Sunday, July 31, 2016

Paul Ryan should un-endorse Trump -- even if doing so doesn’t help his party

It should be national interests over party interests, and Paul Ryan has an opportunity to show that now more than ever

Donald Trump had a lot to say about a Muslim family whose son died while serving in the war in Iraq.

Khizr Khan and his wife Ghazala Khan both appeared at the Democratic National Convention last week to urge people to vote for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump, citing Trump’s ignorant views on the Muslim community as frightening and dangerous.

Khizr Khan spoke while his wife stood by his side, asking of Trump, “Have you ever been to Arlington Cemetery? Go look at the graves of brave patriots who died defending the United States of America. You will see all faiths, genders and ethnicities.”

He added, “You have sacrificed nothing and no one.”

This led to Trump defending himself on ABC with host George Stephanopoulos. When pressed to explain if he had ever made sacrifices, Trump said he had by creating “tens of thousands of jobs.”

How that is a sacrifice, one has to wonder. But he also directed criticism towards the Khan family, specifically toward Ghazala Khan, asking why she didn’t speak at the convention and implying her Islamic faith prevented her from doing so.

“She was standing there,” Trump said. “She had nothing to say. She probably, maybe she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say. You tell me”

Ghazala Khan wrote in an op-ed this weekend that she didn’t speak because the grief of losing a child still overwhelms her.
I cannot walk into a room with pictures of Humayun. For all these years, I haven’t been able to clean the closet where his things are -- I had to ask my daughter-in-law to do it. Walking onto the convention stage, with a huge picture of my son behind me, I could hardly control myself. What mother could? Donald Trump has children whom he loves. Does he really need to wonder why I did not speak?
It is no wonder that several Republican leaders are doing their best to distance themselves from Trump’s comments. Among them is Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, who in a written statement said:
America’s greatness is built on the principles of liberty and preserved by the men and women who wear the uniform to defend it. As I have said on numerous occasions, a religious test for entering our country is not reflective of these fundamental values. I reject it. Many Muslim Americans have served valiantly in our military, and made the ultimate sacrifice. Captain Khan was one such brave example. His sacrifice -- and that of Khizr and Ghazala Khan -- should always be honored. Period.
That is clearly a dig at Trump, but it doesn’t specifically mention him by name. It’s time that Ryan stop with the subtleties and call Trump out -- by name -- and denounce him as a candidate for president, renouncing the endorsement he made in June.

Yes, Donald Trump is the Republican nominee for president, and yes Paul Ryan is the highest-ranking Republican in our nation’s government. The two share a party, but that doesn’t mean they need to back each other up. Our nation’s best interests should come before our personal politics, and Ryan should stand up to his party’s nominee, officially calling him out by name instead of crafting these cryptic press releases.

Earlier this year I noted that Gov. Scott Walker had missed his “profile in courage” moment -- his chance to do the right thing, and to withdraw his support of Donald Trump. I wrote then that, “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.”

I added:
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.
Now it is Paul Ryan’s chance. Clearly, Trump has irked him and his party on several occasions, and it’s clear that he’d make a lousy president. Ryan needs to do the right thing -- disavow Trump as his preference, and state unequivocally that he should not be elected to serve as president of the United States.

Wisconsin GOP more concerned with protecting their job security rather than the integrity of elections

Federal judge strikes down several restrictive voting laws in the state

Wisconsin Republicans aren’t happy with the latest court ruling on laws regulating voting.

U.S. District Court Judge James Peterson ruled on Friday that the laws imposed on Wisconsin voters created an undue burden on citizens, specifically on minorities.

“The heart of the opinion considers whether each of the other challenged provisions unduly burdens the right to vote, in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments,” Peterson wrote in his decision. He ultimately found that “[t]he purported justifications for these laws do not justify the burdens they impose.”

His ruling essentially strikes down laws passed by Republican lawmakers since Gov. Scott Walker took office that:
  • limited early voting to no earlier than the ten weekdays before an election, and restricted communities from allowing voters to cast ballots on weekends;
  • limited the number of polling places that a community could have for early voting, restricting larger cities, for example, from allowing voters easier access to casting early ballots;
  • prohibited access to absentee ballots through email or faxes sent directly to voters;
  • disallowed students from using expired student ID cards to prove their identity;
  • changed residency requirements for voting. Previously, residents who could demonstrate living in Wisconsin for ten days or longer were eligible voters, but Republicans changed that requirement to 28 days, essentially stripping new voters of their rights if they hadn’t lived in the state for more than a month (even in presidential elections).
Republican lawmakers were livid, and pushed the “activist” judge complaint that they’ve always charged whenever they lost a court case.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos wrote:
This is a liberal judge’s attempt to undermine our elections less than four months out. ... The measures did not disenfranchise voters; they protected the integrity of our elections and people’s right to vote.
And Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke wrote:
This is yet another attempt by an activist judge to usurp states’ rights. These laws uphold the integrity of our election process and our citizens’ right to vote.
Common in those two statements (besides the “activist” judge trope) is the belief held by these two leaders in the Republican Party that the restrictions they passed somehow “protected the integrity of elections.”

