Monday, May 17, 2010

An endorsement for Mark Critz, PA-12

I drew a tiny American flag into Mark Critz's hand because, if voters are as simple, gullible, and naive as his opponent, Tim Burns, thinks they are, then this tiny symbol of novelty patriotism oughta be all the assurance they need that Critz is the right guy for the job. For those who need more convincing, read below.

I hear a lot of noise inside the DC beltway, where I now am, about the importance of the special election being held tomorrow in Pennsylvania's 12th Congressional District. I refer to it as "noise" because that is exactly what it is; a lot of empty commentary from people who don't actually know a thing about PA-12; people who have never bothered going there or getting to know the people there on a first hand basis, what their lives are like, or what matters to them.

These commentators know that this is a decisive battle in the war of Democrats verse Republicans and each side selfishly wants the candidate under their party banner to win, thinking only of the ramifications this will have on a national scale and not what this election will mean locally.

To those who feel entitled to chime in and sway an election on behalf of the people who are capable of and entitled to making up their minds for themselves, know this: PA-12 isn't just a highlighted area on your map in the southwestern part of Pennsylvania. The people there aren't pawns in your game.

PA's 12th is made up of hardworking, blue collar Americans. They are coal miners, workers at Kennametal, at the Latrobe Airport, waiters and waitresses at Dino's and Sharky's, teachers and janitors and coaches at schools like Latrobe and Derry Area, nurses and doctors at Latrobe Area Hospital. They are farmers. They are graduates of PA-12th colleges like Indiana University and Saint Vincent College. They maintain local historical museums like the Johnstown Flood Museum. In the summer they attend annual events like the Westmoreland County Fair where, for a few dollars, a family can be entertained all day by petting zoos, motocross races, tractor pulls, local bands, local craftsmen and artists, and eat enough funnel cakes to make you sick of them until the next August. They pack the hill around the field to watch the Steelers practice at Saint Vincent college in the dead heat of August, decked out fully in black and gold as if it were the Super Bowl game. In the winter, they shovel feet of snow from their driveways and sidewalks, and know how to drive in it too.

I don't know the stats for average income in the area, but I do know this; the people there work hard for their money and they work well into their retirement age. They used to have a lot more options for places to work until businesses like LeNature went bankrupt after it was discovered that the owners had drained the company dry and cooked the books, and Rolling Rock beer sold out to Anheuser-Busch who closed its local plant, leaving 250 people without jobs.

They live in modest but proud homes in neighborhoods, on farms, and in trailer parks. Many are proud members of local unions like United Mineworkers, United Steelworkers, Laborers, the AFLCIO, and the Pennsylvania State Education Association, of which my mother is a member.

All of these labor unions and many more have officially endorsed Democratic candidate, Mark Critz. The Pittsburgh Post Gazette, which is the most widely circulated and read newspaper in the area, as well as the Observer Reporter and The Tribune Democrat have all endorsed Critz as well.

Here's why I chose to list these endorsements and why I care about them and not very many others endorsements or opinions; if you aren't from PA's 12th district, or haven't spent significant time in it and gotten to know the people and issues there, I don't really care who you support because you don't know the district enough to be entitled to have a voice in it.

I, too, am proud to endorse Mark Critz, a fellow western Pennsylvanian, for Congress. So why does my endorsement matter? I'm a constituent of PA's 18th District which neighbors PA's 12th. The areas have been so gerrymandered you cross from the 18th to the 12th and back again on a trip to almost anywhere locally without even knowing it. If they ever alter the boundaries even by a few miles again, I'd find myself a constituent in PA's 12th. I have friends and relatives in PA's 12th and grew up in the area until I went to college, still returning and living there in the summers and holidays in between semesters in undergrad. I still go home multiple times a month. There really is no place like home.

I think long and hard about for whom I vote. The candidate who earns my vote doesn't do so by party affiliation, but by truly being the person best suited to represent the constituents.

If you want to be elected in western PA, you absolutely must be two things: pro-labor and pro-second amendment. You will not win if you do not stand for both these issues where I come from, regardless of your party.

Why the pro-labor requirement? Our blue collar workers constitute a majority of our local population and many of them are represented by some of the strongest unions in the country, which ensure that our workers have good healthcare, pension, wages, and other benefits. We protect our workers because we appreciate them and recognize them as the backbone of our society, not the corporate CEOs with their own profit making agenda.

