Tuesday, January 31, 2012

GAB right to hold back on releasing recall petitions -- for now, at least

Safeguards against intimidation of signers must be met before release

The Government Accountability Board has delayed publishing recall petitions online over fears of intimidation against people whose names appear within. Several adamant supporters of Gov. Scott Walker have encouraged such reprehensible tactics, openly declaring their intentions to use the list to inform employers that their workers support the removal of a pro-corporate governor.

Such concerns are legitimate to worry over -- participants on both sides have used inappropriate means of intimidation both direct and indirect, that have caused a lot of unnecessary headaches. But recent Facebook posts indicate that several conservative-leaning individuals are seeking to make recall signers' lives a living hell.

Democracy requires transparency, and those names deserve to be released for verification purposes. But if a sizable number of people, or groups of people, make it clear that intimidation is their aim, certain precautionary steps must be taken to ensure a safe, and open, process exists, before any releasing of names takes place.

First and foremost, employers should be barred from terminating an employee (or otherwise making their workplace a hostile environment) on the basis of their signing a recall petition. When violations like these occur, they should be met and received with strict disciplinary action, to discourage future incidents down the line. No one deserves to be in danger of losing their job due to political stances they make in their private lives.

Second, threats made directly to signers of the petition, by individuals and organizations determined to create fear and terror among law-abiding citizens, need to be taken seriously by every law enforcement agency within the state, from the local police force to the office of the Attorney General. Deterring such tactics should be a priority, especially when it involves the safety and well-being (mentally and physically) of citizens who simply want to take part in a democratic exercise.

As I've stated before, democracy requires openness, to ensure a fair process is being carried out for all, not just a singular side. But the flip side to that is that intimidation of others should be discouraged, with violators being properly punished for engaging in such vile acts.

To ensure an equal footing for both sides, the process ought to be open. But it should only be open when precautions to safeguard those with legitimate concerns are met.

UPDATE (Feb 1) -- The GAB has released the recall petitions:
The Government Accountability Board has posted more than 150,000 pages of recall petitions online. In a decision late Tuesday, board staff said that while people's votes are private and cannot be released, the signing of a recall petition is a public process and should be available for the public to access.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Video: Scott Walker and collective bargaining rights

Introducing "Video Heat," a new segment on Political Heat involving web video production

In an effort to make the message of the recall a little more viable and understandable, I have created a new YouTube channel that will hopefully disseminate our message in a new medium.

Gov. Scott Walker is busy raising millions of dollars to create advertisements that will broadcast daily ad nauseum. If we're to defeat him, we're going to have to use our own skills to do so. If you want to create (or already have created) a video to help the cause, comment on this (or any future) post below.

Here's the first in what I hope will be a series of videos detailing the reasons why Gov. Walker should be recalled.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Obama's populist tone will win him re-election

Making sure that the rich pay their share -- and framing the debate correctly -- will ensure victory for the president

Fighting against charges of "class warfare" following his State of the Union address earlier this week, President Barack Obama had some remarks regarding the American peoples' views on the rich on Friday:
"This is one of the biggest things I'm going to be pushing back on this year, this notion that this is somehow class warfare, that we're trying to stir up envy," Obama said. "Nobody envies rich people, everybody wants to be rich. Everybody aspires to be rich, and everybody understands you've got work hard to be successful. That's the American way."
This is precisely what needs to be said.

The poor don't envy the rich -- at least in the manner that class warfare is concerned. The debate over whether millionaires should pay a higher tax or not isn't about striking a blow to the wealthy in this country, but rather ensuring that our society remains intact, that those who benefited from a system that helped make them prosperous pay their fair share into that system as well.

Now, some might argue that making the rich pay more isn't "fair." But look at what the rich utilize to remain wealthy. If you're a business owner who has made millions on products you've distributed across the country, you're likely utilizing interstate highways more in one year than the typical American does in an entire lifetime. If you're a stock trader, benefiting on the businesses in which you invest in, you're also enjoying the spoils of a capitalist society in which those businesses are allowed to prosper, a society the government helps maintain.

The quote from Elizabeth Warren, Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate seat Massachusetts (once held by Ted Kennedy), best sums it up:
There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there - good for you!

But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that maurauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did. Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea - God bless. Keep a big hunk of it.

But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.
In other words, your wealth is yours to keep -- but to believe that it was created by your hand alone, to have this fanciful notion that you did it without any assistance from the public dollar in any way whatsoever, is foolish.

This debate will likely shape the entire presidential election season, once arguments over moon bases and the like come to an end on the GOP side. The populist tone that Obama is pushing will resonate with the American people, especially if he follows through on what he sets out to do.

