Thursday, March 31, 2016

Trump is worrisome, but his supporters are downright scary

Incident in Janesville demonstrates a growing trend toward violence within Trump's base

Donald Trump’s candidacy worries me. His policies and rhetoric are dangerous for this country, and should he become the president or even just the nominee for the Republican Party, it would signal a very concerning shift in this country’s attitudes, especially among conservative voters.

The most worrisome part about Trump’s candidacy is the hate that it’s inspired in regular people. But perhaps that word is a bit too generous -- there’s nothing “regular” about the hatred and violence several of them engage in, both rhetorically and physically.

What transpired in Janesville this past week shouldn’t be considered regular or normal. A young, 15-year old woman who had come to protest Trump’s presence in the city was allegedly groped by an older male Trump supporter. A verbal fight ensued, which culminated in the woman pushing the man back, and another member of the pro-Trump crowd dousing her face with pepper spray.

The surrounding Trump supporters cheered this. What’s more, they mocked her as she walked out to get medical attention, calling her a “god damn communist n----r lover” as she left.

Janesville police are seeking this man
This is hate politics, pure and simple. And sadly, it's becoming the norm at these rallies.

The rhetoric and actions of the few don’t justify a generalization of the crowd. But these types of incidents are becoming more and more common with each Trump campaign event that occurs. And I can’t recall a time in recent memory reading on Twitter about someone going to a campaign event, with another friend replying “be careful.”

This girl didn't do anything wrong -- she didn't instigate the crowd into assaulting her. Protesters have a right to attend events like these as well. They must be peaceful if they hope to protest in public areas, and by most accounts, the most this girl did was shove someone back who had allegedly assaulted her (every video of the incident begins after it happened, but Janesville police are investigating).

She did not deserve to be pepper sprayed by some idiot who proudly smiles after what he did.

No one in that crowd should be proud of what went down.

Yet they cheered when it happened. And they continued to verbally attack her as she tried to leave.

Regardless of how he spins this, Trump must address the violent behavior of his supporters and this event specifically. He must condemn it. And if he doesn’t, then those in his party must do so, and condemn Trump for staying silent or otherwise ignoring what’s becoming an escalating problem.

It’s a conversation that’s long-past overdue from the Republican frontrunner and from members of his party. And it’s a shameful look at what a large segment of our electorate has become.

Yes, I am worried about Donald Trump. But I’m downright scared of his supporters.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Saying philosophy matters, WMC backs judicial candidate Rebecca Bradley who is short on specifics

Scott Manley praises Scalia Bradley, even though she lacks explanations for her judicial philosopy

Scott Manley, VP of Government Relations for Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (the state’s largest corporate lobby), penned a glowing endorsement for the upcoming state Supreme Court race set to be held April 5 between Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg and current Justice Rebecca Bradley.

His endorsement couldn’t be clearer: Manley supports the late Antonin Scalia to fill the role.

image from Wisconsin Business Voice
All joking aside, one could seriously be forgiven for coming to that conclusion. In trying to offer support for Rebecca Bradley, seen as the conservative choice for the position, Manley takes great care to explain why he supports Scalia’s judicial beliefs, and why they’d make a good fit for the state’s highest court.

“Even after his untimely death, Justice Scalia continues to remind us through his brilliant writings that the proper role of the courts is not to remake laws or substitute the views of judges for those of lawmakers,” Manley writes. He goes on to explain that Bradley, in his mind, best exemplifies Scalia’s beliefs.

He closes his op-ed by saying, “Judicial philosophy matters.”

Indeed it does. It’s too bad we get so little of it from the candidate Manley supports.

The two candidates’ websites both have sections that lay out their respective judicial philosophies. JoAnne Kloppenburg provides a lengthy explanation of how she adjudicates, with examples of cases she’s written the opinions for and the justifications for why she rules the way she does.

Rebecca Bradley, on the other hand, provides a two-paragraph-based answer to the question of her philosophy. And though her response supplies Manley and other far-right conservatives with the necessary dog-whistles and answers they hope to hear from a judicial candidate, for the rest of the state it creates more questions to ponder over, and reads more like an eighth-grade essay on the question than a reasoned answer from a Supreme Court justice.

Notably, Manley’s column imploring the importance of judicial philosophy is longer than Bradley’s comments on her own judicial philosophy. For something that matters so much to him, Manley is happy to ignore the “short-on-specifics” answer that Bradley provides us with.

The idea of “strict constructionism” that Manley promotes is itself a red herring -- conservatives, even Antonin Scalia, have been more than willing to bend the letter of the law to match their whims. Judicial philosophy matters -- but so does interpretation of the law. Justices should exercise restraint, but when a law is passed that is so flagrantly against the Constitution (the U.S. and Wisconsin's), it is rightly stricken and deemed invalid. That's not judicial activism -- that's just common sense.

Even the founders disagreed on some major aspects of the Constitution -- including James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, the document’s major architects and proponents.

Adhering to partisan-based opinion making on the Supreme Court makes for lousy interpretations. Though liberals favor Kloppenburg more than Bradley, there is no doubt in my mind that JoAnne Kloppenburg (who served for two decades under both Republican and Democratic administrations as an assistant Attorney General) would apply the law fairly to whoever approaches the bench.

You can’t honestly say the same thing about Rebecca Bradley. Her partisanship is clear for everyone to see, and cannot be ignored by the standards that judges and justices of Wisconsin must adhere by.

Manley and other corporate backers of Bradley are happy to ignore these standards, and to prop up their judicial philosophies that advance their own agendas. Heaven help Wisconsin if they succeed.

Monday, March 28, 2016

AUDIO: Vote for Kloppenburg for State Supreme Court, reject Bradley on April 5

Kloppenburg has shown she should hold the position that Bradley currently has

Click the play button to hear my commentary. Text of commentary appears below.

Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg should be granted the opportunity to serve on the State Supreme Court. She has demonstrated, through more than two decades of working as an assistant Attorney General under both parties, that she has an in-depth knowledge of our state’s laws. With that type of background alone, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone with more experience to serve on the court.

