Saturday, January 31, 2015

Is Walker plagiarizing in his endorsing a “states-know-best” approach to government?

States don't always produce the best ideas. Washington doesn't always produce bad ideas. Let's commit to supporting good ideas, no matter where they originate.

Gov. Scott Walker is pushing for a theory of governance that suits his run for the presidency -- a “states-know-best” approach.
Employing a theme often used by Republican governors eyeing the White House, Walker stressed that the best ideas often come from the states -- and implicitly, from the people with experience running them -- rather than D.C.

“What I see in the states and from people in this country outside of Washington is a craving for something new, something fresh, something dynamic, instead of the top-down, government-knows-best approach that we’ve seen in Washington,” Walker said.
Walker also made good use of a line that people familiar with political history in Wisconsin will recall:
In a speech in Washington, D.C., Friday morning, Gov. Scott Walker took a spin on a historic political line that will be familiar to many Madisonians.

“For a lot of folks here in our nation’s capital in Washington it’s kind of a dome,” Walker said. “In fact, I like to call it 68 square miles surrounded by reality.”
Emphasis added.

That line was first delivered by former Gov. Lee Dreyfus more than 40 years ago, though Walker implies it’s his own creation.

Anyone here know the definition of plagiarism?
Plagiarism - an act or instance of using or closely imitating the language and thoughts of another author without authorization and the representation of that author's work as one's own, as by not crediting the original author
But let’s look past that for a moment. The broader point is this: Scott Walker thinks that ideas should come from the states. That’s fine: some great ideas HAVE come from the states. Unemployment insurance, for example, was a state idea -- a Wisconsin idea, in fact -- that has since been implemented on the federal level.

Yet some of the WORST ideas came from the states, too. Slavery and Jim Crow come to mind. Same-sex marriage bans, which are fast being deemed unconstitutional, also came from the state legislatures of this nation.

The bottom line? A good idea is good, no matter where it comes from. Walker is going with his old strategy of “divide and conquer” and applying it to Washington. What does that get us? A good sound sound bite but little in policy.

For my money, I’m going to pick a candidate that has a better set of policy positions, and not division.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Walker's attacks on the UW System are inexcusable

Tax cuts for the wealthy are responsible for budget deficits, not higher education

Scott Walker is attacking education on several fronts. Most recently, he's attacking the University of Wisconsin.

Higher education is taking a huge hit in his latest budget scheme. Walker plans to cut spending at UW campuses by $300 million -- or roughly a 13 percent drop -- over the next two years.

Those cuts would be unprecedented. "[A] $300 million cut to the UW System is the single largest cut that we would sustain if it were to remain at that level," according to UW-Manitowoc Dean Charles Clark.

Walker also suggested that campuses "might be able to make savings just by asking faculty and staff to consider teaching one more class a semester."

"I call it Act 10 for the UW," Walker said.

But that plan doesn't bode well with System President Ray Cross.

"It just reflects a lack of understanding," Cross said.

Indeed, Cross points out that professors typically work between 50-60 hours per week at UW campuses. Walker's suggestion is that they work more?

(Sidebar: How many hours of actual work does Walker perform? There's a question that's going unanswered.)

Of course, these cuts and measures wouldn't be necessary if we had simply invested our state budgets better. Walker's budget deficits and the need to fix them are what's driving these outlandish proposals, not the work habits of our universities' faculties.

Instead of cutting education, we should invest our priorities in better ways. Hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks, mainly benefiting Wisconsin's wealthiest, isn't responsible budgeting. And putting the burden on the UW System is hardly how our campuses became some of the top places in the world to get an education.

Forcing faculty to work longer and drastically cutting their resources is going to have one result: a "brain drain," a loss of our top professors who will undoubtedly relocate because of Walker's attacks on them.

Walker himself is a college dropout, but that shouldn't matter. Even people who don't earn a higher education understand the value of it, of what it brings to our state. The societal impact of our universities, not to mention the jobs that they bring with them, is enough to make people understand that these cuts, this treatment of our UW faculty, is unfair and unwarranted.

Walker needs to back off. Big time.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Kleefisch opposes e-cig ban, but is he right to do so?

