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, 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 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.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

It really IS a Christmas tree

Focus of religious representation on public grounds should emphasize equality of faiths

The Holiday tree, as it's been called since 1985, has been a dazzling display within the Capitol rotunda that I've always looked forward to seeing for as long as I can remember. Of course, growing up in Madison, the Capitol itself fascinated me on its own. But seeing that tree, monumental itself when seen from the eyes of a child, always brought home the idea that Christmas was right around the corner.

Yes, I said Christmas. As a child (and I assume this is the case for children today), I never referred to the evergreen as a "holiday" tree. I called it what it clearly was: a Christmas tree. I still do, as an adult.

So when Gov. Scott Walker calls it a Christmas tree, it's ironically one of the few things I can agree with him on. I don't know if Walker is intending on promoting Christianity or not through his declaration -- if he is, then he's wrong for doing so -- but what I do know is that it's a Christmas tree, no matter what its official name may be.

As a liberal, this should irk me -- governments have no business promoting one faith over another. Were it the only display allowed in the Capitol, I'd be upset, even as a Christian, that other faiths weren't given the same opportunities to display their symbols of belief.

As it is, however, other forms of worship ARE granted areas within the rotunda to display their beliefs, including the Freedom From Religion Foundation's display that has, in the past, called religion "superstitious" and a device that "enslaves minds."

And that's fine -- all beliefs should be allowed to place their symbols on public grounds...if it's done in a way that's equal for all.

That's where the real concern lies. There are many questions we should ask ourselves on the subject. Are other faiths given the same treatment as Christians when it comes to their most sacred of holidays? Are Jewish groups allowed a sizable display in the Capitol during Yom Kippur? Are Muslims allowed to celebrate Ramadan in the rotunda for the entire month? Are atheists, too, granted a time comparable to the display of the Christmas tree to put up any thoughts they have on religion?

We shouldn't focus on what the tree is or isn't -- even under the moniker of "holiday," the tree is still a symbol of Christmas. We should instead focus on whether other religious (or non-religious) organizations are getting equal treatment from the state, if not during this time of year then during other times relevant to their belief structures.

If they're not, a clear religious preference has been established, a significant violation of the First Amendment on the part of our government. When that occurs, yes, I'll fight tooth and nail against displays of religion that exclude all others. But for now, I'm going to enjoy visiting the Christmas tree at the Capitol for another year -- and observe the other displays of religion presented to the public as well.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Concealed carry training no longer uniform under new rules

Legislative committee removes four-hour training requirement for concealed carry permit holders

Today a Republican-controlled legislative committee removed the rule established by Wisconsin Attorney General JB Van Hollen to require gun owners seeking a concealed carry permit to obtain at least four hours of training.

The new standard will be anything but uniform: any training, for any amount of time (even a half hour or less, conceivably), will be acceptable to obtain a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

The move worries even Van Hollen, a Republican, who established the rules to keep things consistent and safe:
The effect likely will be that the state Department of Justice will accept any training certification submitted with an application for a concealed weapons permit, Van Hollen told the committee just before it voted on the matter. Thus, some people could wind up getting permits after a bogus instructor passes out permits after teaching a course that lasts just a few minutes, Van Hollen said.
Emphasis added.

Anyone who reads my posts on this site knows that I'm not a huge fan of concealed carry. Still, if it's going to be the law, I was at least amiable about the fact that a uniform amount of time spent training would be enforced, to require gun owners to have the training necessary to properly carry a gun on their person.

The move by this Republican-controlled committee puts us in an uncomfortable position -- instead of feeling some sense of safety knowing that an individual has had the proper instruction in owning a concealed weapon, many residents of this state will have to wonder privately to themselves whether a person in their proximity has had hours versus minutes of training.

I don't doubt that most gun owners are already going to already know the basics. But I do concern myself with people who don't understand how to properly handle a weapon, who don't take the responsibility seriously.

Gun ownership isn't something we should take lightly; and although a right to own or bear a weapon is one that is protected by our Constitution, it should also be a right that bears restrictions along with it, if necessary, to protect those that abstain from carrying out that right. We have restrictions to other rights -- speech, for example, isn't an absolute right (especially in the Capitol building itself, it would seem). So why is gun ownership considered a sacred cow to some people?

