Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Walker gets First Amendment (and scope of SCOTUS ruling) all wrong

Rights are protected for ALL Americans, not just specific religious beliefs

Following the Supreme Court ruling that established the right of same-sex couples to receive equal marriage rights across the country, Gov. Scott Walker was deeply upset.

Calling the decision a “grave mistake,” Walker expressed that he would fight on against the ruling, and supports the push for an amendment allowing states the right to discriminate against gay and lesbian households.

Walker also made a lengthy statement about the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution:
Recognizing that our founders made our Constitution difficult to amend, I am reminded that it was first amended to protect our “first freedom” — the free exercise of religion. The First Amendment does not simply protect a narrow “right to worship,” but provides broad protection to individuals and institutions to worship and act in accordance with their religious beliefs.
It’s true that the First Amendment provides those protections. But for Walker, it seems as though he’s implying those protections aren’t also granted to same-sex couples.

There are several churches that proudly allow gay and lesbian parishioners to attend their services, and most of those churches will be marrying couples wishing to gain marriage rights. Are their First Amendment rights also protected, or is the “first freedom” narrower in Walker’s mind?

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution specifically stipulates that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Walker seems to like the second half of that clause, but takes no note of the first half, that no religion is established as law in the country. As such, his religious principles cannot define what is or isn’t state-sanctioned marriage.

His own church (and any other church that wishes to discriminate against gay and lesbian couples) is certainly free to restrict its membership and whom it marries; but the law cannot.

In fact, nothing in the Supreme Court’s decision says that churches can’t say no to same-sex marriage. That has always been the right of the church, and will continue on following this ruling.

But Walker seems to think that he is somehow the protector of that right. “No one wants to live in a country where the government coerces people to act in opposition to their conscience,” he said. “We will continue to fight for the freedoms of all Americans.”

Except, of course, for the freedom to marry the person you love. That’s a freedom Gov. Scott Walker, and most of his Republican nomination opponents, won’t fight to defend.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

#LoveWins across the nation, but opposition remains

The struggle for marriage equality has been a long one -- and it's not over yet

I've been in favor of marriage equality for a long time. 

Ten years ago I wrote for my college newspaper, the UW-Milwaukee Post. I was an opinion writer, focusing on national and local political topics that I felt needed to be discussed.

Among those issues, I frequently wrote about the need to allow same-sex couples the right to marriage benefits.

In November 2005 I wrote:
Denying homosexuals the right to marry is denying their pursuit of happiness...While religious conservatives have arguably pursued their happiness -- by not allowing gay couples to be recognized by a secular state as married -- their pursuit has destroyed the possibility for [same-sex couples] to pursue their own happiness.
The following year the state of Wisconsin passed a ban on same-sex marriages. In the run-up to that, I wrote columns urging people to vote against the ban.

In March of 2006 I wrote:
To allow this amendment to pass would amount to nothing more than blatant discrimination
And in September of 2006, just months before the ban was passed, I wrote:
We are about to write discrimination into our state constitution. Because some of us hold our religious views so strongly, we will soon [ban] two people from ever expressing their love for one another in a fashion that would grant them the same benefits that straight couples receive.
Wisconsinites would eventually shift their opinion on the ban, but not before it was passed as law, unchangeable unless through another amendment -- or unless national action was taken.

Last year, the state of Wisconsin was forced to allow same-sex couples the same marriage rights that straight couples receive when a federal court ruled the state ban was unconstitutional. Most in the state were happy with the decision, while some vowed to fight on against it.

This past week, however, the Supreme Court of the United States affirmed that court decision, as well as a slew of others, specifying that marriage equality was now the official law of the land.

It’s been a long time coming -- but now, gay and lesbian couples are finally allowed to get married in the United States, no matter where they are.

I applaud the Supreme Court’s decision -- laws prohibiting same-sex marriage were discriminatory and wrong. And even where civil unions or domestic registries were allowable, it created a “separate but unequal” class of people who were denied privileges on one basis and one basis only:

That who they loved didn’t fit with what some people had in mind.

We are all free to pursue our own measure of happiness, so long as that pursuit doesn’t stifle someone else’s livelihood. Gay or lesbian couples, no matter how much conservatives may say otherwise, do not stifle the happiness of others when they receive a license formally granting them marriage benefits.

The opposite was definitely true: when bans on marriage equality were put in place, they put burdens on the lives of same-sex families, limiting their ability to visit each other in the hospital, dismissing their inheritance rights, or disallowing partners to have equal parenting rights, among many other protections.

Those days are now over: marriage equality is here, and now any American, regardless of their sexual orientation, can marry the person whom they choose to love.

