Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Ron Johnson says low-income moms should just become daycare teachers, because of course he did

Wisconsin's freshman senator is clueless about hardships single moms face

Sen. Ron Johnson, who is up for re-election against Democratic challenger and former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, has a novel idea for women struggling to pay daycare bills across the state and nation: just become a daycare teacher yourselves!
“Let single moms actually work in day care to support each other,” [Johnson] told WIZM, a Wisconsin radio station. “We have prohibitions against that, providing day care for a facility that has your children in it. I think we need to reduce some of these policies. Let’s work smart, let’s rethink all of these programs, all the laws. Just about everything has got to be rethought.”
We do indeed have regulations against allowing single mothers from working at daycares where their children attend. Those regulations exist because of fraud that occurred when daycare centers tried to collect federal subsidies in those situations, according to Channel 3000.

But Johnson’s solution is laughable for another reason. It assumes that this idea could work for everyone. Yet enlisting every single mother to become daycare teachers would defeat the purpose of daycare itself -- the centers would become full of single mothers as employees, and as staff vacancies fill, other single mothers would find themselves without an option, and we’re back to square one.

The single mothers who WOULD work would similarly be denied opportunities to find better paying jobs elsewhere. They’d be stuck because, since childcare itself is expensive, they’d HAVE to work in these centers in order to afford them.

The solution offered by Johnson also assumes that poor, single mothers can afford the education that’s necessary to become daycare workers. It’s no easy task, and generally requires many years of schooling for several of the positions listed.

Johnson’s remedy is a cyclical problem. It fits his narrative, to be sure -- Johnson is a staunch opponent of regulations -- but his idea brings about the exact reason why we have regulations in the first place: to prevent fraud and mistreatment of workers.

When confronted with this, Johnson’s campaign staff said this was just his way of saying we need to think “outside the box” to find solutions (just like his solution to teach history through videos instead of employing teachers). But really, it just exemplifies how out of touch Johnson is with the hardships that people in this state are faced with.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

“Just Words?" campaign doesn’t threaten speech rights at UW-Milwaukee

The Inclusive Excellence Center’s goal to educate on disrespectful words does not equate censorship

Students at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee are upset with an organization that is attempting to dissuade people from using certain terms in their everyday language.

Words and phrases like “thug,” “crazy,” “ghetto” and “man up” are being discouraged by the Inclusive Excellence Center, in their “Just Words?” campaign.

“Through ‘Just Words?’ we seek to raise awareness of micro aggressions and dismissive terms, their impact, provide an insight into their meaning,” their website states. They add: “We are not seeking to tell people what they can/cannot say.”

The campaign has its detractors, however, and some students are saying that their free speech rights are being threatened.

That is hardly the case. Raising awareness about the negativity that these words have is a far cry from restraining personal freedoms, and the Inclusive Excellence Center should be free to promote their program of tolerance. The organization itself recognizes that people are free to speak as they wish -- their mission is to educate, not mandate.

There was a time when speech on the campus of UWM was threatened. I should know -- I played a part in the story. The student government had attempted to pass a “Sedition Act” aimed at restricting libelous and slanderous speech directed toward the Student Association. Any criticism against the SA could result in litigation, although most legal experts agreed the law passed by the student lawmakers would have been hard to enforce. From the fine reporting of Isral DeBruin and Jonathan Anderson, then of the UWM Post:
Had the act become law, David Pritchard, a UWM media law professor, said there is no question it would have been ruled unconstitutional.

"The so-called 'Sedition Act' is unconstitutional on its face," Pritchard said. "Any state or federal judge in Wisconsin would declare the 'Sedition Act' to be unconstitutional in a heartbeat."


Pritchard pointed to a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case in explaining the flaws of the Sedition Act. New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1964), Pritchard said, established that units of government can't sue for libel in the United States.