But here’s the thing: remove those restrictions, and how exactly is the integrity of the elections compromised? The answer is, that it isn’t.

Allowing voters greater access to absentee ballots, allowing voters to vote earlier and on the weekends, allowing voters to use expired student IDs (expired driver’s licenses were already allowed), allowing communities to have multiple polling locations, and allowing newly established Wisconsin citizens to take part in the democratic process is hardly damaging to the elections that Republicans are trying to claim they’re trying to protect.

These restrictions, in fact, caused more harm to voters than anything else. They were rightly struck down as cumbersome and detrimental to the democratic process.

Wisconsin Republicans aren’t interested in protecting the integrity of anything, especially voting rights. They’re more interested in retaining and expanding their majorities in the legislature. That sort of behavior should concern every voter across the state. It isn’t democracy they’re worried about protecting; it’s their job security.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Reporter barred from Mike Pence event in Wisconsin sets dangerous precedent

Freedom of the press is being restricted against those who report the truth

A reporter with the Washington Post attended (or at least attempted to) a rally for Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence in Waukesha this week. Though he initially tried to enter as a member of the press, his credentials were denied on the basis of his employer.

Unfortunately this isn't an isolated incident. Donald Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, has forbidden reporters from the Washington Post and other news organizations from attending his campaign events on account of their fact-based reporting. Sick of seeing headlines that portrayed him in a negative light, Trump denied the organization, as well as a slew of others, access during the course of his campaign.

What happened to Jose A. DelReal, the reporter with the Post who was denied access to the Pence event, should disturb anyone who considers a free press an important aspect of our American democracy. From the Post:
Post reporter Jose A. DelReal sought to cover Pence’s rally at the Waukesha County Exposition Center outside Milwaukee, but he was turned down for a credential beforehand by volunteers at a press check-in table.

DelReal then tried to enter via the general-admission line, as Post reporters have done without incident since Trump last month banned the newspaper from his events. He was stopped there by a private security official who told him he couldn’t enter the building with his laptop and cellphone. When DelReal asked whether others attending the rally could enter with their cellphones, he said the unidentified official replied, “Not if they work for The Washington Post.”

After placing his computer and phone in his car, DelReal returned to the line and was detained again by security personnel, who summoned two county sheriff’s deputies. The officers patted down DelReal’s legs and torso, seeking his phone, the reporter said.

When the officers — whom DelReal identified as Deputy John Lappley and Capt. Michelle Larsuel — verified that he wasn’t carrying a phone, the reporter asked to be admitted. The security person declined. “He said, ‘I don’t want you here. You have to go,’ ” DelReal said.
After complying with everything that was demanded of the journalist, he still was denied access to a campaign event.

That is troubling, to say the least. Of course, in Scott Walker’s Wisconsin limited access to events like these are commonplace. Listening sessions frequently restrict the press from taking part, and the events are invite-only -- meaning that we cannot take part unless asked by the governor’s people to attend.

That doesn’t make it right. To be sure, presidents and other politicians often try to control their messaging to the press, but Trump is taking it to new and dangerous levels. In a free society we cannot accept these sort of conditions as normal, and we mustn’t allow this precedent to stand.

We must reject this unfair treatment of the press, and demand that the Republican candidate allow reporters access to his events if he wants to be taken seriously as a candidate. His actions up to now disqualify him for the office he seeks.

Achievement gap remains, but Madison schools are making huge gains

Student test scores across all demographics are on the rise

I’m optimistic about the direction the Madison Metropolitan School District is taking.

The achievement gap remains. There is still a vast difference between how well white students are doing versus students of color, with the latter falling well-behind the former. Much more work needs to be done.

Yet the latest report from MMSD signals that positive changes are happening, with academic achievement rates across all demographics going up from the previous year.

Black students reached a 64 percent reading proficiency, a vast improvement from the previous year’s numbers of 52 percent. In Hispanic students, the reading proficiency numbers were 73 percent, up ten percentage points from the previous academic year.

Things improved in part because the school district focused on family-centric engagement philosophies.

“This year, schools deepened their focus on instructional strategies to accelerate student performance, explored new ways to improve family engagement and built stronger professional learning plans for staff,” the report read.

