Thursday, January 28, 2016

Can Scott Walker be trusted to fix Wisconsin's water crisis?

Walker and GOP set to privatize water, removing control from the public's hands

The Flint Water Crisis has been on my mind lately. A lot. 

Thousands of citizens were poisoned with lead-contaminated water, which is no laughing matter. Lead exposure can make victims prone to aggressive behavior, memory loss, anemia, headaches, abdominal pain, and other troubling symptoms

For children, it’s worse. Because the body is still developing, a child exposed to lead can expect to have lower IQs, hearing problems, growth delays, and problems with learning in the short- and long-term. 

Flint, Michigan may seem far away from us, but Wisconsin is facing its own water crisis, dealing mainly with arsenic levels being too high. From the Appleton Post Crescent:
[Arsenic] levels above the federal standard have been detected in 51 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties, according to a 2006 Wisconsin Groundwater Coordinating Council report.

The most serious health effects from arsenic exposure include a variety of cancers, nerve damage, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Chronic low-level exposure during childhood has also been linked to decreased intelligence.
With only 16 percent of homes in Wisconsin actually testing their private well water annually, it’s more than likely that some residents in the state are exposing themselves to arsenic levels far beyond acceptable levels.

But whether it’s lead or arsenic, Gov. Scott Walker says that fears of our drinking water being exposed to harsh contaminants shouldn’t be overstated. According to him, he’s got this covered. From WPR (emphasis in bold added):
“Part of our capital budget and bonding in the past has been specifically to help communities and local utilities deal with [remaining lead pipes],” Walker said. ...

Meanwhile, Walker said his administration continues to respond to drinking water concerns in Kewaunee County that might be related to manure runoff. ...

Walker said Friday that the DNR is already working on a plan.

“Is it runoff? Is it other issues? Is it the depth of the wells? Just because of the soil base in both Kewaunee and parts of Door County?” he asked.

Walker promises a science-based plan that is appropriate to protect the health and safety of the local residents.
That last bit in bold has me troubled the most. When has Walker ever backed anything that is science-based? His own administration is currently looking for ways to get out of the federal climate change plan, and he’s been evasive in the past when it comes to questions about evolution. He even wanted to cut funding for state recycling plans (twice). When it comes to science, Walker isn’t the go-to person to depend on.

We can’t even rely on Walker’s DNR to reply to open records requests properly. What makes him think we’re going to trust his administration to deal with Wisconsin’s own water crisis?

Walker and his legislative allies are hardly inspiring confidence with their latest political stunt, either. From James Rowen at the Political Environment:
The corporate-obeisant GOP-controlled Wisconsin State Senate is poised tomorrow to join the Assembly's shameful initiative and enable local governments to sell their water systems to out-of-state, private-sector businesses, proving that Bucky has learned nothing from Flint's water travails, and the consequences of losing control of its drinking water system and supply and flushing it down the drain.
I’m fortunate enough to live in Dane County, where the dedication towards providing quality public water is unparalleled compared to the rest of the state. Many other parts of the nation looks to Madison on how to deal with aging lead pipe problems (the city replaced “every single known lead service pipe in the city” over the last decade).

The rest of the state isn’t so lucky. They receive lip service from a governor who isn’t too preoccupied with the crisis, and a plan from Republican lawmakers that will remove control of water from the public’s hands. But that’s just how things goes in Scott Walker’s Wisconsin.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Is conservatism driving millennials out of Wisconsin?

74 percent of young people disapprove of Scott Walker's performance as governor

Are millennials leaving Wisconsin because of the conservative policies put in place in recent years? That’s a good question worth looking into.

A recent letter to the editor in the Stevens Point Journal demonstrated a real concern about whether Gov. Scott Walker’s policies were driving young people out of the state.
Millennials and younger voters are likely not in sync with Walker’s and Republicans’ policies privatizing our public lands, whether for hunting, fishing, or recreational pursuits. ...

Voters of all ages continue to witness Republicans and the governor limiting their right to vote and their access to polling sites. Do the businesses, chambers of commerce and media elites of central Wisconsin support this public assault upon people’s voting rights, including those of veterans?
(It’s worth reading the whole letter if you have the time, and I suggest you do so by clicking the link above!)

There are many issues that young people in the state want addressed. Broadly put, millennials want assurances that their leaders are going to back them up, helping them and the state itself when times get tough.