But of course, Kloppenburg can also claim judicial experience as well. She has served for more than three years as a Court of Appeals judge, winning election to office to fill that role, and writing several opinions for the cases that landed before her and her peers.

While also able to brag about a stellar career, Rebecca Bradley, the current incumbent justice on the Supreme Court that Kloppenburg is trying to unseat, can only boast incumbent status because she was appointed to the role. In fact, she’s been appointed to every judgeship she’s held, this being her third appointment by Gov. Scott Walker to a judicial placement in the last three years.

Her resume isn’t as impressive as Kloppenburg’s is either. It is impressive, to be sure, but if you’re looking purely at experience, Kloppenburg beats Bradley out by a landslide.

This is most noticeable when you seek out the two candidates’ judicial philosophies. Kloppenburg provides a reasoned answer to what her philosophy is, juxtaposing her prose with cases she’s written the opinions on in order to supplement her larger points. Rebecca Bradley, on the other hand, has a judicial philosophy that looks like it could have been written by an eighth grader who skimmed the required reading the night before and typed something up in ten minutes or less, just hoping to get a passing grade. The two paragraphs she provides us with on her website fail to inspire, to put it more delicately.

All of this is even before we take into consideration Bradley’s past writings. As a college undergrad, Bradley wrote a plethora of student columns and op-eds that aimed to denigrate the gay and lesbian community on her campus, arguing that she would never feel sorry for those afflicted with HIV or AIDS. She also lashed out at feminists and liberals in general.

She has apologized for those remarks, and I believe that she truly is sorry for having written them. People can change, and I’m hopeful that Bradley has. But her writings didn’t stop in 1992 -- they continued into the 2000s, and much of what she wrote then has me questioning whether she’s suitable for the job she currently holds.

Bradley, for example, wrote that she believed pharmacists had a right to deny women contraceptives on account of such medication being tantamount to abortion in her mind, a notion that study after study after study has discredited. She also joined two other legal minds in penning an op-ed that argued candidates for the state’s highest court had a right to lie or mislead constituents while campaigning, which brings into question her character as a candidate herself.

On experience, Kloppenburg is the better of the two. She’s also the preferable choice when it comes to temperament and the ability to remain impartial. Kloppenburg, as I’ve already pointed out, has been able to work with Democrats, Republicans, liberals and conservatives. I have no doubts in my mind that she’ll be able to do so as a justice on the Supreme Court as well.

There are doubts, however, when it comes to Rebecca Bradley. These doubts cannot be overlooked -- the code of conduct for judges in Wisconsin even advises that the perception of a judge being unable to carry out their duties is enough to warrant concern -- and many do perceive Bradley to be incapable of being impartial, especially given her previous writings and more recent conduct.

Vote for JoAnne Kloppenburg for Supreme Court Justice on Tuesday April 5th. It will be a vote to restore integrity to Wisconsin’s highest judicial authority.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The art of the argument matters, Paul Ryan insists (and I agree)

How we treat each other in a debate is sometimes more important than the debate itself

I’m a strong believer in the idea that the art of the argument matters almost as much as the argument itself. How you set forth your argument can determine the paths that a conversation can take, and at times it can drastically alter the outcome of the debate itself.

This isn’t some hidden wisdom -- “you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” In other words, more people will come to your side of an argument (or even consider it) if you present something more positive than negative.

But it’s not just about winning the argument either -- a poisoned rhetoric can damage bridges between you and your opposition, making it impossible to come to any reconciliation at a later date. Arguments can and should get heated, and passionate debaters shouldn’t necessarily try to temper their opinions. But a calmer dialogue, one that views separate actors as human beings and not enemies, is much more preferable to the alternative.

That alternative is fast becoming the new norm in American politics. Political actors, talking heads and citizens alike are engaging in fierce debates that often lead to worse outcomes -- and not necessarily on policy matters. This is best exemplified by the Republican Party’s primary election candidates, who have devolved into arguments over hand size and pictures of wives rather than what kind of leaders they might be.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Janesville) took note of this issue, and in a speech to House interns this week addressed the need to correct the way we argue in American politics.

“Looking around at what’s taking place in politics today, it is easy to get disheartened,” Ryan began. “How many of you find yourself just shaking your head at what you see from both sides?”

Ryan explained that we shouldn’t demonize the “other side” in ways that destroy dialogue. We should disagree with each other, passionately even, but not at the expense of respect for the person we’re speaking to.

“If someone has a bad idea, we don’t think they’re a bad person,” he suggested. “We just think they have a bad idea. People with different ideas are not traitors. They are not our enemies. They are our neighbors, our coworkers, our fellow citizens.”

“If someone has a bad idea, we tell them why our idea is better,” he added. “We don’t insult them into agreeing with us. We try to persuade them. We test their assumptions. And while we’re at it, we test our own assumptions too.”

And Ryan was even forthright about how he isn’t innocent in the negative forms of dialogue, using examples from his failed vice presidential run to illustrate his point:
I’m certainly not going to stand here and tell you I have always met this standard. There was a time when I would talk about a difference between “makers” and “takers” in our country, referring to people who accepted government benefits.
But as I spent more time listening, and really learning the root causes of poverty, I realized I was wrong. “Takers” wasn’t how to refer to a single mom stuck in a poverty trap, just trying to take care of her family. Most people don't want to be dependent. And to label a whole group of Americans that way was wrong. I shouldn’t castigate a large group of Americans to make a point.
I’m impressed by Speaker Ryan’s speech. As a liberal, I agree that dialogue has gotten too negative in recent years. We can disagree with one another, even if it leads to impassioned arguments. But devolving into insults is not the way to go, and I have tried my very best not to do so on this site and elsewhere.

