Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Restorative justice should become the new norm for young offenders

Alternative sentencing guidelines should be offered for young adults as old as 21

The way in which Genele Laird, the 18-year old African-American teen whose arrest video went viral last week, was treated during her ordeal will likely remain controversial for quite some time.

But the way in which Dane County authorities, including District Attorney Ismael Ozanne, City of Madison Police Chief Mike Koval and Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney (among many other leaders) handled how to respond to Laird’s actions deserves to be commended. Laird will be entered into a restorative justice program, where she’ll have engage in a process dedicated toward demonstrating her social behavior is adequately adjusted through communications with her victims and law enforcement officials.

Laird’s actions that day warranted her arrest. She allegedly threatened the lives of other individuals, presented a knife to those she threatened, spit on officers and refused to comply with their orders.

That doesn’t necessarily justify the way in which she was treated during her arrest. An ongoing investigation into the actions of the officers needs to be completed by an independent authority.

But the best solution for Laird herself, with regards to her own actions, has likely been found. The restorative justice program that she is now a part of will provide her with an alternative to being tried as an adult in court.

For young people especially, restorative justice can do a lot of good. Restorative justice “emphasizes repairing the harm caused by criminal behavior...through cooperative processes that include all stakeholders,” including victims. Repairing harm done to victims is just one of the benefits -- restorative justice programs have also been found to produce outcomes that reduce recidivism.

One study in Barron County, Wisconsin, found that young people entered into these types of programs had a much lower recidivism rate. Juvenile crime in the county was reduced almost in half just five years after the restorative justice program began there.

At a time when Wisconsin’s juvenile justice program is being questioned on how it treats youth in corrections facilities, restorative justice programs can offer an alternative that puts focus on correcting bad social habits that an individual may engage in, rather than doling out punishment through imprisonment and strict procedures.

Indeed, Wisconsin’s youth are facing some difficult situations in the troubled Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake facilities, including some recent accounts allegedly witnessing...
...staff's use of racial slurs to youth; lack of therapy provided to at least one youth who has repeatedly requested it; overuse of solitary confinement, particularly for youths with mental health issues; lack of timely medical attention; and inappropriate use of restraints.
In Genele Laird’s case, a youth sentencing option wouldn’t have ordinarily been offered to her -- 17-year olds and older are automatically charged in adult courts unless all parties involved can agree to a different set of guidelines. Fortunately, that opportunity presented itself to her, and the restorative justice program she now enters gives her another shot to correct her behavior and personally repair the damage done to her victims.

That sort of option ought to become the norm in these situations rather than the exception. Too often we’re quick to punish rather than seek options that will correct behavior of youth in the long-run.

One option could be arranging for older individuals, like Laird, to be considered for youth sentencing programs more regularly. In some countries, juvenile justice extends to age 21 with successful outcomes for those who enter into them. Wisconsin could set an example for the rest of the nation and adopt such standards in the Badger State.

Whatever approach Wisconsin does take, it needs to center around providing more options for youth offenders. Our youth should not be forgotten after they commit a crime, and emphasis should be on correcting their behavior rather than punishment whenever possible.

Memo to Walker -- unlike teachers, NFL players DO get better pay for working more years

The governor tries to make a point on teacher pay, forgetting NFL players have a union that helps them get minimum salaries

While speaking with reporters in western Wisconsin this week, Gov. Scott Walker made some interesting comments on education, specifically on teacher pay.

Walker said that teachers, like NFL players, should be treated like free agents, and paid based on merit, not how long they’ve been teaching.

From the La Crosse Tribune (Emphasis in bold mine):
When asked whether he thought such incentive-driven salary programs would be a hindrance to allowing school districts to keep quality teachers, Walker compared teaching to being a player in the NFL.

“If the Green Bay Packers pay people to perform and if they perform well on their team, (the Packers) pay them to do that,” Walker said. “They don’t pay them for how many years they’ve been on the football team. They pay them whether or not they help (the Packers) win football games.”
Except that’s not true. The NFL does set a minimum wage for players based on the number of years they’ve played. Players in their fifth season, for example, are paid 64 percent more than what players in their rookie seasons earn, if we’re looking at minimum income levels.

It’s true that NFL players receive incomes based on their performances as well. But that isn’t the sole measure of how income is derived. Their seniority is taken into consideration also, thanks to the NFL Players Association.

If it’s good enough for the Green Bay Packers, it’s good enough for Walker...except when it comes to union-negotiated minimum wage seniority pay. The Packers have that; Wisconsin teachers, however, do not.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Scott Walker pooh-pooh's at SCOTUS abortion ruling (and also the concept of judicial review, apparently)

He also changes his justification on why he signed unconstitutional ban from what he said in 2014

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that restrictions on abortion clinics, including requiring providers to have “admitting privileges” to hospitals within thirty miles of their facilities, are unconstitutional burdens on women seeking medical assistance.

The 5-3 ruling today will also have implications here in Wisconsin, as Gov. Scott Walker and Republicans passed similar restrictions here in 2013.

Walker expressed his disappointment in the ruling. “Today's decision from a divided court is a prime example of activist jurists imposing their will on the people,” he said.

He added, “These issues should be left up to the democratic process. I believe in the sanctity of life and will always fight to protect it.”

In 2014, however, while campaigning for re-election to his position as governor, Walker said he signed these laws for the purposes of protecting women’s health, de-emphasizing his pro-life stances.

“I supported legislation to increase safety, and to provide more information for a woman considering her options,” he said back then.

Elected officials did indeed pass legislation on abortion restrictions. In most cases, the democratic consent of the people, through the work of their elected officials, should be respected -- except in instances where the rights of individuals are negatively impacted. When that occurs, the courts (including the Supreme Court of the United States) can rightly strike a law as unconstitutional, and that’s what happened today.

