Thursday, June 22, 2017

Why you should ignore Scott Walker’s rosy economic outlook

Underemployment remains a problem in Wisconsin — and that’s why jobs numbers matter

Scott Walker is making much ado about the unemployment rate in Wisconsin. And at first glance, it does look pretty great. Here’s his latest radio address spot, courtesy of the Capital Times’s Jessie Opoien:
A 3.1 percent unemployment rate, again, sounds great. But there’s important things to remember here...first, that the unemployment numbers count people as employed even if they’re working part time.

There isn’t a reliable measure of part time workers that we can look at. So, it’s important to look at the underemployment rate also when we look at how much things have improved.

That rate, also known as the U-6 rate, is actually hovering around 7.7 to 8.0 percent, meaning that nearly 4 to 5 percent of the workforce that Walker is touting as employed isn’t getting as much work as they wish they could (full time). In total, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that nearly 100,000 individuals were involuntary part time workers in the state of Wisconsin.

This leads into the next point. In order to fix that problem of underemployment, there has to be new jobs created in the state, and frequently. This is true with any economy: a certain percentage of people, at any given time, want to be able to change career paths or just get a different job with a new employer. So, new jobs have to be created to keep up.

That’s not possible when new jobs aren’t being created. And with less than 12,000 jobs being created for all of 2016, it’s clear that Wisconsin isn’t keeping up with the demand for fluidity in the job marketplace.

It’s no wonder that millennials are seeking work elsewhere, as I pointed out earlier this month. Job opportunities are low, wages are dropping, and what job opportunities do exist are on many occasions part time jobs.

Scott Walker should be proud of the 3.1 percent unemployment rate. But that rate is hardly indicative of the overall economic picture. Voters should remind him of where the state really stands when 2018 rolls around.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Randy Bryce’s announcement ad is a powerful message — and Dems nationwide should echo it

Ironworker and activist hopes to win Paul Ryan’s seat

Ironworker and activist Randy Bryce has announced his intention to run for Congress. He faces a daunting task: running against the current Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.

But if any candidate is going to be able to put up a fight worth writing home about, it’s Bryce. His no-nonsense style of wit, along with his lifelong connection to southeastern Wisconsin, will make him a formidable opponent for Ryan, who has held the district since 1999.

And Bryce, in announcing his bid for the seat, has come out swinging. He released his first campaign ad to great fanfare yesterday (just search “Bryce” on Twitter to see the people who have lauded this ad). One noteworthy message of praise simply states that Bryce was “genetically engineered from Bruce Springsteen songs.”

But you should really see the ad for yourself. And then you should share it with whoever you can, especially if they live in the First Congressional District of Wisconsin.
Bryce’s ad is a moving and powerful example of what the Democratic Party should be moving toward. If that message ran in every district across the country, there’d be a gain in seats for Democrats in Congress, no question about it.

I look forward to seeing who comes out ahead on the Democratic Party’s primary in Wisconsin’s First District. But Bryce’s ad has me pumped up about the possibilities.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Rename the City-County Building in Madison after Barack Obama

The building, which sits on MLK Blvd, would be incredibly symbolic of the 44th president’s importance

The City-County Building in downtown Madison should absolutely, without any reservation whatsoever, be named after the 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama.

Local leaders from both the city of Madison and Dane County are hoping to do just that, reports.

Important names of presidents frequently adorn schools, buildings, and other monuments, and it makes perfect sense that the first African-American president should have his name on an official building in Madison — especially given its location. The City-County Building sits on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. in Madison.

It was King who spoke of “his dream” in 1963 in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. that justice would one day become “a reality for all of God's children.”

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal,’ King also said.

Contrast those words with Obama's 2004 keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention, and it makes perfect sense to name the building after him.
[T]he greatness of our nation [is] not because of the height of our skyscrapers, or the power of our military, or the size of our economy; our pride is based on a very simple premise, summed up in a declaration made over two hundred years ago: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." 
For many people Obama is the embodiment of King's dream, though by no means is he the fulfillment of it. For too many, justice is not yet a reality; for too many, the color of their skin dictates how others judge them. The dream lives on, but we're closer to fulfilling it because of great Americans like President Obama.

We need to continue to rectify America’s racial prejudices, to call out when discrimination still rears its ugly head. And one way to do that is to place the names of important historical figures in the places we frequent, to adorn influential figures on the buildings we enter every day, who embody what we strive to become.