The removal of the four-hour requirement for training is wrong -- setting a specific time amount for training, uniform for gun owners across the state, was certainly within the scope of the law passed, and within the rights of the State Attorney General's office to impose.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Another interesting graph on unemployment in WI

Unemployment rate lowered under Doyle, grew under Walker

More analysis of employment numbers between current Gov. Scott Walker and his predecessor, Gov. Jim Doyle. This time, let's look at the unemployment rate:

The rate of unemployment Wisconsin had seen included 16 straight months of dipping, starting at a 9.2 rate in January of 2010 and getting to its lowest point at 7.3 percent in April of 2011. From May to August, however, there was four months of unemployment increase. In September, the rate once again lowered to 7.8, an improvement of 0.1 percent.

Walker and his supporters have previously touted the accomplishments they've made in job growth for the state. But it's clear to anyone looking at this graph that the accomplishments aren't that stellar after all.

First off, the first dip in unemployment that Walker has taken credit for at the beginning of the year took place at the end of the sixteen-month streak that included twelve months of unemployment decrease under his predecessor. It's possible that Walker was simply riding Doyle's coattails during that time.

Second, when you total the number of months that unemployment has dipped in Wisconsin while under Walker's watch, you can count those four straight months, plus the month of September, for a total of five. However, during three of those first four months, unemployment actually plateaued, remaining at the same rate. The rate only dipped once during that time, in January (when Walker began his term), after which it stayed the same until April where it modestly dipped again, then increased for four straight months after that.

At best, Walker saw five months during his term where unemployment either dipped or remained the same. At worst, there were three months of nonconsecutive improvement, two months of nothing happening, and four straight months of an increase in unemployment numbers.

This is hardly anything for Walker to be proud of, much less base rationale on for a recall election against him.

See also:

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Walker's net employment growth rate lower than Doyle's in 2010

Net employment growth rate faster under previous governor's last year in office than under Walker's "reforms" year

Some more fun with numbers...

Last month I took a look at the employment numbers that Wisconsin had posted for the month of September. Comparing the number of employed Wisconsinites from that month to the beginning of the year, it was clear that not much change had taken place, that Gov. Scott Walker's "reforms" weren't putting Wisconsin back to work.

There's a stark difference, however, between the number of employed versus the number of jobs created. People can work two or three different part time jobs; and while that's only one person "employed," it still technically counts as three jobs created.

So let's look at these numbers. From this year alone (January to September), the number of jobs in the state has increased by 11,800 (click here to read why Walker's job boasting claims are misleading). Judging by those numbers, you might be inclined to believe that, even if not impressive, at least Walker's "reforms" are moving us in the right direction.

But is Walker really succeeding, or is he benefiting from dumb luck? Let's compare the numbers from a year ago, while Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat, was still in office. The comparison is important because Doyle and Walker employed very different methods during their terms in office. For example, Doyle didn't give hundreds of millions of dollars in tax cuts to corporations, didn't impose strict tort reform, and perhaps most important didn't remove the rights of state workers.

In January of 2010, Wisconsin had 2.7236 million jobs. By September of 2010, that number had increased to 2.7346 million -- a difference of 11,000 jobs.

Walker still has the slight edge over Doyle -- but the difference is marginal (11,800 versus 11,000). That's hardly an accomplishment worth celebrating. Remember, to get that higher rate (a rate that could have arguably remained in place with the same Democratic policies that Doyle used), we had to give hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks to corporations, in turn gutting billions in public services (such as health care, education, and care for the disabled and elderly), AND stripping workers of their rights.

To put it in a more visual way, look at this graph. Admittedly, the data only includes January and September of both 2010 and 2011, but that's meant to highlight the net result of jobs created during that time.

The green line is Doyle's net jobs growth during those months, and the purple line is Walker's. The lines, nearly perpendicular, show that there wasn't any rate change taking place -- implying that Walker's reforms did nothing to increase the rate at which jobs grew.

The rate of change during Walker's January-to-September time period in terms of job growth was 0.43 percent. Compare that to Doyle's rate (0.40 percent), and it's clear that the change isn't anything too spectacular.

Again, this is the change in job numbers: as far as employment is concerned, however, the rate of change is actually WORSE for Walker.

Again, the green line represents Doyle's last year in office, and the purple line Walker's first year in office, both through September. The rate of change for employment growth during Jim Doyle's January-to-September last year in office was .343 percent, resulting in a net growth of nearly ten thousand more employed Wisconsinites during that time.