And to follow it up, the school district plans to “expand intensive support at the district’s highest-need schools and provide additional opportunities for schools to collaborate with each other,” while also focusing on “improving parent partnership that is linked to learning” across the district.

These measures appear to be working. There is still more that can be done. But with more resources at their disposal, the Madison Metropolitan School District appears to be moving things in the right direction. And if successful, the strategies employed in Madison be utilized across the state.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

"Bernie-or-Bust" will not help America -- it's time to unify

We can't afford a Trump presidency -- and Hillary is the candidate closest to Bernie's ideals

The speeches given by party leaders at the first day of the Democratic National Convention were inspiring. Michelle Obama, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders gave stellar performances, appealing to both logical and emotional arguments for why Clinton is our best choice for president.

Some reactions from the crowd, however, disturbed me.

Most of the audience, of course, acted cordially, cheering for these leaders and generally showing respect during their time at the podium. Yet a good handful of “Bernie-or-Bust” supporters, those who vowed never to vote for Clinton no matter what, were boorish and uncompromising in their need to be heard, making it difficult at times to hear on television what the speakers were trying to say.

Comedian Sarah Silverman took the Bernie-or-Bust portion of the crowd head-on in her comments onstage last night. “You’re being ridiculous,” she told them.

Those words should resonate coming from her: Silverman was an ardent Bernie Sanders supporter during the campaign. Recognizing, however, that her candidate didn’t win the delegates he needed to become the nominee, Silverman now supports Hillary Clinton for president.

She’s not alone in that regard. In Wisconsin, former Assembly Rep. Brett Hulsey also urged unity on the Mitch Henck show earlier today. “Bernie-or-Busters, come home,” he said.

(Hulsey, you’ll recall, ran for governor as a further-left alternative to Democratic candidate Mary Burke in 2014. If he’s talking about unity, the Bernie-or-Bust people ought to pay attention.)

And what about the candidate himself? Last night, even Bernie Sanders stressed unity in his speech to delegates. “This election is about -- and must be about -- the needs of the American people and the kind of future we create for our children and grandchildren,” he said.

He added:
I have known Hillary Clinton for 25 years. I remember her as a great first lady who broke precedent in terms of the role that a first lady was supposed to play as she helped lead the fight for universal health care. I served with her in the United States Senate and know her as a fierce advocate for the rights of children.

Hillary Clinton will make an outstanding president and I am proud to stand with her here tonight.
Finally, in a letter he wrote to delegates this morning, Sanders urged supporters not to resort to booing or other distasteful actions while on the floor of the convention. “Our credibility as a movement will be damaged by booing, turning our backs, walking out or other displays,” he wrote.

Most people who voted for Bernie Sanders are reasonable, tempered individuals. I myself supported the candidate. But this “Bernie-or-Bust” stuff is getting out of hand, and it’s damaging the chances we have for unifying the party before the general election in November.

For some, that’s fine. They are perfectly content with seeing Donald Trump defeat Hillary Clinton because it means that they didn’t compromise their votes. They need a pure candidate, and only a pure candidate like Bernie is worth voting for.

That’s rubbish. And it conjures up this image in my mind:

There is no such thing as a pure candidate. We shouldn’t deify anyone as such. Even Sanders wasn’t “pure,” though he came closest to a lot of what I personally wanted in a candidate.

Yet, I also recognize that he’s not the nominee. It’d be dangerous to sit on my hands just because my preference didn’t win the nomination. Hillary Clinton is the most viable candidate to what I want in a president, and it’s she who will receive my vote in November.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Walker’s refusal to discuss Daniel Kelly’s writings inspires no confidence in his court selection

Governor and his state Supreme Court pick won’t discuss the reasons why he was selected

Elections have consequences. Sometimes, those consequences have long-standing results that can’t simply be overturned by the following election season -- they last for years beyond the ballot being cast.

One of the consequences of electing Gov. Scott Walker in 2014 was that it inevitably led him to run for president just weeks after he was elected. That put a sour taste in people’s mouths, and as he sought to court the conservative base throughout the nation he moved even further to the right than he had already planted himself as in the state.

It’s no wonder that Walker’s approval rating now stands at 38 percent, with nearly six-in-ten now disapproving of his performance as governor. Still, Walker’s victory in 2014 means he’ll serve until at least the start of 2019, which means he’s still capable of creating more problems for our state.

His decision to select Daniel Kelly as the state’s next Supreme Court justice, replacing retiring Justice David Prosser, is alarming to say the least. It also signifies that Walker plans to double-down on his far-right conservatism, at the expense of Wisconsin values. We knew that Walker would select someone with conservative bona fides, but Kelly’s are downright scary.