"Under American law, units of government cannot be libeled," Pritchard explained. "One of the flaws of the 'Sedition Act' is that it apparently can be activated only by 'libelous or slanderous communications regarding the SA,'" Pritchard continued, quoting the act. "But the SA as an organization can't be libeled."
At the time, I also worked at the Post as the editor of the opinion pages. I wrote many critical articles of the student government during my tenure, and had the measure passed it would have directly affected what I could write about. I spoke out against the SA’s attempt to undermine free speech on campus:

Having attended UWM during a time when speech rights were truly being threatened, I can honestly say that the current situation involving the “Just Words?” campaign isn’t at all the same. “Just Words?” intends to provide information on words that can cause stress for other students on campus. It doesn’t say these words can’t be spoken -- nor does it provide a recommendation for punishment if they are.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Early voting poses no dangers to democracy -- but limits cause irreparable harm

Schimel temporarily drops appeal to early voting challenges, but he should do so permanently

Early voting is not a danger to democracy. But eliminating early voting is.

This is especially true in urban areas, where people who work long hours aren’t necessarily able to make it into the polling booth on the first Tuesday after the second Monday in November. Allowing communities to let people vote weeks in advance, or on weekends, is common sense.

Laws passed by Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican legislature changed that. They curtailed the ability of communities to offer early voting, barring completely early weekend voting. They also shortened early voting time, from 28 days before the election to 10 business days (the Monday before election day excluded). And laws mandated that early voting, if it were to take place, could only be done in one location, and not offered anywhere else within a given community.

That meant that early voting in larger Wisconsin cities could only happen at one site. Imagine needing to take a bus ride in Milwaukee to get to a polling location downtown -- a two-hour, one-way trip for some remote locations in the city, and a huge chunk of the day that many citizens can’t afford to give up during peak weekday hours.

A judge saw through the absurdity of these laws and recognized who they were meant to target: minority voters in large cities. U.S. District Court Judge James Peterson wrote late last month that:
Wisconsin’s rules for in-person absentee voting all but guarantee that voters will have different experiences with in-person absentee voting depending on where they live: voters in large cities will have to crowd into one location to cast a ballot, while voters in smaller municipalities will breeze through the process. And because most of Wisconsin’s African American population lives in Milwaukee, the state’s largest city, the in-person absentee voting provisions necessarily produce racially disparate burdens. Moreover, plaintiffs have demonstrated that minorities actually used the extended hours for in-person absentee voting that were available to them under the old laws.

The court concludes that the in-person absentee voting provisions disparately burden African Americans and Latinos.
Emphasis in bold added.

Attorney General Brad Schimel appealed this ruling to a three-judge panel on the 7th District Court of Appeals. They denied his appeal in a one-sentence ruling: IT IS ORDERED the motion to stay is DENIED.

Schimel announced earlier this week that, in light of that ruling and due to the closeness of the next election cycle, he would not appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

And nor should he. Schimel’s original appeal was ill-conceived and wrong to begin with. Early voting is necessary for many residents of the state’s largest cities, and convenient for countless more. Reducing the ability of people to vote when they’re able to do so limits democracy, and it’s a fight that most Wisconsin citizens should recognize is not worth pursuing.

We can argue until we’re blue in the face about the rules under which voting occurs. And certainly some limits should exist -- as an extreme example, we wouldn’t allow early voting to happen a year out from an election date. But it’s clear whom these new rules were intended to target (minority voters). And it’s doubly-clear that conservative lawmakers’ targeted these voters because they generally vote Democratic.

It is unfathomable that some insist we continue to even have this debate. And Wisconsin Republicans need to start caring about real issues that are relevant to citizens of the state, rather than conjuring up ideas of how they can remain in office through changing the rules of elections.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Scott Walker jobs “shell game” should anger every Wisconsinite

Walker administration keeps using year-to-year wording, hoping to fool you into buying his bogus jobs claims

Wisconsin released its latest monthly jobs report, and the news is stellar -- if it’s to be believed.

The problem? It’s not believable.

“Based on preliminary data, the state added a statistically significant 45,700 private sector jobs from July 2015 to July 2016,” the press release reads. But those numbers are based off of monthly jobs estimates -- they are not verified, and are based on a sample of under 4 percent of businesses statewide.