Scott Walker scoffs at that notion with his official statement. He also forgets that his justification to the people of Wisconsin in 2014 hinged on different attitudes, and not his pro-life agenda.

Walker is inconsistent in his reasoning, and his pooh-poohing on “activist jurists” demonstrates he has a flawed understanding of judicial review and on how our government is framed to work.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Bob Gannon’s gun views rely on the doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction

GOP state representative's gun doctrine relies on rational actors, while our gun laws do not.

State Rep. Bob Gannon (R-Slinger) is at it again. This time, he’s introducing legislation that would make businesses liable for injuries incurred on their premises if they are a gun-free site.

Current law allows individuals the right to carry a concealed weapon in public, but written within that law is an exception that allows businesses the right to say concealed weapons aren’t allowed in their doors.

Gannon maintains that’s inviting trouble. “There are violent thugs in our midst, some homegrown, some international, who are determined to cause us harm,” he said in his press release. But rather than find a way to stymie would-be offenders, Gannon goes on the attack against Wisconsin businesses.

The bill would allow victims of gun violence and their families to collect three times the amount of damages typically allocated in these situations. It would also allow victims to sue businesses regardless of who was at actual fault in the instances.

This is a typical response that Gannon employs -- reacting to sensible gun law proposals by insisting that looser gun laws are needed.

Yet Gannon’s reasoning isn’t very sound. Every day, thousands of businesses across the state display a “No Weapons” sign on their premises without an issue. In fact, people who go on gun rampages don’t scope out so-called “gun-free zones” -- there’s zero evidence that backs that idea up. Instead, they typically go to places that have meaning for them (workplaces, for example).

But gun violence isn’t limited to private businesses, of course, and Wisconsin has seen a rise in violent crime and murder rates in the past four years since we’ve deregulated gun ownership, with most of these crimes happening at places other than these weapons-free businesses.

What Gannon and others are attempting to do is shift the blame from gun owners onto businesses in the state that want to keep guns off of their premises. Doing so would force many businesses to reconsider their policies, allowing for looser gun rules in their establishments and growing the number of guns in public.

However, loosening gun rules won’t make anybody safer. The statistics back this point up: since 2011 when Wisconsin began deregulating gun laws under Gov. Scott Walker, violent crime in Wisconsin has gone up by more than 22 percent, and the murder rate has gone up by 71 percent.

Proponents of loosening gun laws like Rep. Bob Gannon rely on the same principles that guided nuclear politics during the Cold War -- that is, the idea of Mutual Assured Destruction. The thought behind this is simple enough: You won’t hurt me if I can hurt you back. And for the most part, there is some evidence that this policy, through reasonable guidance of rational actors, kept the peace during much of the rhetorical conflicts between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

But while M.A.D. on the international scene relied on rational actors, our gun laws do not -- there isn’t a test for owning a gun, and those with mental illness can easily access guns also. But discount the mentally ill for a moment (because most crimes aren’t committed by these individuals anyway) -- even supposedly rational actors who purchase guns can act irrationally when a gun is within their immediate vicinity.

This isn’t supposition from someone who wants a change in gun laws -- it’s documented by several psychological studies that demonstrate guns make people act more rash. For example, one study found that those with guns in their cars tended to engage in “road rage” more frequently than those who didn’t have a gun in their car. Another study found that participants were more anxious to dish out punishments to other individuals when weapons were displayed in the same room.

Consistently, these studies show more aggressive tendencies in people when they’re in the near vicinity of a gun...which may explain why gun violence has grown as gun laws have loosened in Wisconsin.

Bob Gannon’s answer to gun violence is to make gun laws even looser than they already are. Yet it’s clear to see that’s the wrong direction to take.

We’re not doing the state any favors by listening to Gannon’s flawed logic. It’s time to start considering other options, including reforms to our loose gun standards.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Scott Walker finds his conscience -- uh, sort of

Walker is happy to make the right decision, when opportunity coincides with doing the right thing

In March I took Gov. Scott Walker to task for refusing to denounce presumptive Republican nominee for president Donald Trump. At the time, Walker said he would remain true to his word, and support whoever the nominee for president would be for the GOP.

I disagreed with that notion:
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.


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.
Walker has since wavered on that stance, and in recent days has demonstrated that he’d be open to backing someone besides Trump for president. Trump isn’t, after all, the official nominee yet, and the Republican National Committee could change convention rules to allow delegates to select someone other than Trump to be the nominee, allowing Walker the opportunity to keep his pledge and back someone other than Donald.

To which I say: good on Scott Walker, and good on the Republican Party, if it is indeed looking at its options to dump Trump. I’m not a Republican, and I wouldn’t likely support any of the candidates up for consideration. But Donald Trump is a dangerous candidate, far more dangerous than the alternatives that were offered this year by the GOP. That he is even this close to the presidency should concern every Republican, indeed every American as well.

It seems that many Republicans, including Scott Walker, have finally found their conscience. The way that Walker found his conscience, however, is concerning. Walker didn’t start to waver on Trump until, it seems, that it was politically beneficial for him to do so. From CNN:
And yet a fourth group has emerged in recent days, with the most provocative proposal: to dump Trump at the Republican Convention should he not improve over the next two or three weeks. Given Trump's delegate haul, that would require a major change in RNC rules to trigger an open convention.

One name is emerging as the saving grace: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who has privately told friends he is "intrigued" by the possibility of allowing his name to be put in the ring at the GOP convention as a challenge to Trump, two sources with direct knowledge say.
Emphasis in bold mine.

So the governor is changing his tune in light of the possibility of becoming the nominee himself. Of course, he denies this is the case:
Walker, who has said he would support the Republican nominee but last week said that Trump is "not yet" that person, denied he is even considering the possibility in a statement.