Question of "owners' rights" doesn't trump right to be healthy in public setting

Joel Kleefisch is opposed to expanding the smoking ban in Wisconsin to include e-cigarettes.

E-cigarette smoking, or vaping, is causing quite a stir nationwide. Proponents of vaping consider it harmless, and view it as a means towards eventually kicking the habit overall, although scientific studies have yet to definitively prove such a claim.

Kleefisch, a Republican Assemblyman and husband to Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, is proposing a bill protecting the rights of business owners to allow e-cigarettes in their establishments.

"This new nanny state needs to stop interfering," said Kleefisch.

He added: "Let the customers decide with their pocketbooks" on whether specific businesses should allow or disallow vaping.

Such line of thinking is dismissive of the greater overall point: if cigarette smoke is bad, then patrons who don't want to inhale it have little choice but to do so. The same should be true of e-cigarettes: if they're bad, then those who are forced to be around it shouldn't have to be, when in a public space.

The smoking ban on regular cigarettes has worked remarkably. Personally, I remember walking into bars, never smoking a single cigarette, and walking out hours later smelling like I covered myself in ashtray refuse. Smelling that smoke on my body, it was clear that a significant portion had seeped into my lungs as well. That's no longer the case today.

Cigarette smell may not be part of the e-cigarette experience, but the harmful chemicals in e-cigarettes aren't gone just because they're in vapor form. Indeed, some studies suggest that up to four times as much metallic by-product can be produced from vaping versus smoking, and that a resistance to antibiotics can result from e-cigarette inhalation as well.

With the effects of second-hand e-cigarette smoking clearly identified, it's only logical that the practice should be enforced the same way that we've addressed conventional smoking.

The ban on indoor smoking has been wildly successful and popular. Extending it to e-cigarettes -- banning the use indoors in public establishments, but not outright banning for personal use -- makes natural sense.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Walker’s 2015 budget deficit is two times larger than what it was in 2011

Doyle’s deficit was the result of economic catastrophe; Walker’s deficit came during a time of national prosperity

In January of 2011 Wisconsin was dealing with a $137 million budget deficit. Gov. Scott Walker considered the deficit a failure of the Jim Doyle administration, the governor who proceeded him in office.

Using this deficit, Gov. Walker justified stripping public employees of their bargaining rights, and raised the amounts that they would have to contribute towards their health and pension plans.

Over the course of the next four years, Walker and his Republican allies in the legislature made several other “reforms,” including significant tax breaks that mainly benefited the wealthy in the state. Oftentimes the effects of these tax cuts were exaggerated, with Walker claiming that the typical family saw significant savings. In reality they only amounted to an extra fast-food value meal per week for the average middle class family.

Fast-forward to this year: today we discover that Wisconsin’s 2015 deficit, at $283 million, is more than two times larger than it was in 2011.

Walker and Republicans aren’t too worried about the budget deficit. They aren’t even planning on producing a budget repair bill, like they did in 2011.

Doing so, of course, would be an admission of defeat, of recognizing a failure of Walker’s budgeting tactics. Yet that’s precisely what’s needed from this administration -- an admission that, through all of their reforms, their tax breaks, and everything else they rammed through legislatively, they were putting Wisconsin on the wrong path.

But there’s more to ponder over. Consider this: former Gov. Doyle’s budget deficit came during the middle of a global economic recession. Thousands of Wisconsinites flooded welfare programs that weren’t properly funded to handle such a catastrophic event. It’s hard to blame Doyle for a deficit when you remember that the entire country -- and nations across the world -- were going through the same thing. 

Conversely Gov. Scott Walker’s budget deficit (again, twice the size of Doyle’s) came amid a national economic recovery. The United States as a whole is doing much better than it was in 2011. In fact, since Obama came into office in 2009 the national deficit has been cut by nearly two-thirds. So while the national deficit has been reduced, the state deficit has doubled.

Tell us, Gov. Walker -- is it really “working” in Wisconsin? If you’re honest with yourself, you know the answer to be “no.”

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The truth about Wisconsin’s regressive tax scheme

The poor and middle classes are paying higher rates in excise, sales and income taxes than the top 1 percent in the state

Taxes in Wisconsin. We talk about them all the time, mostly about how they’re too high and unfair.

