Tag: opinion

Obama’s legacy: a failed Democratic Party and President Donald Trump

With the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama, leaving office in a little over a month, I’ll take this opportunity to talk about Obama’s legacy, which has become a major talking point among Democrats.

First off, I want to mention an op-ed that Wisconsin State Representative Melissa Sargent (D-Madison) wrote about her thoughts about Obama’s legacy for the Madison, Wisconsin-based The Cap Times earlier this month. Usually, I strongly agree with someone like Sargent, who is a staunch progressive who realizes that opposing Republicans and their destructive policies is only half the battle for progressives. In fact, Sargent is one of the few elected officials in the entire country that I have a strongly favorable opinion of, and one has to remember that I live in a different state than Sargent does. However, I have a much more negative view of Obama’s legacy than Representative Sargent does.

President Obama did not get a whole lot of domestic policy legislation enacted in his eight years in office, largely because Republicans controlled at least one house of Congress for six of Obama’s eight years in office. When Obama did have political allies in Congress who were in a position to enact legislation, much of it was legislation that was largely or effectively corporate welfare for private-sector businesses (such as the Affordable Care Act and the automobile industry bailout) that, despite being effectively government handouts to large corporations, did benefit many Americans. In fact, I have personally benefited from the Affordable Care Act. Obama’s attempts to work with Republicans typically failed miserably, because the Republican Party of today is completely unwilling to work with anyone who is a Democrat.

While President Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize not long after being elected to the White House, Obama was no champion of peace in the White House. Obama’s only major foreign policy success as president was his ordering of SEAL Team 6 to take out Osama bin Laden (which succeeded). The rest of Obama’s foreign policy record was largely underwhelming and, in many ways, a continuation of the post-9/11 George W. Bush foreign policy in the Middle East.

One of President Obama’s biggest failures was his attempt to cut Social Security benefits, which was rejected, largely because progressives strongly opposed it. Another major Obama failure is the Democratic Party: Since Obama was sworn into office, Democrats have lost hundreds of state legislative seats, dozens of state executive offices, and dozens of seats in both houses of Congress. Yet another Obama failure was the FBI under Obama’s leadership: James Comey, who was appointed FBI director by Obama, used his office to influence people to vote for Donald Trump in this year’s presidential election.

In some cases, left-wing victories under President Obama’s leadership came from unexpected places. Many of the major LGBT rights victories, such as key provisions of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DoMA) being struck down and marriage equality becoming law of the land, were because of rulings by a right-leaning U.S. Supreme Court. The LGBT community used the justice system to win justice.

Now, America is probably a weaker country than it ever has been since the Declaration of Independence was signed, although it’s mostly not President Obama’s fault. However, Obama’s pursuit of free-trade deals and Social Security cuts opened the door for a far-right demagogue by the name of Donald Trump to win the White House. I strongly fear that Trump will, some way or another, undo pretty much all of the positive aspects of Obama’s legacy and destroy this country in so many ways. If the Democrats haven’t gone the way of the Whigs by 2020, I’ll be pleasantly surprised.

My thoughts about flag burning

A little over 30 miles from my home, a flag-burning case is all over the local news.

In Urbana, Illinois, Bryton Mellott, 22 years of age, was booked by local law enforcement for burning the U.S. flag as a form of political protest. Specifically, Mellott was booked for disorderly conduct and violating the Illinois flag desecration statute, which officially classifies flag desecration as a felony in Illinois.

I want to share my own thoughts about flag burning.

Unless there are aggravating circumstances in a particular case (such as flag burning on government property of any kind, flag burning on private property not owned by the individual burning the flag without permission from the property owner, or causing a broader public danger by burning the flag (such as igniting a wildfire or setting fire to something other than the flag)), flag burning should be considered a form of protected free speech. As someone who comes from a family that has had many family members serve in our nation’s Armed Forces, I regard the U.S. flag as a very important national symbol, and burning the U.S. flag is something that I would never do. If I wish to air some kind of grievance that I have about politics or government policy, I will write a blog post, either on this website or another website, about it. However, as long as no damage is being done to property other than the flag itself, the flag in question is the property of the individual burning it, and the flag burning is taking place on one’s own private property or, if on someone else’s property, with permission from the property owner, I don’t believe that flag burning should be a criminal offense of any kind. Keep in mind that I don’t personally approve of burning the flag as a form of protest, and it is something that I would never even consider doing. If you wish to dispose of a U.S. flag in a proper and dignified manner, I recommend contacting an organization like the American Legion or Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) for information before disposing of the flag.

Also, I strongly disapprove of making violent threats towards people, even people who are convicted or accused of criminal activity. We have a judicial system in this country that is built on the principle of due process, not vigilantism.

