Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A New Year's retreat

Don't expect updates for the next week

Unless there's a huge story involving something of enormous magnitude, you shouldn't expect much from me for the next week. I will be traveling around the state for a post-Christmas-road-trip-extravaganza that will take me from Madison to Appleton (with various stops in the Fox Valley region) to Minneapolis, all the way back to Madison again. Crazy times! For small, 140 character-based updates about things going on in my political mind, you can follow Political Heat on Twitter @PoliticalHeatWI (or click the link below).

I'm hoping that I will arrive back in time to report on a Rose Bowl victory, with analysis of the Iowa Caucuses shortly after. Until then...

Happy New Year, everyone!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Why Walker's association with Grover Norquist matters

Trip to "Tax Pledge" activist consistent with governor's tax hikes on working class Wisconsinites

Recently, it was revealed that Scott Walker attended the Christmas party of one Grover Norquist, presumably in an attempt to raise funds for the impending recall campaign for the Wisconsin governor.

The trip to New York was unannounced, kept hidden from the people of Wisconsin, until a blogger tweeted he had seen Walker at the party. The administration said that there was no need to keep tabs on the governor's "personal" calendar, that his "official" calendar was the only one that had to be kept up-to-date with the people.

It is perhaps prudent that the "official" office of the governor shouldn't divulge such information -- it may in fact be illegal to do so. But the governor himself ought to inform the public of his "personal" calendar when such events lead to him being out of state -- or include campaign fundraising -- especially when it's unknown to the people he represents what he's doing. There should be openness when it comes to politicians' fundraising activities, and Walker's actions have been anything but open (at least in terms of whether he's the one releasing it or not).

It's troubling still what the governor was probably doing during this particular trip -- but not all that surprising. It's a well-known fact in the political world what Norquist's organization, Americans for Tax Reform, represents: no tax increases ever within any level of government (a promise that isn't always kept intact within the organization itself). Gov. Walker signed the pledge during the campaign for governor in 2010, meaning he would oppose any and all tax increases -- including removal or diminishing of tax credits.

The pledge reads:
I, _____, pledge to the taxpayers of the (____district of the) state of ______ and to the American people that I will: ONE, oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rate for individuals and business; and TWO, oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.
Emphasis added.

Unfortunately for Walker, he violated this pledge within the budget he passed this last summer, raising taxes on workers by millions of dollars.

Walker greatly reduced the Earned Income Tax Credit and other credits that were effectively increases in the amount the working poor had to pay toward their taxes. The administration countered that net taxes overall went down, and that reductions to credits didn't amount to tax increases.

Those arguments don't hold up to the tax pledge that Norquist and ATR had Walker sign -- the credits that Walker reduced were not "matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates" (see emphasis above). So Walker violated the pledge, and is automatically slated to be attacked by Norquist and ATR, set to face the wrath of challenges at a primary election from his fellow conservatives, right?

Not so fast -- during the payroll tax debate, the American working class was slated to face an increase in taxes had Congress refused to take any action. For a time, it seemed like that was going to happen (until a two-month extension was passed and signed into law last week). So what did Norquist tell Republican lawmakers? He essentially said that the payroll tax hike wouldn't amount to violating the pledge he had them sign, indicating that his tax pledge only applied to the wealthy.

It stands to reason, then, that by raising taxes on the poor in the state, Walker doesn't violate Norquist's tax pledge. At least, that is until you consider the hypocrisy that such reasoning employs.

Walker raised taxes. Norquist said to his pledge signers "don't raise taxes, or else!" but he didn't really care when the taxes raised were on the working class. In the end, it is all a ruse designed to lower taxes for the rich, not the middle class.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Gableman's ethics put into question collective bargaining ruling

Legal questions abound amid allegations of justice's wrongdoing

Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman isn't known to be a particularly professional person, especially when it comes to the title he holds. So it isn't surprising when Gableman was slapped with an ethics complaint earlier this year, forced to defend his actions while serving the state of Wisconsin.

What was surprising was that, during the defense of his ethics investigation, Gableman's lawyers waived all legal fees for their client, itself an act of unethical behavior. Sitting justices of the court aren't allowed to receive gifts of this kind as they can be perceived as conflicts of interest later on down the road.

As it happens, Gableman's actions (in accepting the gift) have put into question one of the most important and contentious rulings rendered by the court this year.

When the law to strip state workers of their bargaining rights was passed this year through nefarious means -- being rushed through the legislature in violation of state open meetings laws -- it went to the courts to decide if such violations warranted blockage of the law itself. Judge Maryann Sumi, a Republican-appointed judge, found that rules were indeed broken, and as such the law deserved to be voided.

But the State Supreme Court reversed that decision, dangerously finding that when rules placed on the legislature are violated it's up to either house of the legislature (not the courts) to determine what course of action should be taken to remedy (or not) violations of conduct, essentially allowing them to police themselves on such matters.

The decision of the court was a slim majority, of which Gableman was one of the deciding votes, capable of tilting the verdict either way.

In light of his unethical behavior, Gableman's decision-making process is questionable by any rational-thinking citizen of this state. Yet, this matter is further complicated by the fact that the law firm representing the side that won the collective bargaining/open meetings decision was the very same law firm that provided free legal services to Justice Gableman during his ethics investigation.

The legal questions that abound by this situation provide stimulating discussion, to say the least. Do Gableman's actions indicate a violation of conduct? Does such a conflict of interest render any decision Gableman made as voidable, at least when it comes to decisions where this law firm was involved? And finally, if Gableman's actions do indeed leave specific decisions as questionable, would that be grounds to reverse any judgments made by the court where he may have held the deciding vote?

These are questions that are currently running through the mind of Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne, who is considering seeking legal action against the ruling rendered on the collective bargaining issue under such circumstances.

Whether this results in his taking action or not, we can be sure of one fact: the actions of some conservative members of the state's Supreme Court are unbecoming of the offices they occupy. And they're doing a disservice to the people of Wisconsin.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Tax cuts, Walker's attacks on the middle class, expectedly hurts job growth

When it comes to jobs, Wisconsin is the worst since Walker budget passed in June

Over at Jake's Economic TA Funhouse (I'll never tire of that title), there's even more evidence that Gov. Scott Walker's jobs initiative is failing our state. Not only was Wisconsin the biggest loser of November, but ever since Walker's budget passed, no other state has lost as many jobs as Wisconsin -- in fact, our state is more than four times greater than second-place Georgia in terms of job loss:
...despite Barca's misspeak about [Wisconsin being the jobs loss leader] for the second straight individual month (we're back at 1 month of "leadership"), he's right on another point. WISCONSIN KEPT ITS POSITION AS NUMBER 1 FOR JOB LOSS SINCE WALKER'S BUDGET WAS SIGNED IN JUNE. And no other state is close to how bad we've been.

U.S. job change June 2011- November 2011
Wisconsin -34,900 (-1.26%)
Georgia -8,600 (-0.23%)
Missouri -8,200 (-0.31%)
Minnesota -7,200 (-0.27%)
Montana -2.400 (-0.55%)
With numbers like those, even if the Department of Workforce Development's criticisms of preliminary numbers are valid, we're still the worst state in the union.

So why is Walker's jobs plan failing so miserably? Shouldn't billions of dollars in corporate tax cuts be creating jobs for the state? To put it bluntly, no: tax breaks for corporations don't create any incentive for job creation, at least on their own. At best they provide a means for companies that have demand but no capital to take a chance. But tax cuts won't create jobs without that demand being added.

Companies create jobs when they need to provide "more" of something -- more products, more services, etc. The greater need for this "more" creates a burden of extra work required for the business, which can be alleviated through hiring more workers. This is usually the result of greater demand on the part of those making purchases -- e.g. the consumers. Fortunately, with more demand also comes more capital, so the hiring of workers is usually a profitable, cost effective endeavor.