From the reporting of Katelyn Ferral in the Cap Times, we see that Kelly has in the past compared Affirmative Action to slavery. “Affirmative action and slavery differ, obviously, in significant ways,” he once wrote. “But it’s more a question of degree than principle, for they both spring from the same taproot.”

He’s also none too keen on same-sex marriage rights, and has represented conservatives -- including Scott Walker -- in many of the state’s most contentious legal battles.

From Molly Beck in the Wisconsin State Journal:
Kelly represented state Republicans in a federal trial over a lawsuit challenging the 2010 redrawing of legislative districts and has ties to the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, which has helped defend Act 10, Walker’s legislation that all but eliminated collective bargaining powers for most public employees.
Kelly and Walker were asked about the former’s previous outspoken conservative views, which he’s made plenty of in the past, and whether that would influence his decision making as a justice of the state’s highest court. Kelly and Walker both dismissed those concerns as unnecessary to answer. (Emphasis in bold added)
When questioned by reporters during Walker’s press conference, Kelly said it is not appropriate for Supreme Court justices to discuss personal or political opinions and that they have no role in his job as a justice.

“The role of the courts is separate and apart from our roles as individuals in our society,” Kelly said.

When pressed, Walker would not allow Kelly to personally answer any questions about the writings he cited in his application for the appointment as evidence of his judicial philosophy.
Even the semblance of partiality and impropriety makes the decisions of judges and justices suspicious in nature (this isn’t my own thinking -- it’s in the guidelines of the state’s judicial code of conduct). Yet Walker is essentially saying, “Those things that we read about him and that influenced our decision to pick him? Yeah, we’re not going to talk about them. Move along...”

Which inspires very little confidence in the pick that Walker made. And it’s an added reason why the citizens across this state can’t trust this current court to issue out impartial decisions that will reflect Wisconsin values.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Bridging the divide -- Madison officer shows how we can support Black Lives Matter and the police

Testimony of white Madison police officer should inspire confidence that positive change is possible

I am someone who is sympathetic to the Black Lives Matter movement. As a white male, I know that I can never truly understand what it’s like to grow up and live as an African American in our community. But I can recognize when injustices occur, and I do want to see positive changes in our society.

I’m also someone who is supportive of police officers and the important role they play in keeping us safe. Most officers deserve our respect. There are certainly instances where some have crossed a line and conducted themselves in ways that we wouldn’t and shouldn’t accept. But we cannot assume that all officers behave in this way. Most are decent, hard-working, and stellar individuals.

It is possible to hold both views, to be pro-Black Lives Matter and pro-police. You can request changes to institutional rules of the police force, and also be supportive of the police force overall. The two are not mutually exclusive.

Trevor Noah, host of the Daily Show on Comedy Central, puts it best: “[I]f you’re pro Black Lives Matter you're assumed to be anti-police, and if you're pro-police, then you surely hate black people… In reality, you can be pro-cop and pro-black, which is what we should all be!”

Noah isn’t alone in this line of thinking. Madison police officer Emily Samson, who understandably supports protecting and supporting the law enforcement community she belongs to, is also trying to reach out to Black Lives Matter supporters.

Speaking at a recent Madison Common Council meeting, Samson attempted to bridge the divide between both sides. She did so physically -- by placing herself halfway between two opposing encampments in the room (Black Lives Matter and Madison police supporters) -- and verbally, through her emotional testimony:

From the reporting of Abigail Becker at the Cap Times:
Since the death of Tony Robinson, a black teen who was shot by a white police officer in March 2015, Samson said she has looked to change careers. In her testimony, she described a “pivotal” moment the day after the shooting when a man and a boy approached her outside of Robinson’s house.

“He said to him, ‘Don’t wear your hood in front of her, son, or she’ll shoot you.’” Samson said as she grew emotional. “The fact that I live in a community where a father has that fear and a child has that fear breaks my heart. I didn’t know if I could continue to wear the uniform anymore.”
Officer Emily Samson
“I was willing to shed the uniform and to walk away from it,” she added, directly addressing the Black Lives Matter activists in the room. “But I don’t know if that’s what you would want me to do because I want to help bridge the divide, and I want to help make a difference. ... I’m willing to listen, and I’m willing to change the things that are in my power to change.”

I for one hope that Samson doesn’t resign. We need a hundred officers just like her in Madison, and thousands more across the country, who will attempt to bridge the divide between themselves and others in uniform, and the African American communities who feel disempowered and even subjugated by law enforcement.

Again, we should honor those that wish to serve as police officers. Many times it is a thankless job, and other times it’s one in which the public will openly criticize. That criticism should be recognized too, and more should be done to address the desires of the Black Lives Matter movement also.

