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A Culturally Polarized Nation

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At long last, I have finally returned to the blogosphere!  After taking a much-needed break to relax, travel to Europe, catch up with long lost friends and family, and allow my brain to properly recover from the incredibly hectic pace of my schedule for the last two years, it feels good to be back.  It feels even better to read and write for fun now as opposed to working under pressure to meet deadlines and course requirements.  As you might have already guessed, I GRADUATED!!  Mission Accomplished (M.A., get it? ;).

As I work my way back into a regular blogging routine again, I could not help but notice a recurring theme from my final semester of graduate school resurface into the center of the spotlight over the past week.

I took a class titled American Political Parties and one of the themes that we discussed periodically throughout the semester was “polarization” in terms of ideology, partisan affiliation, geographical location, and personal values and beliefs, to name a few.   In reading about and discussing this theme, one of the primary objectives within the scope of the course was to determine 1)whether or not the concept of “polarization” has any impact on elections; and 2) if it truly does affect electoral results, what could be the long-term implications for parties, movements, and the electorate?

And this is just an overly simplified way of summarizing polarization in American politics.  If you’re really motivated and wish to read into this a bit more, I’d recommend checking out The Disappearing Center: Engaged Citizens, Polarization, and American Democracy by Alan Abramowitz (2010) and Disconnect: The Breakdown of Representation in American Politics by Morris Fiorina and Samuel Abrams (2009).

Having said all of that (while reflecting back on those fond memories of late-night and weekend-long study sessions), this brings me to the white-hot topic of the First Amendment, particularly the “separation of church and state.”

It always amazes me how those affiliated with far-left movements are the first to object to public displays of religion – even when those displays are on private residential or commercial property – and anything else they view as a “violation of the (literal) separation of church and state;” yet, they see no problem with using judges and politicians (whose salaries are funded by the taxpayers) to force their views and demands upon their faithful opponents.  And when the majority of Americans vote to elect leaders approved by far-left activists (such as our president), that is “what democracy looks like” to them.  Yet, when a majority of Americans vote in favor of a referendum or other ballot initiative that the far-left activists disapprove of, then that is considered “illegal,” “discriminatory,” and must be tyrannically thwarted or overturned by unelected individuals.

And political scholars wonder why Americans live in such a polarized environment today…

Since the 1990s, there has been considerable debate over the existence of a “culture war” in the United States and – for those who believe we are in a culture war – to what extent it has divided our nation.   Simply looking back on the past week alone, I would argue that we are, indeed, in the midst of a cultural war between the church (particularly the Catholic Church) and state.

For full disclosure before I continue, I was baptized and raised a Catholic (yes, I have known people who have honestly cringed in disgust upon hearing this – and I thought the Crusades ended centuries ago).  Thus, the decision made by the Obama Administration over the last week to force Catholic universities, hospitals, and charities to provide coverage of birth control and other forms of contraception as part of their health insurance plans offered to employees really hit home for me.  The same can be said of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals striking down California’s Proposition 8, which 52 percent (aka the majority) of the state’s voters supported in the fall of 2008.

My initial thoughts when I learned of the Obama Administration’s  intrusive decision upon the Catholic Church was, “What happened to that ‘separation of church and state’” argument that this administration has championed time and time again?  Why are devout practicing Catholics who do not believe in contraception being forced to abandon their beliefs for someone else’s political gain?  And if this decision is made permanent, what’s in it for the Catholic Church?  In exchange for this misguided and intrusive decision, would Catholics be allowed to display Nativity scenes or the Ten Commandments in public places from now on without suffering from any ACLU-induced heartburn?  Speaking of which, where has the ACLU in all of this?!

On the topic of marriage, while I cannot speak for other churches, as a Catholic I was raised to understand that marriage (matrimonial covenant) is one of the Seven Sacraments instituted by Jesus Christ and entrusted to the Church.  More than simply a contract, marriage is understood by the Catholic Church to be a permanent union between a man and a woman for “the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament.”  As reaffirmed in the Catholic Catechism: “The Church and her members need to continue to be a strong and clear voice in protecting an understanding of marriage, which is rooted in natural law and revealed in God’s law.”  I could be wrong, but I’m guessing this law was in place long before the LGBT community mobilized.