There will be continued attacks, of course, on this newly gained right. Some will simply refuse to marry same-sex couples, even if it means that heterosexual marriages have to stop also. Others, like Gov. Scott Walker, will aim to promote a marriage amendment to the U.S. Constitution allowing states the right to restrict the right of marriage to include only “one man and one woman.”

And still others will remain bigoted in their livelihood. Society has not fully accepted same-sex love quite yet, and the struggle remains real for gay and lesbian couples even after this Supreme Court ruling.

We mustn’t forget that this win for progress could very well be destroyed in the years to come. The Supreme Court ruled in a narrow 5-4 decision in favor of equality; if a Republican president is elected in 2016, it could mean that a new Supreme Court, composed of a larger segment of conservative justices, could undo this victory with a series of other judgments favoring small-mindedness.

That cannot be allowed to happen. We must dedicate ourselves to preserving the freedom to marry for years to come, fighting against attempts to dismantle marriage equality when those who fear this new right try their hardest to remove it from law.

Celebrate this momentous occasion. It is indeed a great day, worth remembering for years to come.

But be prepared also to dig your heels in deep -- the fight to undo this ruling, and to remove the rights now just won for same-sex couples, will remain for years into the future.

To opponents of marriage equality, I say this: “Just try it.” America has changed, and for the better. Opposing marriage equality will only do you more harm than good.

And to Gov. Scott Walker specifically -- good luck winning the presidency on a platform of small-mindedness. We won’t forget your position on equality, and it won’t help you after your party’s nomination process.

#LoveWins in America.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Violent crime, suicides will go up, following repeal of 48-hour waiting period

Two grim predictions on the effects of repealing the 48-hour waiting period to buy guns

A week after a horrific shooting in Charleston, South Carolina left nine dead, Gov. Scott Walker signed away the requirement to allow a 48-hour waiting period before any individual could purchase a gun in the state.

He signed the law repealing the ban, as well as another law allowing retired law enforcement officers to carry guns on school grounds, in spite of the violence last week, because (in his words) waiting on signing or drawing back from the signing ceremony “would have given people the erroneous opinion” the bills “had anything to do with what happened in Charleston.”

That makes it better?

I can make two predictions based on the repeal of the law requiring a 48-hour waiting period. Sadly, both of them are pretty grim.

The first: Wisconsin’s suicide rate will go up. Statistically, waiting periods during the Brady Law helped prevent at least some suicides from occurring during the 1990s. And it’s been proven that the means to a suicide matters:
So what we’re left with is this: people who attempt suicide are very impulsive in their actions, usually making the decision to kill themselves and then acting on it within the first twenty minutes of doing so. Giving these people faster access to guns, in my mind, will undoubtedly lead to a higher suicide rate in the state.

As for my second prediction: Wisconsin will see higher rates of violent crime. This is in conjunction with several other bills that Scott Walker has signed into law this decade that have worked to deregulate gun ownership in the state.

After the governor signed concealed carry into law, we experienced a higher rate of violent crime, in spite of Walker actually promising that concealed carry would make “Wisconsin safer for all responsible, law abiding citizens.”

The deregulation of gun laws in the state didn’t make things safer. Violent crime went up, not down, as these charts demonstrate:

Why am I so confident in my predictions? Because it’s happened before, in South Dakota. After that state removed their gun waiting period (coincidentally, also a 48-hour wait), violent crime saw a dramatic rate increase of more than 70 percent from 2009 to 2013. And the suicide rate went up by more than 16 percent in 2010 compared to the previous four-year average.

Granted, there aren't any concrete studies that demonstrate that the change in policy actually resulted in these higher statistics. But if history is any indicator, it has shown that the deregulation of gun laws -- whether on the federal level or in the state -- has led to a higher rate of violence in Wisconsin.

Gov. Scott Walker is choosing to ignore this evidence as he seeks to uphold his A-Plus rating from the NRA ahead of a presidential run. It's shameful, and Wisconsin deserves better (and I'm really getting tired of saying that).

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Removing Confederate flag a positive start -- but it shouldn't be the final reaction to the tragedy in Charleston

More changes related to attitudes on race and gun ownership are needed in the wake of recent societal violence

The removal of the Confederate Flag from various sites, businesses and state grounds is a huge milestone for our nation. A symbol that has sustained a long history of being associated with hate and racism is finally being removed, and the importance of its departure should not be overlooked.

But let’s be honest with ourselves -- the Confederate Flag was but a small part of what drove a man to kill nine people in a house of worship this month.

