Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Chris Taylor wants education on voter ID, while Scott Walker just wants to blame everyone but himself

Walker's bitter response to funding voter ID education campaign uses apples to oranges comparison

About 16 percent of voters don’t know or don’t think you need an ID to vote in our state. That’s equivalent to 13,000 people in a capacity crowd at Lambeau Field not knowing the new voting rules, or about 542,991 registered voters in Wisconsin that don’t understand the ID law.

Chris Taylor, a Democratic state legislator from Madison, is hoping to change that. She’s asking the state to fund an information campaign to educate the public on Wisconsin’s newly instituted voter ID rules. Though passed early in Scott Walker’s tenure, the law didn’t go fully into effect until this year’s spring primary and general elections.

In addition to requiring an ID to vote, the law that was passed also stated that Wisconsin would fund an education campaign to help residents better understand the process and necessary documents needed to vote. Yet that campaign hasn’t materialized.

The Government Accountability Board agrees with Taylor, and will formally request $250,000 to be appropriated to funding an education campaign across statewide television and radio stations, as well as newspapers and billboards. Even Republican Rep. John Nygren thinks it’s a sound investment “to assure every vote is counted.”

But Gov. Scott Walker implies that’s too much. And he blames the legal battle to implement his voter ID law for the inability of the state to create an education campaign.

“The fact is, the State had to spend a whole lot of time and money defending the law, and we continue to do so today,” Walker said. “If people were really serious about that, they wouldn’t have allowed the State to use all that money to fight courts and to use that in promoting the system.”

But that’s an apples to oranges comparison. What legal fees are spent shouldn’t affect the money that was mandated to have been allocated towards educating the public on the voter ID law.

Court fees shouldn’t be looked at as wasteful spending. The people of Wisconsin have a right to question their government’s laws on constitutional grounds, and certainly they were well-within their rights to do so on the question of voter ID. Indeed, a recent ruling has suggested that the state might have to provide exemptions to those who face special burdens to getting a state-issued ID.

Without the courts intervening or the citizens challenging the law, those who face overwhelming challenges to get an ID might not otherwise have the right to vote in the state. Certainly that fact alone makes the litigation worth it.

The “brown bag” governor hasn’t exactly been frugal himself. In the first seven months of 2013, for example, he spent more than $180,000 in taxpayer funds on flight costs, mostly in flying back-and-forth between Milwaukee and Madison. Other flights included in his expenses were photo ops that happened to coincide with visits to many of his campaign donors.

If Walker wants to talk about fiscal responsibilities he should first look at what his own taxpayer-funded spending has been like. In the meantime he should quit his belly-aching about the right of every Wisconsinite to challenge the constitutionality of state laws, and put a renewed focus on funding the education campaign of the voter ID rules, as the law he signed himself mandates he should do.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Rep. Jesse Kremer should back off of his discriminatory crusade

Wisconsin must reject bigoted bills proposed by conservative lawmakers

I wrote late last week about Rep. Jesse Kremer’s outrageous attacks against working Wisconsinites. In an op-ed he wrote earlier in the week, Kremer decried the state’s “jobs crisis” as being manifested by unskilled workers, demanding college students and individuals who were on public assistance.

Those accusations were baseless, and Kremer refused to acknowledge his own party’s role in creating a slower-paced jobs recovery. But as outlandish as his statements on jobs were, they pale in comparison to what else he wrote last weekend.

On his Facebook campaign page, Kremer decided to sound off on a hot topic in conservative circles as of late: transgender individuals who want to use the restroom that corresponds to their gender identity.

Kremer's original Facebook post
Responding to a request made by Dane County Executive Joe Parisi asking Gov. Scott Walker to promise to veto any discriminatory transgender bill that may reach his desk, Kremer posted his thoughts on the whole matter.

“I am proud of North Carolina,” Kremer wrote, which passed a law recently banning local municipalities from recognizing the rights of trans people including the use of restrooms that line up with their identities, “and disgusted that our own Republican legislature couldn’t take the high road and pass [similar legislation] in Wisconsin.”

The issue is an important one to Kremer, who submitted a bill last year that would have banned school districts from allowing students to use bathrooms that corresponded to their gender identities. He had even suggested that trans students had invited bullying unto themselves in asking that their gender identities be recognized.

“If you're making a big deal about it,” he said, “[transgender students] obviously are inviting harassment and bullying already.”

In his most recent commentary, Kremer went further, stating that “there must be social boundaries and individuals who will stand up for the privacy and protection of women and girls in a ‘sexless’ society.”

To round it out, Kremer goes “all caps lock” on liberals -- “This is what the far left is advocating - NO MORE PROTECTION AND PRIVACY FOR WOMEN! Period.”

That’s a rich assessment -- the legislator who has authored bills seeking to set stricter limits on abortion and limit women’s access to contraceptives now thinks himself a protector of a woman’s right to privacy.

Kremer couldn’t be more wrong about what he’s ranting about. We don't live in a sexless society. Instead, we live in a society that is recognizing that gender isn't necessarily indicated by what organs you are born with. Gender isn’t even a binary option -- science tells us it is more of a spectrum.