Naming the City-County Building after Barack Obama would be a great step forward. And it’s an idea I full-heartedly endorse.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Walker fails math, prefers disastrous Trumpcare to fixing Obamacare

In weekend tweet, Walker neglects (purposely?) how much worse GOP plan for healthcare would be

Scott Walker issued several tweets this weekend from his official governor’s account, one of which caught my eye for being extremely disingenuous.

Walker argued that keeping the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) in place would leave tens of millions uninsured over the next decade.
Walker’s words echo President Donald Trump’s statements that claim Obamacare is in a “death spiral.” That assessment, however, has been found false on many occasions. Obamacare isn’t failing — sure, it can use a tune-up, but it’s negative aspects don’t justify dismantling all the positives it has accomplished.

But Walker’s tweet goes even lower, trying to instill fear that the law is failing using numbers that are highly misleading. While it’s true that 28 million are projected to be uninsured by 2026, the Republicans’ alternative plan would almost DOUBLE that number.
Walker takes one-half of the debate and spins it to make a point about Obamacare’s shortfalls. But he neglects to mention his own party’s disastrous replacement plan. Fifty-one million uninsured Americans is a lot worse than 28 million uninsured. If the cost of doing nothing results in a better outcome, then we should truly consider doing nothing — rejecting Trumpcare and finding ways to repair Obamacare.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Conservative politics are forcing Millennials to leave the Badger state (and who can blame them?)

Younger workers see no motivation to stay in a state with bad economic conditions, conservative politics

A new study suggests that Millennials in Milwaukee are starting to leave the big city, and probably the state in general.

From WISN:
According to a new article on Time magazine's website, most urban centers saw an increase in millennials from 2010 to 2015 and 11 cities saw a decline. The Urban Land Institute said Milwaukee's urban millennial population saw a negative change of 1.8 percent.
Much of the blame for the loss of young talent rests with the fact that there aren’t enough jobs available to millennials, the article goes on to say.

In January of 2016, I wrote a post in response to a letter to the editor I had read in the Stevens Point Journal. The letter writer suggested that, “Millennials and younger voters are likely not in sync with Walker’s and Republicans’ policies,” and I further asserted that economic opportunities (or rather, the lack thereof) hindered the retention of millennials in the Badger state:
When the economic conditions of the state fail to provide a good life for people, it’s up to political leaders to try and change those conditions through various policies that shape the landscape overall. It’s impractical for politicians to create jobs on their own -- they can’t just legislate companies to hire -- but they can pass laws to make burdens on workers and small businesses less cumbersome.

Yet millennials are not seeing that from this governor or his legislative allies. Instead, Gov. Walker and Republicans are shifting whatever resources were available in the past toward help for a less deserving cause -- their political donor base.
We’re still seeing that today. In the 12 months after I wrote that post, jobs in Wisconsin grew by a measly 0.48 percent, or 11,590 jobs total for the year.

That’s not something that young workers likely feel confident about. Add to the jobs troubles the fact that millennials are generally more liberal than their adult counterparts, and you have a recipe for outward migration.

Millennials aren’t seeing community investments from Republican leaders in the state. Nor are they seeing any of the economic advantages that conservative “reforms” had promised them. No, millennials don’t want tax cuts for the wealthy and crumbling roads. They want a reason to stay — and in the past six years, they’ve rarely seen any motivation to do so.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Tolerating intolerable speech: change may be needed, but no need for legislative interference

UW should protect all speech, but proposed bill in the legislature isn’t necessary

Just a quick rant this afternoon...

The question of the so-called “free speech” bill making its way through the state legislature has me thinking a lot about the idea of what speech is tolerable or not.

I’m a firm believer in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. I even own a flag that was flown over the U.S. Capitol Building in 2010 to honor that amendment, which includes speech rights. I’m a huge proponent that any political thought or opinion should be defended — even if it’s deemed an intolerable idea by most.

So bigots do have a right to speak their mind, and they do have a right to demonstrate their ideas. But that doesn’t mean that others can’t argue against them.

Speech that some deem intolerable can be protested against, and this type of speech shouldn’t be regulated either, except to prevent violence and harm to others. If protests limit the ability of people to speak in a public setting, that is unfortunate, and there should be ways to redress that. But protest, too, is speech; and it must be recognized as such.

The University of Wisconsin System needs to find ways to allow conservatives — yes, even right-wing extremists — the ability to speak in public on their property. And they need to find ways to limit interferences to those speakers, to allow a free market of ideas to exist.

