to pave them over?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Eurotrip Was a Good Investment for Trek Bicycle Corp.

Madison's Mayor is seeking approval for $100,000 of taxpayer funds annually to subsidize a bike-sharing program to be operated by an arm of Trek Bicycle Corp.

Once up and running, the Trek subsidiary will sell memberships for $65 per year or $5 per day.  Their next step is to try to expand the program throughout Dane County (which will no doubt require the County to pony up more taxpayer money).

Looks like that bike tour of Europe with City and County officials was money well spent.  Brenda Konkel has more.

Monday, January 24, 2011

I Am Not an Athiest

I am not an athiest. I don't usually write much about my personal beliefs, but I want everyone to understand what shaped my opinions in my subsequent posts. I was very religious in my youth. In fact, as an adolescent, I thought I might be called to the clergy. My pastor, however, was dismissive of my questions about theology and biblical scholarship, and he did not encourage my interest, despite the fact that our church had ordained women for years.

I began looking into other denominations, hoping to find one that seemed right. I wanted to reconcile my understanding of Christ's teaching and the historical contexts in which the books of the Bible were written with church doctrine.  I came to realize that the vast majority of organized religions are just as concerned with preserving the authority and prerogatives of the clergy as they are with bringing the truth and spiritual comfort to their flock. I could not in good conscience promote any of them.  I became a "sole practitioner" -- a description more common among neo-pagans than Christians (who are very big on that "whenever two or more of you are gathered in my name" thing).

I respect sincerely held religious beliefs, even when I vehemently disagree with them.  I oppose any attempt by someone else to force me to live by their religious beliefs, however. Any laws passed by our government must serve a secular purpose to promote the general welfare and/or public safety. The ten commandments are not the basis of our legal system. Our legal system is rooted in English Common Law, which evolved from pre-Christian Anglo-Saxon traditions. There are many areas of overlap, just as there are areas of overlap with Solon's law code and other ancient legal texts. Every civilization has an interest in promoting the personal safety and property rights of its citizens.

Something that most American Christians do not understand is that ancient prohibitions against abortion were not about saving the lives of innocent babies (most of those cultures did not recognize the humanity of a child until after it was named, since so many died at birth). Those prohibitions were about protecting the father's property. In many ancient cultures, a man had the legal right to kill a child born to his wife or concubine. If the child had a birth defect or was suspected to be another man's bastard, it could be left to die outside of town. The decision was always the legal father's, not the mother's. A woman who killed her child or aborted her pregnancy was thwarting her husband's property rights. It was seen as an attack on her husband (just as Medea killed her children to punish Jason for abandoning her).

Many in the pro-choice movement believe that those old patriarchal property rights still motivate large segments of the pro-life movement.  That Brazilian bishop who excommunicated a mother and doctor for providing a life-saving abortion for an eight-year-old girl but did not excommunicate the stepfather who raped and impregnated the girl demonstrated that those attitudes still exist within parts of the Catholic Church hierarchy. The pro-life activists who picket clinics with signs saying "Don't punish a rapist by killing his child" also demonstrate that old attitude. They seem to believe that a woman's body only exists to be a vessel for a man's seed, and that decisions about pregnancy should always be made by a man.

My next post will explain my take on the "life begins at conception" argument.  Please read it before commenting on this one (your comment may be more relevant if you attach it to the other post).

Does Life Begin at Conception?

For the last half-century, the Catholic Church has actively taught that life begins at conception. They did not always advance that argument. In the middle ages, priests developed texts known as "penitentials" that were designed as guides in the confessional. They provided standard penances for a wide variety of confessed sins. The penitentials provided different punishments for women who had an abortion depending upon whether it was before or after "the quickening" (the point at which fetal movement can be felt by the mother). If it occurred after the quickening, the woman was assigned far longer penance than for an early abortion. This seems to indicate that, earlier in the history of the church, life was considered to begin at the quickening, not at conception.

Jewish tradition teaches that the soul enters the child at birth. Even today, many Orthodox Jews will not address an unborn child by name or even set up a nursery in anticipation.

The tricky thing about Catholic Church doctrine is that, according to the Church, it does not change over time. When a new doctrine is developed in response to a change in society, the Church claims to be simply clarifying and articulating something that was always true. For many centuries, there was no need to worry about the Virgin Mary being a carrier of original sin, because the mother was believed to be just the vessel for the father's seed. She may shape her offspring, as a plant's roots grow in the shape of the pot, but she does not pass on her nature. Gregor Mendel's studies of genetic inheritance, however, made people aware that Jesus must have inherited genes from his mother. Thus, the Catholic Church developed the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, whereby Mary was the product of a specially-blessed union and was miraculously conceived without inheriting original sin from her parents.

When birth control pills became available, women had the ability to control their reproductive destiny far more effectively than ever before. The pills prevented pregnancy before it ever happened by suppressing ovulation and possibly also by preventing implantation if a woman did ovulate. Since medical science recognizes pregnancy as beginning at implantation (since a great many fertilized eggs are naturally expelled by the body for a variety of reasons), conventional birth control pills do not end a pregnancy.