But direct tax breaks to corporations won't create that demand. Instead, they reward companies for doing what they've already done. They do NOT incentivize what we want them to do, which is create more work for those looking for it, because there's absolutely no reason to do so.

So we have to ask ourselves this singular question: when corporations are essentially handed money for doing nothing, is there any reason that they should create jobs, which will cost more capital, just for the sake of doing so? Of course not. The increase in capital for companies that have that demand, yet lack the ability to create more of a product, would make sense. But a blank check to corporations in the hopes that they will engage in a rare moment of benevolence is laughable -- they're looking out to increase their profits, won't add jobs just for the heck of it.

Yet Walker is putting his chips "all in" with the hopes that the $2.3 billion he's given to corporations through tax cuts will pay off. For some small businesses, it might...but only if they have demand for jobs and no resources. The vast majority of corporations in our state won't have that problem.

It's not surprising, then, that jobs in Wisconsin have failed to materialize. And with more and more consumers having less and less capital in their pocketbooks, it's equally unsurprising that job totals in the state are actually decreasing. Without that consumer spending, after all, there's no growth in demand, and thus no growth in the need for more labor.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Burden should be on challengers, not signers, for petition discrepancies

Bills would increase incentive to vandalize petitions, deceive signers

With job numbers continuing their downward decline in the state, it's only natural that state Republican lawmakers do what they do best: ignore the issue entirely and focus on something else completely unrelated.

In this case, it's the recall. Not the recall elections against the governor and several state lawmakers themselves, but of multiple signatures on recall petitions, an issue that's upsetting Republicans because the burden of proof to verify recall signatures rests on them.

So to make their job a little easier, lawmakers like Republican State Sen. Glenn Grothman have determined to make multiple signatures an illegal act, punishable by up to six months of jail time. A similar bill submitted by Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, also a Republican, would make the act a felony.

Of course, it's forgotten by those on the right who abhor these multiple signers that those doing so are simply trying to ensure that their names are counted. With the fear of anti-recall pro-Walker activists vandalizing petitions (openly threatening to pose as volunteers only to destroy real petitions later), it became a necessity for some signers to put their names on two or three different petitions if they couldn't know for sure that the petitioner was legitimate.

The bills proposed by Republican lawmakers would grant such vandals even greater reason to intimidate and deceive those hoping to sign a petition. By lawfully restricting citizens the right to sign multiple petition forms, any petition destroyed would almost guarantee that names would be dropped where they rightly belonged.

The burden of proof on removing multiple signers is right to rest upon those wishing to dispute such signatures. The laws proposed by Grothman and Fitzgerald should be dismissed.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Job losses from this year unacknowledged in DWD report

Report's spin misses the big picture: Wisconsin is losing jobs under Gov. Walker's watch

With November's job numbers released last week, and with another dismal outcome from that release, the Walker administration decided to focus on a very different aspect in their report -- namely that preliminary numbers aren't always right (PDF).
"October was the fifth straight month and the eighth month this year in which the federal government overestimated the preliminary job loss numbers or underestimated job gains for Wisconsin," [Department of Workforce Development] Secretary Newson said.
Yet, the determination to spin the report this way fails to vindicate Gov. Walker's job-growth performance -- it's been horrific thus far. When you consider the fact that former Gov. Jim Doyle's budget was still in effect for the first six months of this year, a troubling statistic comes forth: there have been zero months of net jobs growth since Walker's budget became law in late June.

The downward trajectory presents another sordid stat: if the preliminary job numbers from November do stay the same, the net job increases from this year will only be roughly 3,900 jobs, or about 355 jobs added in the state per month. If we're to continue on this path, at the current rate Walker's campaign goal of 250,000 jobs -- which he promised to create -- would take more than 64 years to realized, or 16 terms total (15 more terms than Walker pledged last year).

That's a revision from last month, when I calculated it would take 71 years and 17 or more terms to complete. But that revision isn't due to any improvement in Walker's job performance -- rather, it's due to the revision in total jobs lost from October. (And remember: the number of jobs added per month and per year are, again, due to jobs that were created during the last few months of the Doyle budget while Walker was in office.)

The real story here isn't that preliminary job analyses are off, but that Walker's policies are failing to create jobs in the state. We're still on a downward spiral, losing jobs rather than gaining them since Walker's budget was implemented. No matter how they intend to spin it, the Walker administration can't escape that fact.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Pro-Walker "jobs" ad omits important details

"Small business" billionaire distorts effects of Gov. Walker's "reforms"

The pro-Walker ads keep on coming, and as usual they continue to lack context that leaves the viewer unaware of just how misleading they really are.

"Chris," a "business owner", describes the "positive" things Walker has done for Wisconsin:
Gov. Walker is a friend of small business. He recognizes that 70 percent of the jobs created in this country and this state are by small businesses. He wants all the people in this state to be successful. It's comforting. And it’s been rare. So, it’s a refreshing change.
A lot of what the man in this ad says, like previous ads supportive of Walker, neglect to include relevant information about the subject at hand.

"Chris" is actually Chris Rebholz, CEO of Christopher Morgan Fulfillment Services. You've likely seen his products -- if you've watched a few infomercials. While they do hire some Wisconsin citizens, Rebholz's company imports most of its products through the use of Chinese labor.

From Uppity Wisconsin:
Of course, there is nothing wrong with infomercials, but the reality is that Wisconsin is hemoraging manufacturing jobs almost exclusively to China. And when customers buy from a TV ad or online, it also requires fewer jobs to get that product to the customer because there is no store and the jobs that go with a store.

In other words, if you were going to set up a business model with the fewest American jobs possible, it would be Chris Rebholz's business model. That's the guy... that Scott Walker chose to promote his job creation efforts.
But it isn't just that Scott Walker chose a man who uses Chinese workers to make his products. He's also a billionaire who thrived in Wisconsin's economic climate...long before Walker was governor.

From One Wisconsin Now:
The "business owner" featured in the latest Scott Walker television ad saw his business grow 1,300 percent during the administration of Gov. Jim Doyle, according to a self-professed claim in the Business Times from 2008.
It was under a Democratic governor, then, that Rebholz's company really thrived -- not under the "reforms" that Gov. Walker put into place.

The underlying fact that puts to rest anything that this ad tries to claim is that there hasn't been a single month of job growth since Walker's budget passed earlier this year. Sure, Wisconsin saw six months of growth during the first half of the year -- but that was under the last months of Gov. Jim Doyle's previous budget. Ever since Walker's budget was put into play, there's been nothing but net losses.

Walker's ads continue to distort the truth, to hide the things he doesn't want the people of Wisconsin to know about. Unfortunately for our governor, the numbers don't lie.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

November job numbers out -- and a note on revisions

Revised numbers raise questions, but still paint gloomy picture of Wisconsin job outlook

The Department of Workforce Development released its preliminary numbers on jobs for the month of November, as well as a revision of October's numbers.

In November, it was initially reported that Wisconsin had lost 9,700 jobs based on preliminary numbers. Those numbers proved to be too preliminary -- the revised numbers show Wisconsin *only* lost 2,400 jobs...an improvement from the original tally, but a loss in jobs nonetheless.

DWD Secretary Reggie Newson wasn't thrilled with this and other revisions that have occurred this year.
"The most troubling thing to me is the effects these initial estimates have on the perception of Wisconsin’s workforce," Newson said. "The monthly revisions show a much steadier trajectory with gains being higher and losses being much lower than the BLS' initial reports.
Newson is partially right about his criticism -- it's troubling that the estimates are off, sometimes by large margins. Estimates aren't meant to be exact, and most expect changes to occur, revisions to be made. But a revision of that size is something to look out for, cause for those who make the preliminary counts to assess their methods a little better.