From time to time, we all need to step back and take a breath when it comes to political discourse. I’m certainly a passionate person when it comes to many subjects -- but I always try to focus on the subject rather than the person delivering their opinions. I’m thankful for Paul Ryan’s words of wisdom, and hopeful that it will lead to a better dialogue across the nation.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Rebecca Bradley's radio ad featuring Sheriff Clarke creates more doubts about her impartiality

Bradley's campaign props up an anti-gay conservative voice following controversial comments from Bradley's past resurfacing

“To those offended by comments I made as a young college student, I apologize, and assure you that those comments are not reflective of my worldview.”

That was part of the apology that state Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley made after it came out that she had written derogatory and offensive comments while she was an undergrad student at Marquette University.

The writings, made more than two decades ago, revealed a younger and decidedly less mature Bradley (nee Grassl) who had terrifying views of homosexuals, and liberalism in general. Here’s some examples of what she wrote:
  • "Heterosexual sex is very healthy in a loving marital relationship. Homosexual sex, however, kills".
  • [Referring to Bill Clinton] "We have now elected a tree-hugging, baby-killing, pot-smoking, flag-burning, queer-loving, bull-spouting ‘60s radical socialist adulterer to the highest office in our nation. ... We’ve just had an election which proves the majority of voters are either totally stupid or entirely evil."
  • [Referring to victims of HIV/AIDS] "How sad that the lives of degenerate drug addicts and queers are valued more than the innocent victims of more prevalent ailments."
  • "[T]he homosexuals and drug addicts who do essentially kill themselves and others through their own behavior deservedly receive none of my sympathy."
The writings left many questioning whether Bradley could be impartial, to liberals or gay and lesbian couples, in the eyes of the Supreme Court with her as part of it. In her many apologies since those writings came to light, Bradley has made it her goal to demonstrate that those were her ideas from 24 years ago -- not reflective of her worldview today. The biggest defense from those supporting her is that “people can change,” and that it’s ridiculous to hold someone to a standard that they espoused from years ago.

Maybe that’s true. Maybe Bradley’s opinions have changed. But when we focus on the company she keeps, it reveals a different story.

Bradley enlisted one of her prime endorsements, Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, to do a radio ad for her. Clarke, himself an outspoken and controversial conservative, starts out the ad by saying, “I know a little something about what it’s like when the big money liberal elites come gunning for you.”

So wait -- the conservative response on Bradley’s writings trashing liberals in the 1990s is that they’re supposedly from a time when she was younger, and we shouldn’t pay them any attention. But in her radio ad, in the very first line of that ad, a key endorsement goes on to talk bad about liberals.

This is precisely why the left questions whether Bradley is sincere or not in her apologies, and why more Wisconsinites in general should question them as well. She speaks on how embarrassed she was about her previous writings, and how they’re not reflective of her character any longer.

But then an ad, which is put out by her very campaign, goes on to badmouth liberals and talk about how they’re “gunning” to get her. Is she embarrassed by that? Probably not -- but they’re essentially the same sentiment.

A justice of the highest court in our state needs to be impartial. It’s written in our state’s code of conduct for judges that even the semblance of partisanship or favoritism should be avoided in how a judge conducts themself in public. The tone of this ad makes it doubtful that Bradley could be impartial toward liberal litigants that stand before her.

What’s more, as One Wisconsin Now points out, Sheriff Clarke is very outspoken on issues of homosexuality -- not twenty years ago, but presently making assertions that conservatives need to fight back against same-sex marriage and rights for gays and lesbians (emphases in bold added):
After the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality, Clarke took to social media to post, “Next is rage, then revolt.” Not content to stop there, Clarke in a media interview pondered, “… who would have thought that in the 21st century homosexuality would come out of the closet and churches would be forced to go into the closet?” and opined, “If we don’t resist, we can see what is happening before our eyes …” It was also reported that in his radio show he advocated for, “pitchforks and torches” and that, “If you call yourself an American, then you have to start a revolution in this country after what happened last week at the United States Supreme Court”...
Bradley has apologized for her contentious writings, but when called out for the remarks of her supporter David Clarke, she said she doesn’t need to issue any sort of apology on his behalf. In a recent debate responding to Clarke’s remarks she stated, “I couldn’t possibly agree with everything all my supporters believe,” implying that his views on homosexuality aren’t at issue here.

But they are important, especially given the uncertainty on how unprejudiced she really can be on gay rights. Her campaign, itself embroiled with questions about impartiality on LGBT issues, propped up a supporter in a radio ad who regularly spouts off violent rhetoric in response to those very same issues. And we’re supposed to ignore that?

Shrugging this off implies one of three things: 1) that Bradley is ignorant of the connection, 2) that she just doesn’t care enough to address it, or 3) that she’s hoping to exploit it for her own gain. Either way, it should make Wisconsin voters question whether she’s fit for the position she’s running for.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Merrick Garland, Obama's pick for SCOTUS, deserves fair treatment and vetting process

Childish GOP need to grow up, begin nomination hearings on Merrick Garland

President Barack Obama has fulfilled his constitutional duties and selected a nominee for consideration to replace the late Antonin Scalia to the Supreme Court. It’s time that the Senate fulfill its constitutional duties as well.

Merrick Garland is a fitting nominee. He has plenty of judicial experience, and what’s more he has glowing bipartisan praise from his hearings during previous appointments. Any obstruction on forwarding him to the Senate for consideration would be purely political, and unprecedented, for the Republicans to engage in.

Consistently, the American people agree. Poll after poll shows a majority believe that the president’s nominee deserves a fair shot, a chance to be heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee for consideration to a full Senate vote.

But Republicans have a different plan. They say that since we’re in an election year that the nominee deserves to be chosen by the next president. Were we to put that precedent to practice elsewhere, it’d be foolish: all government work would cease, and the nation itself would be unable to conduct any business by those rules.

Indeed, by waiting until the next president is inaugurated, we could see the Supreme Court without its full bench for a full term, and possibly extending into part of its next term as well.

Republican senators like Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson, who have pledged to not allow even a hearing on the president’s nominee, are obstructing a path that the founders of our nation set for us through the U.S. Constitution. And though they may have the legal right to do so, Washington, Madison, Adams, Hamilton and others never intended for this kind of political play with the judiciary, for such purposeful obstruction of a nominee on the basis of the proximity of the next election, nor on the basis of who the sitting president was.