It was after the pill became available that the Catholic Church began teaching that life begins at conception, not implantation nor the quickening. Many Protestant churches followed their lead. This doctrine is logically problematic for a couple of reasons.

First, the Church condemns hormonal birth control for the stated reason that it can prevent a fertilized egg (which the Church now says is a human life) from implanting in the womb, and thus the pill kills babies. However, the Church encourages breast feeding, even though lactation causes hormonal changes similar to the pill and also can prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the womb. Why does breast-feeding get a pass when birth control pills are condemned?  If the Church is more concerned with making a woman's body subordinate to a baby than with saving the lives of fertilized eggs, the difference makes sense.

Secondly, prior to implantation (and even for a short while afterward), it is still undetermined whether that fertilized egg will grow into one baby or two or three (or even five, in the case of the famous Dionne quintuplets). If the soul enters at conception, does it split when the zygote does?  Do twins each possess only half a soul?  Also, twins sometimes merge during the course of a pregnancy. This even happens with fraternal twins, who grew from two separate fertilized eggs. Some people are born with different DNA in different body parts as a result of such in-utero mergers.  Do these people have two souls?

My faith does not require me to believe that life begins at conception, and my knowledge of science and of church history does not allow me to believe it. Therefore, in my opinion, any legal restrictions on first trimester abortion are based entirely on the desire of some people to impose their religious beliefs on others.

Safe, Legal and Rare

The State of Pennsylvania finally shut down a horrific "clinic" and arrested a doctor for performing illegal abortions under medically unsound conditions, leading to the deaths of at least two women and several viable infants who were allegedly born alive and then killed with scissors.

The State ignored complaints and did not properly inspect the facility for years. The doctor, Kermit Gosnell, was not even an obstetrician/gynecologist. He employed unqualified, untrained (and possibly underage) assistants who, under his direction, performed medical procedures without licenses.

How did he get away with it?  Why did women keep coming to him for abortions?  For one, he worked cheap. Poor women on medical assistance did not have access to abortions in legitimate medical facilities, because Pennsylvania law does not allow taxpayer funds to be used for abortions. They had to pay out of pocket.

For another, he was willing to perform abortions far later than the law allows. He even told some women that their pregnancy was less advanced than it really was.

The legal authorities finally performed their responsibility and shut down this illegal operation and arrested Gosnell, as they should have done years ago.

Why was this horror show able to thrive in Pennsylvania?  Perhaps for the same reason that rum-running flourished under Prohibition.  Studies have shown that abortion rates are relatively similar in countries which outlaw the procedure as they are in countries which allow it.  The most effective way to reduce the number of abortions isn't to make them less available or more onerous, but to empower women to prevent unwanted pregnancies in the first place and to increase support for pregnant women.

Abortion should be safe, legal and rare. We should work to teach girls how their bodies work and not feed them lies like "you can't get pregnant if you don't enjoy the sex" and "abortion causes breast cancer". Girls who are ignorant and taught to be subservient to males are much more likely to be coerced into sex (as shown by the high rate of teenage pregnancy in school districts with abstinence-only sex education programs). They are also more likely to ignore the signs that they are pregnant (leading to a whole abhorrent reality show).

We should work to make the alternatives to abortion more attractive. We should strengthen open adoption laws. Right now, only a couple of states will uphold an adoption if the birth mother changes her mind and decides she wants her baby back. This discourages adoptions where the birth mother is included in the baby's extended family, which has the effect of discouraging young women from going through with a pregnancy if they are not prepared to be mothers. Many young women who choose abortion have expressed an unwillingness to give their baby to strangers.  We should also avoid treating unwed mothers like pariahs, unless you would rather punish them for having sex than save the lives of their unborn children.

Stop picketing clinics and harassing doctors, unless you want to see the return of back-alley abortion mills like the one in Pennsylvania and the one in Indiana that killed Becky Bell.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

What a Jackass

A student at the U. of Colorado-Boulder paid his tuition in $1 bills as a form of protest against high out-of-state tuition.  Does he believe that Colorado taxpayers should subsidize his education?  Does he think a prospective employer will be impressed by the amount of time and energy he spent inconveniencing other people?  Clearly, he needs to spend more time studying (or working) and less time on useless stunts.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Quite a Surprise

A day ago, if a crystal ball had told me that Matt Flynn would come in and finish the game for the Packers, I would have assumed that was bad news.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

On This Week's Episode of the Kiln Hillbillies...

Brandi's meth lab is busted.  Meanwhile, brother Brett secretly buys a Falcon's jersey to wear during tonight's playoff game against the Packers and a Patriots jersey to wear during Sunday's game against the Jets.

Friday, January 14, 2011

FBI Investigates Craigslist Threat Against Wisconsin Politicians

Several of Wisconsin's Republican politicians were recently threatened on Craigslist.  The FBI is among the law enforcement agencies investigating.

I hope they catch the asshole soon.  This is completely unacceptable.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Public Private Partnership to Provide Patronage Positions?