I have no doubt that, with that message, Barack Obama will easily win re-election against whomever the Republicans eventually decide to be their candidate.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Frugality, Justice, Moderation, and Temperance -- nah, just Frugality (but not even that)

Governor cites state constitution, omits key parts of what makes government tick

A quick word on another line from the State of the State address delivered by Gov. Scott Walker on Wednesday night. Walker touted a provision from our state's constitution (stating it twice to emphasize his point), implying that a strict, conservative approach to governance was the only way our state's founders had intended to rule:
Our heritage in Wisconsin is also built on fiscal restraint. One of the most important parts of our state constitution affirms that "frugality in government leads to freedom and prosperity for our people." That is worth repeating: "frugality in government leads to freedom and prosperity for our people." I believe our founders had it right.
There are two problems from that statement. First, Walker omits other important aspects of that constitutional provision, which seem to run counter to the kind of governor that he is:
The blessings of a free government can only be maintained by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality and virtue, and by frequent recurrence to fundamental principles.
Emphases added.

It seems almost purposeful that Walker would leave out those OTHER values, especially those that I bolded: justice, moderation, and temperance.

But perhaps more damning than that even is Walker's insistence that he's "frugal." By what standard is he going by? If you're to measure him on spending, Walker definitely fails the "frugality" test: his budget increased spending by half a billion dollars from the previous biennium, an increase in spending by one percent. If you go by budget deficits, Walker fails there, too: his budget creates a GAAP deficit of $3 billion, a fact his administration admitted to just a few days ago, but which Walker failed to mention during his address on Wednesday.

In citing the state constitution, Walker attempted to make himself appear fiscally sound and in-line with Wisconsin's values. But in truth, the governor is neither of those things, running a government that disregards the very provision of the state constitution he himself cited.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Tax cuts to corporations (and saying "pretty please") won't create jobs

Growing jobs in Wisconsin will require reinvigorating demand for goods and services within the state

Gov. Scott Walker made an ambitious request tonight in his State of the State address, asking small businesses across the state to add one new job each to their payrolls this year.

Walker, who is facing mounting pressure due to a recall campaign against him, made the plea amid six straight months of job losses for Wisconsin, a slide that began the month following passage of his budget bill late June of last year.

The governor's plan to grow jobs at that time involved billions of dollars in tax breaks to corporations in order to, in theory at least, give businesses the capital they needed to hire again.

But as I've noted before, capital alone won't create jobs in the state -- rather, capital must be coupled with demand as well, which creates a need for expansion of services or goods that a company produces, in turn creating an incentive for that company to grow its worker-base in order to meet that need.

Tax breaks won't fix that problem -- remember, capital is the end-product of demand, a goal to reach after an investment has been made by the business's proprietor. By handing out that "goal" without a proper incentive, it makes virtually no sense for a business to even consider hiring anyone, especially when doing so would cut into the newly-found capital that they've just gained.

Think about it: what good is it to grow your business when you're already getting money back for doing nothing? The answer is none: if you're getting "money for nothing" (in the form of a tax break, that is), you're unlikely to do anything in return.

Walker's plea to businesses to add one new job each in 2012 is a noble goal for the state -- but without proper demand, it will end up a goal that will become unrealized. To increase demand, Walker can't simply hand cash to corporations and hope for the best; instead, he needs to empower the middle class, to grow their purchasing power, which in turn will allow them to make purchases for goods and services within the state, thus growing demand -- the good, ol' fashioned way that capitalism intended.

Six months of this experiment were enough: it's time to part ways with the "tax cuts will create jobs" mantra that has failed our state, has failed to produce viable jobs growth within Wisconsin.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Pro-Walker rally misses the mark: it's "not working" for Wisconsin

Nearly every issue touted at Wauwatosa rally hurts working-class Wisconsinites

A pro-Scott Walker rally took place in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, this past weekend, where crowds were estimated to have included between 1,000-2,5000 people who feel the state is moving in the right direction.

Believing fully that "it's working," several conservative speakers -- including Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, GOP U.S. Senatorial candidates Tommy Thompson and Mark Neumann, and Gov. Walker's wife Tonette -- gave impassioned speeches about why they supported the governor, who was notably absent during the entire ordeal.

How exactly "it's working," unfortunately, was exaggerated during much of the pep rally. For example, Kleefisch made a comment that anti-recall supporters should donate to the Republicans this year using some of savings from their property taxes, which she contends came about due to the reforms the Walker administration implemented.

However, that's not the whole story. It's true that tax levies went down, but on average property tax mill rates went UP, suggesting that in many communities across the state the rates went down due to lowered property assessments, not the reforms Walker put in place.