Yet Newson is wrong on a different front:
"While there certainly is more progress to be made, we are moving Wisconsin in the right direction and laying the groundwork for the private sector to create jobs."
Um, not so much. Negative numbers are still negative -- a move in the "right direction" would include positive job numbers, making up for the losses we've thus far incurred since Walker's budget passed in June. (It's interesting to note that all of the positive job numbers in 2011 came about during the tail end of the budget passed by Walker's predecessor, former Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat.)

Newson acts as though those preliminary numbers are purposely put out to make Wisconsin look bad. There's no proof of this, however, other than his own assumptions. Preliminary numbers should be treated as such -- preliminary, and thus possibly mistaken. Yet, even though October's job losses were diminished, they still went in the same direction (negative) as was initially projected.

With that in mind, let's take a look at the November job numbers (PDF). Again, these are preliminary -- take that caveat for what it is.

This graph shows quite a dramatic loss from October to November. Preliminary numbers project a loss of more than 14,000 jobs in the state. If you're quick to dismiss those projections, keep in mind that the change from October's preliminaries and its revised numbers was a drop of 75 percent -- but still a loss. If you apply that same rate change to November's numbers, it's still a loss of more than 3,650 jobs. There's nothing to suggest a revision is imminent at this time, however.

So let's assess that graph a little more. All signs point to another month of job losses -- the fifth in a row, in fact, and the fifth one since Walker signed his budget into law. This probably isn't coincidental -- tax breaks without proper incentives won't create jobs, but this is still Walker's main method for "job creation."

Wisconsin's total jobs aren't the only indication of things souring on the Walker administration. Looking at manufacturing jobs across the state, it's clear that things within that sector are also doing poorly.

Though there were some gains in August, since that time manufacturing has dropped at a steady rate with no indication of improvement on its way.

What can we assess from these numbers? Secretary Newson's rant on the DWD release of November's job numbers undercuts the problem at hand: jobs are still leaving the state, despite the revisions that are being made. And while a lower unemployment rate looks good on paper, it hardly portrays what's going on in the state -- with less jobs and a lower rate, it merely implies that less people are looking for work.

The bottom line is this: nothing has changed (as far as general statements go) except the numbers. While the job numbers from October weren't as severe as initially anticipated, they were still negative. Walker's reforms continue to fail our state, and jobs in Wisconsin aren't growing.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Memo to Walker supporters: it's still not working

Repeated claim by pro-Walker supporters ignores truths about "successes" of governor's initiatives

On the eve of a major announcement set to be made by those organizing the efforts against Gov. Scott Walker, I want to visit a common theme presented within nearly every defense that Walker supporters are giving in order to dissuade voters from signing and/or supporting the recall movement.

This meme can be summed up in two simple words: "it's working."

The repeated slogan of the pro-Walker camp carries with it a strong suggestion that Walker's reforms have actually benefited the state, have created a more prosperous Wisconsin than what we previously had. Proponents of the governor suggest that, had it not been for these reforms, we'd be in a worse place than we currently find ourselves in. The recall, in their minds, would undermine that position, destroy the fortuitous stature of our state created this year while under Walker's reign.

Yet reality suggests that Wisconsin isn't benefiting from these reforms at all. There's no substantial claim to make that "it's working" at all for our state...in fact, there's several counter-claims that Walker has yet to explain.

Where exactly is it "working?" Since Walker's budget passed in late June, Wisconsin has seen four straight months of job losses, totaling more than 27,000 disappearing overall.

More than $2 billion in cuts to education and Medicaid have strained students' abilities to learn and aid to those in desperate need.

The stripping of collective bargaining rights have had no significant impact on lowering our deficit, even in "celebrated" communities like Kaukauna (where similar savings were offered but ignored through concessions from the teacher's union before Act 10 was implemented).

Taxes, on both property and income, have increased for working families, and the budget that the governor claims was balanced wouldn't have been acceptable by his own standards a year ago while he was campaigning for the job.

Is this what Walker considers "progress?" This is what's meant by "it's working" in Wisconsin? Most would argue that this isn't "working" -- it's garbage, a spit in the face of those that have prided themselves on being true-blooded Wisconsinites for several generations.

Gov. Walker and his supporters who believe "it's working" are wrong. Walker is undeserving of the office he holds for many reasons. One of them is the continued insistence that what he's done for the state will have a positive impact for the future of Wisconsin. In reality, they're hurting the weakest among us, benefiting the wealthy corporations at the expense of the working class.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Federal appeals court strikes down WI campaign finance limits

Campaign finance limits preserve rights of the disadvantaged to have equal access to the political process

The recent ruling by a federal court of appeals that lifts the $10,000 individual limit on campaign donations to third-party political action committees is nothing short of horrendous. It isn't a defense of speech rights, as the court that issued the ruling asserts. Rather, it's an expansion of the abuse of said rights that the wealthy and privileged classes hold over the vast majority of the American populace.

Speech rights are a wonderful thing, an ideal worth defending to the utmost degree. The freedom to speak your mind and to have your piece heard is something many of us take for granted in this country, a democratic tool we utilize daily without truly understanding that much of the world still lives without this basic right protected.

Yet, when abuses of that right (or of any right, really) restrains other significant rights of the people, restrictions upon that privilege, when administered in a way that preserves the basic functions of our most honored principles, are justly enforced. That's to say, when you start using your rights as a means to diminish someone else's livelihood, the government, as an arbitrator and nothing more, should step in to ensure that no abuse of any privilege should conflict with the properly used rights of others.

A legitimate argument can be made that campaign finance limits (on individuals and/or corporations) are such tools used to preserve the rights of those with modest incomes. While some courts may argue that such laws hamper the ability of the rich to disseminate their views, very little consideration is given to the working class individual who may only be able to spare $50 (or less) per year towards the political causes of their choosing. Despite their significantly lower incomes, these individuals deserve the same -- and equal -- political rights as those with 100 times their annual salaries.

And yet, we're somehow led to believe their rights are preserved when we require the poor to whisper their ideals and opinions, while those with the ability to contribute more capital towards political committees (like, for example, the Koch brothers) are granted the use of 10 megaphones lined up in a row to express their speech rights? The analogy is not that far off (in fact, it's likely short of what's now reality) -- the poor are at a indescribable disadvantage when it comes to how much "speech" they're allowed to utilize as compared to those, say, in the top one percent.

Reform is sorely needed in the form of a constitutional amendment at the federal level, to allow both national and state governments the ability to preserve speech rights for all Americans, not just those with deep pocketbooks. Democracy should never be for sale, an item to be placed on the auction block and available to the highest bidder. It belongs to everyone, equally, to take part in the political process, whether rich or poor.

The people of Wisconsin, and all across the nation, deserve much better treatment, a proper defense of their rights versus the abuse of power the wealthy may sometimes hold over them.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Candidate Cullen a pragmatic choice for governor

Moderate Democrat considered a "cooperative spirit" who can work with both parties

Special note: The following is not an endorsement of any kind, merely some thoughts on the recent announcement made by Sen. Tim Cullen regarding his gubernatorial aspirations.

State Sen. Tim Cullen, a Democrat from Janesville, has made it official, announcing that he intends to run for governor when the petition drive against Scott Walker succeeds in attaining the signatures it needs to trigger a recall. He's the first Democrat to announce his candidacy.

Cullen is a moderate, a former State Senate Majority Leader, a successful businessman, and a former Secretary of the Department Health and Social Services in Wisconsin. He served in the State Senate from 1975 to 1987, returning in 2011 when he won election last year.

Often seen as someone who works "above politics," Cullen is well-known as a lawmaker who bridges the two bickering parties together. He has a good working relationship with Republican State Senator Dale Schultz, also a moderate, and was cited by Walker himself as cooperative in nature (during the infamous prank call earlier this year).

Cullen was also part of the group of 14 Democratic senators that left Wisconsin in order to delay passage of Act 10, the bill that dismantled collective bargaining for state workers. But while some of those senators could face scrutiny for "fleeing" the state, Cullen actually introduced a constitutional amendment proposing to prevent such a move again in the future.