"Let me be clear: I am focused entirely on being Governor," he said in a statement from his office. "If there's any campaign in the future, it's going to be running for re-election in 2018, which is a decision that we'll make in the months ahead following the next state budget."
But we’ve heard that before, in 2014 during his re-election campaign:
During the re-election race that he won on Nov. 4, Gov. Scott Walker told voters he intended to spend the next four years in the statehouse.

"My plan -- if the voters approve -- is to serve as governor for the next four years," Walker said in early October.
Walker announced his campaign for president the following July. He dropped out in September 2015, polling under 1 percent in a crowded GOP field.

Again, it’s a good thing that Walker and other Republicans are looking at ways to get rid of Trump before or at the convention in July. I applaud Walker for suggesting that the rules be changed to allow delegates to vote their conscience.

Yet the way that Walker found his own conscience strikes me as troubling. From the outside looking in, it appears as though it took suggestions from others that he could lead the coup against Trump before he jumped on board with the idea fully. Walker’s conscience, in other words, was only found once it suited his interests.

When you act courageously only when it helps you personally, that’s not really finding your conscience at all. It’s opportunistic, and that should worry the American people, should Walker be successful in his coup attempt.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Radio Heat - Walker blames dismal poll numbers on the media, and GOP reps want to loosen gun laws

Radio Heat Episode - June 20, 2016

Should criminal "youth" as old as 21 be considered juvenile offenders? A case for reform

Outcomes are better in states and other countries where 17-year olds aren't tried as adults

Wisconsin has a juvenile detention problem. Recent reports have detailed issues with centers focusing on young inmates, including a long list of abuses and procedural miscues from Lincoln Hills School for Boys, and its companion site Copper Lake School for Girls.

Reports on abuses dating as far back as 2012 were largely ignored by the state. A Racine County judge sent warnings to Gov. Scott Walker at that time detailing alleged problems with the Lincoln Hills facility, and the county stopped sending juvenile offenders shortly after.

Yet those warnings went unheeded, and problems at the facility persisted. A federal investigation into civil rights violations, including child neglect, sexual and physical abuse, and excessive force is still ongoing. In one instance, a youth’s toes had to be amputated after being slammed in a doorway.

Clearly changes need to be considered for how we treat our youth in the justice system. But a broader change on how we treat juvenile offenders may also require special attention.

Recidivism a problem

Wisconsin’s youngest offenders have a recidivism rate of nearly 64 percent (PDF) in the three years after they leave detention facilities. That means, three years or less out of the justice system, children or young adults are back to committing crimes. The process of rehabilitation is coming up short, and youth are typically back inside of a jail cell not long after they left the system in the first place.

This is because our justice system, as a whole, focuses too strongly on punishment rather than corrections. In the juvenile system, this is especially alarming, given that youth who commit crimes aren’t always aware of what their actions entail for their lives in the long run.

Scientific studies have demonstrated that the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for decision making, planning, and personality, doesn’t fully develop in most cases by the time an individual reaches the age of 25. These studies have been recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court when it came to sentencing juveniles to death sentences, a practice they abolished in a 5-4 ruling in 2005. Similarly, sending children to prison facilities that do little to correct their behaviors results in a cyclical outcome, where they’re more likely to become offenders again in the future.

Issues with trying kids as adults

In Wisconsin, children as young as 10 are automatically tried as adults in violent criminal cases. In other cases, attorneys may appeal to judges to try children this young as adults, and if the judge agrees they can be. Every 17-year old, regardless of the severity of the crime, is also charged in adult court.

This may make sense to some people, but again, the severity of the crime may not weigh on the mind of the youth perpetrating it. Children don’t belong in adult courts -- and they don’t belong in adult prisons, either. The effects of sentencing children this young to prison can result in a long, arduous life that entails abuses in correction facilities for the duration of their time there, including physical and sexual abuse from other inmates (and in some documented occasions from prison staff as well).

Recidivism, already a problem for young offenders, is even greater when they’re convicted as adults. Youth who are convicted and sentenced as adults are 44 percent more likely to be arrested in felony-related crimes than youth who are tried in more appropriate venues for their ages.

The answer to reforming youth sentencing may be as simple as trying offenders as youths, even in violent criminal cases. Doing so tends to result in better outcomes in the long-run, for both the offender wanting to re-enter society as well as society wanting to spend less resources on a youth who may commit crimes again once released.

Redefining “youth” may provide better outcomes

But limiting the definition of “youth” up to age 17 may also be problematic. The adolescent mind, having not yet developed to its full potential by this age, clearly plays some role in young offenders’ decision making processes. Would adjudicating “youth” all the way up to their twenties provide a better way to prevent recidivism and criminal acts in the future?

Other nations have experimented with this notion, and have found successes. In Germany, for example, young people as old as 21 have been placed in the juvenile justice system -- and it’s paid off. Recidivism has dropped, with some studies demonstrating that more than half of offenders didn’t go on to commit crimes further down the line.

That’s a substantial contrast to what Wisconsin is seeing, and it shouldn’t be brushed aside as a potential way to drive down our recidivism rates. Three other states in the nation have considered the option, and though efforts so far have failed in those states, they are likely to be pushed for again in the near future. Wisconsin should also consider extending the definition of a young criminal to age 21.

Banning solitary confinement for youth

Earlier this year, President Barack Obama banned solitary confinement for juvenile prisoners, curtailing it significantly for all others, recognizing its detrimental effects on the psyche of young offenders especially.

“Research suggests that solitary confinement has the potential to lead to devastating, lasting psychological consequences,” he wrote in January. “It has been linked to depression, alienation, withdrawal, a reduced ability to interact with others and the potential for violent behavior...Prisoners in solitary are more likely to commit suicide, especially juveniles and people with mental illnesses.”

But while the president’s actions limited its use in federal prisons, solitary confinement remains in use for juveniles in state prisons across the country, including in Wisconsin. Following the president’s remarks, the ACLU of Wisconsin urged leaders to curtail solitary for all prisoners, including abolishing its use for juveniles.