President Obama is the commander in chief for a full presidential term. His duties are NOT limited to a full term-minus nine months. He was elected in 2008 and again in 2012 with the full understanding that this power would be enumerated to him.

The American people, through public sentiment and the power of the ballot, have given their consent for him to nominate someone as a justice. It’s time that the members of the Senate do their duty, vet Merrick Garland, and determine whether he’s a suitable fit for the Supreme Court. Their current behavior is childish, and the American people deserve better.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

ENDORSEMENT: JoAnne Kloppenburg deserves a seat on the state Supreme Court

On experience and temperament, Kloppenburg is the better choice

An election for the state Supreme Court is being held on April 5. The incumbent candidate, herself never elected to the position but instead appointed to it by the current governor, is facing a strong challenge from another candidate who nearly unseated a different justice five years ago.

Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg is deserving of the seat currently held by Justice Rebecca Bradley, and I happily throw my endorsement behind her knowing that she will be a great addition to the court.

Kloppenburg has several years of experience dealing with Wisconsin law, dating as far back as 1989 when she was appointed by a Republican to serve as an Assistant Attorney General for the state. She served in that capacity for 23 years under both Democratic and Republican Attorneys General before becoming a judge for Wisconsin’s Fourth District Court of Appeals. She has been on both sides of the bench, arguing cases before judges and justices as well as being a judge herself.

Rebecca Bradley, while also boasting an impressive resume, doesn’t have the same bona fides. She has been appointed to three different judicial positions over the past three years by Gov. Scott Walker, including her latest stint at the Wisconsin Supreme Court. She received her juris doctorate after Kloppenburg had already been working as Assistant Attorney General for over seven years. When it comes to experience, although both can claim to have stellar resumes, those who are looking for the better of the two should look toward Kloppenburg over Bradley.

This edge in experience becomes evident when you look to the judicial philosophy pages on both candidates’ websites. Kloppenburg takes time to craft a detailed portrait of how she rules, citing cases that she’s written the opinion for to demonstrate how she comes to her decisions. She also explains what role the state Supreme Court should play in our government, and goes on to talk about how the “judiciary takes its power from the trust of the people: the trust that justice is being dispensed equally, that laws are being applied fairly, that everyone gets a fair hearing, and that Judges come to each case with an open mind and decide each case without fear or favor.”

Bradley’s judicial philosophy site, on the other hand, is a mere two paragraphs long. In addition to its briefness, it is also very vague, and indeed could have been written by any judicial candidate across any part of the country -- in other words, it reads very much like a “cookie-cutter” type response, and doesn’t explain in any detail how Bradley will determine her future decisions or provide any background to how she has reached them in the past. Simplicity may appeal to some, but for such an important decision where the winner will go on to serve for ten years, Wisconsin voters deserve to know more.

This is a state Supreme Court election, and it’s not uncommon for candidates to guard how they might rule on a given subject. Both candidates have been reluctant to express whether they’re “for” or “against” certain topics, and that is expected.

But the citizenry is owed certain assurances that explain how a justice will come up with an opinion. Additionally, they want an answer that provides some measure of consistency. We receive that from Kloppenburg; but from Bradley, it’s less clear.

We're left to assume that Bradley's process is less than ideal for what we want in a justice. As I’ve demonstrated in previous posts, Bradley’s decision-making seems much more partisan in nature, derived from what’s common conservative political thought at the time of her opinion rather than sound judicial principles.

Her previous writings provide evidence of this. In the early 1990s while Bradley was writing vitriolic columns in her college newspaper, her opinions echoed much of what conservative thought was on gay individuals with HIV and women who were victims of date rape. In 2006 when she wrote an op-ed defending the right of pharmacists to deny women their contraceptives, she did so due to an errant belief that such medication were abortifacients, again a common belief of many on the right.

She has since apologized for her previous writings, but nothing in what she’s said implies that she still doesn’t come to her opinions in such a manner.

I’m comfortable with having JoAnne Kloppenburg sitting on the state’s highest court. She has the experience and temperament needed to fill the position, and would be a fitting replacement for the late Justice Patrick Crooks. Rebecca Bradley, on the other hand, demonstrates that while she has an impressive resume, she might be better suited as a member of the legislature than as an impartial justice of the Supreme Court.

I will vote for Kloppenburg on April 5. I encourage you to consider doing the same.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Scott Walker's "Labor Participation Rate" claims are nothing to brag about

When job numbers go bad, Walker relies on labor participation rate to make himself look better -- but that's not all that great, either

The latest “gold standard” private sector jobs report for Wisconsin showed that we are experiencing a slowdown under Scott Walker’s watch. What’s more, our ranking among the rest of the nation is dismal -- we are 40th out of 50 in job creation since September 2011.

Ordinarily when one jobs report shows trouble, the Walker administration switches gears and goes with a different jobs report. But even the monthly jobs reports are showing a trend in the wrong direction: January was the third straight month of private sector job losses for the state.

From the Cap Times:
Since October, Wisconsin has lost 4,600 private sector jobs in figures compiled as part of the Current Employment Statistics program, which samples a small number of employers.
So what’s a governor to do when both types of jobs reports show negative numbers? Why, tout the labor participation rate, of course!

And that’s precisely what Walker’s Department of Workforce Development did. In fact, the title of the most recent monthly jobs report release is “State Labor Force Participation Rate Grows in January” (PDF).
Wisconsin's January 2016 Labor Force Participation Rate increased to 68.4% and was 5.7 percentage points higher than the national rate of 62.7% during the month.
That seems like a braggable line to shout from the rooftops, especially when private sector job growth is posting depressing numbers in dual reports. But the claim from the DWD lacks context -- things aren’t as rosy as Walker & Co. are saying they are.