If that sounds like I’m being petty, don’t blame me: that criticism comes from Gov. Scott Walker himself, who made the case AGAINST using monthly jobs estimates during his run-up to the recall election in a piece titled “What is the Best Way to Count Jobs?”
While it is understandable that jobs estimates are often discussed when they are released, because they are the most recent job statistic, the actual job count data [released quarterly] is the gold standard of jobs measurement.
Emphasis in bold added.

Walker made that criticism four years ago. Today, he’s gloating about 45,700 private sector jobs being created using data from the unverified jobs reports:

This isn’t the first time this has happened, either. And data from today’s press release exemplifies just how Walker’s administration is playing fast-and-loose with the jobs numbers.

The press release today also contains the quarterly jobs report from the first quarter of this year. Those jobs numbers are more reliable than the month-to-month numbers, based off of a sample of around 19-out-of-every-20 businesses in the state.

They reveal that from March 2015 to March 2016 the state created 37,432 private sector jobs. That’s a decent number, and it indicates that jobs are growing in the Badger state (how they compare to the rest of the nation, however, remains to be seen; we’ll know that on September 7th).

But if you go back to the Department of Workforce Development’s website to see the news release from March, you’ll find some familiar wording:
Wisconsin added a significant 47,500 private-sector jobs over the year ending in March 2016…
That claim mirrors almost to the word what the claim from this month’s jobs report says. Yet the revision demonstrates that the initial claim made in March this year was 26 percent higher than what the actual jobs numbers ended up being.

BUT IT GETS WORSE. Go back a YEAR from then, to March 2015, and read the press release from THAT month:
The state added a statistically significant 48,200 private sector jobs from March 2014 to March 2015…
The revision from THAT claim went down also, to 40,168 -- or a decrease of 16 percent from the original jobs claim. TWO YEARS IN A ROW Gov. Walker and his Department of Workforce Development made a claim about year-to-year jobs growth that turned out to be significantly lower once the numbers were revised.

And they’re still doing it as evidenced by the jobs report released on today. Gov. Walker and his administration are hoping you don’t notice, or don’t care, that he’s being purposely deceptive in order to make his jobs claims look better. It should infuriate every citizen across the state.


OK, so beyond the shell games, how did we do now that we have the verified numbers from March in-hand? The results are hardly inspiring. In 2011, when former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle’s budget was still in operation, we saw a year-to-year verified report of 41,350 jobs created from March-to-March.

We have yet to surpass or repeat Doyle’s numbers under Walker’s tenure.

The latest verified numbers, on their own and without context, sound like things are getting better. And certainly 37,432 private sector jobs created from March 2015 to March 2016 is better than no jobs created at all.

But it’s also a slowdown when compared to Doyle’s last budget year, and a slowdown compared to last year’s numbers as well, when we ranked 40th out of 50 U.S. states in private sector jobs growth.

If I were a betting man, I’d expect a similar ranking -- or worse -- when the rest of the nation’s numbers are released next month.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Trump’s speech in West Bend was aimed at wavering white voters, not African-Americans

GOP presidential candidate chose to "speak" to black communities in one of the whitest cities in Wisconsin

Donald Trump came to Wisconsin this week to address the problems of racial disparity and violence in black communities.

No, really. Stop laughing.

He did so in an unusual place: West Bend, Wisconsin, where 19 out of every 20 citizens are white (the rest of Wisconsin is similarly mostly white, although West Bend is more so than the state overall, which is 17 out of every 20 citizens). From the Journal Sentinel:
"I'm asking for the vote of every African-American citizen struggling in our country today who wants a different and much better future," Trump said in Washington County, which has a black population of 1.2%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Emphasis in bold mine.

Trump is struggling especially with African-Americans. Some state polls show he’s garnering zero percent support among black voters, a terrifyingly low number even for a Republican candidate.

But Trump isn’t really trying to court the black vote anyway. If he were, he’d be in Milwaukee, not West Bend. His speech, given in one of the whitest communities Wisconsin has to offer, wasn’t aimed at the African-American community. It was aimed at white voters who want to vote for Trump but don’t want to think of themselves as racist for doing so.