Except for rare instances where the health and safety of the inmate, or of other inmates and officers, is threatened, solitary confinement for youth should be reduced significantly, or barring that eliminated completely. It should be a method of last resort, not used for minor infractions as a method of punishment, and shortened in the length of time that it is used.

The mind of the youth is still developing -- and use of solitary corrupts that growth, instilling negative behavior traits and possible mental health problems that these individuals should not be subjected to. Except for emergency purposes, solitary confinement for juvenile prisoners should be banned, and considered a form of cruel and unusual punishment.

Focusing on rehabilitation, not punishment

Of course, the German system mentioned above (and many other nation’s methods) focuses on rehabilitation as well for youth offenders rather than incarceration. In their sentencing standards, German judges often provide youth with a myriad of options to better themselves, including social training and aggression management -- and in some cases, ordering offenders to regularly meet with the victims of their crimes, to see the consequences of their actions firsthand.

In short, it focuses on assisting the troubled child in growing up. They even provide substantial job training, providing the offender with skills to use once they’ve done their time.

American juvenile sentencing is often more flexible than adult sentencing as well, but more reforms are needed that can reduce recidivism into young adulthood. Focus should be further dedicated to rehabilitation, recognizing that the child’s mind isn’t yet fully developed and may need further guidance rather than punishment.

In Wisconsin, where juvenile detention methods and failures are already being scrutinized, we have an opportunity to lead the way for the rest of the nation. We should recognize our failures, and produce meaningful results that bring about better livelihoods for children who are often forgotten about by the rest of society.

It is deplorable that these children, often forgotten about or actively dismissed by society as a whole, should have to face adult sentencing standards or otherwise be subjected to rehabilitation methods that are proven ineffective. We need reform for these kids, who are still growing up but in a system that provides little in the form of meaningful development.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

GOP lawmakers want to loosen Wisconsin's gun laws -- but that won't make us safer

Since concealed carry passed in 2011, state's crime rate has jumped 22 percent

The tragic shooting in Orlando, Florida, last weekend, in which a man armed with an assault rifle took the lives of nearly 50 individuals in a gay nightclub, behooves us to take a serious look at our laws regulating gun ownership.

Many are calling for a more restrictive process, including ensuring that no person on the “do-not fly” terrorist watch list is capable of purchasing a deadly weapon like the AR-15 used in last weekend’s attacks. Others are going further, insisting that the type of weapon used should be illegal for purchase outright.

The debate has reached Wisconsin, with many Democratic leaders calling for a renewed discussion on tightening our state’s gun laws. Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling (D-La Crosse) gave an impassioned speech Monday about the dreadful state of gun politics today -- and how nothing gets done about it.

”What is going to be the point of action?” she asked her colleagues. “What will it take?”

Shilling’s parents were murdered in a mass shooting in Chicago in the early 1990s. Her experience provides her with unique perspective on the state Senate floor, one that her colleagues ought to show respect toward.

But Republican leaders remain unmoved. Gov. Scott Walker renewed his advice of simply saying, “If you see something, say something,” and other leaders remarkably are calling for looser gun standards.

From the Associated Press:
Rep. Bob Gannon, of Slinger, said there's no way to totally protect people in a free and open society. The state should reduce the number of gun-free zones, allow school personnel to carry a concealed weapon on school grounds and allow people to transport weapons in their car while on school grounds, all of which would make it easier for law-abiding citizens to protect their families and themselves.

Rep. Jesse Kremer of Kewaskum said state law shouldn't be changed except to allow people to carry weapons on Wisconsin college campuses. Kremer introduced a bill this past session that would have allowed concealed weapons in college buildings. He introduced the measure after a gunman killed nine people at a community college in Oregon. The bill failed.
Walker’s advice is a do-nothing approach to gun violence. And I’ve taken both Gannon and Kremer to task on their calls for looser gun laws in the past. But it’s worth re-examining just how foolish their proposals really are.

Loosening gun laws didn’t make us safer, after all, when they were deregulated early in Walker’s tenure. In 2011 Walker signed the concealed carry law, which allowed citizens the ability to walk in public with a concealed weapon at any time. Just months later, he also signed a Castle Doctrine bill into law, and last year Walker and Republicans did away with the state’s four-decades old 48-hour wait time to purchase a gun.

All of these “reforms” were passed with the idea in mind that they’d make us safer, that they would empower citizens to defend themselves. The end to the 48-hour waiting period was justified by saying individuals needed to be able to buy guns faster to fend off would-be intruders (a flimsy rationale, at best, as I pointed out last year). And when he signed concealed carry into law, Gov. Walker exclaimed that his reforms would be “making Wisconsin safer for all responsible, law abiding citizens.”

So has Wisconsin become safer? The survey says...no.

According to FBI Crime Statistics, from 2011 to 2014 crime in Wisconsin actually increased. Violent crime, which was at a rate of 236 incidents per 100,000 citizens in 2011, went up to 290 incidents per 100,000 in 2014. That’s a significant increase, amounting to a rise in violent crime of about 22 percent during that time period.

Many conservative politicians have suggested this is an urban problem, but this is a trend that’s not just happening in Milwaukee. Though our state’s largest city saw the highest rise in crime, the stats show that it rose elsewhere, too. Nonmetropolitan areas also saw more than an 11 percent rise in violent crime from 2011 to 2014, and a 28 percent rise in murders.

Were we to be “safer” under the loosening of gun laws, we wouldn’t see a drastically higher trend of violent crime and murder rates. Walker assured us that we’d be safer under concealed carry, mainly because criminals would be deterred from attacking individuals if it wasn’t clear their would-be victims were “packing heat” or not.

Instead, crime went up. Whether that’s because of (or in spite of) loosening gun laws remains to be seen. But certainly Walker’s assertions that we’d be safer have been proven false.

