Wednesday, February 22, 2017

My Ed Garvey Story


Remembering the progressive leader who fought the good fight in Wisconsin


I formally met Ed Garvey just once in my life, at a political celebration honoring then-State Rep. Frank Boyle, a Democrat from Superior, Wisconsin. I was still a greenhorn to Wisconsin politics — I was in college, and my father had suggested we attend this celebration.

Garvey was the kind of guy you knew was a big deal, even if you didn’t know much about state politics, which admittedly I didn’t have a complete understanding of at the time (I preferred to write about George W. Bush and national issues during this point in my life). Boisterous, jovial, and kind-hearted, he took time to shake my hand and hear my story, even though I was just a college kid that didn’t know the names of half the people in the room (though I should have). I told him I was a progressive writer for the student newspaper; he encouraged me to keep writing.

I’ll never forget his kindness. And I’ll always remember his fiery passion for progressivism. I attended a few Fighting Bob Fests, which Garvey founded, in the years after that initial meeting. “Passion” is an understatement — Garvey was a master of the podium, captivating and thrilling the audiences he spoke to...including a young wannabe-writer who was still discovering his own passion for politics.

I was saddened to hear of Garvey’s passing this afternoon. I didn’t have a close personal connection to him, but his presence in my life was still meaningful, and I’m glad I did get to meet him, at least that one time, and hear him speak in person when I had the chance.

His life’s work needs to be carried on by all of us now. We especially need to fight for fair (and corporate-free) elections, to ensure our elected leaders are beholden to the people, and not to the highest bidders.

Ed Garvey was a great man. What more needs to be said? Thanks, Ed, and we’ll keep fighting the good fight.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Press conference freak show


President Trump’s performance in Thursday’s press conference leaves much to be desired


Image via CNN.com
President Donald Trump originally set out to announce his new choice for Labor Secretary on Thursday (it’s Alexander Acosta, by the way). But what followed was a press conference (of sorts) that included a plethora of lies, distortions and attacks.

While there are plenty of examples to choose from, there are a few statements that I want to focus on for the purpose of this specific blog post. It is these instances, in my mind, which exemplify just how much of an embarrassment our current president is, and how horrid a situation we now find ourselves in.

Trump says he inherited a mess, including the economy.

Trump decided to air his grievances, and to knock his predecessor in the process by implying he had a lot to deal with.
Our administration inherited many problems across government and across the economy. To be honest, I inherited a mess. It’s a mess.
The problem? Obama inherited much, much worse when he took office than what Trump did — and what Trump did receive was a reinvigorated economy. It’d be hard for most to complain about 75 straight months of consecutive job growth, but Trump still finds a way to do it.

Trump says drugs are cheaper than candy.

This one seemed real odd to me. (Emphasis in bold added)
We’ve ordered the Department of Homeland Security and Justice to coordinate on a plan to destroy criminal cartels coming into the United States with drugs. We’re becoming a drug infested nation. Drugs are becoming cheaper than candy bars. We are not going to let it happen any longer.
For some reason that little comment stuck with me. It took a while, but I realized why it bothered me so much. How seriously can we take the president’s plans for combatting drug abuse if he’s making silly assessments like this? He doesn’t have a real-world grasp on what’s  going on, and even if it’s hyperbole, it’s a distracting one, at best.

Trump says he would have told Flynn to talk to Russians...violating federal law.

Michael Flynn, Trump’s former National Security Adviser, resigned earlier this week because of revelations that he had been speaking to Russians about removing economic sanctions before Trump became president. The following exchange details just how insignificant this is to Trump himself, who suggests he would have encouraged Flynn to commit what’s ostensibly a crime.
Q: Did you direct Mike Flynn to discuss sanctions with the Russian ambassador prior to your inauguration?

TRUMP: No, I fired him because of what he said to Mike Pence. Very simple. Mike was doing his job. He was calling countries and his counterparts. So, it certainly would have been OK with me if he did it. I would have directed him to do it if I thought he wasn’t doing it.

I didn’t direct him, but I would have directed him because that’s his job. And it came out that way — and in all fairness, I watched Dr. Charles Krauthammer the other night say he was doing his job and I agreed with him. And since then, I’ve watched many other people say that.