These changing attitudes about gender don’t “remove boundaries” when it comes to privacy, either. Rather, it allows everyone to seek privacy in restrooms and changing rooms -- allowing trans men and trans women those same rights as well.

This isn’t opinion, but regarded as fact by psychologists. Individuals can identify as a gender that’s different from what they were assigned with at birth, and often this identity is discovered at a very young age (not on a whim as some conservatives contend).

Additionally, there is no evidence to suggest that opening up restrooms to trans individuals is going to increase harassment. Looking back to Kremer’s Facebook post, he asks, “what will [a man pretending to be a transgender woman who harms others] be charged with? Sexual harassment, disorderly conduct?”

The answer is, yes, he should be charged on those counts! And anyone who acts inappropriately in the restrooms -- including transgender individuals -- should face consequences fitting their criminal activities. But that’s the whole point, really: fair treatment for everyone.

Yet the evidence behind Kremer’s suppositions just isn’t there. As it turns out, men are more likely to enter a woman’s restroom in cities where such laws don’t protect a transgender person’s right to enter the restrooms they identify with. From Politifact North Carolina (emphases in bold added):
After spending hours combing through conservative blogs and family values websites dedicated to news about transgender bathroom ordinances, we were able to confirm three cases in the United States in the last 17 years in which a biological male was convicted of a crime that involved him in a women’s bathroom or locker room and dressed as a woman.

It’s unclear if any of the three identified as transgender women, but none of those cases happened in cities where it would have been legal for a transgender woman to use the women’s room anyway. And none involved sexual assault or rape.
The “transgender scare” that Kremer is attempting to roil up is even more profound when you consider that you’re more likely to get harassed in restrooms by men in the Republican Party than by a member of the transgender community. In fact, transgender individuals face MUCH MORE harassment today thank cisgender individuals, harassment which often results in depression and even suicidal tendencies (those who have faced discrimination in such a way have reported attempting suicide at a significantly higher rate than the general population).

Rep. Jesse Kremer says he is proud of North Carolina for passing such legislation. In striking contrast, the citizens of North Carolina are not proud of their own government’s efforts to discriminate -- 53 percent of citizens feel that the law will have a negative impact on the state, and only 36 percent support the law according to recent polling.

It is likely that, if a bill similar to what Kremer proposed before is passed in our state, Wisconsin’s economy would suffer more than it already has under Republican leadership, likely seeing the same types of boycotts that are impacting North Carolina currently.

Many fear that Kremer or another member of the state legislature will bring a similar bill up for a vote in the future. “We know that this bill may likely be seen again in Wisconsin at some point,” Rep. Melissa Sargent (D-Madison) wrote earlier this month. “Businesses, politicians, and progressive groups must raise their voices against this legislation in Wisconsin, much like they are doing in North Carolina now, so that it is never successful in our state.”

Indeed, the people of Wisconsin must speak out against these types of bills, which deprive people of their basic freedoms. Rep. Jesse Kremer needs to back off of his crusade to codify bigotry, educate himself on the issues, and perhaps even advocate for more acceptance for transgender citizens of our state.

Friday, April 22, 2016

The essential and necessary takedown of Rep. Jesse Kremer’s ridiculous “jobs crisis” op-ed

GOP lawmaker blames workers, students and public assistance for state “jobs crisis”

Republican Rep. Jesse Kremer of Kewaskum recently penned an op-ed wherein he described a jobs crisis in the state of Wisconsin.

But Kremer wasn’t talking about the failure of the Scott Walker administration to reach its promise of 250,000 jobs in his first term. He didn’t lay any blame on the governor for failing to reach that pledge at all.

Instead, Kremer blamed Wisconsin citizens themselves: “A lack of workers to fill skilled trades, lofty expectations from recent college graduates and public benefits are stifling a will to work here in our great state,” Kremer wrote.

You read that right: Kremer blames unskilled workers, college kids, and struggling Wisconsin families for the jobs crisis.

The ”Skills Gap” Myth

Let’s take a look at each issue, starting with Kremer’s claims about the untrained workers. Kremer cites a Manpower report from 2012 that states, “Wisconsin will have fewer than half the metal manufacturing professionals that it needs by 2021.”

But the problem isn’t all on the workers. Employers across the state simply aren’t that interested in investing in training or otherwise providing capital for training would-be employees.

“There are still plenty of employers who think they can find the workers they need by sitting back and waiting for the ideal candidate to show up,” wrote Wisconsin Technology Council President Tom Still in 2014. “That doesn’t always happen in a state where average wages are still well below national and regional averages.”

He added: “Proactive companies usually engage schools and invest in programs that can keep their pipelines filled with skilled workers.”

Furthermore, there’s evidence to suggest that the so-called “skills gap” isn’t as big a problem as some like Rep. Kremer make it out to be. A study by UW-Milwaukee professor Marc Levine in 2014 demonstrated that there wasn’t a skills gap at all, evidenced by several factors including no increases in overtime for current “skilled” workers and forecasts that show more unskilled workers will be desired in the future job market.