The numbers mentioned above come from verified FBI crime reports, which go through to 2014. But new preliminary numbers from the state of Wisconsin present even more cause for concern. They show new stats from 2015, and unfortunately the trend is going in the wrong direction.

Violent crime was again at 290 incidents per 100,000 citizens in the state for 2015, similar to what it was in 2014 (and again a 22 percent increase from where we stood in 2011). But murders jumped up to more than 4.08 incidents per 100,000 -- a 42 percent increase in murders from the previous year, and a 71 percent murder rate increase from 2011’s numbers.

Once more, these weren’t all in Milwaukee. From 2014 to 2015, the rate of non-Milwaukee murders went up by more than 18 percent.

Conservative Republicans who are calling for looser gun laws to solve gun problems are stubbornly ignoring the facts. They’re also relying on a false notion, that greater access to guns (through looser gun regulations) will somehow make us safer. But we aren’t safer -- if anything, since looser gun laws have been enacted, Wisconsin has become more dangerous.

Again, that isn’t to say that looser laws are responsible for the rise in crime. But they sure aren’t solving the problems, either. Republicans should stop relying on this false idol to save us...too many are suffering because of their pride.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Reasonable reforms to gun laws won't disrupt right to bear arms

Program head for Oshkosh radio station wrongly foresees grim future if freedoms get "whittled" away by common sense proposals

On Monday, June 13, Jonathan Krause, the News and Program Director for WOSH Radio in Oshkosh, published a portrayal of the direction he believes our nation is heading toward following the mass shooting in Orlando, Florida over the weekend.

“Someday several decades -- maybe even a couple of centuries -- after all of us are dead and gone,” he began, “historians will look back at the United States and marvel at the personal freedoms and individual rights that it once granted to its citizens. And then they will look at how those rights and freedoms were whittled away over time.”

He added:
Take for instance the Fourth Amendment right to freedom from search without a warrant. That was freely given up after 19-religious zealots hijacked four aircraft and crashed them into buildings. Or the First Amendment right to freedom of expression and practice of religion. Those were abdicated to prevent a select few from having their feelings hurt or to be able to buy wedding cakes from any bakery in the country. And then there was the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. That was eventually stripped away because of the actions of criminals, the mentally ill and more religious zealots.
This is a simplistic way to imagine how things will be decades into the future, and it’s a cynical response to what needs to be done in the wake of this most recent tragedy.

Let me first say that yes, every freedom and liberty we take for granted today indeed deserve protections. Any changes to those freedoms -- including the freedom to own and carry a weapon -- requires a scrutinizing eye before moving ahead, before determining that a freedom will remain intact and won’t ultimately be destroyed by the changes being proposed.

The gun debate requires meaningful
dialogue and consideration of options
And I do agree with Krause on the Fourth Amendment aspect of his diatribe. We unnecessarily gave up too much of our right to privacy in the wake of 9/11, a point that former Sen. Russ Feingold made as the sole senator to vote against the U.S.A. P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act in 2001.

But Krause’s characterizations that the First Amendment right to free speech and religious protections may one day become “abdicated to prevent a select few from having their feelings hurt or to be able to buy wedding cakes from any bakery in the country” is downright wrong. Discrimination in the marketplace prevents people from being able to pursue their own ends, and creates a Jim Crow de facto society wherein the right to discriminate becomes commonplace.

Religious freedom can be used to discriminate on any basis, really, without actually adhering to religious doctrine -- most establishments that discriminate on sexual orientation, for example, likely don’t have a similar code for straight couples that engaged in premarital sex.

As a brief aside, the Bible says to treat others who you consider “enemies” with kindness, a verse (among many others) that so-called “pro-religious/pro-discrimination” advocates typically overlook:
But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great...
Discrimination isn’t religious freedom; it’s religious persecution. Those who bake the cakes, to continue Krause’s analogy, are not told they must refrain from their beliefs in their private lives. But if they provide a financial service in the public marketplace, they can and SHOULD be mandated to provide that service equally and without discrimination against individuals on the basis of their identities (sexual orientation, race, other religious beliefs, etc).

Similarly, Krause’s opinions on the Second Amendment are equally inept, and frightfully offered just days after nearly 50 individuals lost their lives to a madman with an assault rifle. Krause states that the right to bear arms will be “stripped away because of the actions of criminals, the mentally ill and more religious zealots.”

I disagree with Krause on the right to bear arms being stripped away by common sense solutions. It is not an infringement on Second Amendment rights to regulate which weapons can be sold, and how they can be sold. The word “regulated” appears in the amendment itself, and it never states that ownership of all weapons is a protected right. To believe so is a dangerous notion -- should I be allowed to own a nuclear weapon?

I also believe that there is an inherent right to self-preservation. Purchasing a gun to defend your home and family is a right you deserve to hold onto, and any regulations that prevent that right would be an overreach, one that Krause and others would be right in concerning themselves over.

But it’s time to be reasonable with regard to necessary changes to the law. People who are on terrorist watch-lists are currently free to purchase destructive instruments to rein death on an unsuspecting populace. Let that sink in for a moment, because it’s an important point that needs reflection.

We allow people whom we deem too dangerous to buy plane tickets to buy weapons that are capable of producing instant death for dozens of people. We allow people to purchase weapons without a background check of any kind through gun shows, a point that terrorists are all-too-happy to point out and exploit.

Maybe it’s time we close these loopholes, or make it more difficult to purchase weapons, or make buying certain weapons more difficult, or ban certain instruments outright. It’s a debate that needs to be discussed.

But scoffing off the debate, as Krause and others do, as freedoms becoming “whittled away” is not a solution to the problem of gun violence. In fact, it’s ignoring the problem altogether. And that to me is unethical as well as immoral.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Walker claim on “average weekly wage” increase isn’t all it appears to be

Differences in median household income and weekly wage increases demonstrate it's likely the top 1 percent are skewing numbers

A common theme of Gov. Scott Walker’s administration is to gloss over bad job reports with finely-spun numbers that are meant to paint a rosier picture.