Walker's net rate of change? Hardly noticeable. From January to September of this year, the total net growth in the number of Wisconsinites who are employed in the state is 18. Not 18 percent -- 18 TOTAL. The rate of change? .000638 percent, a rate that is 538 times lower than Doyle's net rate during the same time period in 2010.

Walker's reforms have benefited the wealthy corporations that have backed him from day one. The rest of Wisconsin, however, has been left behind. Not only have services been cut, education been gutted, and rights been stripped, but the effect on job growth has been minimal, at best. And his employment growth rates provide proof that his vision for Wisconsin is taking our state down the wrong path.

(All jobs data found at

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Poll shows disdain for Walker, mixed feelings on recall

State split on grounds for removal, but a clear majority disapproves of governor's job performance

A poll released this week demonstrates just how dissatisfied Wisconsinites are with the performance of Gov. Scott Walker, not even one year into his first term in office.

According to the results of the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute's poll, 56 percent of the state disapproves of what Walker has done in his first 10 months as governor. Only 42 percent approve of his job performance.

As far as a recall goes, Wisconsin is evenly split, within a statistical tie over the question of whether Walker deserves to be removed from office or not. 49 percent believe a recall is undeserved while 47 percent feel it should move forward. Four percent are undecided.

Though it appears a plurality doesn't want a recall to happen, viewed from a different angle a majority is either for a chance to remove Walker or is riding the fence on the issue (totaling 51 percent).

Again, the numbers are within a statistical tie -- but should a recall occur, the question of if he deserves to be removed will likely be overshadowed by the dismal job approval numbers he currently has. That is, when the actual election happens voters aren't going to be thinking about the recall itself, but rather the pros and cons of keeping Walker in power.

The polling data should worry Walker, who faces a recall threat when signatures on a recall petition equals 25 percent of the number who took part in the previous gubernatorial election.

Getting to that number (of more than half a million signatures) won't be a simple task. But it's clear through these poll numbers (as well as the general disdain of ordinary Wisconsinites when you merely mention his name) that Wisconsin is fed up with Walker, ready to give him "the boot" if the opportunity to do so presents itself, an event that is likely to occur given the numbers we're seeing today.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Month in Review -- October 2011

Top five stories from the month of October

Here, in reverse order based on readership, are the top five stories from last month.

5. September job numbers out -- WI still not growing
What can we draw from this? Walker's jobs session earlier this year didn't do anything to help the state. His job session that is currently taking place, with many of the same initiatives found within it, will likely have the same effect.
4. In trying to explain broken promise, Gov. Walker lies to the people
Walker's broken campaign promise isn't as controversial as it seems -- it doesn't put Wisconsin in a worse-off state of being. Still, to insist that his promise wasn't broken because he's made additional "payments" to make up for that lost time is faulty logic: the governor promised within a set time-frame that he'd make those sacrifices, and he didn't.
3. Democratic poll shows governor recall a strong possibility
More than half the state disapproves of Walker's performance as governor, and more Wisconsinites trust a Democratic alternative to Walker on issues important to the state.
2. Assessing -- Part 1: Jobs
By September, the number of jobs Wisconsin had decreased to 2755.8 million...a drop of 19,300 jobs, halving Walker's claims -- again, my apologies, "Wisconsin's Reforms Website's" claims -- of creating jobs for the year to 19,500 total.
1. Assessing -- Part 2: WI School districts and Act 10
Stating that surpluses are created after severe deficits were made without explaining those deficits is a grave mistake to overlook -- and a spin beyond epic proportions. It's improper to say that savings couldn't have been found had Act 10 never been implemented, as would have been the case had Kaukauna taken the teachers' proposal before passing their new teachers' handbook.

United Wisconsin Madison office opens

Some images and thoughts from the evening

I stopped by the United Wisconsin office opening this evening, not long enough to hear anyone speak but long enough to witness the enthusiasm of those involved.

Here are a few images from the early part of the night:

These images were taken at around 5 o'clock, shortly after the office opened. Though the images I took make the office seem rather empty, many more people came, and it was very difficult an hour later to even enter the building. I had to leave early, but it looked like the event was going to be one to remember, a great prelude to the signature process set to start in two weeks.