November 30th, 2007

State Senate Stupidity

The Wisconsin State Legislature is one of the highest political levels that tolerate substantial eccentricity, particular from our northern districts. For many years in my lifetime one of the Senators from the Appleton area (since deceased) was an avowed fan of Joseph McCarthy and tended to follow his principles in governance and tolerance. One of our current crop is locally famous for the underground shooting range and bunker complex he has built on his rural land. Now, Representative. Marlin Schneider from Wisconsin Rapids has decided to perpetrate an egregious waste of the taxpayer's money by introducing a bill to officially rename the State Capitol's "holiday tree" the Wisconsin State Christmas Tree.

A bit of history: For many, many years, at Christmans time the State Capitol Rotonda has been decorated with an enormous Christmas tree culled form the state's north woods, and used to host a fairly spectacular Christmas pageant/concert. (My father did lighting for the show when he was an electirician at the Capitol.)

In 1985, the Madison-based Freedom From Religion Foundation filed an objection with the state on the basis that the Christmas tree, etc., violated the establishment clause. The case never went to court since the State Department of Administration, which is responsible for buildings and grounds, brokered an agreement wherein the tree was referred to as a "Holiday Tree" and the Foundation was allowed to add a countering small display with phrases such as "Superstition Enslaves Minds." Over the years another group provided a menorah, and I believe that some other religious groups provided seasonally themed displays as well.

OK, I'm not wild about "Holiday Tree"--in fact, in my Scroogish way, I tend to think the whole thing is a waste of taxpayers money and could be scrapped--but it was a reasonable compromise and people rubbed along with it.

Until now. Why this bee has to be in Schneider's bonnet now I can't say, since he's been in the Legislature since 1970 and the issue hasn't come up before. His argument is a "common sense" one: he says, it is a Christmas tree, so it should be called a Christmas tree. I suppose he has a point, but why waste the taxpayer's time and money making use of the term official/mandatory? Besides the expense associated with passign a bill (if it does pass) the FFRF is going to HAVE to respond with a lawsuit, which, win or lose, will be a costly undertaking to very little point, and the case law at present is largely on the Freedom From Religion Foundation's side.

I should add that Schneider is a Democrat, although he comes from a very conservative district, and shouldn't be introducing this just as wedge issue, which makes me beleive this is his own personal crochet. The Assembly held a hearing on this bill in the last couple days and I dearly hope it won't go any further.

What we should do in Iraq

--other than just get out, that is.

The New York Times has a good editoral today, entitled "Still No Way Out,"

--which details the Bush administration's signal failure to bring about any real action toward political peace in Iraq, a failure which has been noticed in particular by our soldiers who are working to quell physical violence and wondering what their effort is for.

Bush cannot take the necessary action, since he refuses to discuss any pullout, which I think is the stick we need. If I were President, I would bring together the Iraqi factions and say this:

"Look. We know that the USA is responsible for creating this situation, but it's been five years now, and you are not helping. We are doing what we can, but, ultimately, this house is yours to put in order. If you prefer to fight amongst yourselves for dominance, bringing about a years-long civil war such as we have seen in Lebanon, speak now, and we will get out of the way and let you get on with it. And doing nothing at this point counts as the same choice. If you want to guarantee yourselves a say in what comes next, come together now to create a working government, deal with the issues facing you fairly, have your armed factions stand down, and assist us in ejecting Al-Queda and foreign fighters. If you do this, we will continue to assist you in rebuilding your country. Otherwise, you are on your own. What is your answer?"