Racism will continue to exist, and violence towards minorities will only escalate, unless we challenge ourselves to open our minds and our attitudes towards others. We cannot continue down the path we’re going.

When we find that our nation has a sizable number of its citizens who are flagrantly against a sitting president based on the color of his skin, or when racial divides separate our understanding of a racially motivated action against an innocent black person, we have a serious problem on our hands that needed to be addressed decades ago.

At the beginning of President Barack Obama’s term several commentators suggested we were entering a “post-partisan,” and what’s more a “post-racial” time in our society.

I felt like that was ambitious thinking (to put it mildly). Surely we are better off now than when we were during the era of Jim Crow. But that doesn’t mean we are perfect -- and while perfection may never be achieved, striving towards the goal of racial harmony ought to be a continuous goal we are forever chasing.

Our society also needs to take a hard look at itself when it comes to gun culture. We have guarantees to owning weaponry, and those guarantees needn’t be taken away. But regulation of some kind is needed, limiting who can purchase or transfer weapons.

The improper allowance of the transfer of weaponry in this country is astonishing, and needs to be remedied soon before more incidents like what happened in Charleston happen again.

We have it in our power to make changes that move our society in positive directions. The movement to take the Confederate Flag down from statehouses across the country ought to continue, and is a good start. But it is wrong to believe it is the final step or reaction to have in the wake of this tragedy.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Walker’s jobs performance a lesson in failure

State growth from 2010 to 2014 was 60 percent slower than national average, worst among bordering states

Quarterly figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics came out this week -- and the numbers once called the “gold standard” by the Scott Walker administration are showing that his policies have stifled Wisconsin’s job growth.

From December of 2013 to December of 2014 -- the fourth year of Gov. Walker’s tenure -- the state ranked 38th in the nation in job creation, with just 35,759 total private sector jobs created in that time.

The final year of Walker’s first term also marks an important milestone: in this year, the governor’s pledge of 250,000 jobs, which he promised to create in 2010 (helping to win him his current seat), was due. And how did Walker stack up?

It’s clear Wisconsin (under Walker) is failing in job growth compared to elsewhere

Of the 250,000 jobs he promised, Wisconsin only garnered about 51.7 percent of that number, or just under 130,000 jobs.

To some, that still sounds like a lot. But perspective is needed -- the growth represents a four-year rate of about 5.69 percent. That’s the smallest rate of growth among the states that neighbor us.

Illinois grew by 5.98 percent during that time. Michigan saw an 11.41 percent growth. Iowa grew by 6.5 percent, and Minnesota grew by 8.04 percent. The average rate across the country was more than 9.3 percent.

That national point-of-view is especially telling. From December of 2010 to December 2014 -- the four years that Walker has run the state -- Wisconsin grew jobs slower than 36 other states (DC included).

Demand stifled in the state

How did Wisconsin fail so badly? The answer is simple: demand was stifled.

When people are short on money, they typically spend less of it, holding onto what they can in case they need it later.

So when taxes are raised on the poor, when health insurance options are denied to struggling families, and when workers’ paychecks are cut (in private and public sectors), it makes it harder for the consumer class to spend money.

That creates a ripple effect: with less money spent, businesses across the state struggle to expand, or even to stay afloat. They can’t hire without more capital, but they have no incentive to hire without a product being needed either. Demand provides both.

That’s why huge cuts in taxes to the rich and corporations fail to grow jobs -- it stifles growth, because capital unattached to demand for a product is created.

Companies that get thousands of dollars in tax breaks don’t need to spend it on creating a labor force if they got that money outside of the cycle of supply and demand. They simply pocket the revenues.

Does Walker notice Wisconsin is struggling?

The big question is whether Walker notices -- or cares -- that the state he “leads” is even in trouble.

While he campaigns for president across the country, Walker is trying to rush through a “crap” budget that even his allies in the legislature don’t like.

The quality of the budget he proposed doesn't matter, however, at least to Walker. The faster he can get the budget passed, the sooner he can start his run for president in earnest.

The budget is riddled with serious problems, including massive cuts to education that even Republicans said needed restoring.

That doesn’t bother Walker. His budget submission was more of a mission statement for his impending run rather than a fix for Wisconsin’s problems.

His refusal to acknowledge the mess in jobs the state is in is equally troubling. This isn’t a simple case of the emperor realizing he’s not wearing any clothes -- this is Gov. Walker, with the dire job numbers sitting right in front of him, still holding out and saying he’s a leading model for the nation to follow.