But they needn’t be required to do so through legislative action that seeks to quell other forms of free speech. Protesters have rights as well, and the right to protest any speaker that comes to UW should not be infringed either.

I’m confident that the UW System can find a balance on its own. Legislators in the state capitol should advise and comment on whatever approach the UW takes — but they needn’t do so by requiring restrictive laws that limit the rights of students, faculty, and other members of the public.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Wisconsin jobs report, part II: a “manufacturers recession” under Walker's watch

Even by Walker’s standards, Wisconsin has failed under his “leadership”

In my earlier post this week about the latest Wisconsin jobs report, I mentioned how Walker has failed to create conditions to help the economy reach the 250,000 jobs promise he made for his first term in office. We’d have come closer to that promise if we had just kept pace with the jobs created during the first year of recovery in Wisconsin, under former (Democratic) Gov. Jim Doyle.

This failure on Walker’s part hasn’t gone completely unnoticed. In fact, just a couple of months ago, Walker changed the metric of success, saying that manufacturing wages was the real measure to look out for.

This post will focus primarily on that issue, so here’s the background of what Walker said in March from WPR:
"It's not just how many jobs — it's are those jobs paying at a significant level," Walker said. "If we see wages go up in manufacturing, to me, that's my ultimate goal."
So let’s take a closer look at that: from 2015 to 2016, manufacturing jobs decreased by 3,776 total jobs. But again, Walker says it’s income that matters. On that, he has also failed: manufacturing wages WENT DOWN by 5.3 percent during the same time period.

Again, when Doyle was governor, there was a better outcome, in the form of an increase in wages. Income for manufacturing workers went up by 6.7 percent year-to-year in Wisconsin’s first year of recovery, during a Democratic governor’s tenure.

Walker’s failures in 2016 have effectively created a recession for the manufacturing industry in the state, as far as wages and work created goes. Tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy, in addition to enacting “right to work” (for less) legislation, did NOT benefit the workers, as Walker promised the law would.

Right to work “gives Wisconsin one more tool to encourage job creators ... to continue investing and expanding in our state,” Walker said when he signed the bill. “Freedom to Work, along with our investments in worker training, and our work to lower the tax burden, will lead to more freedom and prosperity for all of Wisconsin.”

But it’s apparent that wasn’t the case. Manufacturing jobs AND wages have both fallen in the wake of the law’s passage.

Walker’s reforms have failed — and Wisconsin’s workers are suffering for it.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Wisconsin jobs report, part I: Walker’s pace WAY slower than Jim Doyle’s final year

To reach failed goal of 250,000 jobs would take more than two years from today

I’m late to the game here — Wisconsin’s latest jobs numbers came out on Friday — but I have a good excuse: I was heading to the northwoods, making an early getaway on this Memorial Day weekend to spend time with family.

Which I suspect is what Gov. Scott Walker and his administration was hoping for, but on a grander scale. Dropping bad news on the eve of a three-day weekend makes it less likely that people will pay attention to what’s happened.

And what has happened? Wisconsin’s latest jobs numbers show a dismal 0.48 percent growth in jobs from December 2015 to December 2016, amounting to less than 1,000 jobs created per month, or around 11,590 jobs created total.

We can’t yet compare that outcome to what happened around the rest of the country — Wisconsin releases its jobs numbers a full month ahead of the federal report on jobs. So we’ll have to wait and see what this means when compared to our neighbors and the rest of the nation.

We can take a look at how Wisconsin has fared last year compared to how it has done in the past. And it’s no surprise here: 2016 was spectacularly low.

It’s worth pointing out that there are seven years of jobs recovery for Wisconsin, the first one starting in 2010. That first year of recovery happened under a different governor’s watch: Jim Doyle, a Democrat, oversaw an economy that recovered 33,658 in that time.

Since Walker was elected and began his tenure as governor in 2011, he’s only outperformed Doyle on two occasions in the fourth quarter jobs reports. In contrast, Doyle’s last year of employment gains was better than Walker’s performances on four occasions.

In fact, if we had kept Doyle’s pace of jobs growth — a pace that, at 1.5 percent, wasn’t exactly as fast as we’d have liked it to be either — Wisconsin would have gained an additional 39,439 jobs during the past seven years of recovery.

Scott Walker’s promise of creating 250,000 jobs in four years is an epic failure. Walker has created just short of 180,000 jobs in six years. It would take two more years and four more months, at this rate of jobs growth, to reach Walker’s original goal — in other words, what Walker promised he could do in one term of office will take longer than two terms to complete.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Scott Walker’s tweet on unemployment ignores 18 months of his predecessor’s faster rate decline

Sharper decline of unemployment occurred under Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle

Scott Walker made a powerful tweet this morning, alleging that his administration was responsible for a substantial drop in unemployment.