Okay, the anti-religious readers can stop cringing now.  I’m finished with my theological lecture… for now.  The point I’m trying to make is that the commitment that many Americans have to their religious beliefs factors into their electoral decisions – such as defending the longstanding tradition of marriage by supporting Proposition 8 in California.  They had every right to step up and tell the “state” not to infringe upon their beliefs by imposing a politically-charged definition of “marriage” upon them.   Yet, when they succeeded in doing so, the state turned around and rejected their legitimately cast votes in favor of a minority that disapproved of the outcome.  This brings me to ponder if the outcome of the presidential election will be reversed in the same fashion should, say, Mitt Romney win and a vocal, tyrannical minority that disapproves sees to it that Barack Obama remains in the White House…

We’re seeing the same reaction among Catholic bishops who have stepped up to tell President Obama that he does not have the right to infringe upon the Church’s longstanding beliefs on contraception.   Unfortunately, they don’t have the luxury of judges looking out for them and the interests of the Church.

Whether or not the President completely reverses his decision on the contraception issue is irrelevant at this point – he still stepped into prohibited territory and demonstrated complete disregard for the First Amendment’s protection of religious values and beliefs.  The Supreme Court could reverse the decision made by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in keeping marriage within its sacred and religious boundaries.  Either way, both controversies have reignited the culture war that continues to polarize and divide America… making President Obama The Most Polarizing President. Ever, according to Chris Cillizza and Aaron Black of The Washington Post.


Written by Stephanie

February 12, 2012 at 11:49 pm

Missing in Action… but not for much longer

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It appears as though I’ve been on hiatus from this blog for far too long again.  To the dedicated readers and followers of this blog, I offer my apologies and hope you hang in there for just a bit longer… ’cause I’ll be GRADUATING IN TWO WEEKS!! 🙂  Then, it will be time to celebrate Christmas with my family before I ring in the new year European style and then return to posting on this blog in time for something called the presidential primaries.

Speaking of Europe, I encourage you to check out the new blog I created this semester:  I am currently enrolled in International Development Communications, a class for which I am required to complete a final semester project.  And so, Journalism’s Global Citizenry was born!

The focus of this new blog is on the emergence of citizen journalism amid the growth of and greater access to online media.  I admit this new blog is a bit “wonkier” with a more academic focus than Stephanie’s Political Arena, and you may find it useful on nights when you can’t seem to fall asleep; however, I intend for it to be a learning tool for myself and readers as I provide insight into research analyzing the growth and significance of global citizen journalism, the advantages/disadvantages it poses to traditional media, and how it could threaten and/or benefit global security and international diplomacy in the long run.

Once I finally wrap up that sought-after M.A. and have only my full-time job, learning Danish, and occasional globe-trotting to focus on, I plan to make room in my schedule for an occasional post or two to this blog as well as my other blog.  Until then, I’m off to wrap up my blog project, final portfolio, and final research paper now that I’ve recently survived presenting at another public opinion conference – all while still working full-time.  Has Christmas vacation arrived, yet? 😉

Written by Stephanie

December 2, 2011 at 1:46 am

A Day of Remembrance and Purpose

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Like all – if not most – of you, I spent a considerable amount of time this weekend reflecting back on the dark, tragic day in our nation’s history that took place ten years ago today.  I attended a memorial service at Wisconsin’s State Capitol early this morning to honor and remember the victims of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks (seven of whom were Wisconsin natives) as well as the more than 6,000 American soldiers (including more than 150 from Wisconsin) who made the ultimate sacrifice in defending our nation against further acts of terrorism. 