Other instances of the "it's working" mentality that Walker supporters point to are similarly untrue. The pro-Walker camp claims that the state is in a better business climate, and better able to create more jobs; and yet, the net number of jobs the state has "added" is actually a loss of 35,600 since the Walker budget was passed. The balancing of the budget that Walker constantly says his administration was able to accomplish was actually a budget deficit of more than $3 billion. And the claim that Walker was able to pass a budget without raising taxes is also a fallacy, as more than $70 million in taxes have been put in place for working Wisconsinites as a result of his policies.

You can't even look at Act 10 as an accomplishment without a caveat of some-sort. The Kaukauna school district, the "poster-child" of school districts that was able to create a huge $1.5 million surplus due to balancing its books utilizing the new rules ending bargaining, would have had similar savings had it implemented a teacher-friendly, union negotiated contract that was offered beforehand. In other words, Act 10 didn't do anything different, in terms of savings' amounts, than the previous collective bargaining arrangement had.

Many school districts, too, that used Act 10 also had to use one-time federal assistance in order to balance their budgets, aid that won't be available next year when many districts will face deeper cuts.

Greater budget deficits for the state, higher taxes for working families, an unnecessary cessation of workers' rights, and a plethora of other issues that don't benefit middle-class citizens of the state one iota (including billions of dollars in cuts to education and health care and other family services). The crowds in Wauwatosa were there to celebrate how "it's working." Unfortunately, they seemed unaware that it's only working for Walker and his corporate backers. For the rest of the state, it's simply "not working" at all.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

December job numbers produce sixth straight month of losses (with graphs)

What little gains did occur last year came about under the Doyle budget

The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development released its preliminary job numbers for the month of December today. Unfortunately, the data suggests more of the same: jobs continue to decline in the state.

For the sixth straight month, Wisconsin lost jobs. About 1,700 jobs were lost in the month December, and the revised number of jobs lost in November was 13,600. In total, since the Walker budget passed in June, Wisconsin has lost more than 35,000 jobs.


What's remarkable about the job numbers is that the Walker administration continues to insist that their reforms are working. From the DWD report:
"The seasonally adjusted data also show that, compared to December 2010, the private sector gained 13,500 jobs, including 9,300 in manufacturing and 8,200 in educational and health services."
So from the start of the year, Wisconsin improved. But was that Walker's doing?

As the graphs above show, many of the job increases that DID occur over the course of the year happened in the first six months -- during the tail end of former Gov. Jim Doyle's 2009-11 budget, not Walker's.

Let's look at net job gains/losses for each governor, for two of the categories the DWD report listed in the quote above: Manufacturing, and Education and Health services.

What can we assess here? Under the last few months of the Doyle budget, Education and Health service jobs increased by nearly 8,000 jobs in 2011. During the next 6 months -- under Walker's budget -- that slowed to just under 2,000 jobs added, signaling a slower rate in growth within that sector.

In manufacturing, the end result was even worse: in the first six months (under Doyle's budget), there were 11,200 jobs gained. But in the last six months (Walker's budget), there was actually a loss in jobs within manufacturing, with nearly 6,000 jobs disappearing from that category.

A slowed rate of growth and a net loss in jobs...and these are the things the Walker administration is bragging about?

There is one more aspect of the job data that isn't getting as much attention. In total, the state lost about 1,700 jobs. But 3,900 jobs were lost in the private sector alone. Why is the net lower than the private sector losses? The answer: there was a growth of 2,200 public sector jobs, a category which has actually seen months of decline over the course of the last year (more than 10,000 public sector jobs were eliminated in 2011). As much as Walker would hate to admit it, the modest growth in public sector jobs probably made the headlines less harsh than they could have been.

The Walker administration continues to brag about the net gains from 2011. But those gains didn't occur while the governor's budget was in operation -- they occurred under the previous governor's budget. From the time that Walker's budget became law, however, Wisconsin has seen tens of thousands of jobs disappear.

In short, the reforms for job growth that Walker has implemented thus far aren't working at all. It's proof once again that under Scott Walker's leadership, "it's not working" after all.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Walker continues to court out-of-state corporate interests

"Fundraising tour" raises questions about who Walker would ally himself with: the people of Wisconsin, or corporate interests

Gov. Scott Walker, certain to face a recall challenge within the next year (even he knows it), has been touring the nation in an effort to raise money to fund his campaign. Even yesterday, when organizers dropped off a million signatures requesting a recall for the governor, Walker was in New York, meeting with AIG executives and even chatting-it-up with Rush Limbaugh during his visit.