It turns out that’s only half the story. They’re too high and unfair, for sure, but only for certain people -- the poor and middle classes.

The highest 1 percent of income earners in the state -- households earning more than $399,000 annually -- pay just 5.6 percent of their earnings towards excise, sales and income taxes on average.

You’d expect that, in a generous society like Wisconsin’s, the poorest among us would be paying a significantly smaller portion of their income towards taxes.

You’d be wrong. The poorest 20 percent of households in Wisconsin (those that earn less than $22,000 yearly) are paying, on average, 5.8 percent on those same taxes.

The poor and middle class pay higher rates than the top 1%

The extremely poor are paying more proportionally than the extremely wealthy. That’s fairness in taxation? That’s how Scott Walker’s reforms are supposedly making things better for the state?

Things weren’t like this before Walker came to office. In 2009 the lowest 20 percent of earners in Wisconsin paid the same rate as the highest 1 percent of earners when it came to excise, sales and income taxes. But now, the tax reforms that Walker has implemented places the tax burden on the backs of the poor and middle classes.

Think about it this way: for every $50 earned the wealthiest in the state are paying $2.80 in excise, sales and income taxes. Meanwhile, low-income Wisconsinites are paying $2.90 for every $50 that they earn.

It’s a worse situation for the middle class. Families earning between $38,000 to $91,000 annually are paying around 7 percent of their incomes towards excise, sales and income taxes. For every $50 they earn, they can expect to pay $3.50 towards those taxes.

Taxes are, of course, a necessity in any society. We can complain about them all we want, but if we want the services that government provides, we can’t expect to pay nothing.

Yet expecting the weakest among us to shoulder a higher burden than the most affluent is mind-boggling. Apparently it’s business-as-usual for Scott Walker and his Republican-run legislature.

For most Wisconsinites, it’s just strictly unfair.

The statistical information for this post came from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP). You can find the information at their website.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Walker says Clinton to blame for geopolitical "messes," admires Reagan for firing people

Wisconsin's governor makes a strong case for why he'd make a terrible foreign policy leader

Gov. Scott Walker continues to rip on Hillary Clinton.

While discussing her experience as Secretary of State, Walker had less than stellar opinions about the former first lady, questioning whether her time in the executive branch would be a positive attribute for her potential run for president.

"Hillary Clinton had a lot of experience being the Secretary of State, but you look at most of the places where she played a direct hand, Russia, the Middle East and other places around the world, and it’s largely messed up right now."

Yes, Russia and the Middle East are both "messed up" right now. Pinning that on Hillary Clinton is similarly messed up.

Disregarding the 70 years of Soviet rule, nearly 50 years of the Cold War, and more than 20 years of post-communist Russian society is a huge historical error. Ignoring all of that history and placing the blame of Vladimir Putin's ambitions squarely on Hillary Clinton is just plain idiotic.

The same can be said for the problems of the Middle East. The geopolitical issues of that area are hardly the making of Hillary Clinton, who served as Secretary of State for a mere four years. As for how screwed up it is, certainly former President George W. Bush carries more of the blame than Mrs. Clinton. But Walker neglects to comment on how Bush's policies affected the region.

Walker makes Clinton out to be the problem in both situations. But who does Walker admire when it comes to foreign policy? His hero, Ronald Reagan. And the best foreign policy decision Reagan made, according to Walker?

Firing people.
[Walker] said one of the most powerful foreign policy decisions in our lifetime was President Ronald Reagan's decision to fire striking air traffic controllers, because it showed allies and adversaries around the world that he was serious.
Say what you will about Scott Walker -- at least his comments are consistently wrong.

Monday, January 19, 2015

MLK Day: Celebrate successes, strive for more change in society

Much work remains to make King's Dream a reality

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. For too many of us it's simply a day off, a time to catch up on personal business and to maybe sleep in a few extra hours.

Many others take this holiday much more seriously, commemorating it as a day to celebrate a great man and Civil Rights hero. Speeches and events across the nation exemplify what King stood for and why this day was created in his honor.