Except, there’s one glaring problem. Take a closer look at the tweet:
Walker states that unemployment “peaked” at 9.2 percent “before we took office.” It then ignores the fact that A WHOLE YEAR PASSED BY before he assumed the governorship. That's a slight of hand that Walker is hoping you don't notice.

But even that ignores another important fact: Walker’s first budget didn’t take effect until July of 2011. So there were six additional months of Walker’s predecessor’s policies in play before Walker’s budget took hold.

In those 18 months, the unemployment rate sank to 7.8 percent. That’s an unemployment rate drop of 1.4 percent over 18 months, or about a 0.078 rate drop per month.

So what? That sure doesn't sound like a lot, right? Well, let’s take a look at Walker's performance, from July 2011 until the most recent unemployment rate report, which as Walker states is 3.2 percent. That rate was achieved after 70 months of Walker's first budget.

That amounts to a 0.046 percent rate drop per month — effectively an average monthly drop in unemployment that is 41 percent slower than his predecessor, Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle’s results.

We should be happy that unemployment is down, and I’m not trying to suggest a low unemployment rate is bad. But Walker is using hand-waving to make his outcome look better than it actually is.

In reality, we had a sharper drop in unemployment under his Democratic predecessor. That's something you won't read in any news release this week about jobs in Wisconsin.

Data for unemployment rates obtained at

Thursday, May 18, 2017

GOP State Sen. Roger Roth encourages “rural elitism” (with AUDIO)

Lawmakers should look at citizens from cities AND rural areas as equals

I wrote last winter about the idea of a “rural elitism” taking shape across the nation and Wisconsin — that some individuals from rural areas believe their political beliefs and needs are more important than the beliefs and needs of people in cities and suburban locales.

My concerns with rural elitism aren’t so much that I believe city people are better or more deserving of attention. The needs of those who live out in the country should be addressed. And the Democratic Party, in Wisconsin particularly, ought to consider ways to reach out to voters who haven’t identified with them in recent elections.

But I do take issue with the idea that the cities should be ignored, or that the opinions of those in urban areas aren’t even worth discussing.

Recently while browsing through Twitter during the state Republican Party’s convention, I saw that GOP state Sen. Roger Roth made a very curious statement. According to the Journal Sentinel’s Patrick Marley, Roth warned that political history in the state would soon be written by “intellectual types who can’t even change a flat tire on their own car.”
That struck a nerve with me — I consider myself an “intellectual.” Though I would never claim to be the smartest person in the state, I do hold a college degree from a UW System school, and am very proud of that fact. I also know how to change a tire — this past winter forced me to change two, in fact — and to insinuate that intellectual types are somehow weak is something Roth should reconsider doing.

Belittling intellectuals is part of “rural elitism,” since intellectuals are more likely to live near city centers (that’s where Wisconsin’s four- and two-year universities generally are located). That isn’t to say there aren’t intellectuals in rural areas. There are plenty of college-educated individuals living outside of the cities.

The farmer's market in Madison, Wisconsin.
Image via Wikipedia.
Roth, however, is trying to stoke anger by capitalizing on a divide between rural people and city dwellers. And it’s an inappropriate move to make, in my mind, because these two groups of people should be equals. One should not be empowered at the expense of the other.

Rural elitism prevents us from protecting the democratic wishes of the populace as a whole. President Trump, in fact, promotes the idea of the Electoral College specifically because it protects a rural elitism (coincidentally, his core voting base). The Electoral College, however, should be dismantled precisely because it pits the interests of one group of people above others, solely off of geographic location. A voter in Los Angeles, California, holds less sway than a voter in Cheyenne, Wyoming. It shouldn’t be that way: every voter in this country should have an equal voice when it comes to selecting the president.

I make frequent visits to rural areas in the state. On more than a handful of occasions, when I respond to people asking where I’m from, I’m told (through either visual cues or explicit rants) that Madison is a terrible place, and that people here aren’t “real.” Often, I’m told that we think we’re better than everyone else.

Some people in Madison probably do think that. And they’re wrong. But the people I’ve encountered in rural areas who scoff at Madisonians are wrong too. They are being elitists without even knowing it. And comments like Sen. Roth’s empower that kind of thinking to continue.