During the beautiful and moving ceremony, I sat near one of the Gold Star Families who were also in attendance – families who lost loved ones who had served in Iraq or Afghanistan since September 11, 2001.  I was in absolute awe of their composure throughout the service while my emotions got the best of me during the playing of Amazing Grace and Taps.  And while delivering his remarks, Governor Scott Walker shared a story from one of the Gold Star Families he had met with earlier this year.  He met with the mother and father of a soldier who had been killed in combat, someone who was only twelve-years-old on September 11, 2001.  Yet, according to his parents, that day had a significant impact on him as he decided right then and there that he would serve his country one day and defend it against terrorism…

While today was certainly a day for paying tribute to all of the innocent Americans we lost in New York, Washington, and Shanksville ten years ago, I also could not help but think back on all that we have accomplished since that horrific day. 

Shortly after September 11, 2001 President George W. Bush visited Ground Zero in New York City where he declared, “The people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!” 

Since then, our selfless and courageous men and women in the armed forces have achieved a number of significant victories in the global War on Terror – sending a very strong message to al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations everywhere that they picked the wrong country to attack.  Working with our nation’s intelligence community, their tireless efforts have ensured that the more than 3,000 Americans who perished ten years ago and the 6,000 heroic soldiers we have lost since did not all die in vain. 

The Heritage Foundation reports that 40 terrorist plots have been foiled since September 11, 2001.  PBS also has a timeline of diplomatic and military events from September 11, 2001 through 2004.  Believe it or not, however, it took a thorough online search to locate the victories our nation has achieved in the War on Terror over the last ten years that I’ve highlighted below (only a few of many more):

September 11, 2001: The plan put into place by the hijackers aboard United Airlines Flight 93 was foiled by the courageous passengers and crew of that flight, whose efforts saved countless other innocent American lives.

October 7, 2001: Operation Enduring Freedom commences as American and British forces launch airstrikes against Taliban locations in Afghanistan.

November 17, 2001: Muhammad Atef, a senior deputy to Osama bin Laden is killed by U.S. airstrikes near Kabul, Afghanistan.

December 17, 2001: Taliban forces are defeated in the battle of Tora Bora.

December 22, 2001: Richard Reid is apprehended before he could carry out his plan of blowing up an airliner using explosives hidden in his shoe.

March 1, 2003: Top Al Qaeda leader and key 9/11 strategist Khalid Shaikh Mohammed,  along with two other terrorists, is apprehended in Islamabad, Pakistan during a CIA-led operation.   

March 19, 2003: Operation Iraqi Freedom commences as U.S. forces launch airstrikes against Saddam Hussein’s strongholds.

April 19, 2003: The ruthless regime of Saddam Hussein falls to U.S. forces, symbolized by the toppling of a giant statue of the Iraqi dictator in the center of Baghdad.

July 22, 2003: Saddam Hussein’s sons, Odai and Qusai, are killed after a six-hour-long raid by U.S. forces.

December 13, 2003: Saddam Hussein is captured near Tikrit, Iraq by the U.S. Army’s 4th Infantry Division.  I actually had the honor of meeting one of the soldiers of that unit at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.  Just a few weeks after capturing Saddam Hussein, he was wounded by an Improvised Explosive Devise (IED or roadside bomb).  Thankfully, he survived and ended up sharing a room with my brother at one of Walter Reed’s outpatient facilities.

June 7, 2006: Top Al Qaeda leader and terror mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is killed by U.S. airstrikes north of Baghdad.

December 30, 2006: Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein is executed.  

April 23, 2009: Al Qaeda leader Abu Omar al-Baghdadi is captured by American-trained Iraqi forces.

December 25, 2009: “Christmas Day Bomber” Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab is overtaken by passengers, who successfully foiled his plot to bomb an airliner as it was flying over U.S. soil.  

April 19, 2010: Top Al Qaeda leaders Abu Ayyub al-Masri and Abu Umar al-Baghdadi are killed in a raid led by American and Iraqi forces.

May 1, 2011: The official announcement is made that top global terrorist and 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden was killed in a raid led by U.S. Navy Seal Team Six.  The Huffington Post  provides a timeline of the attacks bin Laden had been behind throughout his reign of terror leading up to September 11, 2001.

Again, these are only a few of the many noteworthy accomplishments achieved by the U.S. military and our allies since the War on Terror began ten years ago.  At the top of the list, however, is the fact that there has not been another attack on our soil since September 11, 2001… all the more reason to be grateful for their service.