No, I didn’t direct him, but I would have directed him if he didn’t do it. OK? Jim?
It seems as if Trump doesn’t understand the gravity of the situation — or merely doesn’t care.

Trump said his Electoral College count was the highest since Reagan — then was called out for it, and stumbled afterward.

It’s become commonplace to see Trump frequently celebrate his Electoral College “landslide,” as he calls it. In actuality, Trump’s win is ranked 46th out of 58 presidential campaigns, hardly one of the best.

Initially in the press conference, Trump touts his greatness:
We got 306 because people came out and voted like they’ve never seen before so that’s the way it goes. I guess it was the biggest electoral college win since Ronald Reagan. In other words, the media’s trying to attack our administration because they know we are following through on pledges that we made and they’re not happy about it for whatever reason.
But later on, a member of the press asks a serious question based on this repeated lie:
Q: You said today that you had the biggest electoral margin since Ronald Reagan. … In fact President Obama got 365 in 2008 —

Trump: Well, I’m talking about Republicans.
But Trump wasn’t talking about Republicans — that qualifier was never made until the reporter started with the question. But let's give him the benefit of the doubt, because even with that excuse he's still wrong, as the reporter pointed out.
Q: President Obama 333, George H.W. Bush 426 when he won. So why should Americans —

Trump: I was given that information, I was just — we had a very big margin —

Q: I guess the question is, why should Americans trust you when you accuse the information they receive [from the media] as being fake when you’re providing information that is not accurate?

Trump: Well, I was given that information. I was, actually I’ve seen that information around. But it was a very substantial victory, do you agree with that?

Q: You’re the president.
Trump successfully moved away from the question itself, of why we should trust him if he’s willing to lie about something so trivial. But that question should still be asked — why SHOULD we trust him if he’s going to such lengths to deceive us on something so insignificant?

Trump disregards rise in anti-Semitic violence across the nation.

A line of questioning from a Jewish reporter caught my attention as well. (Emphases in bold added)
Q: So, first of all, my name is Jake Turx. I haven't seen anybody in my community accuse either yourself or anyone on your staff of being anti-Semitic. We have an understand that you have Jewish grandchildren — you are their zayde. However, what we are concerned about and what we haven't being heard addressed is the uptick in anti-Semitism and how the government is planning to take care of it. There are reports that 48 bomb threats have been made against Jewish centers across the country in the last couple of weeks. There are people committing anti-Semitic acts or threatening to —

Trump: He said he was going to ask a easy question — okay sit down, I understand the rest of your question. Folks, number one, I am the least anti-Semitic person that you have seen in your entire life. Number two, racism. The least racist.

We did relatively well — see he lied about what was going to be a very straight simple question. I hate the charge. I find it repulsive, I hate even the question because people that know me and you heard the Prime Minister, you heard Netanyahu yesterday. Did you hear him, Bibi, he said I've known Donald Trump for a long time and said forget it so you should take that instead of getting up and asking a very insulting question like that. Just shows you about the press but that's the way the press is.
Trump took offense to the questioning because he felt the reporter was attacking him. But look again at the question: it’s not about Trump being anti-Semitic, it’s about the rise of anti-Semitism in the nation following his election, and what he’s going to do about it. Trump doesn’t answer that question, choosing instead to disregard it entirely and spin his response as if he’s the victim instead. Talk about repulsive...

Later, another reporter sought to get clarification from Trump, attempting to explain the question in a way that even he could understand. From the Hill:
A second reporter followed up, pointing out to Trump that the question was “not about your personality or beliefs.”

“We’re talking about a rise in anti-Semitism around the country, some of it by voters in your name,” the reporter continued.

Trump fired back that the rise in anti-Semitic attacks is coming from his political opponents.

“This has to do with racism and horrible things being put up. Some of it, written by our opponents,” Trump said. “Do you know that? Do you understand that? You don’t think anybody would do a thing like that. Some of the signs you’ll see are not put up by the people that love or like Donald Trump, they’re put up by the other side and you think it’s like playing it straight? No. But you have some of the signs and some of that anger caused by the other side. They’ll do signs and drawing that are inappropriate. It won’t be my people. It will be people on the other side to anger people like you.”
Again, he disregards the question — what’s he going to do about the problem? — and instead blames his opposition for stirring up anti-Semitism, without any proof to back up his claims I might add. Trump just doesn’t care, and he won’t acknowledge that yes, there are some hateful elements in his base.