Sometimes this includes ignoring one set of jobs numbers in favor of a separate report -- Walker has frequently switched back and forth between his preference for monthly reports on jobs versus quarterly reports, depending on which provides him the better numbers.

At times, though, neither report sends him good news. When that happens, Walker & Co. have to get a bit creative with their spinning.

So they look at other figures, like weekly wages. And, it appears at first sight that the spin works -- when you can say that the average wage of a Wisconsin worker has gone up by $51, it has a positive ring.

The Department of Workforce Development made this argument in March 2015, and recently Gov. Walker has been telling news outlets a similar line, bragging about Wisconsin being sixth in the nation in weekly wage growth over the last year.

But looking at the long-term trend provides a different story, and other statistics paint a different picture altogether.

When you look at household median income, for example, you notice that Wisconsin has actually seen a downward trend. From 2009 to 2014, household median income in Wisconsin dropped by more than 4 percent. During that same time frame, however, weekly wages went up by more than 11 percent.

How is that possible? Shouldn't the two coincide? For starters, these figures do come from two separate surveys, so there is likely some differences from that alone. But another possibility is that unequal income distribution is affecting the numbers through inconspicuous ways.

To explain further, imagine there’s a room with 100 individuals sitting together. Assume that 99 of these individuals earn on average $15 an hour. Their weekly wage is around $600. But the last individual earns $100 an hour, or about $4,000 a week.

Now let’s assume that there’s a cut in wages for those bottom 99 workers. They see their wages drop $1 to $14 an hour, or about $560 a week. But the last worker sees a raise instead. His wage actually doubles to $200 an hour.

The result of this scenario? Average weekly wages have gone up by $0.01 per hour, or $0.40 more per week for the entire group. But median income has gone down by a dollar an hour, or $40 less per week.

The same situation is likely playing out in Wisconsin. The top 1 percent are getting most of the new post-recession income while the bottom 99 percent see wages stagnate -- or worse, go lower. The result is likely the same as in the imagined scenario above: average weekly income appears to go up, while the median household income stays the same, or worse goes lower.

Average weekly wages went up from 2014 to 2015. But the reason why may not be what we imagine it to be, namely that it might not be that every worker is getting better wages, just some on the top. Scott Walker should be honest with Wisconsinites, and address why household median income has gone down since he’s become governor rather than tout numbers that could be affected by the rich simply getting richer.

Special thanks to Jake from Jake’s Economic TA Funhouse for clarifying an economics question I had in writing this post

Broken promises and poor jobs rankings: WI is falling behind under Walker’s watch

Walker scoffs at state jobs rankings, but hails dubious CEO rankings of states

My sixth grade gym teacher used to have a sign over his door that aptly read, “RESULTS, NOT EXCUSES.” To the adolescent mind, it was corny and the butt of many jokes among my group of friends. But his methods worked, and the expression has stuck with me.

It’s clearly not a mantra that Gov. Scott Walker is familiar with.

The latest quarterly jobs report was released by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics this week, detailing how each state performed over the entirety of 2015. Wisconsin didn’t fare too well, creating just 31,670 private sector jobs over the course of the year.

That sounds like a lot, but contextually it’s a big let-down. When compared to the rest of the nation we rank 36th in private sector jobs creation, and second-to-last in the Midwest ahead of only Iowa.

The state’s rate of jobs growth was 1.3 percent, significantly slower than the national rate of 2.1 percent.

We aren’t just falling behind the rest of the nation. Wisconsin’s latest rate of jobs growth is slower than what it was under Gov. Jim Doyle’s last year as governor, when it was a 1.5 percent growth, ranking us 11th in the nation in private sector jobs growth.

Over at Jake’s Economic TA Funhouse, there’s more:
This means that not only did Wisconsin private sector job growth slow down quite a bit from 2014’s 1.55%, but we were also below the 1.50% rate of job growth that Wisconsin had in 2010. That was under Jim Doyle and the Dems, and that’s the recovery rate Walker inherited when he took office, promising to make the state “open for business.” How’s that working out for us.
Jake’s full post is well-worth the read, and includes an in-depth statistical analysis of the whole BLS report.

But how has Walker reacted to the news? He’s stated quite clearly that he just doesn’t care about the rankings. From the Associated Press (emphasis in bold added)
Walker defended his record Wednesday, saying that he never made any promises about state rankings. And he notes that all the jobs lost during the recession have been recovered and Wisconsin's job participation rate is higher than the national average.
Which strikes me as odd. Gov. Walker and other state Republicans constantly cite the rankings from CEO Magazine that say Wisconsin is a great state to do business in. This metric, however, isn’t a reliable statistical analysis: it’s a survey of attitudes that CEOs have of states across the country. No data goes into the rankings whatsoever.

So for Walker, it’s fine to use these unreliable rankings in press releases, but he scoffs at the idea that he should be held to some other measure that actually looks at, you know, statistics and reliable rankings. He didn’t promise anything about rankings, after all.

But Walker DID make a promise about creating jobs, stating in 2010 that his leadership and reforms would bring in 250,000 jobs to the state by the end of his first term.

How’d he do? Five years into his tenure, and we’re still well behind that promise. We’ve created 161,823 new private sector jobs since Walker took office, about 64 percent of what Walker promised to do in a shorter span of time.

Again, that sounds like a big number. “So what,” you might ask, “maybe he didn’t make his jobs promise. We’re still moving forward. YEAH!!!!”

We are creating jobs, but when you look at how we’ve done compared to the rest of the nation we again see a pattern of falling behind. Wisconsin ranks 37th overall in creating private sector jobs from the start of Walker’s tenure to the end of 2015, and dead last overall in the Midwest.