Two observable facts can be drawn from Walker's travels:
  • First, in order to fund his defense to the people of Wisconsin, Walker couldn't rely on much in-state support. Whether this is due to his unpopularity or not is unknown; but it's certainly reasonable to believe that Walker's inability to raise money in Wisconsin alone could be due in large part to a huge dissatisfaction among his constituency.
  • And second, it's rather troubling that Walker, who has received large sums of political donations from out-of-state interests previously, would actively pursue even more campaign cash from millionaires in Texas and disgraced corporate business entities. One has to wonder, having already proven he "takes the call" when the wealthy elite beckon him, whether Walker has the people of Wisconsin's interests in mind at all, or whether what Walker does is best for the Koch Bros. and the like instead.
  • It seems that, even when Walker tries to fight off his recall challenge, he creates more reasons for why it's needed in the first place. Walker's interests don't seem to lie anywhere near the people's -- rather, they lie with the corporatocracy he and several other conservative interests across the country are trying to establish.

    If you want a governor who leads by the dictates of out-of-state corporate interests, then Walker is your guy. But if you, like at least one million other Wisconsinites, believe our state deserves a leader who pays attention to the interests of the people he (or she) serves, consider supporting someone else in the upcoming recall election.

    My new favorite reality show...

    If you've got some time, stop over and watch the Real World: Government Accountability Board.

    Tuesday, January 17, 2012

    Democrats, recall organizers turn in 1 million signatures

    Recall thresholds met for Governor, Lt. Gov., and four Republican state Senators

    Over one million signatures supporting the recall of Gov. Scott Walker were turned in to the Government Accountability Board today. Around 845,000 were turned in for Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch.

    In all, nearly two million signatures were turned in for the recalls of Walker, Kleefisch, and four other Republican state senators who allied themselves with the governor's corporatist and anti-worker agenda. All of the recall thresholds were met.

    Let's put this in perspective: in 2010, when Walker defeated Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett for the governorship, Walker won with 1.12 million votes. Conversely, the volunteers to recall Walker very nearly gathered the same number of signatures that got him into office in the first place (almost 90 percent).

    The total represents 185 percent of the necessary number of signatures needed to initiate a recall contest. 46 percent of the signatures turned in would need to be deemed ineligible in order to prevent a recall from happening, a nearly insurmountable number for Walker supporters.

    The total number of signatures gathered represents the largest number received per capita in recall election history -- for the entire country.

    This is indeed a historic occasion. The recall challenge to Scott Walker, and the restoration of Wisconsin principles and values, made a giant leap today. The road ahead won't be easy -- but with hard work and determination, We the People will get our state back.

    Monday, January 16, 2012

    I’ve Been to the Mountaintop

    As you know, if I were standing at the beginning of time, with the possibility of general and panoramic view of the whole human history up to now, and the Almighty said to me, "Martin Luther King, which age would you like to live in?" — I would take my mental flight by Egypt through, or rather across the Red Sea, through the wilderness on toward the promised land. And in spite of its magnificence, I wouldn't stop there. I would move on by Greece, and take my mind to Mount Olympus. And I would see Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Euripides and Aristophanes assembled around the Parthenon as they discussed the great and eternal issues of reality.

    But I wouldn't stop there. I would go on, even to the great heyday of the Roman Empire. And I would see developments around there, through various emperors and leaders. But I wouldn't stop there. I would even come up to the day of the Renaissance, and get a quick picture of all that the Renaissance did for the cultural and esthetic life of man. But I wouldn't stop there. I would even go by the way that the man for whom I'm named had his habitat. And I would watch Martin Luther as he tacked his ninety-five theses on the door at the church in Wittenberg.

    But I wouldn't stop there. I would come on up even to 1863, and watch a vacillating president by the name of Abraham Lincoln finally come to the conclusion that he had to sign the Emancipation Proclamation. But I wouldn't stop there. I would even come up to the early thirties, and see a man grappling with the problems of the bankruptcy of his nation. And come with an eloquent cry that we have nothing to fear but fear itself.

    But I wouldn't stop there. Strangely enough, I would turn to the Almighty, and say, "If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the twentieth century, I will be happy." Now that's a strange statement to make, because the world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land. Confusion all around. That's a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars. And I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a away that men, in some strange way, are responding — something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya; Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee — the cry is always the same — "We want to be free."

    And another reason that I'm happy to live in this period is that we have been forced to a point where we're going to have to grapple with the problems that men have been trying to grapple with through history, but the demand didn't force them to do it. Survival demands that we grapple with them. Men, for years now, have been talking about war and peace. But now, no longer can they just talk about it. It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it's nonviolence or nonexistence.

    Sunday, January 15, 2012

    Recall reception scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 17 at 5 PM at Monona Terrace

    Organizers come to Madison to celebrate democracy in action

    This Tuesday, organizers will celebrate the turning-in of signatures for recalls of Gov. Scott Walker and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, as well as other senatorial recalls (including that of Sen. Maj. Leader Scott Fitzgerald). Throngs of organizers will descend upon the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center, hopeful that their hard work will translate into the eventual ouster of the governor and his conservative allies.