You can support both. Being for something doesn’t make you against something else. And Officer Emily Samson, who bravely spoke of bridging the divide between law enforcement and Black Lives Matter,, is proof of that. The people of Madison should feel honored that she has chosen to serve them.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Wisconsin voters without ID allowed to vote in November, judge says

Judge permits voters without ID to sign affidavit, allowing them to vote in general election

A federal judge today ruled that Wisconsin citizens who are unable to attain an ID for the purposes of voting would be allowed to sign an affidavit allowing them the right to cast a ballot in the upcoming general election.

From Molly Beck at
U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman issued a preliminary injunction order on Tuesday in a case challenging the state's law requiring voters to have photo identification, granting a request from the American Civil Liberties Union.


While most voters either have an ID or can get one easily, "a safety net is needed for those voters who cannot obtain qualifying ID with reasonable effort," Adelman wrote in the order. "The plaintiffs’ proposed affidavit option is a sensible approach that will both prevent the disenfranchisement of some voters during the pendency of this litigation and preserve Wisconsin’s interests in protecting the integrity of its elections."
This is a decision that provides a reasonable solution for people who cannot legally vote under the conditions passed by Wisconsin Republicans and signed into law by Gov. Scott Walker. Those conditions needlessly required identification for voters, hundreds of thousands of which have never used an ID in state elections without fraud presenting itself as a major problem in the past.

A sample affidavit, as
directed by Judge Adelman
In fact, prevention of fraud may have never been the true purpose of the law. A former aide to retired state Sen. Dale Schultz, himself a Republican, said that GOP lawmakers were giddy about the law, excited about disenfranchising traditional Democratic voting blocs. And current U.S. Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-WI) said he believed that voter ID would help turn Wisconsin into a red state during the upcoming presidential election.

I applaud the decision made today by Judge Adelman because it makes sense. A person’s right to have a hand in selecting their representatives shouldn’t require a small piece of plastic -- and it should not be infringed by a handful of party insiders that hope to use a voter ID requirement as a means to further their political ends.

The Republicans in the state legislature were wrong to pass this headache of a bill from the very beginning, and Gov. Walker was wrong to sign it into law. Their true aim from the start seems to have been the disenfranchisement of voters, a deplorable goal for those who are supposed to represent our government and the interests of the citizens of Wisconsin.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

The lead water crisis in Wisconsin is real, but the Walker administration is slow to react

Lead levels across the state are at unacceptable levels, especially for children -- but little is being done

Lead is no laughing matter. It is a poisonous substance, and even small amounts of it can dramatically affect intelligence levels and behavioral problems in individuals, not to mention death. It’s why we see “unleaded gasoline” as the standard at gas stations, and why lead was removed from household paints and other products in the past.

The crisis in Flint, Michigan, demonstrated that lead continues to be a problem in our nation’s drinking water. Pipes that go into people’s homes are still contaminated with lead.

In Madison, the lead problem has been substantially reduced, thanks to a large-scale effort more than a decade ago to remove lead pipes from the city’s water system. But the rest of the state is less fortunate, including the city of Milwaukee, which is seeing its own silent lead epidemic.

One in every twelve kids in our state’s largest city tested positive for high levels of lead in their bloodstream in 2014. But it’s not just in our big cities, either: in Watertown, 8.4 percent of kids have high lead levels. Across the rest of the state, 4.5 percent of children tested higher than the acceptable standards.

Those rates are inexcusable, especially when you consider what the effects of such poisoning can bring about -- neurological disruptions, learning disabilities, aggression, higher rates of ADD/ADHD and depression, poor body coordination, and more problems, have been associated with lead poisoning. (Some historians even consider the fall of the Roman Empire to have been partly influenced by the Romans’ exposures to lead.)

Having a higher exposure rate to lead is also “a more powerful predictor of poor school performance than poverty or class size.”

Disturbing as it is to see such a high number of children exposed to lead in Wisconsin, it’s much more troubling to discover that the state hasn’t yet changed its own standards to reflect new research on childhood lead exposure. From FOX 6 in Milwaukee: (emphasis in bold mine)
But if you're a child in Wisconsin, that diagnosis, and eventual treatment, can be much harder to get. In Wisconsin, kids aren't considered to have lead poisoning until their lead levels are twice as high as what the federal government recommends.
When Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison) learned of this, she wrote to the state Department of Health Services about what was being done specifically to address the matter of why the state’s standards didn’t match federal recommendations. She received a letter that explained quite plainly that it costs too much to make any changes.