Cullen's candidacy probably won't play well with the base -- his pragmatism and willingness to negotiate with Republicans isn't appreciated by much on the left. But in a state that's a murky "purple" rather than a distinct "red" or "blue," Cullen's supposed "weakness" could prove to be his greatest asset among the electorate overall, appealing to Wisconsinites who value that cooperative spirit that's been lost in recent years.

Tim Cullen isn't likely the ideal choice for the Democratic Party or its progressive base -- but he just might be the ideal choice for voters at-large across the state. We shall see.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Chris Rickert: certain (in his own mind), and wrong

Wisconsin State Journal columnist wrong to believe Walker undeserving of recall

Chris Rickert, columnist for the Wisconsin State Journal, sparked a bit of controversy on Thursday through some very contentious claims.

His piece, entitled "Supporters of recall are certain, and wrong," makes a lengthy claim that numbers don't necessarily mean anything until the election occurs -- alluding to the 300,000 signatures that were gathered in the first two weeks of the recall campaign against Scott Walker.

Rickert also points out that, even if indicative of the majority, a sizable number of people don't necessarily make a movement "right" or justify a vote for/against someone.

Rickert's analogy examines the re-election of former President George W. Bush, who won handily against his Democratic opponent John Kerry (though to Wisconsin's credit, Kerry carried the Badger State):
Americans were getting killed in Iraq due to a poorly supported but greatly hyped allegation that turned out to be flat wrong. And here enough people were apparently OK with that to re-elect the falsehood's cheerleader-in-chief.
It's an assertion that most on the left would gladly agree with: Bush's war in Iraq, then a popular policy, was still wrong, despite his being re-elected president. I had written on the subject myself extensively while I was still at UW-Milwaukee -- our presence in Iraq was wrong, and we stayed there for too long a time as well. How Bush had been re-elected was a mystery to many ideological colleagues of mine.

That analogy aside, Rickert's column made another bold assumption, one that struck a nerve for many progressives throughout the state:
It's one of those weird ironies of life that majority rule is both a linchpin and a drawback of representative democracy. A man who dragged the country into an unnecessary war got a second term in the White House, and a man who's done nothing worse than employ conservative principles to balance the state budget is facing recall. (Emphasis added)
OK, Time Out -- did he really just say what I think he just said?

It isn't just that I disagree with Rickert's assumptions about the merits of the recall -- it's also that he's flat-out wrong. This isn't just about ideology...it's about much more than that.

The recall movement against Walker didn't take hold until after two big pieces of "conservative principles" (tort reform and tax breaks to the corporate elites) were passed in January. Even after these items were enacted (and a train plan derailed), the idea to recall Walker at that time was a joke more than anything else. Fighting against conservatism overreach, while a huge part of the recall movement now, wasn't the catalyst for what began this fight.

It took an attack on state workers to really get the movement going, not to mention a budget bill that blatantly attacked the middle and lower income classes, with several other pieces of legislation and failed policies, adding fodder to the fire.

Walker's "conservative principles" included: Stripping the rights of workers that have been in place for over half a century; a $1.6 billion budget shortfall for schools across the state; half a billion in cuts to health care; $2.3 billion in tax giveaways to the wealthy and corporations, meant to spur economic growth and job creation, that has fallen flat on its face; a drastic departure from voter rights in favor of unnecessary restrictions; and a demeanor from this governor that indicates he cares not for the common man, woman, or child in this state (unless they happen to be wealthy million- or billionaires).

None of these things can simply be called "employing conservative principles." This is a radical change from what is Wisconsin...and the recall is much more than a response to conservatism.

Rickert is right in one thing: the numbers game, while impressive at this point, won't guarantee victory. But he's wrong to assume he's the sole decider of what is right or wrong -- and while democracy, too, can't necessarily determine that either, it's still the best thing that we've got.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Violent acts against citizen democracy indefensible

Actions perpetrated against recall organizers (and others) should be condemned

Political differences exist -- we shouldn't fret too much over this fact of life. But how we deal with our differences is of great importance to the preservation of our democracy.

There's no excuse for violence (rhetorical or otherwise) in political discourse, no reason for intimidation of any kind within the free exchange of ideas. Where's the value in it? What good does it do to debate with one another, only to win or lose that debate out of some unrelated fear rather than relevance to the topic at hand? Such deplorable tactics only serve to disrupt the examination of ideas and democracy itself.

Within our own state, such intimidating methods are sadly infiltrating our discourses regarding the recall of Gov. Scott Walker. Recently, these tactics have included the purposeful and celebrated ripping/shredding/burning of recall petitions (with legitimate signatures included), throwing soft drinks at signature gatherers, and even the swerving (and near collision) of vehicles toward those advocating for the removal of the governor (allegedly by a ranking member of that county's Republican Party).

The left isn't innocent in this mess either -- threats to lawmakers and the pouring of alcoholic beverages on their persons are nothing to take lightly, and correctly brandished as wrong when they occur.

But it seems that, with the stubborn refusal to play by the established rules (and the difficulties that stand in the way of changing those rules midway through the game), some on the right have taken to using other measures in the Badger State, apparently thwarting conventional democratic means of doing so, in order to "win."

These are not isolated incidents -- almost daily now, we hear of new events that cause headaches to recall supporters, including threats that not only affect them but their family members as well. Yet their growing familiarity is cause for alarm, and shouldn't become expected even if we have seen them before. Each new case of violence (both rhetorical and actual) is something that should be abhorred, never shrugged off as "more of the same" that we've already seen.

If we ever reach that point -- of familiarity of violence within our dialogues -- then our democracy, including citizen activism within it, is in grave danger.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Reassessing what we already knew: Walker never campaigned on ending bargaining rights

Campaign focused on one aspect, not total eradication, of collective bargaining

A few conservative sites in the Wisconsin blogosphere have brought up a contentious opinion regarding Gov. Scott Walker, his removal of bargaining rights for state workers, and whether he campaigned on that idea or not in 2010. An assertion is being made on these blogs that, prior to what has been basic common knowledge up to this point, Walker DID indeed campaign on ending bargaining rights for state employees.

Take these two blogs as examples of that assertion. Tim Gray, of useyourgraymatter.com, and Steve Prestegard, of The Presteblog, have both made the claim that, not only had Walker campaigned on the subject, but that unions even knew about it at that point in time.

Gray referenced an article from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which stated:
Two leading candidates for governor [Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Scott Walker] say they could save taxpayers up to hundreds of millions of dollars a year by revamping the way schools and local governments buy health insurance for more than 200,000 public employees around Wisconsin.


What neither candidate highlights, however, is that their plans also will mean taking away unions' right to negotiate with their employers for their insurance carrier - a potentially explosive political fight.
(Emphasis added)

The other example, from Prestegard, looks at a flier from the American Federation of Teachers from 2010:

(Click to view a larger image)

The major aspect of the flier (for the purposes of the argument) is this little bit: "Walker supports a bill that would take away the right of unions to negotiate health care benefits."

A second flier from the 2010 campaign (this one from WEAC), provided by radio host Vicki McKenna (also available at Prestegard's site), made a similar mention of health care benefits being removed from the bargaining process:

What these two tidbits of information mean is that, yes, the unions knew that Walker was planning to take away some aspects of their negotiation rights. The emphasis here, however, is SOME. Not all.

It should be noted that both sources attribute the same idea: that Walker was proposing that negotiation be terminated when it came to health plans. Still, is that enough to say that the people of this state should have seen it (the "bomb" as Walker called his plan) coming?

Hardly. Walker campaigned on an idea of removing one aspect of bargaining, and then subsequently removed nearly all aspects of it. What's more, the Journal Sentinel article that was used above points it out as clear as day: Walker didn't exactly "highlight" the fact that his plan would end these rights for workers, as far as their health plans went. And as Capper notes at Cognitive Dissidence, Walker even testified to Congress that he didn't campaign explicitly on the removal of bargaining rights.