Illinois taxpayers are on the hook for the University of Illinois’s war on academic freedom

It’s been recently announced that the University of Illinois (U of I) reached a legal settlement with Stephen Saliata, who had a job offer revoked by the U of I because he tweeted his personal opinion about far-right Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a staunch opponent of peace in the Middle East.

Last year, Saliata was offered a tenured professorship at the U of I. After the U of I received backlash from students, alumni, and donors who are to the Netanyahu regime in Israel than they are to America, the U of I pulled their offer of a tenured professorship from Saliata. Saliata rightfully sued the U of I for infringing on his First Amendment right to free speech and infringing upon academic freedom, and the lawsuit has now been settled, but not before the U of I is legally bound to pay out a total of $875,000, $600,000 of which will go to Saliata himself, and $275,000 of which will go to Saliata’s attorneys.

In short, Illinois taxpayers are on the hook for the U of I’s war on academic freedom and caving to pro-Israel interests. Had the U of I actually hired Steven Saliata, it would have cost Illinois taxpayers less than what it cost to settle the lawsuit over not hiring him for political reasons.

My thoughts about the first Democratic presidential debate

Having watched last night’s Democratic presidential debate, I’ll begin by saying that I believe that Bernie Sanders won the debate, with Martin O’Malley having the second-best performance, followed by Hillary Clinton, Jim Webb, and Lincoln Chafee.

My thoughts about Bernie Sanders’s performance

The Good – He upstaged Hillary Clinton on an issue directly affecting HRC (the private email server “scandal” that has been concocted by the GOP). He also defended himself very well, especially on gun safety and on the Veterans’ Affairs health system scandal.

The Bad – He mentioned his campaign website twice during the debate.

My thoughts about Martin O’Malley’s performance

The Good – He came across as the strongest candidate on gun safety, invoking the story of a family who lost one of their own in the Aurora, Colorado theater massacre.

The Bad – He tried to defend his zero-tolerance policing policy from his tenure as Mayor of Baltimore, Maryland, which was one of several factors that have led to distrust between the police and the public in Baltimore.

My thoughts about Hillary Clinton’s performance

The Good – She came across as very professional during the debate without coming across as scripted or boring. She also cracked a joke at a very inappropriate remark from lead moderator Anderson Cooper about her bathroom usage.

The Bad – She twice invoked the fact that she’s a woman during the debate. She also gave weak answers on a number of issues, most notably marijuana legalization and financial regulation.

My thoughts about Jim Webb’s performance

The Good – He used his wife’s story on immigration very well.

The Bad – He used the NRA’s talking points on guns.

My thoughts about Lincoln Chafee’s performance

The Good – Nothing about his debate performance was especially good.

The Bad – He blamed his father’s death on his vote for the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act in the late 1990’s. Furthermore, he made an odd remark comparing himself to a block of granite at one point in the debate.

The big winners (other than the five Democratic presidential candidates debating)

The Democratic Party – All in all, the debate was a great showing that Democrats can have an intelligent, civil discussion about actual political issues between candidates representing various factions of the party.

Civic engagement – CNN’s telecast of the debate received the most viewers of any Democratic presidential primary/caucus debate in television history.

The internet – For the first time since the 1960 presidential general election debates, there appears to be a major disconnect between two media platforms on debate performance. In 1960, it was between radio (whose listeners viewed Richard Nixon as the debate winner) and television (whose viewers viewed John F. Kennedy as the debate winner). This time, it’s between television (which has been trying to spin a Hillary Clinton debate victory) and the internet (most people on social media view Bernie Sanders as the debate victor). I’d expect the newer platform (in this case, the internet) to come out on top.

The big losers (other than the five Democratic presidential candidates debating)

Anderson Cooper – Cooper, CNN’s lead moderator for the debate, tried to use his position to smear Bernie Sanders on a number of GOP talking points against him and failed, and he also made a very inappropriate remark about Hillary Clinton’s bathroom usage after one of the commercial breaks.

The mainstream media – See my remarks about the internet being a big winner above.

Mike Huckabee – Huckabee, one of many Republican presidential candidates, took to Twitter during the debate and made downright racist remarks about Korean people while attacking Bernie Sanders.

Joe Biden – With Hillary Clinton giving a strong enough debate performance to calm down those in the establishment who were fretting about Hillary, and Bernie Sanders solidifying the progressive base of the party, there’s not really a path to victory for Biden if he were to enter the race for the Democratic nomination.

Debate fairness – CNN shut out Lawrence Lessig from participating in the debate despite the fact that Lessig is a Democratic candidate for president.