This prompted FOX 6 in Milwaukee to reach out to DHS. Chuck Worzecha, Deputy Administrator of the department, said to them, “I don't think there's anything simple about changing laws, and regulations. I think there's always consequences for any of those changes.”

Yet there are consequences for doing nothing, too, and in this instance it comes at the expense of our children’s health. Gov. Scott Walker’s administration needs to see this problem for what it really is -- a lead crisis that needs to be fixed, and not something that can be ignored or brushed aside as a political matter. Our children’s lives depend on it.

Friday, July 8, 2016

The "Blue Lives Matter" bill is a start, but let's re-examine the state's gun laws also

The “Blue Lives Matter” bill should pass -- but so should other measures to protect law enforcement and the public

In the wake of the Dallas shootings that targeted police officers, leaving several dead and more wounded, the response and outpouring from prominent politicians and community leaders has, for the most part, been positive (except for a few voices that have represented misguided viewpoints).

Actions speak louder than words, of course, and in Wisconsin one legislator has suggested passing a “Blue Lives Matter” bill, which would classify violent attacks specifically targeting police, fire, or other EMS personnel as a hate crime.

“I strongly believe that anyone who targets these brave men and women, solely because of their profession, should face serious penalties,” the bill’s author, state Rep. David Steffen (R-Howard), said. “This legislation sends a clear message that the despicable attacks we’ve seen against officers throughout the country will not be tolerated in Wisconsin.”

You won’t find any opposition from me on this proposal. Police officers in our state deserve our utmost respect. Just as in any profession, there can be occasions when an officer acts out of line, but for the most part those who pledge to protect us deserve our respect, and this bill aims to provide harsh penalties that are justifiable.

And that’s the important point to keep in mind -- you can support the Black Lives Matter movement while also supporting law enforcement. The two are not mutually exclusive, and responses from both the law enforcement community and BLM leaders on the events of this week certainly demonstrate that.

We can honor our police officers by insisting that this “Blue Lives Matter” bill passes. We can also honor them -- and honor the livelihoods of other citizens -- by demanding more restrictions on the weapons that were used in this week’s deadly rampage. Assault weapons that weren’t meant to be used on city streets should be restricted, if not outright banned, for they play very little role in self-defence, and far too often they are the supporting actors in these mass shooting tragedies. In the wrong hands they wreak havoc, and it’s long-past time that we limit their use in civilian hands (many in the law enforcement community agree with these sentiments).

We should also reinstitute the 48-hour waiting period to purchase a weapon. And we should consider creating greater regulations -- more training required, for example -- when it comes to whom we decide to grant a concealed carry permit to.

And Republicans in the legislature should finally recognize that loosening gun laws in our state cannot be considered a way in which to make people safer. Despite claims by the governor and the state’s attorney general, Wisconsin isn’t safer since it began to drastically loosen gun laws in 2011. And plans to loosen gun laws even more by members of the state legislature should be scrapped completely in recognition of this evidence.

These are common sense measures that can honor our men and women in blue. And they shouldn’t be readily dismissed -- studies consistently demonstrate that states with tighter regulations see less crimes overall.

Let’s aim to become one of them. Wisconsin’s police force will thank us for the “Blue Lives Matter” bill. But they’ll also likely be thankful for reforms on gun ownership as well.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Sen. Nass gets flustered about study of gay sexuality at UW, threatens spending cuts

Nass shouldn't meddle in the business of UW studies

State Sen. Steve Nass, a Republican from Whitewater, isn’t too thrilled with the curriculum in a certain Sociology class at the University of Wisconsin.

The homework assignment, assigned by UW Sociology lecturer Jason Nolen, asks students to read “an essay on gay men's sexual desires,” according to Channel 3000. The vague description likely alludes to a class that Nolen is teaching on sexuality, a broad topic that isn’t too uncommon on college campuses across the nation.

But the specific nature of the assignment -- homosexual desires -- has Sen. Nass all in a tizzy. It’s got him so frustrated that he’s doing what other Wisconsin Republicans have done over the past couple of weeks: he’s threatening funding cuts to the UW.
[Nass has] challenged [UW] leaders to give him their thoughts on the essay, cautioning them that their responses will play a role in evaluating the system's 2017-2019 budget request.
(Emphasis added)

To which I respond with a deserving facepalm.

Nass is attacking a well-respected member of the UW Sociology department. Jason Nolen has received high commendations for his work, and is consistently given great marks from students themselves on (currently a 4.6 out of 5.0 average).

But Nass’s reprehensible actions go beyond attacking a respected faculty member. It’s also childish to threaten spending cuts on the basis of a singular topic at any given university. Should every UW faculty member be subjected to the same type of scrutiny that Nass is proposing here? It’d be impractical, and foolish.