Though the claim makes it seem like it’s a huge miracle, Wisconsin has always been better than the nation when it comes to labor participation rate. “Wisconsin’s labor force participation rate was higher than the national average even before Walker became governor,” the Washington Post stated last fall (as Walker was running for president at that time and was bragging about the rate then also).

Before the Great Recession, in December of 2007 Wisconsin’s labor participation rate was about 70.5 percent, above the national rate of 66 percent. And in December of 2010, one month before Walker took office, the state’s labor rate was at 69.1 percent (64.3 percent nationally). In other words, we have yet to bring the state back up to its previous pre-recession, or even pre-Walker levels.

And how does Wisconsin’s rate compare to Minnesota? Our neighbor to the northwest is posting a labor participation rate of 70.5 percent. But you won’t find that in any of Walker’s talking points.

Emphasizing our labor participation rate is a favorite line of Gov. Walker’s, but it’s meaningless without understanding the context behind it. And when you delve into that context, it’s obvious that the bragging the governor does is depressingly unwarranted.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Why Waukesha shouldn't get Great Lakes water

Another excellent must watch video from our friends at Wi Waterwatch about Waukesha Water diversion:

Government aid can be a force for good -- CDC investigating bacterial outbreak

Even staunch conservatives recognize that federal government plays a role in emergency situations

“I’ve always felt the nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’”

Ronald Reagan was fast to pass judgment on government programs meant to give aid to those in need. It’s funny, though: when localities or states need the help, they’re willing to shed this line of thinking without hesitation in favor of aid from the federal government.

When a hurricane ravaged the east coast, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, was happy to accept aid (and a hug) from President Barack Obama, a move that likely contributed to his unpopularity during his run for president himself. When floods ravaged cities across Texas, Sen. Ted Cruz (who voted against Hurricane Sandy relief) sought funds from the government to rebuild and aid those in need.

It seems Republicans have changed their tune a bit. Help from the government isn’t all that bad after all -- when it’s helping their constituents, that is.

This week Wisconsin is facing its own crisis. A rare bacterial outbreak called Elizabethkingia is infecting dozens of our citizens. Today, the Centers for Disease Control is coming to our state to help stave off more infections, and also to figure out what triggered the outbreak in the first place.

The infection rate is typically rare -- only about one or two cases are reported yearly. But in Wisconsin about 48 cases have been reported, with 18 deaths being attributed to the Elizabethkingia outbreak so far.

Having the CDC step in is certainly a good measure to preventing further infections or fatalities. Reagan was wrong -- at least in part. Sure, the government can make mistakes, and when it messes up while helping people those flaws are exposed more than ever (just look at the Bush administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina).

But government can be a force for doing good, too, especially when catastrophic events hit a community or state harder than they can handle on their own. Even in isolated events that could potentially grow into larger problems, like the Elizabethkingia outbreak in Wisconsin, we as a people are accepting of government help, and rightly so.

If managed properly government help can go a long way. And it’s good to see that the government is here to help in this state during this frightening ordeal.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Wisconsin under Walker ranks 40th out of 50 states on jobs since September 2011

State continues to struggle, lags behind border states and nation since Walker took office

Earlier this month the Walker administration released its estimates (PDF) for total jobs created in the state from September 2014 to September 2015.

At the time they released it, it was unclear how Wisconsin did compared to the rest of the nation. The early report couldn’t be compared to other states until the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its full findings, and so we could only look at the how the state did compared to its previous yearly reports.

I assessed that outcome and came to the conclusion that Wisconsin was (still) experiencing a slowdown under Scott Walker. In fact, the best year of the past five third quarter reports came when Walker’s predecessor Gov. Jim Doyle’s final year of his last budget was in play for nine of the twelve months included.

The state has failed to reproduce those numbers since that time.

Today, the BLS released the national numbers. Wisconsin didn’t fare too well as compared to the rest of the country in private sector jobs -- and what’s more, its numbers were revised lower from what the Walker administration had said they were previously.

When the Department of Workforce Development initially announced its third quarter 2015 numbers it had said the state grew about 30,235 year-to-year. That number has now been revised down to about 29,616 jobs created, a modest decrease.

Those numbers may sound impressive, but when compared to the rest of the nation we’re well below average. Wisconsin ranks 36th out of the 50 U.S. states when it comes to jobs growth from September 2014 to September 2015.

The situation is even more dire when you compare how we’ve done over the totality of Walker’s tenure in office. From September 2011 to September 2015 -- years where Walker’s budget, and no one else’s, was in operation -- Wisconsin saw a 5.057 percent increase in the rate of jobs grown.

That’s worse than any other state that borders us -- and puts us at 40th overall in the nation when it comes to jobs growth since September 2011.

Data derived from

Data derived from

There is definitely an improvement in our jobs situation from years ago. But the recovery that began under the previous governor’s watch has since rescinded, and under Walker has slowed down significantly. We’re creating jobs at a rate that’s 28 percent slower under this current governor than it was under Doyle’s last budget year.

The “Wisconsin Comeback” that Scott Walker frequently touts is a myth. The policies that Walker put as a priority -- tax breaks for the rich and corporate elite, cuts in tax credits for the poor, and creating less economic opportunities for the working class -- have created a “Wisconsin Slowdown.”

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Rebecca Bradley's opinions may have changed, but my concerns still remain

How Bradley comes to her opinions is still something we don't know much about

I’ve had time to develop some additional thoughts on state Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley’s college writings (see my original post here). Her disturbing words were written more than 20 years ago, and many have suggested that it’s silly to believe she can’t change her opinion from that time.

I have no doubt in my mind that Rebecca Bradley’s opinions can change (and HAVE changed) from what they were in the early 1990s. Certainly opinions have changed from those on the left as well, and President Barack Obama’s “evolved” views on same-sex marriage have been well-documented as an example.

What troubles me, though, is how Bradley comes up with her views today -- specifically, are her court decisions derived from precedents and research, or does she justify her decisions through politically conservative viewpoints consistent with the point in time she makes them in? Her recent political associations, which she hardly tries to hide, suggests it’s the latter.