Levine wrote:
There's a strong ideological component behind the skills gap trope: it diverts attention (and policies) from the deep inequalities and market fundamentalism that created the unemployment crisis, and focuses on a fake skills gap that had nothing to do with the surge in unemployment since 2007.
Those dang college kids!

In addition to the nonexistent skills gap, Kremer also places blame on college kids expecting too much upon graduation.
It has also become apparent that many recent college graduates feel their degree entitles them to cushy, white collar jobs with $50,000+ salaries. This is not the real world! In fact, many graduates will often have to begin at the ground floor until they learn the ropes and garner experience.
Blaming the “entitled kids” is easy enough. Backing the claim up that these kids contribute to the jobs crisis Kremer describes is much harder. There’s no evidence that suggests college graduates seeking higher paid jobs are to blame for sluggish job growth in the state, and Kremer provides nothing concrete (besides his baseless rantings) to support his claim.

In fact, these students oftentimes take lower paying jobs in the service industries. They’re not “above” going below their education levels to get paid -- evidenced by the fact that more than 20 percent of bartenders in the city of Milwaukee alone are college-educated.

It’s not as if college graduation rates would affect the job market all that terribly anyway. The UW System produces about 27,000 graduates with four-year degrees annually -- or roughly 0.85 percent of the current labor force (PDF) (assuming every single graduate decides to pursue employment immediately after leaving school).

And graduation numbers haven’t changed much since the start of the recession either. In 2008 there were 24,077 graduates who left the UW System with a four-year degree. That number has only gone up by less than 3,400 over the past seven years, when 27,427 students graduated with four-year degrees in 2015, less than two percent growth annually per year on average.

Kremer doesn’t explain why “lofty” ambitions by college students hurt the job market. It’s odd that he should include it in his rant and give no specific reason as to why. But it’s clearly not affecting the market as much as he concludes it does.

Public benefits don’t create lazy workers

Finally, Rep. Kremer goes on to lament about those lazy government moochers, the Wisconsinites who are currently the recipients of public benefits:
Some local employers have told me of potential prospects who turned down an offer because additional, non-cash earnings would cut into their benefits. As a state, we must continue to have serious discussions and encourage ideas to reform these social engineering experiments.
Kremer doesn’t go into detail about the anecdotal evidence he provides. It’s also worth noting that this is secondary conjectural evidence -- it’s an anecdote that Kremer has received, and passes along to you, the reader, without scrutiny given to it at any step in the process. Like the childhood game of Telephone, there’s scant evidence that what Kremer is telling us is actually legitimate.

Nevertheless, it’s worth looking into. Are individuals who are on public assistance -- “social engineering experiments,” as Kremer calls them -- purposely avoiding employment opportunities to remain on the public dole?

The idea that welfare can somehow “corrupt the poor” has been looked at before. Yet while it’s a belief that many people have, it’s a claim that isn’t backed by much hard evidence. It does happen, but not to the extent that some have suggested.

Indeed, skepticism of this problem in Wisconsin is definitely warranted, especially in light of new evidence that efforts to trim down public assistance have failed in the state. Jake, of Jake’s Economic TA Funhouse, provides the best response to Kremer’s assertions that I’ve read so far:
As for the dog-whistle complaint of state benefits “stifling the will to work,”? Funny how Kremer releases this on the same day that the Wisconsin State Journal noted that a state report said nearly 2/3 of certain Food Share recipients could not find work through a state job training program in the last year, and over 41,000 ended up losing their food assistance. Even a rare “success story”, as quoted in this Wisconsin Public Radio news article, had to earn his position by working for free. That is not a luxury most adults can afford.
Jake’s skepticism is deserved -- welfare simply doesn’t make lazy workers, as Rep. Kremer presumes it does. Several studies from around the world discredit this notion:
As safety nets have increased, so has the debate about whether they simply discourage work, enabling a “lazy poor.” Aggregating evidence from randomized evaluations of seven cash transfer programs, we find no effects of transfers on work behavior, either for men or women.
Emphasis in bold added.

“Properly designed and implemented welfare programs do not reduce the desire for people to work,” points out David Pakman in the video below.

Here’s the bottom line: Rep. Jesse Kremer is trying to cast blame on the people of Wisconsin, not his party’s policies, when it comes to the state’s jobs problems. To be fair, it’s important to point out that the Republican Kremer is at least acknowledging that Wisconsin has a jobs crisis.

But by blaming a fraudulent “skills gap,” supposedly whiny and demanding college graduates, and public benefits that purportedly create lazy moochers, Kremer is placing blame where it doesn’t belong -- on the people looking for work themselves. His descriptions are merely works of Republican fiction. It isn’t the fault of Wisconsinites that the state is lagging behind the rest of the nation when it comes to jobs. Rather, it’s Gov. Scott Walker’s insistence that “trickle-down” economics, a failure of an idea that has never worked, could somehow put Wisconsin ahead. It can’t, and it never will; and it’s a policy that should be abandoned.

Rep. Jesse Kremer needs to look toward his own party for answers on why Wisconsin is failing on jobs. The Republicans have presided over a slower economic recovery in this state, and if blame belongs anywhere it is with them.