Has America changed much since 1963, when King gave his "I Have A Dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, or since his assassination in 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee? Codified law has certainly given people of color more equality. Outright discrimination, in employment, housing and other realms, is illegal, and rightfully so.

But muted discrimination remains prevalent. In the past, racism was a clear aspect of a person's character. People were openly stating they were for segregation in schools, and that they preferred their daughters to marry nice, white men. These days blatant racism has been exchanged for more subtle tactics. A person might not get hired because of their skin color, or may be given different treatment in a court of law because of their heritage, whether it's acknowledged out loud or not.

Sometimes racism is part of a person's conscious behavior. Other times it's a subtle feature that they themselves may not even realize they have. Regardless, much work for the nation remains.

King's dream was for his children to one day be able to live in a world where they could stand hand-in-hand with other children of varying shades of skin color. His dream was that a person's character, not their physical attributes, would determine their standing in society.

It's naive to think that we've reached that dream -- even in Madison much is left to be desired. We've made progress for sure, and it shouldn't be overlooked. We celebrate those successes today in honor of King. Tomorrow, the work continues to make his dream a reality.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Scott Walker wrongly criticizes Hillary Clinton for her proximity to Washington

Walker tries using "divide and conquer" strategy in labeling Clinton as a career politician

Gov. Scott Walker doesn’t like that Hillary Clinton has spent a considerable part of her life in Washington.
“She lives in Washington. She works in Washington. She came to Washington through this president and his administration,” Walker said of Clinton, Politico’s Alex Insenstadt reported. “She was in Washington when she was a United States senator. She was in Washington when her husband was president of the United States. You look at everything that people dislike about Washington, and she embodies it.”
In his soliloquy about Washington (perhaps breaking the record for how many times the capital city could be mentioned in a single breath), Walker is going back to a tried-and-true strategy of his: divide and conquer.

Walker is trying to paint himself as the outsider, as someone who deserves to be a presidential contender due to his geographical distance from DC. Meanwhile, he portrays Clinton as an insider, as someone who has been part of the culture and influence of Washington for far too long.

Why does it matter? Walker wants Clinton to appear as a lifelong politician. And as DC politicians aren’t entirely popular these days, pinning the title of “Washington Insider” on Hillary can only help Walker with his potential presidential run.

Yet it’s Scott Walker who is more deserving of the moniker -- as the liberal One Wisconsin points out, Walker is more of a career politician than Hillary Clinton is:

More importantly, the discussion that Walker is trying to bring up about Clinton ignores important aspects about her character and policy positions. So she’s lived in Washington. Big deal. Who gives a hoot if she lived there for a considerable part of her life? What difference does it make on the issues?

I personally don’t care if a politician has been in office for 30 years or 3 months -- if they’ve got good ideas, they’re worth electing. I wrote in 2010 that a career politician is a good sign -- it’s indicative that the people want to continue electing that person as their representative. The founders of our nation were against term limits for that very reason. If a politician was good at their job, and continued being elected by the people, then why put a stop to that?

Don’t believe me? Read what founding father Benjamin Rush said about career politicians:
Government is a science, and can never be perfect in America, until we encourage men to devote not only three years, but their whole lives to it.
Gov. Scott Walker is dismissive of career politicians in Washington because it suits him to be. He can use the angst that the general public has against such leaders to his advantage, and it’s clear that he plans to do just that in his potential run for president.

But we should reject that notion. We should look past the idea of despising career politicians simply because they’ve dedicated their lives government service. Instead, we should put focus on the policies and characters of the candidates. Our government will work much better if we put our interests on those qualities.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

WisDems Chairman Mike Tate makes correct call in choosing to step down

A series of electoral defeats and party mismanagement signals it's time for a change at the DPW

I first met Mike Tate in 2007 during the Democratic Leadership Institute, a workshop of sorts for young and aspiring Democratic Party operatives in the state of Wisconsin. Tate was a co-manager of the program and he did a great job organizing the event with many wonderful speakers.

In the fall of 2008 I again crossed paths with Tate when I worked with Advancing Wisconsin, canvassing across several communities in the state in order to get then-candidate Barack Obama elected president, as well as several Assembly races in the areas we were walking. Tate was head of the organization at that time, and I’ll admit I took some pride in being able to say I knew who he was to several of my fellow canvassers.