I wrote about Bradley’s college opinions on Monday and explained that her words were troubling because they were very hate-filled. But I also explained my concerns that it seemed like her line of thinking -- and in fact, her judicial philosophy -- was more derived from her conservative views and what are popular viewpoints in conservatism today, rather than sound research, stare decisis and empirical evidence.

As a more recent example shows, in 2006 Bradley was touting the conservative viewpoint that most contraceptives are abortifacients -- a “fact” that is widely discredited. Nevertheless, it was this justification that led her to argue in favor of allowing pharmacists the right to deny women their prescribed drugs:
Bradley wrote, “The law certainly should protect pharmacists who choose not to be a party to the morally abhorrent termination of life,” explaining that “contraceptives may cause the death of a conceived, unborn child by preventing implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterus.”
Again, those words are inaccurate depictions of what science says -- it takes implantation of an embryo on the uterine wall to occur before a woman is technically pregnant, and indeed many fertilized eggs can naturally pass out of a woman’s body without prescribed medications (we don’t call these “abortions,” or even miscarriages). But that was, and in many circles still is, the line of thinking that conservatives espoused on the issue.

Bradley didn’t make her opinion on this subject by reading all of the research. She assumed that the science on the topic was decided, when in reality most professionals were against what she was advocating. It’s likely she came about her opinion from conservative talking points from groups like Wisconsin Family Action, an anti-choice and anti-contraceptive organization.

Bradley has yet to clarify her past comments on contraception, and refuses to explain whether her views have changed -- or whether she still errantly believes use of contraception still equates to abortion.


Let’s go back to her past writings from the 1990s -- Bradley and her surrogates maintain that those writings were simply the flippant rantings of a college student upset with the outcome of a presidential election. And perhaps they were. Members of the Log Cabin Republicans, a group of pro-gay conservatives, have suggested that Bradley has since changed her views and that she even attended fundraisers for FAIR Wisconsin, an organization dedicated to promoting gay rights in the state.

It may be that Bradley’s opinions on homosexuality have changed -- but my fears of how she comes to her judicial opinions are still relevant. Her opinions are a snapshot in time of conservatism's attitude on these issues, and seem to suggest that Bradley comes up with her opinions based on what is popular conservative thought at the time.

In the 1990s it was common for conservatives to share the same hate-filled vitriol that she wrote in the Marquette Tribune. In the 2000s it was also common for conservatives to wrongly believe that contraceptives induced abortions.

I’m less concerned to know if Bradley’s opinions have changed, and more inclined to understand how her opinion-making process has changed, and whether it’s still derived from popular conservative talking points or not. Nothing from her apology this week, nor any other document available, suggests that she has abandoned her previous ways of crafting her opinions.

Wisconsinites deserve a Supreme Court justice who can issue opinions that are based out of law, research and precedents, not conservative talking points of the day.


As an aside, I want to add that I myself wrote dozens (if not more) of opinion columns in the student newspaper during my years at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. From a liberal viewpoint, even though I abhorred the decisions that were being made by the commander-in-chief, I refrained from saying awful things about then-President George W. Bush while many on the far left were more than eager to call him a fascist, a Nazi or a war criminal.

My refusal to go darker on those topics wasn’t to save face -- it was because calling the president those things would have been wrong. We can have spirited debate without going to that darker place, without the name-calling and hate-filled pandering that extremists on both ends love to portray their opponents as.

I realized this more than ten years ago as a 20-something year old writer, just starting out in journalism. It’s troubling that Bradley didn’t realize this herself when she was a young adult. That she and others are so ready to dismiss this aspect of her earlier life as simply “something youths will do” raises serious alarms in my mind.

I sincerely hope she has changed -- but for reasons outlined above, I still believe the state Supreme Court would be better off without her as part of it.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Hateful writings of Rebecca Bradley deserve serious scrutiny

Where do Bradley's opinions derive from, sound empirical evidence or conservative talking points?

Justice Rebecca Bradley
UPDATE: I've since written another post on this subject with some additional thoughts to offer. Please read this post below, and then the following one by clicking here. Thanks!

Current state Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley apparently had some very hateful opinions on gay people, specifically those who had contracted HIV, in the early 1990s. She also targeted vitriolic commentary towards then President-elect Bill Clinton and those that voted for him in the 1992 election.

The sitting justice, who is seeking to retain her seat in a contentious re-election campaign this spring, wrote inciteful and troubling words during her time as an undergrad student at Marquette University.

One Wisconsin Now, a progressive advocacy group, discovered the writings and made them public this week. Director Scot Ross said that they warranted Bradley’s immediate resignation.
“Rebecca Bradley has revealed such a depth of hatred and contempt for people that she cannot be trusted to uphold the most basic tenet of our judicial system, that all are equal before the law,” said Ross. “She denies people their dignity because they are different than her and condemns people that hold political beliefs other than hers.”
The words that Bradley wrote are certainly worth examining, especially for those who are yet unfamiliar with either her or her opponent, Circuit Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg. The two are set to square off in Wisconsin’s spring election on April 5, just a few short weeks away.

Here are a few examples of what Bradley wrote:
  • "Heterosexual sex is very healthy in a loving marital relationship. Homosexual sex, however, kills".
  • [Referring to Bill Clinton] "We have now elected a tree-hugging, baby-killing, pot-smoking, flag-burning, queer-loving, bull-spouting ‘60s radical socialist adulterer to the highest office in our nation. ... We’ve just had an election which proves the majority of voters are either totally stupid or entirely evil."
  • [Referring to victims of HIV/AIDS] "How sad that the lives of degenerate drug addicts and queers are valued more than the innocent victims of more prevalent ailments."
  • "[T]he homosexuals and drug addicts who do essentially kill themselves and others through their own behavior deservedly receive none of my sympathy."
Bradley apologized on Monday for what she wrote when she was at Marquette. “Those comments are not reflective of my worldview,” she said, adding that they “have nothing to do with who I am as a person or a jurist, and they have nothing to do with the issues facing voters of this state.”