Walker spins, but he can't hide from the data

There have been gains in jobs since Walker took office, but I fear they have been made in spite of Walker’s initiatives rather than because of them. When your state is 60 percent slower than the national rate of recovery during your time in office, that’s not progress -- it’s failure.
Wisconsinites are coming to realize that Walker’s “reforms” haven’t been a godsend -- instead, they’ve resulted in one of the slowest state economies in the Midwest, indeed, within the nation overall.

We can’t afford more of this failure. When Walker does finally decide to resign, Wisconsin will have to reassess how it goes about growing jobs in the future.

Monday, June 8, 2015

GOP lawmakers choose to shoot the messenger in plan to abolish Audit Bureau

Instead of fixing problems at WEDC, legislators want to destroy the agency that exposed legitimate problems

Scott Walker’s flagship jobs creation agency, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, has had many noticeable and embarrassing problems since it was first put into place.

Many of the issues, including excessive and questionable loans to companies that have donated large sums of money to Gov. Scott Walker’s gubernatorial campaign, have made it abundantly clear that the WEDC is in dire need of oversight.

The Legislative Audit Bureau, a nonpartisan government board that has overseen state agencies since 1965, brought to light many of the controversies and problems associated with the WEDC.

To reward this exemplary work, to ensure that the LAB continues to oversee excessive and egregious spending of taxpayer dollars, the Republicans in the state legislature...plan to completely dismantle the agency.

Wait, what?

Two Republican state representatives, David Craig of Big Bend and Adam Jarchow of Balsam Lake, are circulating a proposal among their colleagues that seeks to eliminate the LAB and replace it with a new auditing agency.

The bill as it’s currently being discussed, according to Democratic State Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, would put the direction of what gets audited and when in the hands of the Assembly Speaker and the Senate Majority Leader -- effectively making the nonpartisan LAB into an entirely partisan entity, only auditing when one of those two members deem it necessary.

The current purpose of the LAB is to maintain “effective oversight of state operations,” and to make “recommendations for improvements in agency operations” as problems arise.

How confident can we be that any new agency, which will derive its auditing methods from politically-driven individuals, could be effective in making government more transparent?

The catalyst for this change seems to stem from the LAB’s recent audits of the WEDC. Rather than react to negative information on how the fledgling WEDC is performing, Republicans are instead choosing to shoot the messenger by abolishing the LAB itself.

They’re trying to fix something that isn’t broken -- a fact that even Republicans seem to acknowledge in their email about the proposal.

“Most if not all legislators believe the Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) does a tremendous job of executing audits of state agency books,” reads an email from Craig and Jarchow.

So it works fine. Why change it?

The answer is simple to anyone willing to read between the lines.

It’s payback.

The LAB, which is duty-bound to provide oversight to ALL state agencies, found problems with Gov. Walker’s flagship jobs program. Not just a tiny thing here, a small issue there, but massive problems that needed drastic attention.

This is accountability in Scott Walker’s Wisconsin? This is how we solve problems?

Here's an even better question, one that I hope you the reader will answer:

Are you happy that your tax dollars could be spent this way?

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Contrary to Walker's assertions, WI isn't "leading" the nation, especially in jobs

Stats don't support Walker's premise that the state is a "leader" under his watch

The latest reports from the Gov. Scott Walker administration try to paint a rosy picture about jobs in the state.

And a recent editorial by Walker (published in New Hampshire) tries to showcase the state as an example of what he can do for the nation as president.

But are Walker’s policies really making us a leader in jobs?

The stats don’t hold up to the governor's words. For every 1,000 jobs that were already in place before Walker’s first budget was passed in June 2011, Wisconsin has created 44 more jobs.

Contrast that to the states that border us and you can see why some people might not take Walker seriously:

Wisconsin is well behind the national average on that metric: for every 1,000 jobs already in the U.S. in 2011, 69 jobs were created. Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois and Iowa also beat out the Badger State.

In other key measurements Wisconsin is also slipping behind. The state under Walker’s leadership, for example, has seen its wages go up -- but compared to the rest of the nation, they’re still below what they could be.

From June 2011 to June 2014 wages in Wisconsin went up by $52 per week. In the rest of the nation they’ve gone up by $55 per week.

That’s admittedly close to average, but remember: Wisconsin, according to Scott Walker, is a leader. Being $3 below the national average isn’t, by definition, leading.

Finally, how are we doing when it comes to new business startups? That’s the worst news of all: a new ranking places Wisconsin dead last. Not last in the Midwest -- last place for startups in the entire country.

Scott Walker doesn’t deserve to be president of the United States. It’s a wonder anyone still thinks he deserves to be governor of Wisconsin.

Friday, June 5, 2015

For Dem Party Leader, I endorse...no one.