At best, you have Walker stating that he wanted to change how state workers' health plans worked. No mention was ever made of bargaining rights being removed in other aspects of their contracts.

Walker also implied that he'd keep collective bargaining in place, making cuts using furloughs if bargaining failed, never eliminating the bargaining process outright:

So where does that leave us? Believing that Walker would make greater cuts to the bargaining process -- making the jump from assuming he'd remove health care plans from that process, to nearly dismantling the process entirely -- is a foolish assumption to make. The assertion that these conservative bloggers make (that the people should have known better) is equally as foolish.

I liken it to this: It'd be like ordering a steak medium-rare from your favorite restaurant, getting a charred hunk of meat resembling what you ordered, and getting a quizzical look from you waiter as he says to you, "Well, you wanted it cooked, right?" In both cases (Walker "campaigning" on ending bargaining rights and the restaurant scenario) you have what was believed to be a smaller idea of what actually happened in the end.

Walker campaigned on removing one aspect of bargaining rights, and actually stated he was intending to use the remainder of the bargaining process to balance the budget, using furloughs where it didn't work. How one comes to the conclusion that that means what he REALLY meant was the total eradication of collective bargaining for state workers is beyond reasonable comprehension.

Monday, November 28, 2011

300,000 recall signatures collected in 12 days

48 days remain to get less than half the signatures needed for recall

In an email to supporters, United Wisconsin made a breathtaking announcement. In less than two weeks, recall organizers have attained more than half of the required number of signatures needed to trigger an election against Gov. Scott Walker.

To put that in perspective, organizers now have 48 days to collect just over 240,000 signatures. Names are being taken down at a rate of more than 1,000 per hour.

Skeptics will remain, but it's clear that the momentum remains on the side of those looking to take Walker out of office. Exactly whom they will put up to go against him remains an unknown at this point -- but with numbers like these it's clear the people of Wisconsin want a change.

Pro-Walker ad misinforms and distorts the recall movement

Ad ignores the realities that have plagued the state

The second commercial spot put out by the campaign to defend Gov. Scott Walker against a recall is a powerful ad, one that puts a schoolteacher on the side of Walker -- an ironic move since the teachers of this state have been largely against the ideas the governor has implemented. It's also an ad that marginalizes the recall campaign's reasoning behind why a recall against Walker is necessary.

Let's assess a little deeper what Kristi is saying.
"I'm not big on recalls..."
OK, let's stop there. The very man Kristi now supports benefited from a recall campaign to win the County Executive position he held before the governorship. He did so due to a scandal that the county was facing at that time, but even under the standards that some GOP lawmakers in our state are trying to force on us, the recall would never have happened. So if someone is against the recall because they don't LIKE recalls, they're clearly unaware of Gov. Walker's pro-recall history.
"...and I think that at this point in my opinion, and I'm only speaking from the 'I,' um, it feels a little like 'sour grapes.'"
As a schoolteacher, Kristi should know that the moral of "The Fox and the Grapes" isn't what she's describing it as. What Kristi is describing is a group of people upset with the outcome of an election. The moral of "sour grapes," however, is wanting something, not getting it, and then feeling as though you're better off for not getting it anyway. If we were to retell the classic fable the way Kristi the schoolteacher is trying to describe recall proponents, it'd be the fox upset with the outcome and then getting a ladder -- not making up some excuse about the grapes themselves, and walking away.
"It's, you know, 'we didn't get our way, and so we want to, to change the outcome.'"
This is the major concern with the commercial I have. Changing the outcome of an election -- it's quite an assertion to make. Yet the call to recall the governor didn't come until he made a drastic move, one that was NEVER campaigned upon. The governor never promised to remove workers' rights, never said he would gut education or state health care by billions of dollars (while simultaneously handing out billions to corporations in tax breaks). And he definitely campaigned on balancing the budget in a way better, not worse, than his predecessor (certainly not in a way that left us with a larger deficit than what we began the year with).
"The person that I'm going to stand behind and that is going to get my vote is the man or the woman that says what they mean, and means what they say..."
Again, Gov. Walker had a pretty big omission during his campaign last year. And if Walker means what he says, and says what he means, did he mean that he really thought about placing troublemakers within crowds of protesters earlier this year, intending to discredit the movement against his policies?
"...and it's not about being popular, you know, it's not about getting the votes."
Actually, it is. When you lose the confidence of your voters, you lose their respect and confidence in you. In Wisconsin, a recall exists so that voters can vote you out, if they so wish to do so. This entire ad portrays recall proponents as in the minority, as against what the people want -- when in fact, they are the majority.
"It's, this is what's right. Scott Walker said from the beginning, 'I'm going to do what's right for Wisconsin,' and he did. He did."
But in reality, he didn't. Walker's reforms and initiatives have failed to lower taxes for the average Wisconsinite (1, 2), have created a worse situation for our schools, have failed to increase our state's job totals (which have actually decreased by nearly 30,000 since his budget passed), and have restricted the voices of thousands of state workers who wanted nothing more than negotiation when it comes to their contracts. (Oh, and as I already mentioned, by his own accounting standards during the campaign in 2010 he failed to balance the budget.)

That isn't principled leadership. That isn't even good governance. That's failure beyond what anyone, even a schoolteacher like Kristi, can ignore.

United Wisconsin to make major announcement tonight

Announcement may set the record straight on number of signatures gathered so far

The recall organization A United Wisconsin to Recall Walker is set to make a major announcement tonight:

It may have to do with the subject of this post that the Democratic Party of Wisconsin made today on their Facebook page:

It appears that there is no level too low for opponents of the recall to stoop to.

"Are" governor fails grammar, and the state overall

Walker's grammatical slip-up provides proof that education isn't a high priority

The value that our governor has placed on education in Wisconsin can be summed up through the actions he's performed thus far.

Gov. Scott Walker's educational background itself is flawed. Walker failed to attain a college degree, becoming the first Wisconsin governor in 64 years to lack one; and while it isn't necessarily something that's required for the job, for a person who is meant to be the chief executive of our state, it seems like a no-brainer that he should hold some form of educational certificate beyond a high school diploma.

He made severe cuts to our state's public schools, and limited their ability to raise funds on their own, resulting in a shortfall of $1.6 billion dollars. The result of these cuts was that more class sizes grew and more programs were cut overall across the state.

Now we get this little gem: clear proof that our governor's grammatical abilities are substandard, at least to the level expected of someone in his office. A tweet of Walker's (which has since been removed by staffers) shows that the governor can't distinguish between the words "are" and "our," a lesson that is taught to elementary schoolchildren.

If Jeff Foxworthy is still looking, we may have his next contestant for "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?" I'd tell the governor to go for it, but then again we don't need any more embarrassments from him, tarnishing the good reputation that this state once had for education.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A visual look at the jobs situation in Wisconsin (it's not working, Gov. Walker)

Net jobs rate of change was better a year ago under Doyle

Late last week I examined the employment numbers that had just been released for the month of October. As I wrote, the numbers weren't too promising:
The Wisconsin jobs report for October has been released, and unfortunately the news is not so good. 9,700 jobs were lost last month, most of them within the private sector.


To reach Gov. Scott Walker's goal of 250,000 jobs created in his first term, it would take more than 71 years at the current rate we're going at, or 17 more terms than the one he promised it would require.
I also took a look at what was the driving force behind the jobs numbers -- or rather, what WASN'T driving a growth in jobs across the state:
Companies need capital to hire people, it's true, but they also need a reason to hire them in the first place. Demand is what supplies that need -- if a corporation has a higher demand for their good/service, they will hire a worker, if the capital to do so is available as well. But without demand, there's no NEED to hire anyone.