From the Wisconsin State Journal:
[Bradley] said she wrote the columns “as a very young student, upset about the outcome of that presidential election and I am frankly embarrassed at the content and tone of what I wrote those many years ago."
Bradley took time out of her apology, however, to blast the “blatant mudslinging campaign” that One Wisconsin Now had purportedly made against her.

Mudslinging, it should be noted, refers to “the use of insults and accusations, especially unjust ones, with the aim of damaging the reputation of an opponent,” according to the Oxford Dictionary.

It is not unjust, in my mind, to question the character of a person running for office based off of the hateful words they wrote twenty years ago, especially someone who will be charged with upholding the law equally and without prejudice. Asking that candidate to clarify or disavow such words is certainly warranted, and I would disagree with Bradley on the point she made of this not being an issue voters would be concerned about.

Bradley has disavowed her commentary from her Marquette days, but it does leave me questioning how she comes to her opinions. Indeed, Bradley is someone who as recently as 2006 (wrongly) believed contraceptives could abort an embryo. She has yet to clarify if she still believes this erroneous piece of information that’s so often peddled by anti-choice organizations across the country.

One has to wonder whether Bradley comes to her beliefs through reading studies, obtaining facts, and scouring empirical evidence, or does she merely tout the conservative line until it’s no longer in her interest to do so politically?

It’s quite telling that it took 24 years for her to disavow these words in the first place. Bradley doesn’t say much about her opinions on issues, and refused in October to divulge her ideas on same-sex marriage, including the ruling that the federal Supreme Court made last year. So there's no telling when her opinion on this topic changed -- ten years ago, ten months ago, or ten minutes ago.

It is my hope that Rebecca Bradley has evolved on gay issues that matter to many Wisconsinites, and has a less negative view on liberals in general, opting to go with research and facts over conservative opinion in her decision making process. But if her recent actions are any indication -- including her leaving the bench in order to court the state’s pro-corporatist business lobby -- it’s clear that she does base her opinions on what is the conservative line of the day.

Bradley should be rejected by the voters of Wisconsin. Her presence on our state’s highest court is dangerous, and could allow for precedents to be set by her political opinion rather than facts and state constitutional law.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Two reports this week hint that corporate influence in WI is on the rise

WEDC took WMC advice to not retain jobs; Sup. Ct. Justice Rebecca Bradley skips oral arguments to campaign

The influence that corporations wield on our state’s political system is alarming. What’s more troubling, however, is how little attention Republican leaders are giving to this crisis, and to a great extent are playing a part in transforming the state into a budding corporatocracy.

This week it was revealed that the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, the quasi-private-public entity charged with creating and retaining jobs in the state, failed to act on the planned closing of the Oscar Mayer plant in Madison -- because the state’s chamber of commerce directed it not to.

Officials with Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, an organization representing conservative business interests in the state, suggested that the WEDC stay clear of trying to retain Kraft-Heinz plants in Wisconsin.

No contact was made between the WEDC and Kraft-Heinz, and the results speak for themselves: the Oscar Mayer plant, whose parent company is Kraft-Heinz, announced late last year it was going close in 2016 and relocate its production to Iowa. The closure will result in the loss of more than 1,000 jobs in Madison, and was part of the devastating 10,000-plus layoff notices accrued in Wisconsin in 2015.

Local officials aren’t happy, to say the least. Madison’s Mayor Paul Soglin took the WEDC to task.

“You’ve got a state agency committed to economic development,” Soglin said. “Then one of the biggest challenges imaginable slaps them in the face, and they do nothing. That’s the bottom line.”

State Sen. Fred Risser (D-Madison) was also upset. In a press release penned on Thursday, Risser wrote that the “WEDC has failed again -- [Gov. Scott Walker’s] job agency has proved to be incompetent in job retention especially in this case.”

But that’s only one example of how corporate influence has recently affected our state. It was further revealed this week that sitting state Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley, who was thrice appointed by Gov. Walker to her judicial positions (including the current one she’s in), had left oral arguments on a case the court was hearing in order to give a campaign speech elsewhere.

It’s bad enough that she left her job to go campaign. Where she went is even worse: Bradley left the Supreme Court to go speak to the WMC at their business day event in Madison, presumably to court voters from the pro-corporatist organization.

It’s already documented that Bradley is willing to compromise judicial ethics rules of the court in order to gain donation dollars, as well as stage photo ops with NRA garb to make certain gun voters know she’d have the gun lobby’s back within our state’s highest court. Now we also definitively know that she will cut her duties short in order to appease her biggest corporate donors.

Are we willing to let this stand? These two instances of Wisconsin’s new style of corporate-friendly governance should be deemed intolerable by the public. Whether it’s losing our jobs or losing our judicial prestige, we the people should not allow this to stand any longer.

We are not a corporatocracy. We are a democracy, and we should remove those from power who would try to otherwise change that.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

September 2015 jobs report shows we're still in a slowdown under Walker

Walker has yet to surpass former Gov. Jim Doyle's final budget year in terms of jobs creation

Wisconsin’s Department of Workforce Development released yearly jobs gains ending in the third quarter for last year (PDF). The news isn’t that stellar.

Because Wisconsin releases its preliminary numbers ahead of the rest of the nation, there’s no way to compare our state to others. So we can’t look at how we did versus Illinois or Minnesota, but we can look at how we did compared to ourselves in previous years.

Though the state gained 30,235 from September 2014 to September 2015, when compared to what happened before Walker took office it’s clear that number isn’t anything to brag about.

Growth from year-to-year was similar to what it was in 2013 and 2014. But gains in those years were also consistent with a slowdown, especially when contrasted with the year ending in September 2011 -- the last year that involved Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle’s final budget.

During that time (September 2010 to September 2011) Wisconsin saw 41,461 jobs created. That year included nine months of Jim Doyle’s budget and three months of Scott Walker’s first budget.

We did much better then than we did now. The third quarter report from 2011 is more than 27 percent better than what we see in this latest report. In fact, in the five years since he left office there hasn’t been a better third quarter report produced in Wisconsin since the last one that involved a Democratic Jim Doyle budget.