Game Show Review: 500 Questions

ABC has aired the first episode of a seven-part game show miniseries called 500 Questions, in which a single contestant tries to answer 500 trivia questions correctly for cash. Six more episodes are scheduled to air over most ABC affiliates; the next episode is scheduled to air tonight at 8 P.M. Eastern/7 P.M. Central, with the remaining episodes scheduled to air this coming Friday and Monday through Thursday next week. Check your local listings for air dates and times.

The show’s gameplay involves a single contestant, a challenger, and trivia questions. A single game consists of 10 rounds, with a total of 50 questions per round. In each round, ten categories of questions are used, with five questions per category. Should the contestant complete all ten rounds by answering 500 questions, the contestant wins the game. Should, at any point in the game, the contestant give three consecutive incorrect answers, the game ends, the contestant is eliminated, and the challenger becomes the new contestant. Should the contestant answer the 50th question in a round correctly, the challenger is eliminated and is replaced by a new challenger. Usually, the contestant picks which category will be used for a particular question, with one exception: When the contestant has given two consecutive incorrect answers, the challenger picks the category. The host of the show is Richard Quest, who hosts a business news program on CNN International and occasionally appears on some programs on the U.S. version of CNN.

There are four different types of question formats that are used on 500 Questions:

  • Regular – For regular questions, the contestant has ten seconds to give a single correct answer to a trivia question. Should the contestant’s first answer be correct, the contestant banks $1,000, except for the 25th and (presumably) 50th questions of each round, where the contestant wins $5,000 that is his/hers to keep, no matter what. Should the contestant give the correct answer within the ten-second time limit, the contestant is credited with a correct answer, but doesn’t bank any money. Should the contestant fail to give the correct answer within ten seconds, the contestant is credited with a wrong answer.
  • Battle – For battle questions, the contestant and the challenger go back and forth providing answers to a question with multiple correct answers. When it’s his or her turn, each player has five seconds to give a correct answer. Should all of the correct answers be given, or should the challenger give a wrong answer, the contestant is credited with a correct answer and banks $1,000. Should the contestant either give a wrong answer or fail to give an answer within five seconds on his/her turn, the contestant is credited with a wrong answer.
  • Top 10 – For top 10 questions, either the contestant or the challenger has to provide five correct answers to a question, with a 15-second time limit and a maximum of ten answer attempts. The contestant can either play the question or pass the question to the challenger. Should the contestant opt to play the question gives five correct answers without running out of time or answer attempts, the contestant is credited with a correct answer and banks $1,000. Should the contestant opt to pass the question, and the challenger runs out of time or answer attempts before giving five correct answers, the contestant is credited with a correct answer and banks $1,000. Should the contestant play the question and run out of time or answer attempts before giving five correct answers, the contestant is credited with a wrong answer. Should the contestant pass the question, and the challenger gives five correct answers without running out of time or answer attempts, the contestant is credited with a wrong answer.
  • Triple Threat – For triple threat questions, the contestant has to provide three correct answers to a question, with a ten-second time limit. Should the contestant give three correct answers within the 10-second time limit, the contestant banks $3,000 and is credited with a correct answer. Should the contestant run out of time before giving three correct answers, the contestant is credited with a wrong answer.

Since the contestant on the first episode didn’t reach the 50th question before the end of the episode, I don’t know if the contestant wins the money he/she has banked for giving a correct answer on the 50th question and starts winning money for each question after the 50th question, or if the contestant wins the money he/she has banked for a correct answer on the 50th question of each round.

Below the line break is my review of 500 Questions.


Format

The format of the show is going to receive low marks from me, for one simple reason: There’s only seven scheduled episodes, and the contestant on the first episode isn’t currently on track to answer 500 questions before the end of the seventh episode. In fact, the first of ten rounds was still in progress at the end of the first episode! However, there are a couple of good things about the show’s format: First, the questions are difficult, as one would expect from a primetime quiz show, but not ridiculously difficult. Second, there’s no lifelines or multiple choice answers to make things easier for the contestant. I’ll give the format a 4 on a scale of 0 to 10.

Host

The host of the show is Richard Quest, who, to my knowledge, has no prior experience hosting a game show and has spent most, if not all, of his broadcasting career in cable news. However, Quest is a surprisingly good game show host, having not made any mistakes that I noticed on the first episode and having conducted himself in an engaging, professional manner. One issue I do have with Quest is that he’s not that great at explaining the rules of the game, although he didn’t explain anything incorrectly on the first episode that I noticed. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Quest is considered as a possible host of the syndicated game show Jeopardy! when Alex Trebek decides to retire, probably in 2018. I’ll give Quest a 8 on a scale of 0 to 10.

Set

The show’s set is very dark, even by the standards of a primetime quiz show, although I didn’t have any difficulty reading most of the graphics that were displayed in the studio. The only studio graphics that I had trouble reading were the category labels, as the font for them is too crunched down for me to see without my eyeglasses. I’ll give the show’s set a 5 on a scale of 0 to 10.