When the economic conditions of the state fail to provide a good life for people, it’s up to political leaders to try and change those conditions through various policies that shape the landscape overall. It’s impractical for politicians to create jobs on their own -- they can’t just legislate companies to hire -- but they can pass laws to make burdens on workers and small businesses less cumbersome.

Yet millennials are not seeing that from this governor or his legislative allies. Instead, Gov. Walker and Republicans are shifting whatever resources were available in the past toward help for a less deserving cause -- their political donor base.

This isn’t opinion; this is fact. There’s direct evidence that shows legislators and the governor have crafted bills designed to suit the specific circumstances of their constituents. Rep. Joel Kleefisch helping a wealthy divorced dad to avoid paying child support, or Scott Walker urging his corporate friends to donate vast sums of money to third party groups (and then passing legislation favorable to those same corporations), are just a couple of examples that come to mind.

Meanwhile, small businesses (which are more responsible for creating jobs than corporate giants) and start-ups are struggling.

That’s discouraging, for the state as a whole but also for millennials, and it’s partly why Gov. Walker is seeing such low approval ratings. Indeed, according to the November 2015 Marquette Law School poll, more than 74 percent of millennials ages 18-29 disapprove of the governor’s performance, the highest disapproval rating among all age groups.

So let’s go back to the original question: are millennials leaving the state because of the Republicans? We can’t say for certain that they are. But if they were, who could blame them?

Monday, January 25, 2016

Why I'm throwing my support behind Bernie Sanders for President

Clinton trends towards progressivism, but Sanders is a true progressive at heart

We are just about one week away from the Iowa caucus, and thus one week away from the official start of the nomination process for each party’s choice for presidential candidate. Endorsements are coming in from every corner of the country, from political leaders (current and past) as well as newspaper editorial boards.

Recognizing that my humble blog isn’t exactly the most influential that there is when it comes to presidential politics, I’d still like to add my two cents as to who should be our next president. That person should be Bernie Sanders.

I’m not naive -- Sanders has some huge hurdles to surpass, primarily his own competition within the Democratic Party. And in Hillary Clinton we have another candidate who would do a fine job in her own right as president. Should Sanders not receive the nomination from the Democrats, I’d be glad to put my full support behind her.

However, Sanders represents a vision of the future, for the party as well as the nation at-large. His promotion of a single payer system of health care coverage is what largely drives my support for his candidacy. And though the math has yet to be perfected on the issue, that doesn’t mean that it can’t be done.

Other nations have already provided some form of single payer coverage for their citizens. Yet no two nations are alike when it comes to this, and so it would be for America also. If we are to create a single payer system of health care, it will likely be different from all other forms of single payer presently out there.

Nevertheless, it makes no sense for us to relegate ourselves to the realities of the current political system and to give up on the issue. Just because single payer won’t pass today’s Congress doesn’t mean we shouldn’t support a candidate that is pushing for it. And the Clinton camp’s insinuation that Sanders would do away with Obamacare is irresponsible to make -- Sanders would only undo the current law if it made sense to do so, and only if he could replace it with something that improved upon the current health care system, namely in recognizing that coverage is a right that every person deserves.

It isn’t just health care that makes Sanders the preferred candidate. On the student debt crisis Sanders also leads, urging that we pursue a higher education system that provides free services to deserving students. No pupil that achieves high marks in their K-12 education should be left out from pursuing college on account of their economic status, says Sanders, and he’s absolutely right.

Sanders’s beliefs should drive our future policy on prison reform as well. He supports a complete overhaul of the system, reducing the influence of for-profit prisons that require thresholds of inmates to be provided for them from the states. That sort of policy is backwards thinking. Instead, we should focus on rehabilitation, and creating a society that sends less men and women to prison in the first place.

And though Clinton supports de-criminalization, Sanders is the only Democratic candidate that supports ending the prohibition on marijuana, for medicinal and recreational purposes. The drug, which is less harmful than alcohol when it comes to poisoning hazards, sends far too many to jail for what little harm it actually does. By legalizing it, we can also tax it, earning more revenue while simultaneously reducing the number of people imprisoned (in turn lowering prison costs) because of what amounts to stupid policy.