So as we go forth in trying to think of ways to help stimulate the economy, we should focus on what works best. Will a tax break for corporations, without proper demand for their goods or services being created, encourage businesses to hire more individuals? Or will putting money in the hands of workers, through freeing up their basic needs that they'd ordinarily need to concentrate their expenses on (such as health care, as one example), work?
I want to provide a little visual evidence behind what's already been said.

From January to June of this year, Wisconsin added roughly 31,000 jobs -- admittedly a good gain for the first six months. Yet in the four months following Gov. Scott Walker's budget bill passing, nearly all of those job gains were lost. What we ended up with was a mere 3,500 net jobs from the beginning of 2011 to October -- or just under 400 jobs created per month. Put another way, nearly 9 in 10 jobs that were created during the first half of this year were lost in the four months that followed.

As pointed out at Jake's Economic TA Funhouse, the true magnitude of last month's job losses can't only be described in numbers, but also in how horribly we did when compared to the rest of the country (not only this month but since June). Wisconsin lost the highest amount of jobs across the nation for the month of October (in both raw numbers and percentage lost). For an administration that once erroneously claimed to have created half the jobs in the nation in one month, it's going to be difficult to explain why things have soured so fast.

But this can't be blamed on the national picture overall, as the Walker administration has tried to do in the past -- most of the country saw gains in private sector employment. In fact, Wisconsin was just one of eleven states to see private sector job losses overall last month (PDF). Wisconsin has also lost more jobs than any other state since June of this year:
Most Job losses June-October 2011
Wisconsin -27,600
Georgia -19,100
Rhode Island -6,200
Missouri -3,800
Arkansas -3,700
Consider the net rate of change as well. Earlier this month I calculated the rate of change for Wisconsin between the months of January and September. Wisconsin's growth rate was .43 percent, comparable to former Gov. Jim Doyle's rate of change during that same period last year (.40 percent). But as of this month, a new calculation needs to be put in place.

The new job rate of change, from January to October of this year, is approximately .128 percent. Compare that to Doyle's rate of change (from January to October of 2010), which was .657 percent. In other words, the rate of change we had a year ago is over five times greater than the rate of change we're experiencing today -- meaning net job growth has slowed significantly over the past 10 months while under Walker.

A lot of ideas can be drawn from these visual representations of what's happening to jobs in our state. One thing that can't be drawn from it is a line we often hear touted by the Walker administration, over and over again. So the next time you hear someone tell you that "it's working," let that person know that, no, it's not.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Lawsuit seeks to change districts ahead of recalls

Move to change district maps ahead of time political, illogical

Republicans in Wisconsin are suing to have their newly-drawn legislative districts in place if and when the recall elections occur next spring against several state senators.

The move appears to be completely political, not practical by any means, and would defy logic for what the purposes of recall elections are in the first place. Recalls exist to replace an unwanted representative within a sitting district. Once replaced, the newly-elected individual serves out the remainder of the term the previous representative would have otherwise completed, and thus representing the constituents of the previous representative's first electoral win.

We shouldn't move to new districts prematurely -- doing so would set a new precedent, one that unnecessarily disenfranchises thousands of residents. Conversely, should the challenges fail, or should some senators face no challenge at all, there's no doubt that these representatives would continue serving the same constituents as before -- under the same maps as were in play in 2010.

It'd be wrong, foolish, and in ways hypocritical to advocate for a move to the new districts earlier than scheduled when it wouldn't have occurred under ordinary circumstances. Had there been no need for recalls, there wouldn't be any lawsuit of this nature advocating the change ahead of time. And there shouldn't be one now.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

How to create jobs? Step one: don't give "handouts" to corporations

A quick lesson on how to increase demand, and thus the need for jobs, in our economy

A lot of talk is centering around how to create jobs in our state, especially in the midst of thousands of job losses Wisconsin has seen over the past few months. In October alone, Wisconsin saw a loss of nearly 10,000 jobs, mostly in the private sector, despite billions of dollars in tax giveaways and significant tort reform to corporations that were meant to spur growth.

Perhaps to assess how to better create jobs, we should re-examine the question, "Why do companies need workers?" The answer isn't terribly startling: To provide a good or service to people. Companies need capital to hire these people, it's true, but they also need a reason to hire them in the first place. Demand is what supplies that need -- if a corporation has a higher demand for their good/service, they will hire a worker, if the capital to do so is available as well. But without demand, there's no NEED to hire anyone.

So if a corporation receives a tax cut (added revenue), but no demand is created for them, where's the incentive to hire more people? There isn't any -- they'd be wasting money that they just received, using it for a reason they don't actually have. A better approach to generate more jobs is to create higher demand for a product, and the best way to do that is to provide a situation where everyday people are able to make purchases for those goods/services.

Services that are provided by the government to assist those in need do more than help the unfortunate -- they also "free up" the pocketbooks of the working class, which in turn allows them to purchase things like new TVs, or cars, or lawnmowers, and so forth. That's why tax breaks for the poor help stimulate the economy more than for the rich -- they'll actually USE that money for something to purchase. A tax break for a corporation doesn't improve the economy because (as I stated above) there's no need to spend money without a real cause.

So as we go forth in trying to think of ways to help stimulate the economy, we should focus on what works best. Will a tax break for corporations, without proper demand for their goods or services being created, encourage businesses to hire more individuals? Or will putting money in the hands of workers, through freeing up their basic needs that they'd ordinarily need to concentrate their expenses on (such as health care, as one example), work?

The latter idea more so than the former will generate job growth, since the working class as a whole will be more likely to spend their hard-earned cash on goods and services, creating both higher demand and revenue for companies to take hold of, in turn creating a need for more work.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Some thoughts on today's recall Walker rally

Nearly 40,000 descend on the Capitol to help kickoff first week of recall

Among tens of thousands of Wisconsinites, I was part of the recall rally in downtown Madison today.

The event brought back memories of February, of when we marched in the streets daily against the atrocious budget repair bill that brought about the end of workers' rights for public employees in the state. The difference this time? Optimism -- we all know our goal, and we all know it's attainable.

In fact, more than 105,000 signatures have already been collected -- and that was before the rally took place today.

With one-fifth of the required signature threshold nearly already attained, it's quite possible that the movement could get more than what's needed by Christmas. Such a gift is surely on the wishlist of many in the state, a majority of which support the removal of the governor.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Wisconsin's October job numbers -- Walker reforms still not working

Job growth and employment dismal since start of Gov. Walker's term in office

The Wisconsin jobs report for October has been released, and unfortunately the news is not so good. 9,700 jobs were lost last month, most of them within the private sector.

The updated numbers for September show that Wisconsin had a total of 2,757,200 jobs in the state. But from September to October, nearly 10,000 jobs were lost, dropping the state totals down to 2,747,500 (PDF).

Compare that to the beginning of the year, when in January Wisconsin had approximately 2,744,000 jobs. From that time on, we've seen a great fluctuating number of jobs in the state, swelling to a high of about 2,775,100 this past June. But since that time, Wisconsin's job numbers have dropped as much as they've gained -- the net total from January to October is only a gain of 3,500 jobs.

To reach Gov. Scott Walker's goal of 250,000 jobs created in his first term, it would take more than 71 years at the current rate we're going at, or 17 more terms than the one he promised it would require.

That's the total number of jobs created -- but how about the total number of employed in the state? Wisconsin did a little bit better here, growing the number of employed by 3,400 (from the revised number of 2,819,200 employed in September to 2,822,600 in October). But the net total from January to October is still marginal, a measly gain of 3,299 more individuals employed today than were at the beginning of this year.

Compare those numbers to the last year of Walker's predecessor, Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle's, term. From January 2010 to October 2010, Wisconsin saw a growth of about 17,900 jobs, and a growth of employment by 12,919 individuals. That's more than 5 and nearly 4 times greater than Walker's respective numbers during the same time period.