Conclusion

On a scale of 0 to 30, 500 Questions earns a score of 17. While the show’s format is overly long and is filmed in a very dark studio, the show’s host and questions with just the right difficulty make it worth the seven episodes the series is scheduled for.

Aaron Camp, Executive Producer

If I were the executive producer of this show, I would completely reformat the show, rename the show, and hope that the show would get at least a 13-week run on a major network, probably in primetime. Here’s how I would format the show:

  • The show would be renamed 50 Questions.
  • Money banked would be won for every tenth question answered correctly.
  • Battle questions and top 10 questions would be worth $2,000.
  • Ten consecutive correct answers by the contestant would eliminate the challenger.
  • Who Wants to be a Millionaire?-style fast finger segment, but with typed answers instead of multiple-choice answers, would be used to select contestants and challengers.
  • 50 questions answered correctly without three consecutive wrong answers would result in the contestant winning the game.
  • The set would be nowhere near as dark.
  • The grand prize for winning the game would consist of, in addition to the money won by correct answers during the game, a jackpot consisting of a luxury or sports car, a few other nice prizes (such as trips, boats, trailers, rooms of furniture, full set of kitchen appliances, etc.), and a very large amount of cash, with any unearned cash that was banked being added to the jackpot each time a contestant fails to outright win the game.

While I don’t think that 500 Questions is going to last more than the seven episodes it’s currently scheduled for, it’s an interesting game show.

Illinois State Representatives should vote NO on wage theft bill

On Thursday, the Democratic-controlled Illinois House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on whether or not Illinois should become a right-to-work state, or what I like to call a wage theft state. In a wage theft state, non-union workers at unionized workplaces would be legally allowed to steal wages and other benefits negotiated by the union without paying union dues or some other form of payment. Republican Governor Bruce Rauner has publicly called for legislation allowing for local governments to enact local wage theft ordinances, which Democratic Attorney General Lisa Madigan believes would violate federal labor laws.

I strongly encourage members of the Illinois General Assembly to vote NO on the Bruce Rauner-Mike Madigan wage theft scheme.

While Madigan, the Democratic state house speaker, hasn’t advocated for the passage of the legislation, the fact that he’s scheduled a vote on wage theft is downright alarming. Wage theft legislation would do absolutely nothing to improve our state’s economy or fix our state’s fiscal problems. Instead, it would drive down wages, make workplaces less safe, create an even bigger burden on taxpayers, cost our state thousands of jobs, and severely hurt our state’s economy. That’s because when wages are driven down, workers have less to spend on groceries, gasoline, and other goods and services, resulting in both the state and the private sector making less revenue.

Bruce Rauner wants to put Illinois in the same league as third-world countries like Vietnam and Bangladesh, from an economic standpoint. Illinoisans simply can not afford Rauner’s corporate agenda of driving down wages, busting unions, and destroying what little of our state’s middle class remains.

The Progressive Midwesterner’s 2014 Person of the Year: U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

I promised you that I would pick someone very notorious to be The Progressive Midwesterner’s 2014 Person of the Year.

Well, I’m proud to announce that my 2014 Person of the Year is…Ruth Bader Ginsburg, an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Justice Ginsburg, widely thought of as the most liberal of the nine justices on the conservative-controlled Supreme Court, has earned a loyal following among progressives, feminists, and reproductive rights supporters after the conservative majority on the court ruled that businesses owned by people who want to shove their religious beliefs down the throats of their employees, such as the arts and crafts store chain Hobby Lobby, could deny their employees health insurance coverage of contraception, even if they have a medical need for it. Ginsburg, in her dissenting opinion of the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby decision, blasted the court’s conservative majority for allowing employers to shove their religious beliefs down the throats of their employees:

The reason why is hardly obscure. Religious organizations exist to foster the interests of persons subscribing to the same religious faith. Not so of for-profit corporations. Workers who sustain the operations of those corporations commonly are not drawn from one religious community. Indeed, by law, no religion-based criterion can restrict the work force of for-profit corporations. […] The distinction between a community made up of believers in the same religion and one embracing persons of diverse beliefs, clear as it is, constantly escapes the Court’s attention. One can only wonder why the Court shuts this key difference from sight.

Ginsburg earned such a loyal following among progressives, feminists, and reproductive rights supporters in this country after her blistering dissent of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, she became known as The Notorious RBG, and “join the dissent” became a rallying cry for supporters of women’s rights.

For bravely standing up to a conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court that has dismantled religious freedom and has tried to take reproductive rights away from women, U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has earned my 2014 Person of the Year award.