Details of Gov. Walker's plan to replace the Dept. of Commerce with a publicly-financed private corporation were released on Thursday.

Employees of the new entity will not be state workers with civil service protections. They will have the option of participating in the Wisconsin Retirement System. Hiring and salary decisions will be made by a Board appointed by Gov. Walker himself.

Rep. Robin Vos, co-chair of the Joint Finance Committee, spoke of the need to bring in the "very best people" and get rid of those who "need to find employment elsewhere." His choice of words reminded me of a Country Club membership committee. The need for "the best" at the new agency could certainly be used to justify inflated upper management salaries.

From Channel 3000:
It's not immediately clear how many private employees there would be at the new hybrid agency. Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie said last week that they didn't anticipate overall employment levels to differ much from where they are now.

Employment levels will be similar, although most of the Department's regulatory functions will be either eliminated or shifted to other agencies. Hiring decisions will bypass civil service rules. Taxpayers will be paying a similar number of people to do significantly less work. It sounds like the new entity exists largely to create high-paying patronage jobs for the well-connected. Crony capitalism (and your tax dollars) at work.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Pathetic Loser Charged With New Sex Crime

Dustin Radke, who spent time in prison for trying to dig up a corpse with sexual intent, allegedly had sex with a 14-year-old just a couple months after getting out of prison for his previous sex crime.

If someone is so screwed up that they can't interact with a living adult, then they should spend some money on a high-end sex doll and leave other people (and their mortal remains) alone.

If there was ever a good candidate for castration, it's this asshole.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

2010 Southern Wisconsin Drunk of the Year

For most of 2010, I thought I would be giving the nod to DeForest's David Dull. However, Reedsburg's Michael Clevenger pulled off a victory on the last day of the year (well before midnight).

Clevenger started hitting the vodka at 8:00 in the morning. By 2:00 in the afternoon, he was on the road, driving erratically, with two open Smirnoff bottles in the car with him. He resisted arrest and urged the deputy to tase him. The taser malfunctioned (making me wonder if he was wearing some kind of insulating vest, since he himself suggested the taser).

This is Clevenger's 10th offense in a 13-year, three-county span. He'll have plenty of time to dry out in prison.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Scott Walker - Wisconsin's Boris Yeltsin

When Boris Yeltsin became Russia's President two decades ago, Russians expected him to lead them into an era of prosperity and freedom. They wanted to live like the rest of Europe. They were tired of dour communism and standing in line for bread.

Russia's transition to capitalism, however, was extremely painful -- thanks in large part to Yeltsin's corrupt cronyism. He sold off state-owned companies for kopeks on the ruble to his friends and supporters. This led to the rise of a class of extremely rich industrialists called oligarchs (a word formerly used to describe the members of the old Soviet Politburo). They were very much like the robber barons of 19th-century America.

The cost of living skyrocketed and jobs disappeared. People couldn't afford basic necessities like food and fuel. Soldiers actually sold their guns because the government didn't have the money to pay their salaries.

Scott Walker has a similar liking for crony capitalism. He wants to privatize many government functions. He showed a similar penchant as Milwaukee County Executive, replacing County-employed janitors and security guards with contractors, with unpleasant results.

Now he proposes to dismantle the Department of Commerce and give some of its functions to a new private corporation that will be funded with taxpayer money.

I believe this is Walker's jobs plan. In GOP Bizarro World, government jobs are not real jobs. Therefore, eliminating one full-time, family supporting job and giving the money to a for-profit company who outsources the work to two part-time minimum wage workers counts as creating two jobs.

Of course, the company's CEO and shareholders will skim off much of the money. They may even live out of state, which will remove money from Wisconsin's economy and cause a further contraction of revenues and a larger budget hole. Certainly Dane County's economy will suffer with the loss of those jobs. More restaurants and stores will close, and more homes will go into foreclosure.

I expect that Scott Walker will be shameless in his quest to privatize Wisconsin's public assets. Look forward to more logging and mining on state land. That will create some decent-paying jobs for a few years, but residents will have to live with the blighted landscape for decades afterward. There is already a move afoot to begin mining and processing sand in Chippewa County for hydraulic fracturing natural gas extraction. With our new Governor's laissez-faire attitude toward business regulations, expect little environmental oversight.

Expect to see private security firms (like the Walker-favored Wackenhut) taking over some law enforcement duties. I suspect the Capitol police will be the first on the chopping block. In time, I think some State Highway Patrol and Dept. of Corrections jobs may also be outsourced.

Expect a push to expand school vouchers (this is already being talked about). Republican legislators talk about helping children in failing schools, but this policy is really about busting teachers' unions and subsidizing white flight from urban schools, leaving underfunded public schools with a high percentage of at-risk students. Those kids will grow up to be an undereducated cheap labor force for Wisconsin's new oligarchs.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

It's Small Consolation

But at least the Badgers beat the spread.

Meet the Spartans

Wow. Michigan State's football team was an embarrassment to the Big Ten today. Let's hope the Badgers and Buckeyes can redeem the conference's honor.