Defenders of Walker will contend that these job numbers reflect what's happening on the national stage overall, that the governor cannot be held accountable for outside pressures that affect his state's job numbers. Yet, when we look at the national picture, we see growth, not decline, for the nation last month.

The fact is, Walker's less-than-even-adequate job performance is his to own -- not Obama's, nor Congress's, nor the debt ceiling's, nor anyone else's. His failure to provide any decent jobs initiatives (during two "special sessions" even!) provides ample evidence of why he is a failure to this state within the realm of job creation.

Tax breaks and tort reforms for corporations won't solve Wisconsin's job woes -- only true demand, from people purchasing products or services, can create the need for work. Walker's ideas are lousy, and Wisconsin is suffering for them.

(Most job numbers from this post came from BLS.gov and the Department of Workforce Development)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Walker reforms didn't lower state tax levies

Lower property assessments responsible for statewide tax levy decrease

Gov. Scott Walker, in the midst of a recall signature drive against him, is already coming out swinging, sending out TV campaign ads on Monday Night Football and claiming his methods are "working" for the state.

His latest talking point is that his reforms helped lower state property tax levies by more than $47 million this year. Because of this, many people are likely to see lower tax bills, in effect vindicating Walker's entire plan (in his own mind) to remove bargaining rights for state workers in Wisconsin.

"Our reforms are protecting taxpayers while keeping our schools great," Walker said.

Yet, besides the fact that the $47 million across the state only saves the average property owner $18 per household, there's a serious flaw in Walker's reasoning. When you take a look at the state's average mill rate -- or the rate per $1,000 that assessed property gets taxed at -- you actually see an increase rather than a decrease from last year to this year. In other words, school property taxes, on average, went up under Walker's reforms.

Here's the mill rate for the previous school year:

And here's this school year's mill rate:

Not a huge tax increase, on average, across the state...but hardly the enormous tax cuts that Walker is making them out to be.

"But how can this be?" you might be asking yourself. "How can tax levies go down while tax rates go up?" The answer to that question isn't so difficult to ascertain, especially given that it involves a crisis that's hitting the nation overall: property values are sinking across the state, and tax increases aren't increasing fast enough to keep up with the depreciating value of our homes. As a result, what looks like property tax cuts across the board is actually nothing more than a loss in revenue the effects of property assessments being lower this year than last.

Wisconsin isn't benefiting from any "reforms" Walker put into place; on the contrary, Walker is actually benefiting from lowered values on his constituents' properties. It isn't a reform of any kind that's responsible for the levy decrease, and Walker is hardly the "golden boy" of Wisconsin he'd like you to think he is -- rather, he's just the beneficiary of some amazing dumb luck.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Polling shows support for Walker continues to dwindle

Nearly 3 in 5 Wisconsinites support Walker recall

A poll released today by Wisconsin Public Radio and St. Norbert College reveals just how disenchanted Wisconsin voters are with Gov. Scott Walker's job performance.

58 percent of state residents give Walker a disapproval rating. That same number supports his recall, while only 37 percent feel that the governor shouldn't face a special election.

The numbers are a sign of how dangerously close Walker is to losing his job. Should the petitioning phase (of gaining more than 540,000 signatures) be successful, Walker will have to do his damnedest to make sure that he looks better than his opponent. Whether he does so through positive marketing of his name or negative mudslinging of the Democratic candidate is left to be seen.

But it's pretty clear, at least I think, that the petitioning phase will be successful in meeting the signature threshold needed to force a special election. It will be surprising to see it fail in any way, especially with the numbers that were released today.

We must still take it one step at a time -- and we can't view this step as an "easy" one. But it will be successful, so long as we keep our eyes on the prize.

MPS still would have lost teachers due to Walker budget cuts (despite Act 10)

Implementing "reforms" would have resulted in a net number of layoffs due to Walker's budget

A recent survey of school districts across the state shows that the budget cuts implemented by Gov. Scott Walker hurt schools more than helped the fiscal situation in Wisconsin (especially given that $1.6 billion in cuts were made against education while $2.3 billion in tax giveaways were granted to corporations across the state).

Most districts responding to the survey said they had to make cuts to both programs and personnel. More than 4 in 10 elementary schools in districts across Wisconsin said they saw higher class sizes as a result of the Walker budget, and 7 in 10 said they had to cut at least one program (some more than that) as well.

But many are critical of the survey -- some, including the Walker administration, place nearly all the blame on districts that approved teacher contracts without using the controversial measures implemented through the budget repair bill (which ended collective bargaining rights for state workers, including teachers). While many layoffs did come from those districts, losses in teachers and larger class sizes are still the fault of Walker's budget bill, not their choices to keep collective bargaining intact.

Let's take a look at Milwaukee Public Schools as an example. There were initially 334 teachers laid off in that district (70 were later recalled). That district was one that didn't adopt Walker's budget repair bill, meaning they still utilized collective bargaining agreements to create their contracts.

But that doesn't mean that teachers didn't budge on issues, didn't give up anything in their contracts -- on the contrary, teachers acquiesced to $94 million in concessions over the next two years, including agreeing to a pay freeze and additional contributions to their health plans (which was part of the budget repair bill anyway).

What MPS teachers chose not to do was contribute more to their pension plans. Had they done so, the district could have saved 200 teachers' jobs within the district.

That gives a hefty argument to the pro-Walker camp, who insist that adherence to the budget repair bill would have fixed things. However, anyone with basic math skills surely noticed one important thing: even if the teachers had implemented those changes, and 200 jobs were in fact "saved," there would still be between 64 to 134 teachers laid off within MPS.

So had teachers done everything Walker had demanded of them, the actual budget cuts to MPS would STILL have led to less teachers in the hallways, and thus larger class sizes overall.

Of course, one would assume cuts to the tune of $54 million this year alone (what MPS is dealing with) would result in a loss of staff in some way or another. But it appears that this type of logic goes past what the Walker administration can handle. That the rest of the state, too, is seeing losses in teacher numbers isn't so surprising either.

Let the recall begin

Recall of Walker imminent, justified for a plethora of reasons

Today marks the start of a historic occasion -- today begins, in earnest, the recall of Gov. Scott Walker.

While recalls shouldn't be done on whims, shouldn't be taken lightly, or utilized for every member of elected office whom a minority simply disagrees with, in this instance removal is entirely warranted. Gov. Walker has, in essence, flipped this state upside down. He acted as a typical candidate for office last year...but once sworn in, he behaved as atypical as one could imagine him being.

Progressives weren't naive; they didn't expect Walker to take office and act in THEIR interests. Walker had the dual backing of social conservatives across the state as well as the financial support of the corporate elite (both within Wisconsin and beyond its borders). So it wasn't a surprise when tax cuts and tort reform took hold of his agenda.

What was surprising -- to the left, the center, and even some on the right -- was the removal of bargaining rights for state employees, disregarding over fifty years of precedence that every governor, Democratic and Republican, had previously respected.

From that point on, it was clear that this governor was against Wisconsin values. His removal of bargaining rights was just the start -- what followed was a complete reversal of what citizens of this state have come to revere about what makes it great in the first place.

Just some of the complaints against the governor:
  • He has proven himself a lackey to his corporate friends, and a cronyist in the worst way, appointing political allies and corporate donors' preferences to positions of power over more qualified candidates in various political administrative offices;

  • He has ignored our state's high value of a good education, making cuts to schools and limiting their ability to raise funds themselves by $1.6 billion, a move that has increased class sizes in more than 4 in 10 school districts;

  • He has similarly pushed aside the concerns of the elderly and disabled, capping funds to Family Care, a program that enables individuals to live a life of independence, creating more waiting lists for a program that was previously set to lift such barriers;

  • He has demanded half a billion dollars in cuts to Medicaid, a move which will remove more than 64,000 individuals from BadgerCare, a full third of which are children;

  • His promises on jobs have been thus far unfulfilled, revolting in fact, as unemployment has grown while job growth has barely exceeded the rate set by his predecessor from over a year ago;

  • And while doing all of these things, while serving as a corporatist lackey, stripping funding for education, removing hope for seniors and the cognitively challenged, defunding and removing from state health services tens of thousands of children, failing to create any relevant jobs as promised, and removing the long-respected rights of workers in Wisconsin, what has Gov. Walker done? He has, during a time when he justified all these cuts as "necessary" to balance a supposedly fragile budget, given $2.3 billion in tax breaks to the rich and corporations.