Trump thinks a black reporter should set up a meeting between him and the Congressional Black Caucus.

Another reporter, and African-American woman, asked Trump to explain what his plans were for the inner cities, since the president so frequently cites the problems that are going on in them.
Q: When you say [that you plan to do something to help] the inner cities, are you going — are you going to include the CBC, Mr. President, in your conversations with your urban agenda, your inner city agenda, as well as —

TRUMP: Am I going to include who?

Q: Are you going to include the Congressional Black Caucus.
Trump, apparently, believes that this woman, because she’s herself black, will set the meeting up for him.
TRUMP: Well, I would. I tell you what, do you want to set up the meeting? Do you want to set up the meeting?

Q: No — no — no. I’m not —

TRUMP: Are they friends of yours?

Q: I’m just a reporter.
Presuming that a black reporter can set up a meeting between Trump and the Congressional Black Caucus is itself racist. And Trump believing that she must set up the appointment for him is lazy at best, racist (again) at worst. He’s the president; they’re members of Congress. He can request they meet with him any time he wants.

---

We used to have a president that treated the press with respect, even if he didn’t like what they had to ask. We used to have a president who didn’t have a compulsive need to brag about his electoral victory at every opportunity he had. We used to have a president who didn’t quibble with known facts, and who didn’t suggest he was fine with his surrogates breaking the law.

Trump’s press conference on Thursday left me missing former President Barack Obama even more than I had missed him previously. Trump hasn’t even been president for a month yet, and I am so embarrassed by him being our leader. America deserves better than this circus act. America deserves honest and humble leadership. And it’s evident that we’re never going to get that from President Trump.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Wisconsin Republicans: please explain WHY you don’t support redistricting reform


Changing how we draw political maps just makes sense


Redistricting reform is an issue that very few Republicans are willing to get behind. There are exceptions, of course, including Maryland’s Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, who even reached out to former President Barack Obama about the issue last year. Several Republicans in Virginia’s state legislature also support measures aimed at taking partisanship out of the process of redrawing political boundaries every ten years.

(Click here to read how redistricting reform would work)

But for the most part, Republicans across the nation reject the idea, and Wisconsin is no exception. To the best of my knowledge (and if I’m wrong, someone please correct me), there is no Republican in the state legislature who believes in the idea of redistricting reform; and certainly, Gov. Scott Walker hasn’t indicated support for it either.

And why should they? For several years their maps, clearly drawn to give them huge advantages in state elections, have helped them maintain a majority in the state Assembly, and made holding the state Senate an easier task as well, in turn allowing them to pass their right-wing agenda with little to no resistance.

Whether that’s fair or not is up for debate, though a recent ruling seems to give us reason to assume it’s not. A federal court recently deemed those maps to be unconstitutional, requiring that they be redrawn. But the order requires the legislature – which is still controlled by the Republican Party – to create better maps.

That’s like giving the keys back to a teen driver immediately after they went for a joyride and wrecked the car. In other words, we have no reason to assume that state Republicans will do a better job in redrawing the maps this time. We’d be better off to have a nonpartisan commission produce the maps, a system that has worked wondrously in neighboring Iowa for several decades now.

Of course, Republicans won’t change the process of map-drawing on their own. It will take pressure from constituents to make the case to their representatives that this is the right – and fair, and just – move to make. Already across the state, nearly 20 newspapers have endorsed the idea, even in areas that include Republican strongholds.

We need to ask Republican lawmakers (and re-ask, and re-ask again): why do they oppose a fair system of redistricting? Why do they prefer to stand in the way of creating competitive districts to give voters more choices across the state?

And I challenge any state lawmaker that supports keeping the status quo to defend his or her position. I’ll even let you post your opinion, without edit, on this site. Explain to us why redistricting reform isn’t for Wisconsin.

The citizens of this state deserve an explanation, especially since thousands of dollars have been (and will be) spent defending a system that clearly allows the ruling party to unfairly preserve their positions in power. Wouldn’t it be easier to institute a nonpartisan system of drawing maps? Republicans – we need an answer.