I have a better idea in mind: rather than encouraging a “conversational civil war,” why don’t we push for promoting both rural and city areas? City folk should understand the concerns of rural people, and tell lawmakers to support clean water, fund and increase internet access across the state, and find ways to help family farms stay in business. And rural folk should similarly stand behind increasing economic opportunities and reducing the effects of poverty for people in the cities.

It doesn’t have to be one or the other. And politicians like Roth should stop pretending it has to be.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

David Clarke’s tweet supporting Trump is full of so many problems that I can’t even

The Milwaukee Co. Sheriff conjures an imaginary bogeyman, and argues that criticism nullifies the will of the people

Give Sheriff David Clarke of Milwaukee County his due: he was an early supporter of Donald Trump during his campaign for president. And now, the sheriff (himself embattled) is doubling-down on his support for the the controversial commander-in-chief, even as Trump faces mounting criticism and possible impeachment for a plethora of issues.

Clarke sent this tweet out on Tuesday evening, defending the president against the so-called “establishment” that’s trying to ruin his presidency.
“The continued attacks on our President is the establishment trying to nullify the will of We the People who elected him to lead this country” — that’s quite a mouthful, so let’s break it down.

First, the “attacks on our president” are wholly appropriate (to borrow a phrase from Team Trump). The president faces scrutiny for a variety of mishaps and problems during his first few months in office, but as I see it these few are the biggest concerns as of late:
  • Trump fired former FBI director James Comey. While spokespeople for his administration cited Comey’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails as rationale for his ouster, Trump himself said in an interview with Lester Holt that his firing had everything to do with the direction Comey was taking the investigation into possible Russian collusion with Trump’s presidential campaign. His firing screams obstruction of justice.
  • Russian pictures in the Oval Office, and sharing classified info. One day after firing Comey — again, for continuing an investigation into Russian connections to his campaign — Trump actually met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. The meeting was behind closed doors, without any U.S. media present. But Russian photographers from their state media service took plenty of photographs, posting the images to social media just moments later. Trump also shared classified information with the Russians, obtained from Israeli intelligence, a move that while technically legal is dangerously stupid.
  • The Comey Memo. And it was revealed Tuesday that Trump had pressured Comey to end the investigation into Michael Flynn, who had met with Kislyak before Trump assumed office, allegedly to talk about lifting American sanctions on Russia once Flynn was in as National Security Advisor. His improper contacts with Russians, his failure to disclose money earned while in Russia and Turkey, and his lying about it to Trump officials, led to Trump asking for his resignation. Comey wrote in a memo that Trump had urged him to drop the investigation of Flynn after Flynn left the White House, and before Comey was fired.
Any objective observer would see the facts outlined above and think, “yes, those actions by the president warrant further inspection.” And that’s being generous — many would read the above and think much worse. But Clarke? Criticizing Trump for those actions are attacks.

Sheriff David Clarke
Next, let’s look at Clarke charging that the “establishment” is behind the attacks of Trump. Who does he mean here?

Democrats? They’re out of power. They are the minority in both houses of Congress. They control barely a handful of governorships and statehouses. And they are being joined by more Republicans daily in their calls for investigating Trump, including Republican Mike Gallagher, who represents the 8th Congressional District of Wisconsin. The “political” attacks are becoming bipartisan as more is revealed about Trump.

The media? They merely report on what Trump himself and his surrogates have said. And you cannot fault them for reporting on sources in the White House who are bringing forth a trove of embarrassing information about the president that, more often than not, proves to be true.

So who is the establishment? It’s an imaginary bogeyman. Just as Trump said he would “drain the swamp,” Clarke wants to focus on a character of his imagination that’s seemingly going after the president. Truth is, the president is responsible for his own downfall.

Finally, Clarke says that this imaginary establishment is trying to disrupt the will of “We the People.” This is perhaps the most laughable part of Clarke’s short Twitter rant — a plurality of Americans didn’t select Trump to be president in the first place. He did win the Electoral College, but by a count of more than three million votes Hillary Clinton was the preferred choice of “We the People.”

But much more than that, Clarke implies that anyone upset with how elected leaders govern is trying to disrupt the will of the people. So what was Clarke, Trump, et. al. doing before 2017? Looking back at their statements and tweets from that time, it’s clear to see that they hardly accepted who “We the People” elected (former President Barack Obama), frequently expressing themselves in vehement outbursts how they felt the country was going down the gutter.

And that’s fine — it was Clarke’s right to do so at the time. But turning that around and suggesting criticism of Trump is “trying to nullify the will of We the People” is hypocritical.