Sanders is not the perfect candidate -- there’s no such thing as one, and we shouldn’t pretend that there ever will be. His past stances on gun issues warrant serious vetting. Overall, he is on the correct side of the issue, but on some specific aspects of gun law he has raised some doubts.

And this endorsement is not meant to be a slight to his competition either. Hillary Clinton would also make an outstanding Democratic nominee and eventual president. Her candidacy is inspiring millions of young women across the nation, and her views on many of the issues outlined above, though not parallel to Sanders’s, are nevertheless more preferable than the conservative alternatives offered by the GOP.

But to me, Sanders is simply the right candidate to select as our next president. While Hillary trends toward progressivism, Bernie is an outright one, and his vision -- for better governance and policies that enable Americans to improve their lives -- echoes the traditions that Democrats once stood proudly for.

We can be certain that he would hear the people’s voices while serving in the White House, and respond accordingly to our concerns. For that reason, I proudly throw my support behind Bernie Sanders to become our next President of the United States.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Rep. Steineke’s statements on Civil Service changes are dishonest and wildly spun

GOP Assembly member insists that changes are in line with La Follette’s legacy, ignoring historical documents that say otherwise

The drastic changes to Wisconsin’s civil service law are heading to Gov. Scott Walker’s desk following Senate approval of the Assembly-passed bill this week.

Rep. Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna) produced a press release celebrating the changes. But his release is a doozy of a spin, so prepare yourself for a point-by-point breakdown of what he had to say.

“Wisconsin’s civil service laws are overdue for common-sense changes that keep pace with a changing workforce.” This would make sense to anyone reading them. Surely changes, if they’re needed, should be considered.

But the bill that Gov. Walker plans to sign doesn’t make “common-sense changes” to the law -- it dismantles it completely, creating a resume-based hiring plan that allows very little transparency in the state’s hiring process.

The law was put into place more than 100 years ago to prevent politically-charged hiring processes that resume-based plans are inherently known for. The new changes don’t make small changes -- they are a radical departure of what the current law was intended to do.

“The state’s hiring process will be more effective and top-quality employees can receive merit-pay bonuses.” There’s no doubt that the hiring process will be more effective. That isn’t the point of civil service, however -- politically-based hiring is always more effective, because it makes it easier for whoever’s doing the hiring to get the person they want over the person who might be more qualified. In short, the Republicans’ plan may be more effective, but it’s also more biased, and less fair for the applicants overall.

“Employees will clearly know what actions are cause for immediate dismissal, and the appeals process will be streamlined.” This is one of the main arguments in favor of drastically altering the 100-plus year old law. But is it accurate? Scott Walker himself provided an example to the media of two state workers who couldn’t be terminated, even after it was discovered they were using state resources in order to have sexual relations on state time.

Except, the state never seriously attempted to fire those workers in Walker’s example. From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (emphases in bold added):
Faced with explicit evidence that two state railroad commission workers carried out an extramarital sexual relationship in 2011 on state time and property, their superiors opted to give them a reprimand, state records released Thursday show. ...

Gov. Scott Walker cited this incident in September when he called for overhauling Wisconsin's long-standing civil service system, saying these rules had kept state managers from firing two employees who had had sex on state property.

But files released to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel under the open records law show no attempt by an appointee of the Republican governor to fire the two state employees or to give them any form of discipline other than letters of reprimand. On the contrary, the records show that Railroad Commissioner Jeff Plale softened the reprimand letters after the workers objected to an earlier version of them.
There were very few problems with termination prior to this bill, and certainly the example above shows that more options were available to the governor. Civil service may allow state workers to have time to defend their actions, but that process seems fair in my mind, almost judicial in nature. Streamlining the appeals process only makes it more difficult for workers to make their case, allowing the state to fire them easier -- and often less fairly.

“This bill builds off of the foundation established by Governor La Follette back in 1905 when he signed civil service protections into law in order to ensure that the best are serving our state.” That statement would be laughable, were it not so terribly dishonest.

In 1905 when the original civil service law was being debated on, La Follette put his opinion out there (PDF), plain for all to see (emphasis in bold mine):
The fundamental idea of democracy is that all men are equal before the law. What proposition is plainer than that every citizen should have an equal opportunity to aspire to serve the public, and that when he does so aspire the only test applied should be that of merit. Any other test is undemocratic. To say that the test of party service should be applied is just as undemocratic as it would be to apply the test of birth or wealth or religion.
The law passed by the state legislature and signed by La Follette “required that all positions covered under the act should be filled by competitive examination.” Rescinding that provision and saying that it “builds off the foundation established by Governor La Follette,” is like ceding control of American territory to Britain 100 years after the Revolution and saying that George Washington would have wanted it that way. Both statements are absurd.