Why the pro-second amendment requirement? The first day of deer season in November is actually a holiday where I come from. Seriously. There is no school and many people have the day off from work. To say hunting is an avid past time for many locals would be a tragic understatement. We love our guns like we love our Steelers, Penguins and yes, even the Pirates.

Critz solidly represents both of these values. His endorsements by a slew of local labor unions speak to his credibility on the pro-labor front, and he states his pro-second amendment stance on his website

Critz is focused on creating new jobs. In PA's ailing 12th, with able bodied men and women and the space and facilities available, Critz sees the opportunity to bring businesses to the area and will work to do so. He has promised to end the tax breaks for companies that ship jobs oversees so that we can keep these jobs local! He will fight for trade deals that protect American jobs and workers.

Critz will also fight for tax cuts for the middle class, the heavy majority of constituents in PA's 12th, and stop giving tax cuts to the wealthy. These can offset to still provide a break for middle class Americans while still reducing the federal deficit; another goal of Critz's.

Critz states that he will make veterans a top priority, like his predecessor, John Murtha, a heavily decorated Vietnam vet. Critz even earned the Patrick Henry Award, the highest civilian award issued by the National Guard.

Critz's opponent, Tim Burns, on the other hand, doesn't really stand for much substance. Burns' first ever tv ad, which I saw first hand on the air at my parents' house, stated that his values are a, "A belief in a God above, that abortion is wrong, and owning a gun is a right." These are all beliefs which Critz holds and states on his website, but that he didn't state as outright in his ads because he covered more substantive issues like jobs; issues that are more pressing and important to PA's 12th. Basically, from the little to nothing Burns' ads tell us, Burns is Critz if instead of having multiple issues, Critz would've stated his position, briefly, on three or so, then just stopped talking and stood around posing for pictures kissing babies and what not. That's basically all we get from Burns.

Burns even states on his website, "I don't know 'how Washington works'." You don't need to be a career politician or a beltway insider or out of touch with voters to know how Washington works, like Burns would have voters believe, but you damn well better figure it out if you want to be effective on the Hill and bring back real results to your district. Pride in not knowing how something works might get you into office, but it won't get you anywhere on the Hill when you are trying to get that same thing you don't know "how it works" to work for you and your constituents. I haven't seen this much pride in ignorance since Dubya... and look where that got us. I worked on the Hill and I know how it works and I was only a Congressional staffer. I can say for certain that if you don't know how Washington works and you're running for Congress, you've got some bigger problems than just winning an election.

Burns goes on about "wasteful pork barrel spending" which is a great talking point for politicians who don't really have a clue what they're discussing. So called "pork barrel" spending is used to fund local projects that need money and haven't gotten it elsewhere. It builds and repairs parks, recreation centers, senior centers, teen centers, shelters for battered and abused women, medical facilities, and animal shelters. The constituents of PA's 12th certainly aren't in a situation to provide extra money for these things themselves, but that doesn't mean they don't need them or don't deserve them because you can slap the label "pork barrel" on it and call it a day. In fact, part of the job of a member of congress is to provide as many goods and services for his constituents as possible. Someone like Critz would assure funds are used for PA's 12th citizens in ways they need without going overboard or being over-broad and calling the projects that apply for these funds "wasteful". Let's let the constituents applying for the funds which would improve the area decide whether something is "wasteful", not the politicians like Burns.

I went to Burns' website and found a total one page summary in something like 20 point font about his stances on the issues. It was pathetic and lacked any depth or understanding of any of the issues beyond two sentence talking points identical to everything else written and said by the Republican party leaders in Washington, DC (which he claims to have nothing to do with). Seriously, if his ads are uninformative soundbites, a politician's website is his or her chance to really tell people, in depth, what they have to say about the issues. It turns out that Burns doesn't have much to say about anything.

What I walk away with is that Burns is a guy who is really in over his head. He doesn't know the issues, meaning he doesn't make it a priority to know that much about the district and the things affecting it, and he doesn't know Washington, by his own words.

If he doesn't know the issues affecting the district, and he doesn't know Washington, what DOES Burns know then, considering his job as Congressman will be to know both the district and Washington damn well if he wants to be effective?