More likely than not, Nass has a problem with the subject matter involving homosexuality. But human sexuality comes in many forms, including homosexual, and Nass can’t do anything about that, no matter what his tastes may be -- and nor should he be able to. The preferences of Wisconsin legislators should play no role in the curriculum of UW classes, plain and simple.

This isn’t Nass’s first foray into the business of the UW. Earlier this year, Nass was critical (to put it mildly) of attempts to correct racial disparities on campus. From the Cap Times in January:
“President Cross needs to stop wasting time appeasing the political correctness crowd demanding safe-spaces, safe-words, universal apologies for hurt feelings, and speech/thought police,” Nass said in a statement.
Perhaps it’s Nass who needs a reality check. Racism needs to be addressed on our campuses, and human sexuality deserves to be studied in sociology classes. Nass has no business trying to interfere with the university’s proven track record of success, and he should be removed from the higher educational committee he currently sits on.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Is Walker’s decision to speak at the Republican Convention part of his plan for 2020?

Governor takes calculated -- and foolish -- risk in speaking on behalf of Trump

Gov. Scott Walker recently decided he will indeed speak at the Republican National Convention this year, fueling speculation that he no longer considers himself to the “dark horse” candidate to replace presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump in a possible coup d’etat.

Walker furthered those speculations in a tweet on Wednesday, stating he will endorse Trump, though not typing his name out directly:
Over at Cognitive Dissidence, Capper gives his two cents on what Walker’s motivations may be:
While Walker undoubtedly has a deeply buried hope that he could still leave Cleveland as the nominee, it is far more likely he playing the PAC to milk all the donations he can get from them. He still has that big pile of bills he owes from his own failed presidential bid.
Walker may also be trying to do something else: play the long game to get more attention for himself in the 2020 election campaign.

Walker is a lot of things, including calculating. His mind is obviously on the White House, as it was in 2015 when he ran his embarrassing campaign into the ground, and as it was more recently when he gave hints that he’d consider usurping Trump of his presumptive nominee status.

But he’s faced the facts and realized that he won’t win the 2016 Republican he’s looking forward to 2020 when he can have another chance.

Considering how current President Barack Obama gained notoriety -- his inspiring speech at the 2004 Democratic Party’s convention propelled him toward the nomination four years later -- Walker is likely hoping to do something similar by making himself known in households across the country. The problem is, Walker’s speech, even if it’s in a primetime slot, might be overshadowed by the clown-car shenanigans of the convention itself.

In other words, Walker, himself a decent speech giver (short on facts but admittedly great on spinning figures to suit his needs), might flop due to the headlines focusing on news items that have nothing to do with the speeches at the convention.

Protesters (from the left and the right) may disrupt the convention. Trump might (probably will) say something awful. Hillary Clinton may name her Vice Presidential running-mate. A slew of possibilities exist that could overshadow Walker’s limited time in the limelight.

And then there’s the possibility that focus WILL be given to Walker’s speech -- and that it will be scrutinized by a national media that is much more critical than the local markets Walker is accustomed to. Such a scenario would provide fodder for Walker’s plans for the future, making it even more doubtful that he could mount a successful run in 2020.

This is a calculated risk for Walker. But it’s one that will likely backfire on him -- and embarrass the state he represents at the same time. Hopefully, Walker’s ambitions for 2020 will resonate with disgruntled voters in 2018, and Wisconsin can find a new, progressive direction to head in.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

FDA standards on e-cigs are reasonable -- Ron Johnson, however, is not

Safeguards are meant to prevent long-term health issues, especially for children; other measures are equally proper

Christian Berkey, CEO of Johnson Creek Enterprises (an electronic cigarette liquid manufacturer), is fearful that federal Food and Drug Administration regulations could do substantial harm to the e-cigarette industry.

image via Wikipedia
“Close to a million jobs could vanish and nearly 30,000 businesses could close because of federal regulations on vaping,” he wrote in an op-ed appearing on this week.

Those overbearing rules that Berkey talks about, however, aren’t going to do as much damage as he says they are. And they serve a real purpose, especially given how little we know about the long-term effects of e-cigarette use.

The regulations primarily limit individuals under the age of 18 from being able to purchase vaping equipment, accessories or liquid. Other regulations require that companies that are mixing vaping liquids register with and get permission from the FDA before doing so for commercial purposes.

In that sense, the regulations could feasibly affect sales. Many e-cigarette shops mix their own liquids in the back of their stores, and these regulations would halt that practice.