Bill Palmer at the Daily News Bin explains:
[Trump] appeared to be trying to give his white supporters the cover to pretend that their support of his blatantly racist policies somehow doesn’t make them racist. Because hey, he generically said something about how he was going to help black people, while blaming foreigners.
In other words, if wavering white voters can clear their consciences and somehow convince themselves that Trump stands WITH black people rather than against them, then they will feel less awful about supporting a candidate who is perceived as racist.

The problem is that perception of Trump’s racism is pretty much spot on. Trump has said in the past that he believes “laziness is a trait in blacks.” He’s also complained about black people counting his money. And Trump falsely repeated a claim that black-on-white crime was a huge share of total crimes committed (his tweet alleged numbers that were 440 percent higher than what actual statistics demonstrated). Trump also suggested that black protesters, some who were assaulted by his supporters at rallies, “maybe should have been roughed up.”

White voters who are wavering on Trump shouldn’t believe his recent rhetoric in West Bend. Trump isn’t a friend to African-Americans. Trump’s racism is blatant, and their consciences shouldn’t feel clean if they intend to vote for him simply because he says otherwise.

As we all know, Trump says a lot of things about himself that aren’t true.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Addressing the events in Milwaukee this past weekend

Assembly and peaceful protests are justified; violence and destruction must be rejected

The violent actions that occurred in Milwaukee this past weekend, in response to a death of a citizen at the hands of a police officer, were not justified. Violence is never a proper way to demand justice, and what happened this weekend won’t produce positive outcomes.

I say this as someone who is sympathetic and supportive of the cause of the Black Lives Matter movement. I believe there exists systemic racism in our society, and that Milwaukee in particular has many related problems that need to be dealt with. City and county leaders, as well as leadership at the state level, need to address the problems of racial disparity in Milwaukee (and frankly, in the rest of the state also), both economically and with regards to equal protection under the law.

I also believe that some officers’ actions need to be examined, and that while the vast majority of police officers act with the community’s best interests at heart, there are a few officers who serve with prejudice in their minds. I do not know if this is the case in this situation. But I do believe that the investigation into the officer shooting that led to the violence should carry on, unimpeded, with transparency given at every opportunity that allows it.

Officers need to be held accountable whenever their jobs require them to end the life of another person. We are fortunate that state law mandates an outside, independent investigation to occur whenever this happens.

And the community can protest the actions of these officers, too, even while an investigation is ongoing. They can demand quick answers to their questions, accountability, and should rightly assemble themselves as they attempted to do on Saturday and Sunday evenings this past weekend. But again -- the actions of a few in those crowds are not justified at all. Violence and destruction of property moves the conversation backward, and leads to little progress toward the intended goals of those assembled peacefully.

I was so heartbroken Sunday morning when I read about the events in Milwaukee. I consider the city my second home -- I went to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, volunteered in some of the harder hit neighborhoods, and did my best to experience the city as fully as I could.

With that being said, I cannot pretend that I fully understand the heartache that this family, or that this community, felt when they heard about one of their family members being shot dead by an officer of the law. I’m a white male, and my demographic privilege entitles me with a different perspective that cannot begin to fathom what members of these communities are going through either.

I must again state my unequivocal opposition to violence as a response to violence. It is an endless cycle if we choose that route, and we cannot allow it to be an acceptable form of protest.

But I also recognize that most members of the crowds that took to the streets were behaving properly, exercising their free speech and assembly rights properly. A select few likely took things too far, and their actions should not reflect on the community as a whole.

I was inspired to listen to a speech of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s yesterday after hearing of the events that unfolded. I chose his Nobel Peace Prize lecture speech, “The Quest for Peace and Justice,” in which the Civil Rights icon argues for a nonviolent fight for justice.

In the middle of the speech, MLK states that he similarly abhors violence as a means to achieve an end: (emphases in bold mine)
Violence as a way of achieving racial justice is both impractical and immoral. I am not unmindful of the fact that violence often brings about momentary results. Nations have frequently won their independence in battle. But in spite of temporary victories, violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones. 
Violence is impractical because it is a descending spiral ending in destruction for all. It is immoral because it seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than win his understanding: it seeks to annihilate rather than convert. Violence is immoral because it thrives on hatred rather than love. It destroys community and makes brotherhood impossible. It leaves society in monologue rather than dialogue. Violence ends up defeating itself. It creates bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers.