In 2009 Tate became the youngest state party chair of the nation, at age 30, when he won control of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. At that time I was excited about Tate’s promotion. A younger guy myself, I figured a generational transition at the party was beneficial, especially if we were to engage Millennials in the democratic process.

Today, Mike Tate has announced he won’t seek another term as head of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. And he’s right not to seek it.

What has changed since 2010? Why don’t I sing Tate’s praises, and bemoan this announcement?

A plethora of missteps, electoral defeats and mismanagement has caused me to lose faith in Tate’s leadership. Tate took office right before the Tea Party wave of 2010, and it’s hard to blame him for the losses we saw in that year. However, a compounding number of events following that wave -- a fumbled opportunity to recall Gov. Scott Walker and further losses of state legislative seats in 2014, in addition to another gubernatorial loss (the third in 4 years), among them -- makes it clear that Tate hasn’t done his job very well.

An interesting article in this week’s Capital Times takes a close look at two very similar states. In Minnesota, where Democrats won and held most of their offices from 2010-2014, things are looking pretty bright. Same-sex marriage was passed legislatively, the Affordable Care Act was implemented fully and taxes were raised on the wealthy. The minimum wage was raised and a fair wage law was enacted.

In Wisconsin, we went the other direction. Gov. Walker refused Medicaid dollars, and kicked tens of thousands of families off of BadgerCare. It took a court ruling for us to accept same-sex marriage (this in a state where worker rights for homosexuals were first recognized in the 1980s). Our governor has called raising the minimum wage a “political stunt” and refused to consider its necessity. Taxes were cut, and as a result education saw its largest cuts in our state’s history. And lest we forget, a law strengthening a women’s ability to seek redress after discovering she was paid unfairly was repealed.

(These are just a handful of stories that highlight Wisconsin under Walker’s rule. Many more dismal stories could fill this page.)

To be sure, these events aren’t the fault of Mike Tate. Scott Walker and his Republican-led legislature enacted these laws. But the state Democratic Party is in disarray; we’ve seen more defense and not enough offense from our side. Tate is responsible for that.

Think about it: how much of the 2014 gubernatorial race was spent defending Mary Burke as a candidate? While the issues of the minimum wage and health care expansion did see some light, those issues and a host of other ones should have been pounded continuously by the party.

We didn’t see that, or at the very least it wasn’t articulated loudly enough.

In many ways the Democratic Party could have capitalized on the public’s attitudes, but didn’t. The last Marquette Law School poll (PDF) before the election showed that Wisconsin still had the flame of a progressive streak within itself.

A majority of state voters supported raising the minimum wage. A majority also supported accepting federal Medicaid dollars. And a majority opposed requiring women to undergo unnecessary ultrasounds before having an abortion. A majority agreed that tax cuts do more to help the wealthy, and a majority believed that the state needed to better fund our state’s public schools.

Yet a majority still voted for Gov. Scott Walker to remain in office. While the state Democratic Party could have taken advantage of public sentiment on all the issues listed above and more, they didn’t. And when an organization fails to perform positively, the head of that organization has to be held accountable for its missteps.

I applaud Mike Tate for making his decision to step down rather than run for another term as party chair. It’s one decision he’s made in recent months that won’t have Democrats split.


What should the next chair do to make things right? He or she needs to enact reforms that make the entire state competitive. Democrats in Wisconsin rely too heavily on the Madison/Milwaukee vote. While Dems will need those voters again in the years ahead, they also need to branch out to other corners of the state. What can the DPW offer to voters in Grant, Shawano, St. Croix, or even Waukesha Counties?

This doesn’t mean we have to capitulate on the issues. Far from it. Rather, it means expanding core beliefs and messaging to include these citizens. It means an effective strategy to convince these voters that the party is going to change things in the state for the better.

It means better funding and use of resources to challenge Republican strongholds, to expand numbers in the legislature. It means producing a “bench” of candidates that’s wider than Russ Feingold (a great politician to be sure, but one whom we cannot rely upon for every statewide race).