Donald Trump is in serious trouble. Liberals and progressives have seen the problems with Trump for quite some time, and now some conservatives are starting to open up their eyes to the problems this president has presented as well.

Clarke is choosing to remain blind to what the president has done. He has the right to choose willful blindness, but he’s wrong to believe he and other Trump supporters are the victims of a made-up establishment’s attacks on the president.

But if Clarke wants to continue backing Trump during his downward spiral, who am I to say he shouldn’t?

On Trump and Russia, Republicans need to show less "concern" and actually DO something

GOP’s concerns need to turn into definitive actions against this reckless president

Far too many Republicans are accepting of President Donald Trump’s behavior. This goes beyond his term in office — as a candidate, the GOP begrudgingly accepted him as the leader of their party, even as evidence surfaced that he assaulted women sexually.

That alone disqualifies the president from being a leader we can trust. But now, reporting from the Washington Post indicates the president gave top-secret classified information to Russian officials, information that compromises an Ally of ours and greatly delegitimizes the standing of the United States in the world as a leader.

Trump’s communications team categorically denied the report, but Trump himself this morning on Twitter seemed to confirm that he did indeed share this information with the Kremlin.

One Republican member of Congress from Wisconsin, Mike Gallagher from District 8, has actually said that the president ought to be held to account. “While POTUS possesses the authority to disclose classified, even top secret, information, there’s a separate question of whether he should,” Gallagher said on Twitter this morning.

Which is a great start. I commend Rep. Gallagher for recognizing that this isn’t normal. Under any other circumstance, the actions that the president engaged in last week would have been seen as reckless at best, treasonous at worst. Gallagher is someone whom I disagree with on most issues politically, but it's good to see that he seems genuinely concerned about Trump, and willing to dig into his actions deeper to get to the bottom of things.
But other Republicans are too restrained, in my mind, and are hesitant to call out the commander-in-chief for his braggadocious need to outdo others, from his campaign antics that questioned the size of his hands, to this latest escapade in which the president allegedly had to boast about the intelligence he received from a trusted ally. “I get great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day,” a source familiar with his conversations tells the Post he told the Russian ambassador.

Republicans cannot accept this from their leader, much less the leader of the nation. Their concerns have to go beyond just “deeply disturbing” especially since they chastised the Democratic candidate who opposed Trump, Hillary Clinton, for much less.

The Republicans don’t have much wiggle-room, in my opinion. There is no middle ground here. Either Republicans are upset enough with Trump's serious breach of security and other questionable actions (including firing former FBI Director James Comey) that they're willing to join Democrats in calls to investigate and possibly even indict him, or they're a party full of hypocrites that value their political victories over the needs of the country. As of today, it doesn’t look like Republicans care much about the latter.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Wait — what?? Ron Johnson believes Trump tweet means Comey made recordings

Logically speaking, Johnson’s assertions make no sense (and this isn’t the first time)

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson doesn’t have a good sense of logic.

The Republican who represents one-half of our senate delegation has already put forth some illogical (to put it nicely) ideas, including believing climate change was no big deal because, hey, people like it a little warmer. He also suggested that low-income mothers who can’t afford child care services should become daycare teachers themselves, because that’s just the kind of bright thinker Johnson is.

Happy Mother’s Day, by the way.

Johnson is at it yet again, this time telling news outlets at the state Republican Party’s convention in Wisconsin Dells that he believes it would be very troubling if President Donald Trump indeed records his conversations in the Oval Office.

OK, so far so good, right? Just wait for it.

Johnson was responding to questions about Trump’s recent tweet threatening former FBI Director James Comey about the possibility of “tapes” that recorded their conversations in the White House. And it’s admirable that Johnson says that would be a bad thing for the president to do.

But here’s where the “bright thinking” of Johnson comes into play: the senator believes that the president was implying that Comey himself has made recordings of the president, and not the other way around.

Say what?

From WKOW in Madison:
27 News followed up by asking if he thought there should be an investigation into whether such tapes were made, Sen. Johnson seemed puzzled why such a question would be asked.

Sen. Johnson then explained he disagreed that President Trump was trying to suggest he may have recorded those conversations.

"No, he said that Comey had better not have recorded it," said Sen. Johnson.
This is where logic starts to break down.

Suppose that Comey DID have tapes that he himself recorded of the president. Why would the president threaten Comey with those tapes if releasing them would cause harm for Comey? Wouldn’t Comey, who, in this scenario again controls the release of the tapes, withhold doing so if it caused him harm?