Rep. Steineke’s assertions in his press release are nothing more than dishonest spin. They ignore the history of Wisconsin and Bob La Follette’s legacy. Much worse, they pretend that he’d be in favor of a resume-based applications process, a method of hiring that he was decidedly against, as shown above.

Gov. Walker’s signature on this bill is inevitable. But whenever he leaves his current position, be it 2018 or later, whoever assumes his office needs to restore the civil service law and put back into place a hiring process that’s fair for all job applicants, not just those with good political connections.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Sarah Palin is wrong -- Obama isn’t responsible for her son’s actions

PTSD is a serious condition, and the president has worked tirelessly to help vets

Sarah Palin, fresh off of her recent endorsement of Donald Trump for president, is facing some heat. Her son, Track Palin, was recently arrested for assaulting his girlfriend and obstructing the reporting of that assault, as well as possessing a weapon while intoxicated.

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Several commentators have suggested Sarah Palin, as mother to Track, is responsible in some ways for her son’s actions. I take a different view: I’m a firm believer that one’s family members, including those who are the direct children of politicians, shouldn’t reflect on the politician themselves. They may share a bloodline, but Track’s actions are not Sarah’s responsibility. He is a grown man, and his mistakes are his to deal with.

However, Palin’s own commentary on the incident doesn’t make a lick of sense, and her rationale for her son’s behavior passes the blame onto someone who wasn’t even involved at all: President Barack Obama.

Palin said that her son’s post-traumatic stress disorder was the true culprit, and suggested that the president’s failure to understand what those in the military are going through helps fuel incidents like what her son initiated.

“It starts from the top,” Palin said, “from our own president, that they [returning soldiers] have to look at him and wonder, do you know what we go through, do you know what we're trying to do to secure America?”

Of course, President Obama does know. In 2010 he simplified rules for how soldiers get assistance, making it easier for them to apply and receive help for PTSD.

In 2013 he “announced new research initiatives to combat post-traumatic stress disorder and mild traumatic brain injuries while also introducing a joint government-schools effort to help veterans succeed in college,” according to

And in 2015 he signed the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, which requires third-party evaluations of VA programs that work with vets dealing with PTSD, and strengthens collaborations between the VA and other non-profit organizations tasked with preventing suicides.

Those are just a few of the actions the Obama administration have taken to help former members of the military deal with PTSD. Palin’s suggestion, that the president is ambiguous in his support for soldiers returning home, is a slap in the face to the current Commander in Chief, who has worked tirelessly to help members of the armed forces assimilate back into life at home, recognizing that some do need help coping with life after war.

It’s interesting that Palin, herself a conservative, is so fast to pass the blame onto the president. Her ideology stresses personal responsibility, but so long as it’s someone close to her, it seems that those rules don’t seem to apply.

Other vets are able to see through Palin’s assertions, and don’t think it’s right to blame the president. Paul Reickhoff, head of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said, “It’s not President Obama’s fault that Sarah Palin’s son has PTSD.”

He added, “PTSD is a very serious problem, a complicated mental health injury and I would be extremely reluctant to blame any one person in particular.”

I sincerely hope that Track Palin does get the help he needs. But his mother is wrong to push the blame on the president for his actions. Sarah Palin owes President Obama an apology.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Let’s say “no” to concealed carry on school grounds

Governor Scott Walker offers no opinion on the issue ahead of the State of the State address

State Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) and State Rep. Robert Brooks (R-Saukville) have introduced legislation that would allow concealed carry license holders the right to carry weapons on school grounds throughout Wisconsin.

But before we examine that proposal let’s take a quick glance at how well concealed carry, up to this point, has worked in general for the state so far.

In 2011, when Walker signed the concealed carry bill passed by the state legislature into law, he did so with great fanfare. Specifically, he included a very notable promise: that the state would be safer for it.

“By signing concealed carry into law today we are making Wisconsin safer for all responsible, law abiding citizens,” Walker said back then.