    The event will begin at 5 P.M. and will go until 8 P.M. on Tuesday, January 17. For those traveling from outside of Madison, the Monona Terrace is located at 1 John Nolen Dr, off of Lake Monona near downtown. (View a map here).

    Radio personality Ed Schultz will reportedly attend the event as well. Schultz, whose broadcast is heard daily in Madison on the Ed Schultz Show, was instrumental in gaining national attention for Wisconsin protesters during the marches that took place last winter.

    The protests were initially a response to Walker's assault on public employees' rights to bargain their contracts; but since that time, the governor has led the charge against several other issues that have typically defined Wisconsin, things like limited restrictions to voting, a tax scheme that rewards the rich and corporations while punishing the poor, unprecedented cuts to education and healthcare for the underprivileged, and so forth.

    It is these values as well as others that recall organizers are hoping to preserve. Gov. Walker and his Republican friends in the legislature have made it clear that these values aren't off-limits -- that, in order to grow Wisconsin jobs, they must be eliminated or restrained. But the pro-corporate values of Gov. Walker and his friends haven't yet resulted in a single month of net job growth since his budget was signed -- indeed, there isn't much evidence available to suggest that these "reforms" will do anything like what Walker claims they will.

    The destruction of these values, and the lack of anything substantially positive for the people of Wisconsin as a result of these values being diminished, is precisely why hundreds of thousands signed petitions to initiate a recall in the first place. Gov. Walker, as well as others, need to be held to account for their actions.

    Join us on Tuesday to celebrate democracy in action, with good people working for a good cause as well.

    Saturday, January 14, 2012

    Report of business creation for WI last year omits dissolved businesses

    New businesses created don't make up for net deficit in WI for 2011

    At first glance, it seems as though there was a welcomed change in the direction Wisconsin was heading under the leadership of Gov. Scott Walker. But upon further examination, it's more of the same from his administration -- more spin to cover up more bad news.

    A report released by the Department of Financial Institutions showed that there were more new businesses formed in 2011 than in 2010.

    33,190 new businesses were formed last year, 732 more than the 32,458 new businesses that were formed in 2010, a total growth of 2.3 percent in the category.

    That's a positive sign, albeit one that hardly justifies billions of dollars in tax breaks for corporations for such little change from the year before -- the 2.3 percent increase between the two years came as the state gave away $2.3 billion in revenues in the form of tax breaks. Regardless, it IS an improvement, and it should be treated as such, right?

    Ordinarily, it'd be something worth cheering about. Unfortunately, the press release from the DFI and other news outlets fail to point out the fact that these numbers simply show the number of businesses created -- they don't mention any businesses that have dissolved or disappeared. When you look at those numbers, an entirely different picture is painted (PDF).

    In 2011, 6,069 businesses filed Articles of Dissolution -- official documents signaling they no longer plan to be a business from that point on. But the big number comes from the number of businesses which faced Administrative Dissolution -- the state itself having to dissolve companies that were no longer in operation but failed to make that claim themselves. That number totaled 36,427 businesses, bringing the total number of businesses that "closed-shop" in 2011 in Wisconsin to 42,496.

    To be fair, 2,259 businesses filed Certificates of Reinstatement as well, which are used to reinstate businesses that were shut down due to Administrative Dissolution. But that total still leaves the state with a net loss of 7,047 businesses last year.

    This omission shouldn't be overlooked, by the media or the administration (PDF), and should be interpreted for what it is: a failure in terms of both business and job growth for the state of Wisconsin.

    "Burdensome" costs are exaggerated by recall opponents

    For the price of a take-out value meal, you get the right of a recall

    Folks who are against the recall on Gov. Scott Walker based on economic grounds make a case most everyone can relate to: the estimated $9 million cost is a burden to taxpayers, a burden that, according to this line of thought, is unjustly placed on the people of Wisconsin.

    $9 million is a lot of money, but it's hardly the economic crisis that these critics make it out to be. Mike Tate, the chairman of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, puts it in perspective:
    It would take more than 7 recall elections to equal the cost of Walker's tax increase on seniors and working families. It would take more than 11 recalls to equal the tuition hike Walker foisted on University of Wisconsin-System students and their families. And Walker's $2.3 billion in tax giveaways to out-of-state corporations and the super-rich would pay for more than 255 recall elections. Wisconsin simply cannot afford Scott Walker any longer.

    At the end of the day, no matter how Scott Walker and his Republican Party try to spin it, the people of Wisconsin called for this election. There is no price tag on democracy.
    Emphasis added.