Written by Stephanie

September 12, 2011 at 4:29 am

Welcome Back Congresswoman Giffords!

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C-SPAN image via HUFFPOST AOL News

 Joining her colleagues in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords cast her vote today in favor of raising the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling which passed the House by a vote of 269-161.  The Senate is expected to vote on the measure at noon tomorrow.

Through Facebook and Twitter, Rep. Giffords’s office posted: “Gabrielle has returned to Washington to support bipartisan bill to prevent economic crisis.  Turn on C-SPAN now to see this historic moment.”  It truly was historic – with every member of Congress on their feet, applauding and cheering as Rep. Giffords made her way to her seat in the chamber.

In a statement issued to the media by her office following the vote, Rep. Giffords said:

I have closely followed the debate over our debt ceiling and have been deeply disappointed at what’s going on in Washington.  After weeks of failed debate in Washington, I was pleased to see a solution to this crisis emerge.  I strongly believe that crossing the aisle for the good of the American people is more important than party politics.

I had to be here for this vote.  I could not take the chance that my absence could crash our economy.

I would say that Rep. Giffords not only cast a crucial vote at a crucial moment in our nation’s history, but her presence unified her colleagues on both sides of the aisle in a way that (likely) has not been seen since after September 11, 2001.  After weeks of political turmoil and a bitter divide within and between the two parties over the nation’s debt ceiling, Rep. Giffords’s return to Capitol Hill created the unity among her colleagues that Americans have been yearning for even before the debt ceiling debate first began.  And this further solidifies her well-deserved status as a true American heroine.

Written by Stephanie

August 2, 2011 at 2:14 am

Deal… No Deal… Deal… No Deal… DEAL!

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As the The New York Times reports this evening:

President Obama and Congressional leaders of both parties said late Sunday that they had agreed to a framework for a budget deal that would cut trillions of dollars in federal spending over the next decade and clear the way for an increase in the government’s borrowing limit.

Speaking during a press conference earlier this evening, President Obama indicated the deal reached between Republican and Democrat leaders on Capitol Hill would bring federal spending to its lowest levels since the Eisenhower Administration.  It would also create a special bi-partisan Congressional committee tasked with preparing a report to be submitted to Congressional leaders by Thanksgiving for a floor vote within both chambers.  The purpose of the report (not to mention the committee’s existence) is to provide a framework on further reducing the federal deficit.

Yet, President Obama also said it is not the plan he prefers.  “I believe we could have made the tough choices on entitlement reform and tax reform right now, rather than through a special Congressional committee process.”  Hmmm… was he not paying attention during all of those Congressional budget discussions this spring where those very topics came up?  Did he not previously state that such reforms – produced by Republicans, I might add – would only damage, rather than benefit, programs such as Medicare and Social Security in the long run?

If it’s one message he did stick to, however, it’s forcing wealthy Americans to “pay their fair share.”  Apparently, the $787 billion “stimulus package” those wealthy Americans contributed to back in 2009 wasn’t enough to be considered their “fair share.”  

In any case, Congressional leaders will present the deal they reached this evening before their respective caucuses tomorrow prior to both chambers taking a vote – hopefully in time for Tuesday’s deadline. 

The music industry has already launched its lobbying efforts…

Written by Stephanie

August 1, 2011 at 3:47 am

Taping the Cracks in the (Debt) Ceiling

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Wow!  Has it really been nearly two months since I posted anything?!  This summer really has been going by fast! 

To the loyal readers of this blog, I offer my apologies for the hiatus as it has been a very busy summer.  It started off with my youngest brother graduating from high school and moving onto basic training with the U.S. Army, and things have not slowed down since.

In complete contrast to my summer schedule, things have certainly slowed down on Capitol Hill these days as Congressional leaders devote their attention and energy to the federal debt ceiling, and the short-term and long-term implications the final agreement reached between both sides could ultimately have on the financial health of the country… not to mention the global economy.  While a deal has yet to come to fruition, Asian markets are already falling amid fears of the U.S. defaulting on its massive loan obligations.