And how has the state fared? Not as well as Walker suggested it would. Wisconsin has seen a drastic increase in violent crime since the governor signed the bill into law.

According to FBI statistics the violent crime rate in the state has sprung up by more than 22 percent from 2011 to 2014. And the murder rate has similarly gone up, by more than 20 percent.

For comparison, the U.S. violent crime rate went down almost three percent from 2011-2014, and the murder rate went down 4.25 percent nationally.

Some, like Rep. Bob Gannon (R-Slinger) have suggested that the problem is purely the result of the state’s main urban areas, singling out Milwaukee for its spike in crime and apparently attempting to make the issue more about race than guns.

“A large number of these crimes [occur] in mainly black neighborhoods,” Gannon wrote in a press release last month.

But Gannon ignores much of the evidence that suggests crime is rising everywhere, not just in Milwaukee. Even in non-metropolitan counties throughout the state, the crime rate is going up.

In those counties, the violent crime rate increased by 11.6 percent during the same time period. So it’s not just a Milwaukee problem, as Rep. Gannon and other conservatives have suggested.

In all likelihood, concealed carry probably didn’t have anything to do with the increase in crime levels seen in Wisconsin. But remember, Gov. Walker and other Republicans in the state promised that its passage would make the state safer. Many still cling onto the errant belief that the concealed carry law acts as a deterrent.

Here’s Rep. Bob Gannon again, stating that the law would work to stop criminals (emphasis in bold mine): “A gang banger in the mall with a gun is going to think twice if there could be a law abiding CCW holder standing behind them fully prepared to shoot center mass...”

Yet that hasn’t been the case. Concealed carry hasn’t made our state safer, and it won’t make our schools safer either.

We shouldn’t rely on the belief that a consistently armed citizenry can somehow create a safer society. People have a right to protect themselves, but the evidence shows that concealed carry as a safety policy hasn’t worked. The law simply doesn’t act as a deterrent, in theory nor in practice.

There’s an added problem when we discuss allowing concealed carry on school grounds. Allowing people to carry weapons near schools will simply create confusion for administrators, even in a drop-off/pick-up area, making their jobs even more difficult than they already are.

For his own part, Gov. Scott Walker refused to share his own opinion on the bill, citing Assembly Speaker Robin Vos’s statements as his reason why he’s silent on the issue:
“The speaker said they’re not taking it up and so my focus is really going to be, from the State of the State on, the things we can get passed in this legislative session,” he said. “For us, our priority is really going to be on workforce, worker training and career development issues.”
That’s a cop-out if I’ve ever seen one. The bill is a bad idea, and Walker should recognize it as such.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Why Sunday night's Democratic debate is making me optimistic

The Democrats are offering a positive vision of an American future

After the latest Democratic Party debate, I’m genuinely excited about this presidential election campaign.

Don’t get me wrong -- I frequently get upset or discouraged by the amount of attention that the Republican candidates are receiving this year. Theirs is a set of campaigns that is dedicated toward appealing to the lowest common denominator -- they work to get votes through fear and intimidation tactics rather than substantive policy.

But after tonight, I’m genuinely excited about the prospects of a Democratic candidate becoming the next president of the United States.

All three candidates tonight brought candid conversation, bold ideas, and yes, some criticism of each other’s plans and policy stances. But rather than attacking each other relentlessly throughout the debate, each candidate brought dignity and thoughtfulness to their responses, a welcomed departure from what we’ve seen from conservative candidates vying for the GOP nomination.

Bernie Sanders is my preferred candidate. But I’d be more than ecstatic to help Hillary Clinton win office as well. Even Martin O’Malley brings something to the table as a candidate, and I’d gladly support his candidacy were he somehow able to win the nomination for the Democratic Party.

I think that Americans overall are going to gravitate towards the Dems this year. The American people tend to support optimism over fear, and like to hear about what we can work to become more than how bad off we are.

Surely there are times when Democrats, too, sound the alarm on many issues. But when they do so, they juxtapose that doom-and-gloom against a vision of how we can better ourselves as a nation, and offer a picture of a better tomorrow that the citizenry overall can get behind.

Take health care as an example. The Republicans are thus far offering no real plans for replacing the Affordable Care Act. They simply promote its removal -- beyond that, you just have to trust them.