Yet, these shops would be allowed plenty of time to “do right” by the FDA standards, and to continue their practice of mixing liquids without real action taken against them in that time:
...federal health officials countered that the industry would have ample time to respond to the rules. Companies with products on the market now, including vape shops that mix their own liquids, will have two years to submit an application to the F.D.A. for approval of a product. It can stay on the market for another year while the agency reviews the application.
Emphases in bold added.

The standards that the FDA are calling for are not too imposing -- requiring age restrictions on e-cigs and their accessories should make sense even to the most cynical of vapers out there, and regulating who is mixing what chemicals together should similarly be a no-brainer. And the time-frame that the FDA is giving to small businesses is fair.

The way that Berkey is making it out to be, however, you’d think that e-cigs have been banned completely by the FDA.

“[W]e will have to close down if FDA regulations move forward,” he wrote.

That’s extreme hyperbole that shouldn’t be taken seriously. Yet U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin), unfortunately, is taking the e-cigarette regulations on as his latest pet project in Washington DC, even in the face of evidence that the health effects of vaping demonstrate we should show concern over continued usage over time:
Last year, a Journal Sentinel investigation, "Gasping for Action," found high levels of harmful chemicals in locally made e-liquids. It also exposed inadequate testing that allowed manufacturers to make false claims that their products were free of these lung-destroying chemicals, such as diacetyl. A Harvard University study found similar results late last year.
Sen. Johnson, however, is undeterred in his opposition, despite these health concerns. His critiques echo those of Christian Berkey: “[E-cig businesses] fear that the FDA’s e-cigarette rule will force them out of business by requiring them to complete costly and time-consuming premarket applications for each e-cigarette product,” he wrote last month.

But again, those regulations give ample time to businesses to apply with the FDA. And they don’t prevent them from continuing their practices in the meantime.

The FDA regulations are more than fair, and provide guidelines for how we should handle the industry in a time of uncertainty. They don’t prevent businesses from prospering, but merely limit the sale to minors and keep those who are mixing different “juices” accountable.

A reasonable person would see these regulations as common sense measures to prevent or limit health problems in the immediate future, especially for children. Ron Johnson, however, isn’t a reasonable senator.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Brad Schimel says WI is safer with 5 years of concealed carry, but forgets murder rate is up 72%

The idea that more guns make us safer is flawed -- and Wisconsin is a case study in it

Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel seems to think Wisconsin is safer today than it was five years ago. He doesn’t base this assumption on stats or figures. He bases it on the fact that, five years ago this week, Wisconsin passed a concealed carry bill into law that was meant to allow citizens the right to carry guns in public places.

The justifications back then for passing the bill were simple: if the criminals in our state didn’t know whether you had a gun or not, they’d be more hesitant to approach you with a weapon themselves.

“Criminals in Wisconsin are going to have to start asking themselves if their potential crimes are worth the risk encountering someone ready to fully defend themselves,” Rep. Jeff Mursau (R-Crivitz) said in 2011.

Gov. Scott Walker similarly promised that our state would be safer with concealed carry when he signed the bill passed by the legislature. “By signing concealed carry into law today we are making Wisconsin safer for all responsible, law abiding citizens,” he said then.

And the way Brad Schimel gushes about the law today, you’d think that Wisconsin vigilantism is a successful part of our law enforcement system. “Hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites hold a concealed carry license, making our state a safer place to live, work, and raise a family,” he said recently.

So obviously our state is much safer today than it was back then. Right?

Nope. We’ve actually gone the wrong way -- murder and violent crime rates have gone up since 2011, not down. Wisconsin has become less safe since that time.

Based off of 2015 crime and population growth estimates, Wisconsin’s violent crime rate has gone up by more than 22 percent since concealed carry was passed and implemented (all crime stats are derived from the FBI and state DOJ sites). Wisconsin has seen a 71 percent rate increase in murders since then as well.

And it’s not just in Milwaukee, as some are too quick to suggest. The argument that all the crime in Wisconsin can be attributed to our largest urban center is an appealing one to make for Republicans. But while a lot of crime does occur there, the rise in crime is pretty consistent across the state: outside of Milwaukee, our state’s murder rate is up 62 percent since 2011 when compared to the most recent estimates from 2015.

These rates don’t by any means indicate that concealed carry is responsible for the rise in crime. But they do bring to light one core problem with Schimel’s recent statements: concealed carry cannot be depended on as a way to deter criminals, and we cannot assume that we are safer for having it in place than we were before. While the idea of criminal deterrence may seem appealing to argue, it’s clear that the evidence suggests otherwise.

More guns don’t make us safer. And there’s ample evidence available to suggest more guns makes people less rationale, too. The Mutual Assured Destruction theory of self-defense that too many Republican state lawmakers are endorsing is a dangerous path to take us on -- and one that undoubtedly won’t result in a safer Wisconsin.