Most of all it means winning an election that isn’t held during a presidential election year. Democrats have done it before. They can do it again.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Former Mayor Dave suggests concealed carry didn’t make WI safer (he’s right, too)

Evidence shows violent crime went up under years of concealed carry

Earlier this week former Mayor Dave Cieslewicz came out strongly against concealed carry -- going so far as to suggest we should repeal Wisconsin’s relatively new law passed in 2011:
As we move around our neighborhoods in Wisconsin or really anywhere in America these days, we have no idea who might be carrying a loaded weapon. I have no confidence that anyone who is paranoid enough to believe that doing so actually makes them safer would have the prudence and judgment to use that weapon in the extremely rare case where some threat actually exists. It's much more likely that a loaded gun in a crowded store will be used to the kind of tragic end that occurred in Idaho.

I know it won't happen any time soon, but let's start a movement to repeal these dangerous laws allowing people to carry concealed weapons.
Last December I took a look at the evidence on concealed carry since it was passed, demonstrating through in-depth statistical evidence that the law, contrary to what Gov. Scott Walker promised when he signed it, has not made us safer.

Oddly enough, violent crime did go down in Wisconsin during the ten years of the federal assault weapons ban, suggesting that the ban was successful in curtailing violence in the state.

The average crime rate of the two years that Wisconsin has had concealed carry on the books saw a significantly higher rate of violent crime than the average seen during the ten years of the assault weapons ban.

Citizen Dave is absolutely right in his assessment: we aren’t safer because of laws like concealed carry, and a movement to curtail, limit or even repeal these laws is desperately needed.

Madison ban on indoor e-cigarettes the right move to make

Science on "vaping" demonstrates that it has hazardous effects on smokers, including secondhand inhalation

A recent ban on indoor e-cigarette smoking in Madison is the right path to take. The state of Wisconsin, which already has a ban on “conventional” indoor cigarette smoking, should follow suit.

While many claim that smoking e-cigarettes, or “vaping,” helps to curtail smoking overall (eventually leading towards quitting completely), the evidence on the “benefits” of vaping is lacking.

The science on e-cigarettes is incomplete at this point, but some early studies suggest it’s still a public health concern. In some ways, it may even be worse than conventional smoking:
Electronic cigarettes, marketed as safer than regular cigarettes, deliver a cocktail of toxic chemicals including carcinogens into the lungs, new studies show. Using e-cigarettes may even make bacterial infections resistant to antibiotics, according to one study.
Emphasis added.

Secondhand e-cigarette smoke may be harmful as well, in ways unimagined by smokers in the past. Metals like chromium and nickel are present in e-cigarette smoke, in some cases at levels four times higher than that in conventional smoking.

Stipulating that e-cigarettes and regular smoking are to be treated equally in the city of Madison is the right direction to take. Until further research is conducted proving definitively that vaping causes no harm to those surrounding e-cigarette smokers, we should err on the side of caution, assuming that the harm does exist.

Madison is a leader on this move, and other communities should follow the direction it has taken. The state of Wisconsin as a whole should consider a measure banning indoor e-cigarette use as well.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Constitutional amendments that politicize judiciary could pass

It could be up to the people to stop Republicans from changing the judiciary

The proposed constitutional amendment by state Republican lawmakers to limit the age of sitting State Supreme Court justices to 75 is a clear political attack on Justice Shirley Abrahamson.

The liberal justice, at age 81, would have to retire immediately. With her required departure, the other justices would lose their current Chief Justice  and would have to defer to the next senior member on the bench.

That is, unless another constitutional amendment passes allowing justices to select their own leader.

Both measures are clear attempts to limit the voices and powers of the liberal bloc of justices in the state’s highest court. If conservative lawmakers have their way, they will make the court more political in nature -- creating a “mini election” within the confines of the court that would create more instances of infighting for the justices to deal with.

There’s a very real chance both amendments could pass the required two terms of the state legislature. The sizable majorities currently in the legislature, and the unlikely chance that any changes to those numbers could occur (due to questionable redistricting), means that there’s not much stopping these measures from reaching ballot status for Wisconsin voters to vote on.

If that does happen, it will be up to us, the people of Wisconsin, to stop such an egregious and blatantly political moves to change the makeup of the State Supreme Court.