The Democrats disagree on how to move forward on health care in America, but at least they can agree on the need to improve upon existing gains. They see the problems that do exist in health care, even after Obamacare has been passed and implemented, and agree that changes are needed on current law. But they also agree that what the ACA created is far better than what existed prior to its passage.

No matter which Democratic candidate you talk to, you’ll see an aspiration for improving the lot of the American people. You don’t see a lot of that on the Republican side, and that is why they’ll lose come November.

I’m optimistic after tonight’s debate. There are still a lot of unresolved issues -- but the issues are getting talked about, and that’s what matters most. No candidate is perfect, and no set of policies will be perfect either. Yet I’d rather move forward with these three candidates than head backwards with what the Republicans are offering, and we’re more likely to move ahead in this century with a Democrat in office in 2017.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Bob Gannon "flips the bird," remains ignorant on gun stats in Wisconsin

Bob Gannon apologizes for gesture, but stands by his racially charged remarks

Rep. Bob Gannon (R-Slinger) is at it again. This time, he’s taking heat for “flipping the bird” to Minority Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) on the Assembly floor.

Why was Gannon so mad? He apparently couldn’t stand the criticism he was getting from lawmakers regarding his recent racially inflammatory comments.

Gannon, R-Slinger, made the gesture and stormed off the Assembly floor during an emotional debate with Milwaukee lawmakers over comments Gannon recently made about crime in black neighborhoods of Milwaukee. He apologized for the gesture, but not for his remarks.
Gannon later made an apology (in the classic “sorry-not-sorry” sense of the word) regretting extending his middle finger towards his esteemed colleague but not holding back on his senseless rhetoric.
Gannon said Milwaukee's mayor, police chief and district attorney are failing to keep the city's citizens safe. He argued that the city's criminal activity is spilling into his district, which neighbors Milwaukee.

"Put your focus where it belongs and stop worrying about me," Gannon said, addressing Milwaukee Democrats. "Your drugs, your crime knows no border."
Many constituents don’t share Gannon’s grim outlook of Milwaukee. They want to find ways to help the area’s violent trends because they understand that it’s not an us-vs-them issue. While Gannon tries to spin the blame solely on Milwaukee, he neglects to recognize that the city is part of the state of Wisconsin, too.

Gannon is also wrong to say that crime is only a Milwaukee problem. It’s true that Milwaukee is dealing with a growth of violence that needs to be addressed, but an increase in crime is happening throughout Wisconsin.

After the East Towne Mall shooting that took place around Christmastime last month, Gannon suggested that Wisconsin citizens should arm up since there isn’t a Wisconsin death penalty law, and in that way we can “clean our society of scumbags” without a judge or jury.

Gannon suggests that concealed carry helps deter criminal activities as well. “A gang banger in the mall with a gun is going to think twice if there could be a law abiding CCW holder standing behind them fully prepared to shoot center mass,” he wrote.

But that assertion is not holding up to facts. Though Gov. Scott Walker also promised that concealed carry would make “Wisconsin safer for all responsible, law abiding citizens,” that hasn’t been the case since it was implemented almost five years ago. Violent crime rates in Wisconsin have jumped by 22 percent from 2011 to 2014, and murder rates in the state went up by 20 percent also.

And it’s not just in Milwaukee. Though most murders do happen in our state’s largest city, in non-metropolitan counties throughout Wisconsin the violent crime rate has gone up by 11.6 percent since 2011, according to FBI crime statistics. The murder rates in these counties have also spiked, increasing by more than 28.9 percent.

Those trends within the non-metropolitan counties in Wisconsin don’t reflect what’s going on across the rest of the nation. In fact, violent crime went down slightly across America’s non-metro counties (down 3.5 percent), as did the murder rate (down 3.2 percent).

Concealed carry was passed with the promise that it would make us safer. There’s no statistical evidence to suggest we’re less safe because of concealed carry, but the law enacted in 2011 has definitely failed to keep crime down in the state.

Yet Gun proponents like Rep. Bob Gannon or Gov. Scott Walker will continue to falsely believe concealed carry worked. When they’re told otherwise, or called out for falsely tying race into the matter, they’ll apparently throw out all measures of decorum to defend their views.