The obvious interpretation of Trump's words is that the president was clearly making a threat to Comey to make it seem like he (Trump} may have recorded their conversations. He was warning the former FBI director that if he started talking to the press about their conversations that it could mean trouble for Comey.

It’s a strong possibility that Trump has recording devices in the Oval Office, too. He has reportedly recorded telephone conversations at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, and there’s also this interesting anecdote (click to enlarge):

The nation was shocked by the implication that Trump tweeted out a threat to Comey last week. There were many levels of that tweet that were talked about, including the idea that the president may have recording devices surrounding him (and whomever he’s speaking with) at all times.

No one in their right mind would look at the tweet that Trump made and believe that he meant Comey had made the recordings. No one, that is, except for Ron Johnson.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Trump is wrong on Democrats and Comey — the president's actions deserve serious scrutiny

Democrats can simultaneously condemn actions of Comey while still finding Trump's actions deplorable

President Donald Trump took to Twitter Wednesday night to explain, in nuanced detail, why he fired FBI director James Comey earlier this week.

Just kidding. He took to Twitter to bash his political opponents.

Trump didn’t understand why Democrats, including many who had called for Comey to resign months ago, were suddenly now outraged at Trump for canning the FBI director.

Trump included a video in which Democrats complained about Comey and demanded he resign.

But Trump is proving that he has a one-track mind on this issue — or, he’s hoping that you do.

Democrats can be both critical of Comey and see his ouster as disturbing. It’s fairly transparent, after all, that his firing had EVERYTHING to do with Trump and Russia — Trump has been visibly uncomfortable with the direction the FBI’s investigation into Russia’s interference with last year’s presidential election was heading. In particular, Trump had grown frustrated with Comey over the latter’s refusal to acknowledge the former’s insistence that Barack Obama had “wiretapped” him at Trump Tower in 2016.

This isn’t my own assumption: aides within the White House itself have made these observations. From the New York Times (emphases in bold added):
For public consumption, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, a White House spokeswoman, said on Wednesday that Mr. Trump acted because of the “atrocities” committed by Mr. Comey during last year’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email. But in private, aides said, Mr. Trump has been nursing a collection of festering grievances, including Mr. Comey’s handling of the Russia investigation and the perceived disloyalty over the wiretapping claim.

Mr. Comey’s fate was sealed by his latest testimony about the bureau’s investigation into Russia’s efforts to sway the 2016 election and the Clinton email inquiry. Mr. Trump burned as he watched, convinced that Mr. Comey was grandstanding. He was particularly irked when Mr. Comey said he was “mildly nauseous” to think that his handling of the email case had influenced the election, which Mr. Trump took to demean his own role in history.
This is some really disturbing stuff. Trump’s motivation for firing Comey wasn’t about Hillary Clinton at all — it was clearly because Trump felt affronted by Comey’s Russia investigation, and perhaps because said investigation was getting too close to the president himself.

And Democrats recognize this. They may not have liked Comey before — some may have even asked for him to resign in the past — but anytime the president performs an action this egregious, it has to be called out. Trump simply wanted someone he viewed as a threat out of the way.

Certainly, Trump shouldn’t be allowed to pick a successor to Comey that will take over the Russia investigation. For that, an independent special prosecutor must be appointed.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

AG Schimel minted gold-plated “Kick Ass” coins while the murder rate in Wisconsin climbed

As DOJ spent $50,000 on SWAG, murder rate across the state went up 41 percent

The priorities for the Wisconsin Department of Justice, under the leadership of Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel, seem to be more about freebies to hand out rather than diminishing crime.

One Wisconsin Now recently revealed that in the past four years the DOJ “spent $50,000 that we know on swag for shameless self-promotion,” the group states. Two of those years have been under the tutelage of Schimel, while the other two included the last years of former Attorney General (and Republican) J.B. Van Hollen.

These commemorative items include coins that are handed out to law enforcement or other employees at DOJ, and include the initials KAED — for “Kick Ass Every Day.” The language is hardly the problematic issue here, however: Schimel spent $10,000 of taxpayer funds to mint the gold-plated coins, according to the Cap Times. Other items the DOJ has spent state money on include backpacks and travel tumblers.

The promotional items date back to fiscal year 2014, says One Wisconsin Now, but remember: fiscal years actually start in the year before their title suggests. So fiscal year 2014 actually started in July of 2013.