It's one thing to say cuts are needed to fill a $3.6 billion budget deficit -- to give $2.3 billion in revenue away and then justify even MORE cuts as "necessary" is an entirely different can of worms, a disgusting example of the kind of "leadership" that Gov. Walker thinks is the right direction for Wisconsin to take (though 57 percent of the state disagree, believe he's leading us in the wrong direction).

In less than one year's time, Gov. Walker has effectively dismantled the values that make Wisconsin what it is. Wisconsinites value a strong education; we tend to take care of our family members; we respect our public workers, understand their worth is necessary and too often thankless; and when sacrifice is needed, we understand the difference between a shared commitment versus demanding that the brunt of it be made on the backs of the working class.

A recall of Gov. Walker isn't simply justified, it's imminent. To question "why" we're recalling this governor is the same as saying you've been blind to the offenses he's committed for the past year. The recall of Walker should be, and will be, a successful endeavor.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Veterans Day 2011

Honor those who have served and currently serve our nation

Today is Veterans Day, a day dedicated to the recognition of our service men and women whose enormous sacrifice for our country cannot be thanked enough. We honor these individuals for their courage and selflessness that is beyond extraordinary, beyond what is asked of any other citizen of our nation.

We may not always agree on the conflicts we involve ourselves in, for various political or moral reasons. And that is OK -- our leaders deserve a healthy dose of scrutiny when they propose to defend America from external threats (for at times these acts of defense deserve the utmost scrutiny one can give).

Yet, no one should overlook the tremendous and oftentimes thankless service our men and women in uniform have performed for us. It is through their work that our freedom remains defended, that our country stays safe.

On this Veterans Day, show respect for those who have defended our nation. You may not agree with their mission, but the dedication to their duties is an ideal that must be respected, for something more than just a "day" can suffice.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Survey shows Walker's budget did more harm than good to schools

School districts wind up slashing programs, grow class sizes, to make up for losses

When Gov. Scott Walker signed into law his budget bill that cut education by nearly a billion dollars, many progressive minds in the state predicted that the resulting action would be a greater number of layoffs, larger class sizes, and cuts to programs within many school districts.

Turns out, they were right (PDF).

According to a survey conducted by Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators (WASDA) -- in which 82 percent of the districts asked to participate actually responded -- most districts in the state have seen a net loss in the number of teachers, administrators, and other staff as a result of the Walker budget passed in June. Nearly 90 percent of students in the survey are affected by this drop, with almost 70 percent of students affected by teacher losses alone.

As a result, class sizes have reportedly increased in more than 4 in 10 of elementary schools responding to the survey.

That's not the worst of it: two-thirds of districts surveyed said they were actually expecting to make the same budget cuts (or worse) next year. Indeed, half of the districts reported utilizing "one-time federal funds to offset even deeper cuts," an option they won't have in 2012 when they have to form new budgets. Less than 13 percent of school districts surveyed thought they would be making fewer cuts next year.

Without missing a beat, however, Gov. Scott Walker's office touted the reforms as "working."

"Even according to the WASDA's own data, 60 percent of districts have class sizes that are staying the same or getting smaller," Walker's spokesman Cullen Werwie said.

Such a lackadaisical approach to the problems our schools face is troubling for this governor to employ. Were it not for the aide of federal funds, even more schools would have faced budget crunches, resulting in higher class sizes in more districts than we're seeing today.

The large portion of schools growing their class sizes (it's actually 44 percent of districts in the survey) is nothing to sneeze at -- that's more than two out of every five districts facing higher class sizes.

Schools are also being forced to cut programs intended to help their students, especially those who need it most. Nearly 3 in 10 districts made cuts to foreign languages, more than 5 in 10 to career and technical programs, and nearly 5 in 10 districts made cuts to the arts, music, and physical education. Additional extracurriculars faced cuts in 1 in 10 districts, and a quarter of the state's districts saw increases in fees. 3 in 10 districts are making cuts to special education.

In all, nearly 7 in 10 districts are cutting at least one program; 45 percent of districts are cutting two or more; and in 28 percent of the districts, 3 or more programs will be canceled.

Less teachers for our kids. Higher class sizes in our schools. And less opportunities for our students to excel. Yup, Scott Walker's plans for our schools are "working" alright...working against the chances of your kid getting a quality education.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Ohio supports workers' rights -- will Wisconsin next spring?

Recall election presents different challenges than citizens' veto in Ohio

Last night, in an unprecedented vote for workers' rights, citizens in Ohio chose to restore collective bargaining for state employees.

Similar in nature to the law passed in Wisconsin earlier this year, Ohio's law went even further, not only removing the rights of state workers (like teachers, social workers, prison guards, etc.) but also the rights of emergency response employees (such as police officers, firefighters and EMT, and so on).

But Ohioans rejected the measuring by overwhelming margins. Collective bargaining remains a protected right in the Buckeye State, meaning its governor cannot impose undue concessions without offering an agreeable package to his workers. Negotiation, not dictation, remains the preference of Ohio voters.

In Wisconsin, we're not as fortunate -- we lack the ability to force a citizens' veto on legislation we deem improper. Instead, we are able to recall specific officials, based on their conduct or their policies, with their removal contingent upon the majority's preference of an entirely new candidate within a special election.

That can make things more difficult. People can be upset with specific pieces of legislation easier than they can be with a singular politician. A recall isn't a yes-or-no vote on a singular issue, but rather a change in vision (if we support the challenger) versus an acceptance of the status quo (if we support the incumbent).

In Gov. Scott Walker, however, there's no need to worry -- he provides many reasons for a recall, beyond even what ignited the call for his removal. We've witnessed such a radical departure from our state's values from our governor that a recall isn't only justified -- it may well be necessary at this point, required to preserve a familiar ideal of what our state has represented for many generations.

It's not just the collective bargaining at this point -- it's a big part of it, but the issue has been overshadowed by a combination of factors presented by this governor, months of overreach that the people of this state are starting to recognize will hurt Wisconsin. Here's just a few to consider:
  • He has proven himself either inept or corrupt in surrounding himself with political allies, relying on his cronies or donors to his campaign for advice on whom to appoint for government positions. Walker has also ignored more qualified applicants (with plenty of experience, education, and other positive marks) in favor of his friends.
  • He has requested enormous sacrifices from working Wisconsinites, cutting by billions of dollars programs meant to assist those of modest means, including BadgerCare, Family Care, and the Earned Income Tax Credit, among others. The governor also forced education in the state to face a billion-dollar shortfall. Meanwhile, during this "necessary" budget crunch, the sacrifice has been anything but shared: Walker has cut taxes for corporations by hundreds of millions of dollars.
  • His major promise -- job creation -- has floundered, despite the tax breaks to the rich and tort reform to the corporate elite that he claimed could spur a quarter of a million jobs by the end of his first term. The number of citizens employed in Wisconsin is nearly unchanged since his first month in office.
These factors (and several others), taken on their own, might not be enough to warrant a recall; but taken together, in conjunction with the removal of rights for state workers, and Walker provides more justification than is necessary for his removal from office, with room to spare.

The case against Walker is clear -- and if the results in Ohio are any indication of how Wisconsin will vote, the governor should start planning for life after the governor's mansion, ahead of schedule.