Bob Gannon should be ashamed for his actions in the Assembly. And he should educate himself on how his pro-gun arguments are lacking in factual evidence.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Scott Walker’s college affordability plan is a joke

Walker pats himself on the back while students continue to struggle

For most of his time as governor, Scott Walker has ignored the plight of students of higher education who are dealing with massive student loan debt across Wisconsin. His major solution has been simplistic: keeping tuition frozen so that it can’t go higher.

While tuition freezes are a good start, they don’t solve the problem -- they just keep tuition at high rates. It’s like fixing a clogged sink by turning off the faucet. Any plumber will tell you that doesn’t solve the problem, and any educator will tell you that tuition freezes aren’t a solution to higher education expenses either.

Seven-in-ten students in UW System schools graduate with student loan debt (PDF), placing Wisconsin third worst in the nation when it comes to the percentage its students are left debt-ridden. On average, those students graduate with nearly $30,000 in debt.

Walker knew he couldn’t just keep saying he froze tuition and think that would allow him to save face in the state. So he released a “College Affordability Legislative Package” this week, aimed at providing some relief to students in Wisconsin.

How does Walker’s plan stack up? Though there are some positive aspects of it, the larger problem of student debt isn’t really addressed at all.

There are a couple of bills that expand grant programs for students to take advantage of, including a grant program that helps students facing financial emergencies to stay in school. Those are positive plans, and certainly there are some students who will benefit from them.

But they’re also hardly a dent in the problem overall. The bill that Walker touts to will help so-called “need-based” students will fund about 1,000 additional grants. However, last year, more than 37,000 technical college students who were eligible for the grants didn’t receive them. Doling out a small amount of grants will help a very small portion of students in dire need, and do little to help the debt crisis facing college graduates.

Yet the biggest aspect of the affordability plan that Walker brags about relies on expanding tax deductions to families paying for college. As his press release makes clear:
[T]his legislation would eliminate any cap on the tax deduction for student loan interest, which would save student loan debt payers $5.2 million annually when it is fully phased in.  This tax deduction would be the most generous of any state in the Midwest with an income tax and benefit roughly 32,000 Wisconsin taxpayers paying off student loans.
Wow, that all sounds great! But what does it translate to for most families? (Emphasis in bold mine)
This deduction also directly benefits middle class Wisconsinites with an average benefit of more than $200 annually for those making between $30,000 and $70,000.
So a middle class family sending their kid to a UW System school can save a whole $200 more in tax deductions? That’s not a huge help. It’s something, to be sure, but keep in mind that the average cost per semester for a full-time student at a university in our state is around $4,000. At $8,000 for two semesters, that $200 annual savings amounts to squat.

Just like the tuition freeze he continually says is helping Wisconsin students (it’s not), Walker’s plan for lowering college costs are completely overblown. The savings are bare minimum at best, and do little to nothing to alleviate the debts that students will have once they graduate.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Have a seat, Bob Gannon

Legislators should focus on uniting the state, not on finding ways to divide us further

My state rep, Bob Gannon (R-Slinger), needs to have a seat.

As Chris so eloquently wrote about yesterday, not only is his recent press release racist, but it's also fact free. Milwaukee is the economic engine of the state.

But unfortunately, his press release resonates with so many people who live out here. Their disdain for Milwaukee and anybody who isn't white is clear. I moved to Washington County from the city when I was a teen and it was kind of a culture shock. I've heard so many openly racist comments from people who live here I've lost count.

They express such contempt for our wonderful city and how "dangerous" it is, etc. Then they drive into our fine city to work every day, and then dash back to the burbs where they live.

I find that frustrating, and it pisses me off. Milwaukee is good enough for these folks to collect a paycheck in and when they want to go to Summerfest, Brewers Games, State Fair etc...but they'll rant about how bad it is and how much they hate it. Just lovely.

I find Gannon's comments super disappointing as well because the WOW counties (Waukesha,Ozaukee and Washington) should really be looking for ways to work together with Milwaukee on things and as a region. Lots of folks from those counties (who don't hate the city) come down on the weekends with their families to our attractions like the art museum and lake front.

Just after he got elected Waukesha County Executive (and right before he left the state legislature) State Sen. Paul Farrow supported and voted for (PDF) the Bucks arena, as well as other initiatives for Waukesha and Milwaukee to work together on. We are stronger as a region and a state when we work together on things -- and find solutions -- rather than looking for people to blame or be angry at, as Gannon does in his statement.