    Those are great comparisons for the people of Wisconsin to consider...as is this one:

    The number of paid workers in the state during the month of November was approximately 2.74 million individuals. The costs of the recall, at $9 million total, amounts to less than $3.30 for every individual earning a paycheck.

    That's less than a value meal at your favorite take-out restaurant. When you think about it, having the right to recall government leaders, to have a people-powered democratic tool, is well worth the price of a cheeseburger, fries, and a small soda.

    If you oppose the recall because you support Gov. Walker, fine. That's your right to do. But exaggerating the economic costs of a recall -- a process that every citizen of this state has the right to initiate -- is uncalled for, especially since its costs, when all is said and done, are relatively low.

    Thursday, January 12, 2012

    Gov. Walker -- the "un-politician?"

    Walker, as a "straight-shooter-in-chief," doesn't live up to the label

    In describing Scott Walker's governing style, state Sen. Glenn Grothman created a new word:
    "Scott Walker is a rare politician who doesn't try to make everybody happy with other people's money," says Grothman, a Republican state senator from West Bend. "He's the best governor of my lifetime. He's the least 'politician-y.' He's able to say 'no' to people."
    That assessment may blindside some people -- after all, Walker has polarized Wisconsin like no other political executive has in generations. But Grothman's description of the governor is meant to be a compliment.

    What Grothman means is that Walker doesn't act politically -- he's not interested in striking deals or working with the other side in any way whatsoever. In other words, Walker's not "politician-y" because he refuses to believe that his job requires him to be a politician, at least when it comes to working with Democrats or moderate Republicans. Grothman views Walker as a "straight-shooter," or to borrow a soda marketing phrase, the "un-politician."

    A lot of people welcome this type of leader -- they govern from their own consciences (supposedly), and don't try to cater to the ideas of their opposition. There's no questioning where they stand on issues because they make it clear in how they carry out their business while in office.

    But the flip-side of the "un-politician" -- at least the kind that Walker is -- is their inability to reach across the aisle to get work done. They have an unapologetic, almost dictatorial demeanor that leaves those who voted against them (48 percent of the state, in Walker's case) out in the cold.

    Besides governing in an unforgiving fashion, Grothman's admiration of the "un-politician" Walker is off-base for a second reason: Walker is no "straight-shooter." He puts on the facade of being up front with the people, but in reality his words are at best distortions of his "accomplishments," and at worst outright lies about how "it's working."

    For example, Walker constantly touts that he balanced the budget while not raising taxes. Both portions of that statement, however, are misleading. Walker balanced the budget, but under terms he previously criticized his predecessor of following. He also cut the Earned Income Tax Credit for lower-income workers, a move that increases the taxes of those individuals.

    The most visible example of Gov. Walker's "faux straight-shooter" attitude was the ending of bargaining rights for state workers. During the 2010 campaign, Walker briefly mentioned that he would consider, as governor, ending these rights -- but only for health care, never an all-out removal of rights that came about almost 11 months ago.

    That's not being straight-forward with the people -- that's being conniving.

    Being the "un-politician" certainly has its benefits. For Walker, at a time when the state wants wants a non-political leader (perhaps more than ever), it definitely helps. But Wisconsinites don't want an abrasive governor, either. They want a DIFFERENT KIND of "un-politician," one who is atypical, not because they are hyper-partisan like Walker, but because they will transcend partisan lines to get work done.

    The type of "un-politician" that Grothman admires and Walker tries to emulate is wrong for Wisconsin -- and in the end, destructive towards its discourses.

    Monday, January 9, 2012

    The recall process transitions

    Round one of recall winding down: what's in store for round two?

    Recall petitions are set to be delivered to the state's Government Accountability Board (GAB) next week, which means the first round of the recall process will be completed. It's unknown at this point how many signatures are yet collected, but both the Democratic Party and United Wisconsin are confident that the number will far exceed the required 540,208 needed to initiate a recall election.

    So what's set to happen in the next part of the process? "Round two" will likely see three important aspects within it: educating the public, agreeing upon a candidate to challenge Walker, and fighting off legal challenges posed by Republicans.

    With regards to that last bit, the state GOP is going to challenge many of the signatures found within the petitions. That will take many hours, if not weeks, of work -- and taxpayer dollars, thanks to a ruling by a conservative court in Waukesha County that has determined that the GAB must take an active role in weeding out the "fake" names. That ruling goes against state statutes, which place the burden upon those making the challenges, not the board itself.

    The process of challenging petition signatures will likely extend the process beyond the timeline as proscribed by law. While the GOP is hoping that this will give them more time to fend off such a challenge, it may actually be beneficial to Democrats as well.

    The Democratic Party has yet to push forward a strong candidate that most everyone can agree upon. Moderate state Sen. Tim Cullen has thrown his hat in, but his policy positions hardly inspire confidence in the eyes of the progressive base of recall organizers and volunteers.