Whoever wins deserves both our support (and criticism, when necessary) in the years to come

In the race for Democratic Party Chair this weekend, I’m choosing to endorse...no one.

Each of the candidates, in my mind, provides something positive to the party. Even those with limited direct experiences with the DPW have something to give, as most of the state voters who identify with Democrats share similar histories.

All-in-all, whoever wins needs our support. Personally, I think that whoever wins will lead the party in a proper direction.

I do support one person more than others, but that reason is based on my own history with that person more than anything else. In 2009, I interned with the DPW in Madison for a brief three-month period. I got to work a little with Joe Wineke, who was a jovial but effective leader of the party in those years.

Reeling off of recent victories in 2008, the party seemed to be in a good place at that time. I think we’d be in a good place with Joe back at the helm.

But I also feel that way about every candidate in the race right now. And so, while I have a preference, I’m not offering an official endorsement per se.

To the state delegates: vote your conscience. I like Wineke, and I hope he wins. But if the party chooses someone else, it won’t change my support for progressive candidates. I’ll support whoever wins on Saturday as the new leader of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin.

We need unity more than ever in these trying times. Our state is overrun with problems, many of them the making of the current governor and his friends in the legislature.

We need a leader who can win elections in off-years as well deliver victories from Wisconsin during the 2016 presidential election season.

Mostly, we need to not let Gov. Walker succeed in accomplishing his goal of “divide and conquer.” We mustn’t succumb to becoming our own enemies while Walker runs rampant with Wisconsin – or worse yet, runs for higher office.

Whoever wins, we need to hold them accountable. Criticism is a necessary component of the job, and the new leader of the DPW needs to be candid with party members when they assume office.

The Democratic Party of Wisconsin needs to rebuild its image, and bring back support from everyday people in the state. That begins not only with a new leader, but also with a new attitude from Democratic supporters overall.

Let’s dig deep, elect someone, stand by them when they’re right, and criticize them when it’s necessary. That’s how every successful party operates, and it’s how we’ll win electoral contests in the future.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Violent crime in Wisconsin has gone up following deregulation of gun laws

Reasonable gun legislation won't ever be passed with Scott Walker in office

Today is National Gun Violence Awareness Day.

Gun violence affects us all, even if some of us don’t readily admit it. When there’s a spike in violence, it hits a community both personally and psychologically.

The cycle seems endless: after one act of violence occurs, another seems to inevitably pop up before we’re able to even start grieving for the first loss.

It doesn’t have to be that way -- and it doesn’t have to be pro-gun vs. pro-regulation, either. Both sides can contribute to lower rates of violence.

For those in support of expanding regulation for gun laws, the mission is pretty self explanatory. We need comprehensive reform to limit the number of weapons that show up in offenders’ hands. That includes instituting waiting periods, requiring background checks for all purchases, and pushing for an assault weapons ban on certain guns that are quite literally overkill.

But gun rights advocates need to be included in the conversation on gun violence, too. Their contribution isn’t just desired, but practical for their own ends -- it behooves them to be involved in helping lower violence in our communities, encouraging owners to lock up their weapons around children, taking classes on how to properly handle a gun in the home, and how to handle situations where they may have to use their weapon (and how to use restraint when they don’t).

Don't get me wrong, though: I stand steadfast in my opinion that we need tighter gun laws, in this state and elsewhere.

In Wisconsin, the violent crime rate has risen in recent years. This lines up with the loosening of gun laws under Gov. Scott Walker’s tenure.

On the other hand, when the Brady Bill was passed at the national level, state crime rates went down significantly. They went up again following the expiration of that law.

This doesn’t prove that restrictive gun laws lower crime rates -- more research is necessary before any conclusions can be drawn. It does suggest that we should look into that possibility, that, for all the naysayers who say otherwise, we should at least consider that tighter gun laws and closing loopholes allowing offenders the chance to get weapons are worth trying.

At the very least it demonstrates that Walker was wrong on a very strongly worded statement he said when he signed concealed carry into law:
By signing concealed carry into law today we are making Wisconsin safer for all responsible, law abiding citizens.
The evidence says otherwise: Wisconsin saw higher crime rates in the two years after the law was signed, and a higher rate of gun-related murders overall.

But instead of retreating on gun deregulation, lawmakers in Wisconsin are doubling-down on it. They’re passing legislation that ends waiting period for guns, based on flimsy anecdotal evidence that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

We will never achieve any decent and common-sense gun legislation with Scott Walker and his legislative allies in power. They are clearly beholden to the gun lobby.

We need to find a way to change things in our state, for the better, before they get worse.