Wisconsin's performance in red

Here's another interesting thought: had Scott Walker never assumed office, and had that rate of growth continued over the past five years, we would have created 175,510 private sector jobs, almost 14,000 more jobs than what Wisconsin created under Walker’s leadership.

We continue to lag behind the rest of the nation. And the promises on jobs that Walker made have been broken. The governor’s reforms have failed to produce the results he said they would. But rather than acknowledge his own failings, Walker continues to insist that everything’s working just fine.

Maybe it is working fine for his donor base. For many in Wisconsin, however, real economic hardships continue to persist.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

This Sanders supporter is gladly backing Hillary Clinton for President

I still love Bernie, but I recognize that Clinton needs, deserves my support going forward

I voted for Sen. Bernie Sanders in Wisconsin’s Democratic Party primary back in April. I stood fervently by my candidate beyond the ballot I cast, and continued to promote his candidacy well into the spring and into summer.

The writing on the wall, however, is perfectly clear: Hillary Clinton will become the Democratic Party’s nominee.

And I am equally thrilled to back her going forward.

I never saw Clinton in this race as a “bad” candidate. I simply preferred Sanders over her, and did my best to promote the candidate I liked more.

But I did my best to do so in a way respectful of Clinton. Being “for” someone doesn’t necessarily make you “against” someone else; it merely means you have a preference.

With Hillary Clinton as the presumptive Democratic nominee, we see history in the making: the first female nominee of a major party to top a presidential ticket. That is not something that should be so easily dismissed. Women today face fierce obstacles in society. Sexism pervades our businesses, our government, our public life, and so on.

Clinton’s candidacy isn’t just about her being the first woman president. I am confident that she will continue to push our nation in the direction that President Barack Obama started us on. She will be a progressive leader who will push for a higher minimum wage, a more green planet, a better economy for Americans of all economic levels, and access to higher education for every student deserving of a path to college.

I spent the entirety of the primary season “feeling the Bern.” But it’s clear now that Hillary will be the Democratic nominee. She has more pledged delegates than Sanders, as well as more votes overall from the American people. And since her victory is now imminent, it’s time for Bernie Sanders to step aside.

Tonight, and for the rest of this campaign, #ImForHer. Hillary Clinton is the Democratic Party’s nominee for president, and the best hope from this point forward to creating a better America for our nation’s future.

Ceiling status: cracked. And I look forward to seeing it completely shattered in November.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Radio Heat - Scott Walker "trolls" on Twitter, and a comment on homelessness

Radio Heat Episode - June 6, 2016

This week's episode -- the first! (well, the triumphant return of Radio Heat) -- features commentary on homelessness in Wisconsin, Scott Walker "trolling" the WisDems convention on Twitter, and a reading of my blog post, "Assume every state besides WI created zero jobs in 2015 -- we’re STILL behind most of the nation.

Featuring music from 4 Aspirin Morning.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Walker Recall failed, but events since then demonstrate it was justified

A short list of grievances makes it clear that history books won't be kind to Gov. Walker

It was four years ago this week that the recall election, aimed to remove Gov. Scott Walker from his office, failed.

But though the recall itself didn’t succeed, the rationale for its necessity continues to become evident to this day. Scott Walker was, and still is, a destructive governor, and history will likely remember him poorly for his time served in office.

To mark this anniversary, the governor took to social media, expressing his delight in winning the recall:

And as far as electoral victories go, Walker should be proud. He won, after all, and is the only governor in U.S. history to survive a recall attempt.

Yet electoral victories do not a good leader make. In 1952, at the height of the Red Scare that he was instrumental in fomenting, Joseph McCarthy won re-election to serve in the U.S. Senate for the state of Wisconsin. His crusade, eventually exposed as a fraud, was not justified by any means through his electoral victories.

The same holds true for Gov. Walker, or of any politician for that matter. Electoral victories are not what makes a good leader -- it is how you act in office once elected, how you serve and what you do for the people you represent, that defines your place in the history books.

Scott Walker may have won the recall election four years ago, and he may have won his re-election campaign in 2014. But his record speaks for itself -- he has failed to uphold Wisconsin’s stature as an enviable state to reside in.

On his jobs promise, of creating 250,000 new private sector employment opportunities in four years, he has managed to create just 65 percent of that number in five years’ time, being far outpaced by most of the nation on that metric. We currently sit dead last in jobs creation in the Midwest, and only ten other states in the nation have done worse than Wisconsin since September 2011. And last year, more than 10,000 layoff notices went to workers across the state.

Who does he blame for missing his pledge? He has, in the past, tried to pass the buck to Obamacare, the debt ceiling, protesters, the recall, rain, the 2012 presidential election, unrest in Syria and unskilled workers. More recently he implied that it was the duty of the University of Wisconsin System to produce jobs, and not himself.

Under his leadership, the Department of Natural Resources has failed to send out violation notices to those who have polluted our state’s most vital resource. Wastewater pollutes our drinking reserves in disastrous ways, and countless Wisconsinites are likely poisoned daily as a result.

Walker consistently touts himself as a leader on higher education, flaunting his “tuition freeze” for students seeking college degrees. But a tuition freeze isn’t a long-term solution, and Walker has defunded the UW System in significant ways, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. His latest criticisms on professors frequently relies on deliberately misleading lines of attacks.

He has made a mockery of our electoral system, relying on the conservative State Supreme Court to render an investigation into his illegal campaign coordination with third party groups as legitimate. And he has made it clear to high-paying donors that he’s willing to do whatever it takes to get their campaign cash in his coffers -- including considering placing violent instigators into peaceful protests.

He has attacked women’s rights in the state, including reproductive rights, creating more hurdles for women to make decisions about their bodies with their doctors. Walker and the Republican-led legislature also repealed the state’s stronger enforcement of equal pay laws, making it more difficult for women across the state to seek redress for being paid less to work the same jobs that men do.

He has used “Jim Crow” rhetoric in attacking transgender citizens’ rights. He stood against marriage equality in the state and nationally.