I am only too well aware of the human weaknesses and failures which exist, the doubts about the efficacy of nonviolence, and the open advocacy of violence by some. But I am still convinced that nonviolence is both the most practically sound and morally excellent way to grapple with the age-old problem of racial injustice.
The community is well within their rights to take to the streets, to voice their dissatisfaction with how they are treated by law enforcement in their communities, and to bring to the forefront the issues of poverty, unemployment, and unequal treatment in society that they experience on a regular basis. Those few individuals among them, however, who chose a violent means to express their anger and frustration, need to understand that they do their movement no favors by continuing the promulgation of violence.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

In Wisconsin, Democrats Feingold, Clinton and Obama more liked than Republicans Johnson, Walker and Trump

Favorability ratings among Wisconsinites sits higher with statewide Democratic leaders than Republican counterparts

For Republicans looking to win statewide elections in Wisconsin, it’s not looking too pretty.

The Marquette Law School Poll released Wednesday shows some bad numbers for Republicans. Presidential party nominee Donald Trump is sitting with a 27 percent favorability rating. Gov. Scott Walker is at 39 percent favorability (and 38 percent job approval), and Sen. Ron Johnson has a favorable rating of 34 percent.

Compare those numbers to Democrats, and it’s clear that Wisconsinites are aching for a different path forward. Hillary Clinton’s rating sits at 43 percent. Russ Feingold, who is challenging Johnson for the seat he once held himself, is at 44 percent. And President Barack Obama? His favorability rating is 54 percent in Wisconsin.

While no one is yet running against Scott Walker for his governorship, more than half of registered voters (51 percent) say the state is heading in the wrong direction.

Walker himself has stated in the past that he doesn’t pay attention to the polls -- similar to what former President George W. Bush stated while he was seeing bad numbers (and look how that turned out!). Still, in previous polls Walker had one failsafe to fall back on: that he was at least liked better than the presidential candidates.

“Well, my approval rating's higher than Hillary Clinton's and Donald Trump's and one of them is going to win the state of Wisconsin,” he said back in July.

That is no longer the case. In fact, in Wisconsin favorability among statewide officeholders (or those seeking to win a statewide election this November) shows Democratic contenders are more favored. Here’s how things rank:

Donald Trump < Scott Walker
Scott Walker < Ron Johnson
Ron Johnson < Hillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton is almost equal to Russ Feingold
And Barack Obama is even more respected across the state than Feingold

Democrats must continue to work hard to demonstrate their vision for the state, and the nation at-large, is the better path going forward. But this polling data suggests Wisconsinites are starting to get the message.

Republicans aren’t working for the people’s interests -- and Democrats are their best bet for getting things back on track again for working families.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Gov. Walker is complicit in Open Records shadiness at DoC, Lincoln Hills

Documents shouldn’t be denied on the basis of incorrect wording

It is disturbingly evident that huge problems exist at the Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake youth correctional facilities in northern Wisconsin. Guards routinely engage in behavior with youths that would have resulted in disciplinary action even in an adult prison.

Image via Wikipedia
The overall goal of these facilities is to rehabilitate these children so that they may successfully re-enter society. But the actions of those placed in charge of their care demonstrate that goal isn’t on their minds at all.

The latest escapade involves a guard who allowed inmates to fight with one another. The guard didn’t intervene, as he should have done, letting them duke-it-out in an area where security cameras couldn’t document the incident.

Other actions are similarly disturbing. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, in one instance guards restrained a youth and proceeded to douse them with pepper spray “for safety,” an action that is against accepted practices for the use of the spray.