The press release from my new state rep only serves to cause more divisiveness between the two counties when we should be having more collaboration.

I call on Bob Gannon to apologize and retract his statement.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Rep. Gannon wrongly blames MKE Co for state's jobs woes in racially charged rant

Wisconsin Republican makes lofty claims based off of racist insinuations

State Rep. Bob Gannon (R-Slinger) is at it again.

Last month Gannon alleged that a gunshot in East Towne Mall could have been prevented if the area had allowed concealed carry on its premises.

“A gang banger in the mall with a gun is going to think twice if there could be a law abiding CCW holder standing behind them fully prepared to shoot center mass,” Gannon wrote in December.

He took it a step further, however, saying that because Wisconsin didn’t have the death penalty, it was up to citizens to arm themselves and “help clean our society of [the] scumbags” in our state.

Gannnon apparently has more controversy to dispense (beyond encouraging citizen gunslinging in Wisconsin). On Wednesday he published a press release (PDF) that alleges crime in Milwaukee County is responsible for the state’s jobs woes overall.

“Milwaukee is ranked the sixth highest city nationally in per capita murders by Forbes,” Gannon writes, “which makes it obvious that our largest urban center, is the anchor holding back the ship of state as far as jobs is concerned.”

If that logic doesn’t make much sense to you, don’t worry: Gannon explains himself.

“A large number of these crimes [occur] in mainly black neighborhoods, the same neighborhoods with the worst unemployment rates in the state,” he writes.

He adds:
What employer will build or expand when they fear muggings, carjackings, attempted murder, or other serious criminal threats to their employees? One cannot ignore the correlation between jobs and crime...
Gannon makes it explicitly clear that he’s blaming African Americans (and crime in Milwaukee neighborhoods) for the jobs shortfall in this state. His racist implications are on full display for everyone to see.

The statement is despicable enough on its own, but the facts also fly in the face of his assertions.

Milwaukee County is doing pretty well, all things considered, when it comes to private sector jobs growth. Could it do better? Yes, and Gannon is right on one aspect of his rantings -- the unemployment rate for black residents is appalling.

But it’s an appalling rate that’s seen statewide, not just in Milwaukee County as Gannon claims it is. The failures of black unemployment in Wisconsin are failures that exist everywhere, not just in the most populated city in the state. It is wrong to place the blame solely on Milwaukee.

What’s more, the violence in Milwaukee County, while a major problem that needs to be fixed right away, isn’t driving away jobs. The yearly rate of private sector jobs growth in Milwaukee County (1.2 percent) is similar to the rate seen statewide (1.3 percent), which places the county at the median for all counties Wisconsin.

In other words, while half the state’s counties are doing better than Milwaukee in producing a higher rate in jobs, half the state is doing worse than the county overall.

Additionally, Milwaukee County accounted for more than 16 percent of the net jobs growth in the state over the past year as well, a good rate to have considering that the county has 16 percent of the state’s population base.

More new businesses are being created in Milwaukee County. In fact, Milwaukee County saw 1,175 net new businesses spring up over the past year, an increase of total businesses in the county of about 4.9 percent.

Contrast that to Washington County, where Rep. Gannon is from. That county saw an additional 93 net new businesses from June 2014 to June 2015, a yearly rate increase of only 3.1 percent.

Here’s a statistic that Gannon also neglects to mention: when it comes to new business creation, Milwaukee County’s rate increase ranks sixth in the state. Washington County ranks 28th overall.

If you look at the total net number of new business establishments seen in the state of Wisconsin, you’ll also notice that Milwaukee County is responsible for most of them. More than a quarter of net new businesses in the state sprang up in Milwaukee County.

So it’s clear that Bob Gannon is wrong -- when it comes to jobs, Milwaukee County isn’t dragging the rest of the state down. If anything it’s propping it up more.

Crime is truly a problem in Milwaukee County. It needs to be seriously addressed, and soon. But blaming the rise in crime for the state’s jobs problems is diverting the problem away from what’s the true culprit: a failure by the Republican Party of Wisconsin, including Gov. Scott Walker, to drive demand in the state.

When individuals are more able to purchase products and services, then jobs growth will follow. But Walker and his GOP allies, including Rep. Bob Gannon, refuse to acknowledge how the laws of supply and demand actually work. Wisconsin, meanwhile, suffers more for it, and not just in Milwaukee County.