    Some names being thrown around include state Rep. Peter Barca, state Sen. Jon Erpenbach, former U.S. Congressmen Dave Obey and Steve Kagen, current U.S. Congressman Ron Kind, and others. Each candidate brings with them positive aspects that could help them win; each also has weaknesses that may or may not help them during the campaign.

    Whomever Democrats choose, it should be someone that can deliver both a progressive and a populist message, that can reach the base of support as well as connect with most of Wisconsin overall. Walker has done a good job alienating most of the state, so this shouldn't be too difficult to do.

    That candidate also has to be a good messenger -- he or she will need to be able to convey to the public why it is exactly that Gov. Walker is unfit to continue to serve. The third aspect of this next round of the recall will be our message, of why removal of the governor is absolutely necessary. This in itself won't be too difficult to achieve either.

    If you're a Wisconsin resident, you're undoubtedly to be affected by Walker's "reforms." Walker touts his jobs record (claiming he created 16,000+ jobs in his first year), his cutting of taxes, and his ambitious Act 10 (the removal of collective bargaining rights) as giving localities the "tools" necessary to fix the state's economic mess.

    But each of these claims come with a required disclaimer. The jobs added during his first year in office came about during a time when his predecessor's budget was still in play -- during Walker's budget, we've seen nothing but net job losses in every single month since it was passed.

    Taxes that were cut were for corporations and the wealthy, while poor working-class Wisconsinites actually saw their taxes go up (property tax mill rates, on average, also went up).

    And the major savings from Act 10? They came from the financial aspects of it -- increasing the contributions that public employees pay into their benefits packages -- and not necessarily the elimination of bargaining rights. Even then, many school districts across the state still depended on using federal dollars, due mostly to budget cuts from Walker (which created over a billion-dollar shortfall for education).

    So where is it exactly "working?" At every point that Walker says he's succeeded, it comes with a caveat, a small (yet important) aspect of an issue that he's hiding from the people of this state. When that information becomes commonplace, when the people of Wisconsin start to understand that the words coming out of Walker's mouth don't reflect the true picture of problems the state is facing, it will be easier for the recall to become a successful endeavor.

    The first round of the recall process is likely to be successful in gathering the required number of signatures (and then some). When we depart from that point in the process, we will need to know exactly what it is that must be done in order to make the entire thing a success. Picking a good candidate that can beat Walker, informing the public about Walker's purposeful assault on Wisconsin families in favor of corporate interests, and ensuring that we are up to task on defending each legal challenge that Republicans may make will all be major aspects to the second half of the process.

    Thursday, January 5, 2012

    Gov. Walker neglects WI job problems yet again

    Jobs from Shopko-Pamida deal a drop in the bucket compared to net losses in past six months

    Gov. Scott Walker and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) are celebrating a recent merger between Shopko and Omaha-based Pamida that will result in 120 jobs created in its corporate headquarters in Green Bay.

    And celebrate they should. Any creation of jobs in Wisconsin is something worth being enthusiastic about, a positive step within a grim economy that needs all of the jobs it can get.

    The problem is, however, that for every moment of positive job growth in Wisconsin that Gov. Walker touts as proof "it's working," there's massive layoffs that cancel that growth out, or worse yet overshadow that growth, creating a net loss in the process.

    In fact, since Walker's budget passed last June Wisconsin has seen more net job losses than any other state in the country during the same time period, beating out its nearest "competitor" by tens of thousands of net jobs lost. Wisconsin was also the second-highest state in terms of massive layoffs (those greater than 50 employees), with California being the only state beating us out in that category.

    This is not an area that we want to excel in -- job losses are a serious problem, so much so that Walker himself, in his campaign in 2010 and in his first State of the State last February, singled it out as the most important issue we had to face. Now, Walker is gearing up for another election, and scheduled to deliver another State of the State on January 25.

    What do you think he will say? What do you think he'll tout as positive growth, and what will he omit concerning the decline in jobs our state has endured?

    Walker will undoubtedly make the case that his "reforms" -- namely tax breaks for wealthy corporations and changes in tort laws that hurt the consumer -- have created positive potential for our state to prosper, instilling the conditions needed for business to start hiring.

    But if we were to accurately assess Walker's performance thus far, really take an objective look at the State of the State over the past year, we'd see his moves as working against job creation for Wisconsin, noting that what little gains we did have took place under the last months of his predecessor's budget.

    That's hardly something to celebrate -- in fact, it's an assessment that demonstrates Walker's reforms are failing to generate much of anything except for larger pocketbooks for some of his wealthiest campaign donors.

    Walker should be candid with the people of Wisconsin. He should admit his reforms aren't working, and come up with a reasoned approach to generating growth in our state.