Pepper spray seems to be, in general, over-used at the facilities:
Another entry describes an incident in which staff used pepper spray on an inmate who refused to go into a bedroom. In another case, staff deployed pepper spray into an inmate’s room after the inmate covered the window on the door to the room and became unresponsive.
As disturbing as these events are, they wouldn’t have come to light without an open records request from the Journal Sentinel. In fact, an original request for a log of incidents drew up none of these incidents since the publication had initially asked for a log of conduct reports relating to prison guards’ behaviors instead of a log incident reports.

For SEVEN MONTHS state Department of Corrections officials kept quiet about the separate log, knowing that what the Journal Sentinel had requested matched what they had in their hands, but not delivering the materials because the exact wording didn’t line up specifically with their request.

Christa Westerberg, who serves as vice president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, found that to be “absurd.” And I’m inclined to agree with her.

“The open records law does not require requesters to use magic words to get records,” she told the Journal Sentinel.

Open government requires agencies to comply with these open records requests -- not just to the letter of what’s being asked, but going beyond the specifically worded request itself.

A conduct report shouldn’t be denied to a newspaper simply because the DoC calls it an “incident report” instead -- it should be understood, by the governing agency, what’s being requested, and all efforts should be made to deliver. Documents shouldn’t be denied on the basis of incorrect wording, if it’s understood what’s being asked for in a general sense.

Gov. Scott Walker is complicit in this shadiness -- his Corrections department, after all, engaged in what appears to be purposeful deceit on open records requests. He is responsible for the infractions that occurred under his watch, and he is also responsible to remedy these problems so that they don’t occur in the future.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Scott Walker, Ron Johnson and Paul Ryan all fail the "Trump test"

Republican leaders need to put the priorities of the country ahead of their party for the sake of the nation's future

The actions and temperament of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump have some people very worried. Among them are key members of the Republican Party itself, who have had to deal with the fallout directly from a candidate who is making them look bad -- up and down the ticket.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan was thrown some major shade (as the kids like to say) by Trump when the latter refused to give his endorsement to the former.

“I like Paul, but these are horrible times for our country,” Trump said. “We need very strong leadership. We need very, very strong leadership. And I’m just not quite there yet. I’m not quite there yet.”

The comments mirror those of what Speaker Ryan said earlier this year, when he said he wasn’t ready to endorse Trump yet. “I'm just not ready to do that at this point’” Ryan told CNN in May. “I'm not there right now.”

Ryan later relented and endorsed Trump, but earlier this week I wrote about how Ryan now needs to “un-endorse” Trump due to how terrible a leader he would be, not just for the Republican Party but for the nation itself. Paul Ryan, to put it bluntly, needs to stop thinking about a win for Republicans, and should instead concentrate on just what a Trump presidency might mean for the nation.

That other prominent Wisconsin Republicans -- U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson and Gov. Scott Walker, among many others -- refuse to also renege on their respective pledges to support Trump as their nominee demonstrates a disturbing trend among members of the GOP to put their party’s political fortunes above the nation’s interests.

One Wisconsin Now tweeted out this image earlier today, a list of terrible things Trump had done in the preceding 24 hours (at that time), and noted how Gov. Walker still hadn’t seen it as necessary to disown Trump as the Republican candidate:

Click to make larger

How they react to this type of behavior is a test for Republicans across the state as well as the nation. Years from now, we may even give this sort of thing a name -- the “Trump test” -- to determine whether someone is formulating opinions on candidates based on their policy stances, or if their support is lent out solely on the basis of the letter (R or D) following their names, even in the face of crazy and bizarre statements or actions from said candidates.

Walker, Johnson and Ryan have all failed this Trump test. They have, to their credit, spoken out about his more brazen behavior and statements. But as these incidents keep piling on, they continue to favor Trump as their preference for president in spite of the fact that he’d make a terrible leader for this nation.

I’m not naive enough to think that they’d endorse his direct opponent, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. But I am frightful of the idea that these state and national Republican leaders are ready to support a disastrous candidate in Trump simply because he’s the Republican option. And other Wisconsinites should be similarly frightful.

What does it say of their characters, that they’d embrace such a dangerous person to lead our country? We deserve answers. And if they refuse to answer, or to change course, we deserve new leadership in their places.