And let’s not forget that he attacked Facebook for an anti-conservative bias without tangible proof being presented. He has, in fact, consistently been an embarrassment to Wisconsin, not just nationally but on an international stage as well, as he pretends to still be an influential player in conservative circles.

This list is by no means definitive either. There have been many other instances where Walker has proven himself a terrible leader, as someone who has made Wisconsin a less-hospitable place to be, and who has inflamed angry sentiments across the state like no other political leader before him.

For Walker, celebrating electoral victories is about the only thing he can do at this point. But again, I must reiterate -- electoral victories are not indications of good leadership. What matters most about a leader is how they carry out their duties with the people’s interests in mind.

In that measure, Walker has failed in an epic way. Though he won the recall four years ago this week, in the years since we have seen that we were justified in seeking a remedy to prematurely oust Walker from office after all.

In 2018, Wisconsinites must not make the same mistake again -- they must select new leadership. Our future as an innovative and desirable state to reside in may depend on removing what has been the worst governor in our state’s history from his post.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Walker should tie his own paycheck, not UW funding, to jobs performance measures

UW has consistently been a top-tier university; Walker has failed to invigorate Wisconsin economy

Gov. Scott Walker suggested he might be open to providing more funding to the UW System, but with a catch -- the funding might be tied to jobs performance-based measures.
Gov. Scott Walker is indicating he may increase funding for the University of Wisconsin System and technical colleges, possibly tied to performance measures.

Walker and the state Legislature previously tied a larger portion of technical college funding to performance in multiple areas, including placing students in jobs related to their fields and degrees awarded in high-demand fields.
The value of our universities and colleges, however, cannot be arbitrarily tied to what jobs graduates find themselves in after getting a diploma. A degree may be only one factor that those who are hiring may consider with an applicant.

Besides, there’s already a clear measurement of how valuable the UW System is to our state. The University of Wisconsin consistently ranks in the top 25 universities around the world. If that’s not good enough to warrant continued funding, then what is?

Of course, we could apply Walker’s standards to his own record on job creation. Besides failing to meet his jobs promise from his 2010 campaign -- which he amended to a BIG GOAL when it was pointed out he missed it -- Wisconsin is falling behind the rest of the nation on other economic measures as well.

We’re dead last when it comes to creating new startup businesses, for example. And a new report this week paints that stat into darker territory: what startups we DO create don’t tend to last long:
It would seem that young businesses aren't doing so well in Wisconsin, at least in relative terms. Of the 25 states with the largest populations in the U.S., the report ranks Wisconsin 23rd in terms of its entrepreneurial growth.
That’s due in part to the Walker administration’s original plan to poach companies (1, 2, 3) from other states rather than to cultivate new ones in Wisconsin. Trying to lure companies from other states using tax incentives and other methods, however, is an approach that is largely ineffective in creating jobs.

If Walker is to insist on a performance-based method for UW System funding, he should put his money where his mouth is and insist that lawmakers, like himself and Republican legislators, be paid on the same basis. Were that to be the case, I would imagine we’d see a fast change in rhetoric from this administration.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Why I reject hatred in political discussions and debates

A recent comment prompts me to address an important point -- I don't "hate" Gov. Walker

It’s not common for me to comment on something said to me on social media. Sure, I will quote political leaders and talking-heads when it’s appropriate; but as far as tweets from regular folk go, it’s not my place to put their opinions on this blog.

I do want to address one thought that was suggested of me recently, however. It’s not necessary that I mention the person by name, but what they said is enough for me to respond in full.

This person was trying to antagonize me, and could fit under the definition of an internet “troll.” By that, of course, I mean their purpose in engaging others “is to seek out people to argue on the internet over extremely trivial issues.” Nevertheless, I want to address their words, or rather what their sentiment was.

They believe I hate Republican Gov. Scott Walker simply because he’s a Republican.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, I get mad at the governor, as well as with others whom I vehemently disagree with, and often express that anger on this site. But hatred is far too strong of an emotion in politics, and blinds otherwise rational people from being able to make progress in government. I reject hatred in politics for that reason. Always have.

I have more reason than others to actually hate the governor -- his last name, Walker, is synonymous with corruption, and will be remembered for generations to come as the name responsible for destroying the traditional ideal of cooperation in Wisconsin governance.

And though we’re not related, we do share a last name. Which means my name, then, will be synonymous with everything that has gone wrong in the state since he assumed the governor’s office.

Yet I refuse to hate Gov. Walker. He’s been wrong on so many of the issues, and his actions have caused a tremendous burden on so many people in this state. But it’s a waste of my time to spend hating him. He does, after all, have the capacity to change his ways and do good for the state. As long as that possibility exists, no matter how remote it may be, hatred must be rejected.

As I said, hatred in politics blinds individuals. And if people embrace hatred of politicians, it obscures their ability to reach across the aisle when it is possible.

It must be pointed out that Walker hasn’t been 100 percent wrong all of the time -- he has, for instance, shown compassion to victims of sexual assault, evident when he signed a bill into law granting amnesty to victims of assaults who may have been drinking while underage at the time of the crime. Such victims may be hesitant to report sexual assaults when doing so results in their own arrest or citation. A broken clock can be right twice a day, and in this instance Walker was on the right side of an issue.

Recognizing that possibility is necessary in politics, and in life. Your “enemies” may be wrong (in your opinion) most of the time. But when they’re right, it needs to be acknowledged.

That acknowledgment cannot occur if hatred consumes you. And without that acknowledgment, there can be no room for compromise when it matters.

No, I do not hate Gov. Scott Walker, for any reason. I do not hate any Republican, conservative, or anyone political. I reject political hatred because it closes the door to opportunity.

I may get angry, and indeed my anger has shown itself on this very blog on many occasions. But anger shouldn’t be confused for hatred. And hatred should be removed from politics.