Well, he seems to know talking points. God. Check. Pro-life. Check. Pro-gun. Check. Use the term pork barreling. Check. Anti-Pelosi. Check. Substance? Substance? ...Bueller? Bueller?

Critz even called out Burns for his campaign message that heavily focus on aligning Critz with Pelosi and nothing to do with PA's 12th. Critz said, "I believe my opponent is somewhat confused because I've seen his commercials and he mentions Nancy Pelosi way more than he ever mentions me. And a local newspaper, the Herald Standard, told him in their editorial section maybe he should move to California if he wants to run against Nancy Pelosi and I support that."

Critz knows PA's 12th, he knows the issues, he knows what people want and has promised to do his best to represent them and everything we have seen from him thus far on the campaign has shown he is more than capable of that.

Critz worked with Murtha to grow to know and love the district in a way that is crucial to being a good representative. Critz was there when PA's 12th needed him; as Murtha's liaison to the Flight 93 Memorial, and spending 72 hours at the Que Creek Mine disaster site. Critz has shown the people of PA's 12 that he is there standing by them in their times of need. It is time for the people of PA's 12th to stand by Critz as the best representative for them by voting for him in the election today.

Get to the polls. Get out and vote. Vote for someone of substance. Vote for someone who shares your values. Vote for the candidate who knows what matters to you and your family. Vote for Mark Critz.

Read more about candidate Mark Critz at his official campaign website,

Monday, May 10, 2010

My "problem" with Kagan's Supreme Court nomination

Kagan finally gains the approval of social media commentators and the masses with her makeover

Today, President Barack Obama nominated Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court. Solicitor General Kagan, if confirmed, will replace Justice John Paul Stevens.

Kagan is now poised to become the Supreme Court's third female Justice of its nine member body. As women are half this country's population, it's about time.

I had concerns that Obama would choose a male to fill the spot after previously nominating Justice Sonia Sotomayor to replace David Souter. With Sotomayor's nomination, Obama restored the court to its (in the past few decades) two-women quota (or, in President George Bush's case, one woman), which seemed to fulfill the token requirement of having some women on the bench.

Obama broke the mold with Sotomayor, nominating the woman who would become the first ever Latino Justice, and does so again with Kagan's nomination which marks the first time three women would sit on the Supreme Court.

In Kagan, Obama found a brilliant woman with an impressive resume. She earned her undergraduate degree from Princeton and her law degree from Harvard where she later served as dean of the law school. Before becoming dean, she clerked for Justice Thurgood Marshall and taught at the University of Chicago Law School. She also served as associate White House counsel under President Clinton.

There is some concern that her lack of judicial experience may be an issue. She is the first nominee to the Supreme Court in nearly 40 years who has not previously served as a Federal Circuit Court judge.

Republican Senator, Orin Hatch, however, had insight into the relevance this possible point of contention should have, minimizing it. He stated, "Judicial qualifications go beyond legal experience; any Supreme Court nominee should have an impressive resume. The more important qualification is judicial philosophy and a nominee's understanding of the power and proper role of a Justice in our system of government."

She has come under fire from the right for her staunch opposition to the military's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy, and for arguing against the recent Supreme Court decision overturning campaign finance reform which limited corporate and union spending in federal elections.

Some on the left have criticized her for not opposing broad executive power as it pertains to anti-terrorism activities. Some liberals have also jabbed at her for her activities as dean at Harvard where she mollified tensions over accusations of a perceived liberal tilt to the faculty and curriculum by pushing for the appointment of conservative professors.

If you are nominated for the Supreme Court and both sides of the aisle don't take issue with your positions from time-to-time, chances are that you aren't going to be a good, unbiased judge who looks at the facts, Constitution, and law as they are, but instead for what you want them to be.

As both liberals and conservatives point to a few issues with which they disagree with her, they hail her intelligence. Hatch, a member of the Judiciary Committee, called Kagan "a brilliant woman" and told her she has done "done a terrific job up there at Harvard."