    But that wouldn't be Scott Walker's style, now would it?

    Tuesday, January 3, 2012

    Walker ad full of lies, distortions -- and he's hoping you fall for it

    Ad attempts to cover up job losses, budget deficit and tax increases

    Gov. Scott Walker, perhaps anticipating that recall organizers will indeed reach the 540,208 signatures needed to initiate a challenge against him, issued a new "pro-ME!" ad that touts the "positive" aspects of his tenure thus far.

    Unfortunately for Walker (and really, for the entire state), the "positive" picture Walker describes is grossly exaggerated.

    To an observer of the ad who knows the facts, it is a frustrating minute-long diatribe that makes you want to scream "YOU'RE SO FULL OF IT!" nearly every five seconds. To someone who might not have had the time to follow the events of the past year so closely, however, the ad is very convincing, with its friendly music, images of Wisconsinites hard at work, and crowds applauding Walker for all he has done.

    Let's break this ad down a little bit, looking at some of the major points Walker hopes will convince the state that he deserves to stay in office. First, the ad itself:

    Titled "Results," the ad is laden with several exaggerations, false claims, and items worth pondering over. Here's a few for you to consider...
    • When I ran for governor, I promised to rein in spending, eliminate the deficit, and hold the line on taxes. And you know what? That's exactly what we did.
      Yet that's exactly what Walker DIDN'T do. Each of these items will be examined further down the line. But first, it should be pointed out that Walker left out the biggest thing he promised while he was campaigning for governor: that he would bring jobs to our state. Walker made a promise of 250,000 jobs by the end of his first term.It's interesting that Walker himself neglects to include that line in his opening statement, especially since it was the rallying cry of every Republican candidate, Walker included, during the 2010 midterm elections.
    • Thankfully, we wiped out a $3.6 billion deficit without raising taxes.
      There are two lies within this single sentence. First, Walker didn't eliminate the deficit -- at least according to his own standards on which he campaigned on. Walker promised to balance the budget using generally accepted accounting principles. These principles require that you not push the debt further down the road, properly balancing the budget (and your debts) within the fiscal year.

      But the governor didn't do that. In fact, Walker's budget is projected to create a $3 billion deficit under GAAP standards -- a larger deficit than what was projected to occur when Doyle passed his last budget.

      During his campaign against Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barret, Walker portrayed his opponent as "Worse than Doyle." It appears that Walker's own budget fits that moniker quite fine on its own.

      Now, consider lie #2: keeping taxes down. Walker's budget created a net tax reduction of millions of dollars (reducing revenues and forcing major budget cuts in the process). But those tax reductions went primarily to the rich and to corporations. And the reductions more than made up for the tax increases that Walker imposed on working Wisconsinites.

      Gov. Walker reduced to a significant amount the Earned Income Tax Credit than many poor Wisconsinites depend upon. As per one example, a single mother with two kids would see her taxes go up two percentage points as a result of Walker's budget.
    • ...government workers are now contributing to their health and pension benefits...
      Except that government workers were already contributing to their health and pension plans. These plans are deferred payments -- that is, income these workers would ordinarily be earning but instead have determined they'd rather have in the form of benefits. What really happened was that Gov. Walker required a GREATER contribution -- which, in effect, is a cut to his employees' paychecks overall.
    • In the three years before I took office, Wisconsin lost 150,000 jobs...[but] since the start of the year, Wisconsin has added thousands of jobs.
      Walker's statement here -- that the state lost 150,000 jobs in three years' time -- tries to imply that it was the fault of the previous (read: Democratic) administration. In fact, the loss in jobs was due to the national recession (which began under a Republican president).

      Walker then takes credit for the entire year of 2011, stating that we've gained thousands of jobs since he took office. Problem is, the jobs that did grow this year all occurred in the first six months -- that is, while Gov. Doyle's budget was still in effect. Since Walker's budget passed in late June we haven't seen a single month of net jobs growth in the state. In other words, Gov. Walker is taking credit for jobs created during Gov. Doyle's budget cycle, leaving out the fact that Walker's budget has yet to do anything substantial for job growth in the state.
    Walker closes out his ad the only way he knows how -- full of lies that misinform the audience to whom he is speaking to: "Instead of going back to the days of billion-dollar budget deficits, double-digit tax increases, and record job loss, let's keep moving Wisconsin forward." Yet within that sentence alone, Walker lies to you three times more: he 1) created a budget deficit under his own standards, 2) increased taxes on the working poor and 3) has produced job losses in the state that are greater than any other states' losses during the same time period.

    Presented in this manner, Walker is clearly trying to manipulate you into believing he's actually GOOD for the state. The million-dollar question is, will the people of Wisconsin buy it? Only time will tell.