Data derived from Bureau of Labor Statistics

Scott Walker came into office promising 250,000 jobs by the end of his first term. By September of last year, one year into his second term, Walker had all but forgotten about that pledge. He was too busy trying to recover from his dwindling presidential polling numbers to care, until he ultimately dropped out later that month.

How many jobs had we created up to that point? From December 2010 to September 2015, we have created about 169,568 new jobs -- about two thirds of what Walker had promised, with nine months of extra time.

At this rate, we will reach Walker’s jobs pledge of 250,000 new jobs in November 2018...right when he’s up for re-election.

What a stark reminder that will be for voters who once supported him, to have that jobs pledge finally be realized almost four years after it was supposed to be realized. Thankfully most Wisconsin voters already understand that Walker’s been a terrible governor. They would be right to request new leadership at that time.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Scott Walker misses his "profile in courage" moment, would support Trump

Some pledges are meant to be broken, including Walker's pledge to back his party's eventual nominee

Gov. Scott Walker will support Donald Trump if he is to become the next presidential nominee for the Republican Party.

The Associated Press reports that Walker will remain a “person of his word,” and would back the loud-mouthed GOP frontrunner should he win the nomination, after pledging in August that he would back whoever the nominee would be.

I give Walker props for standing by what he pledged last fall. Although he has backtracked on other pledges in the past (including claiming his pledge to create 250,000 jobs in Wisconsin was more of a “lofty goal”), standing by his word to support the GOP nominee, no matter who it is, is a noteworthy stance to take.

It’s also foolish.

Some pledges are worth breaking. A woman who endures abuse from her husband is right to break her bonds of marriage, to dissolve the promises she made on her wedding day, for the betterment of her well-being.

And Republicans, who have endured months of mistreatment from Donald Trump, should likewise follow their consciences and refuse to support the candidate that spouts hatred and cruel ideas that would turn America’s treasured ideals upside down.

There comes a time when the measure of a leader is tested by the decisions they have to make. When faced with a choice, of supporting a worthwhile cause versus backing down in the face of political pressure, we should honor those that choose the former, that choose to take the right course of action no matter what the outcome may be for themselves personally.

Those who stand up to Donald Trump’s vile campaign, especially those who are within the Republican Party itself, should be recognized as courageous individuals. They honor the virtue that puts the country ahead of their party, and not the other way around.

Reid Ribble, the Republican Congressman from northeastern Wisconsin, is one member of Trump’s party who won’t back him if he is to become the nominee. His rhetoric, says Ribble, “appeals to the worst parts of who we are as people. It appeals to our fears. It appeals to our racism. It appeals to all the negative things about us.”

Indeed, Trump’s positions are dangerous for the future of this nation. He has stated his desire to curtail the free press. He has advocated committing war crimes (killing innocent civilians) in order to achieve his geopolitical ends. He has suggested putting identifiers on Muslim Americans, reminiscent of what fascist regimes did to the Jewish people during the lead up to the second World War. And those are just a few examples of his deplorable ambitions.

It may not a rewarding position to take politically, but Scott Walker and other Republicans ought to show true leadership and say unequivocally that they will not support Trump as their party’s nominee, opting instead to support a different candidate, or to not support one at all, if necessary.

Such a move would show tremendous backbone. Walker’s current stance, however, shows just how far he’s willing to contort his beliefs in order to save face politically within his party.

So much for the “unintimidated” governor. Rather than demonstrate courage, Gov. Walker shows he’s willing to concede to bigotry and hatred in order to support his party’s success over his country’s future. And for that, he should be ashamed of himself.

Is Sup. Ct. candidate Rebecca Bradley violating judicial ethics rules?

Event with prominent Republicans gives the appearance of impropriety

Earlier this week I discussed how candidate for state Supreme Court Rebecca Bradley had shown she was willing to kowtow to special interests like the NRA in her campaign flyers. Though she doesn’t currently have a hunting license, her campaign took creative liberties and donned her in hunting attire, including a hat with the NRA insignia scrawled across the front in bold lettering.

If that didn’t show a blatant disregard for judicial impartiality, her latest stunt makes it clear enough for every Wisconsinite to see. Bradley is set to host a fundraiser later this month with two special guests, Sen. Alberta Darling and Rep. John Nygren, the Republican co-chairs of the Joint Finance Committee in the state legislature.

While many have pointed out how difficult it is for Bradley to remain an impartial member of the judiciary after hosting events with partisan figures -- entrance fees ranging from $100 minimum to $2,500 for "host level" sponsorship -- her campaign maintains it’s no big deal.

From the Cap Times:
"There is no conflict of interest," said Bradley campaign spokeswoman Madison Wiberg. "Justice Bradley appreciates the support she has earned from all across the state to retain her seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Justice Bradley has always stated that she follows the rule of law and swore an oath to uphold the Wisconsin and U.S. Constitutions as they are written, not by who endorses her campaign."
Though technically her actions aren’t illegal, they certainly aren’t appropriate either. The Wisconsin judicial code of conduct for judges states that “[a] judge shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all of the judge's activities,” and that they “shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.”

It goes on to say that:
The test for appearance of impropriety is whether the conduct would create in reasonable minds a perception that the judge's ability to carry out judicial responsibilities with integrity, impartiality and competence is impaired.
Emphasis in bold added.

In other words, the standard isn’t simply that a candidate must act within the law. Rather, they must additionally give the appearance that they’d remain impartial through their actions and associations outside of the court as well.

With her latest campaign flyer depicting her ties to the National Rifle Association and now with this fundraiser with two prominent Republicans in state government, it’s clear that Bradley’s actions stand in stark contrast with what the Wisconsin Code of Judicial Conduct calls for.

As a candidate for the state Supreme Court, Bradley is failing to live up to those standards. As a current member of the court, she deserves to be removed by voters on April 5 for her failure to adhere to conduct befitting a justice.