In a press conference this morning, Obama said of Kagan, "Elena is respected and admired not just for her intellect and record of achievement, but also for her temperament, her openness to a broad array of viewpoints, her habit — to borrow a phrase from Justice [John Paul] Stevens — of understanding before disagreeing, her fair-mindedness and skill as a consensus builder". He went on, "While we can't presume to replace Justice Stevens' wisdom or experience, I have selected a nominee who I believe embodies that same excellence, independence, integrity and passion for the law, and who can ultimately provide that same kind of leadership on the court."

When members on both sides of the political aisle acknowledge your aptitude but disagree with at least a few of your stances on the issues, that forms part of a foundation that makes for a great Supreme Court Justice. It shows the Justice thinks well and hard and thinks for him or herself.

I couldn't be more pleased with the nomination of Kagan. My problem, however, is the completely irrelevant issues that have nothing to do with her qualification that are getting so much attention.

Even if mainstream media has been (for the most part) too intelligent and high-minded to give much credence or time to these wasteful and insulting discussions, social media outlets including facebook, twitter, and various other social networking sites, on which many actually rely for their news and information, are rampant with criticism of her appearance and sexuality.

I can't decide if it's more important that a female nominated to the Supreme Court have a husband and children and be straight, or that she be attractive. Oh sexism, so good to know you are alive and well. I had missed you since Hillary Clinton's campaign for president where her sexuality and attractiveness were often subjected to constant scrutiny

The sad truth about society today is that even women nominated for the Supreme Court of the United States are still open targets to be made fun of for their looks. Men, however? Free pass. I suppose, if asked in the confirmation hearing why she isn't hotter, her excuse would have to be, "Sorry I didn't have time to do my makeup this morning and go to the gym every day. I was a little busy being dean of Harvard Law School, arguing before the Supreme Court, and accomplishing amazing things with my career to get nominated for the most important and influential legal job in the world."

Priorities, Kagan. Priorities.

Another rule about being a less-than-very-attractive, single, middle-aged woman, who is significantly accomplished in her career is that she also, surely, must be gay. ...Right? I mean the short hair... and the being single... and the astonishing achievements in her career... how gay is that? Seriously.

Maybe by making leaps and bounds in her career, she didn't have time for the distraction of kids and family. Maybe her career success actually made her less desirable to men (which is a whole separate can of worms entirely---on which I'll avoid a rant at this point in time). Or maybe, just maybe, she is gay. And even if she were, would it matter? I am of the opinion that it would not, but I cannot discern whether the jumble of uninformed, barely intelligible opinions offered by social media commentators discussing the issue think it would matter as a Justice or not. Their analysis simply leads to the conclusion that she is unattractive and gay as well as to a general disapproval or at least mockery of this, and not to a statement as to what that has to do with anything.

My problem with Kagan's Supreme Court nomination has nothing to do with Kagan. My problem with the nomination is the shallow, mindless masses ruminating on things that have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with her qualifications, such as her appearance / level of attractiveness and what that says about her as a person, such as her sexuality.

On the whole, I am supportive of the mass social media invasion that gives us up-to-the-nano-second news and lets everyone from bloggers, to tweeters, to facebook-status-updaters, to anonymous posters on message boards feel like the next Katie Couric, Brian Williams, Diane Sawyer, or Chris Wallace. However, when we find that more of us have something to say about what a female Supreme Court nominee looks like than what she has accomplished or if she is qualified, perhaps it is time to shut your yappers and step away from the keyboard.

Their comments would, perhaps, be relevant if, instead of being the foremost judicial body in the world with the task of interpreting our laws and constitution, the Supreme Court were a frat boy shotgunning beers and smashing the empty cans off his head while wearing a "No fat chicks" t-shirt and ending every sentence in "no homo."

So future male nominees, continue looking like someone straight out of Grumpy Old Men, Bucket List, or a zombie horror film. Your career achievements, academic prowess, and legal success will pave the way for you, as it should. Future female nominees, start looking like Elle Woods in Legally Blonde and get yourself a husband, two kids, a dog, and a lovely house with a white picket fence in the 'burbs (you know, in addition to all that "achievement" nonsense) if you want to be taken seriously by the uninformed masses.

It is disheartening and sad to see women, constantly, even the most intelligent and accomplished among us, be reduced by many to how hot they are and the obviously empirical ramifications that has on their sexuality.

I, for one, am proud to be a commentator who tosses my hat into the ring of opinions on Kagan on the basis of something other than her looks.