“With just days to go now before the Aug. 2 deadline, investors who had previously written the impasse off as political games are now going to seriously consider the possibility of a default,” Martin Slaney of GFT Global Markets told The Wall Street Journal

“It is time to get serious about stopping the spending in Washington, DC,” House Speaker John Boehner told Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace.  He then elaborated on the current impasse between Republican and Democrat Congressional leaders in finding common ground on the “debt talks” between the former’s plan to cut spending and the latter’s plan to raise taxes and extend U.S. borrowing authority through 2013. 

Given my complete lack of substantive knowledge and expertise within the realm of economic and fiscal policy, I would be the very last person I would consult with on government debt negotiations.  However, I do want to point out that when taxes rose under a certain previous administration in Wisconsin, it cost our state close to 200,000 jobs and a number of businesses.  That’s just my small-scale observation to consider within the larger, national picture.

Whether by coincidence or not, Lorenzo Bini Smaghi of the European Central Bank recently published an article in Foreign Affairs titled Avoiding the Next Eurozone Crisis, which focuses on the impact the Greek debt crisis is having on the European economy – specifically the euro – despite Greece’s economy accounting for only two percent of the eurozone’s GDP.  While the U.S. is not part of a “monetary union” per say like the European Union, the strength and weakness of the dollar certainly affects the global marketplace as we’re currently seeing with the Asian markets at this time. 

The Greek example should serve as another testament (if it hasn’t already to some leaders) as to how imperative it is that Washington quickly develop a plan to start reducing our national debt, but without disrupting our still-fragile economy.  And as Speaker Boehner indicated to Wallace today, an election should not factor into such discussions.

In the meantime, I’ll just continue doing my part in at least helping the travel industry stay afloat in this economic environment and during these ongoing summer “debt talks” in Washington… and hopefully finding more time to keep posting updates.

Written by Stephanie

July 25, 2011 at 4:47 am

Verifying State Authority on E-Verify and Immigration Reform

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I’m slightly behind on this given the non-stop hectic pace of my life at the moment – despite having completed another semester of grad school (with flying colors I might add) – but I wanted to address the recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on a controversial immigration law enacted by Arizona in 2007.

By a decision of 5-3, the Supreme Court upheld the Legal Arizona Workers Act, also known as the “employer-sanctions law,” which imposes penalties on Arizona employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants.  The law requires employers to use the federal E-Verify system in determining the citizenship status of job applicants prior to hiring them.  Employers caught hiring illegal immigrants would have their licenses either suspended or revoked under provisions of the 2007 measure signed into law by former Governor Janet Napolitano (currently the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security).   

Not only is this a landmark ruling within the context of immigration reform, but it could ignite an interesting debate among Constitutional scholars over how far states should be allowed to go in passing legislation in areas of public policy that are under federal jurisdiction.  As Temple University law professor Peter Spiro tells The Washington Post, “… the court here is validating a state measure that implicates immigration enforcement.  The court today has rejected an argument that states have no business in immigration enforcement.  That’s off the table.”

As of 2010, 14 states had enacted similar legislation requiring the use of E-Verify, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.   

The ruling also sets the stage for a possible showdown on Arizona’s recently passed and even more controversial Senate Bill 1070, which allows law enforcement officials to determine the immigration status of apprehended individuals if there is reason to believe they are in the country illegally.  The measure was drafted by State Senator Russell Pearce, a former Maricopa County Chief Deputy.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a former law professor who helped draft the language of Arizona’s two immigration measures, expressed confidence that if the Supreme Court were to decide on SB 1070, it would be in Arizona’s favor.  He said the ruling on the 2007 law could entail a favorable ruling on SB 1070.  “That language will vastly assist the state in defending SB1070,” he told The Washington Post.  

Since Arizona enacted the controversial SB 1070 a year ago when it was signed into law by Governor Jan Brewer, states such as Virginia, Utah, and, more recently, Georgia have enacted similar laws.

Written by Stephanie

May 30, 2011 at 12:56 am