Since I had recently looked at crime stats, that year stood out to me. Sure enough, in 2013 Wisconsin’s murder rate was at 2.82 murders for every 100,000 citizens. In 2016, the state’s murder rate went up to 3.99 murders for every 100,000.

That amounts to a 41 percent increase in the murder rate between 2013 to 2016.

There’s something to be said about promoting morale among your workers. And certainly Schimel and the DOJ will try to justify these expenses as such.

But while these items were being purchased, using taxpayer dollars, the murder rate in the state went up in a drastic way. The priorities of Attorney General Brad Schimel shouldn’t focus on tote bags and fancy coins — they should focus on making the state a safer place to live.

Wisconsin deserves much better. In 2018, the voters should choose to remove Schimel from his post.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Mike McCabe should run for governor (with one small "if")

McCabe offers something rare in a challenge to Walker — an actual vision for improving Wisconsin

Mike McCabe for governor? The former head of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign and current president of Blue Jean Nation, has been mentioned as a potential contender to Gov. Scott Walker.

Hundreds of supporters of McCabe’s who are hoping to draft him to run for governor sent an open letter pleading with him to consider it, telling McCabe that he is an “upright man, not interested in self-enrichment or power for power’s sake, with a feeling for the needs of others and your country.”

McCabe, for his own part, said that the letter prompted him to give it some real thought. “I am willing to do this,” he said, adding that he’ll make a decision sometime after Labor Day.

Do I think he should run? Yes, absolutely, 110 percent — but with a very big “if.”

I’ll get to that “if” in a moment.

First, why McCabe should run, and it all comes down to this: he’s the right person to bridge the divide between rural and urban Wisconsinites, and to make progressive ideals appealing again in areas of the state where they’ve been dormant. That, to me, is the number one problem Democrats in Wisconsin are facing.

McCabe has a proud progressive background that would help improve the lives of many citizens living in the poorest parts of the state’s largest cities. But he also readily acknowledges the problems that face farmers and other rural people’s lives, problems that sometimes get forgotten by Democrats in larger cities. He knows firsthand about many of those issues because McCabe himself grew up on a farm in rural Clark County, Wisconsin.

What’s more, McCabe isn’t afraid to call out the Democratic Party on its failures to reach rural voters. In his book, “Blue Jeans in High Places,” McCabe states:
Democrats have broken the political law of universality. They may say we’re all in this together and need to look out for each other, but people in places like rural Clark County don’t see Democrats practicing what they preach.
The Democratic Party needs to craft policies that “tangibly [benefits] everyone or at least directly [touches]” families in these areas of the state. Democrats have done so in the past, McCabe says, explaining that Social Security, rural electrification and the GI Bill all have been felt positively by people in rural places.

McCabe's biography from his
book, Blue Jeans in High Places
McCabe understands both rural and city issues. And he’s exactly what Alan Talaga described in his Isthmus column, when he wrote in January that, “Rural voters aren’t looking for folksy pandering; they are looking for an affable, inspiring leader who talks about issues they care about. That’s more important than the candidate’s zip code.”

McCabe won’t pander — and he’ll defend his progressive ideals to everyone in the state, in Madison, Milwaukee and Green Bay, as well as in Seymour, Ladysmith and Bagley.

Mike McCabe is a progressive, but he’s also an independent. He doesn’t really identify with the Democratic Party 100 percent of the time — and that’s OK. Wisconsin’s progressives have historically bucked the party line of their respective parties, and people have loved them for it. Fighting Bob La Follette, a Republican, was an anti-war hellraiser in his day, and Bill Proxmire, a Democrat, chastised members of his own party for spending excessive amounts of taxpayer-funded government dollars.

With that this being said, McCabe should absolutely run for governor — if he runs as a Democrat, or if the Democrats agree to sit this one out and let him run as a true independent. The latter seems much less likely to happen, so McCabe ought to think seriously about running as a Democrat in the party’s primary for governor.

We cannot afford to split the vote, and allow Scott Walker another term in office. The effects would be devastating. So either the Democrats back McCabe as an independent, or McCabe wins the primary for the party. Again, the second option seems more realistic.

But if he chooses that option, he shouldn’t stray from his independent roots. He should remain a proponent of limiting corporate influence in our elections — a position he takes that more than 100 communities across Wisconsin share. He should, as a candidate, continue to promote reforms to the elections process that enables citizens to take control of their democracy, even if those reforms aren’t going to necessarily benefit the Democratic Party.

Most importantly, McCabe should run as a candidate that has broad appeal, to voters across the state in areas that progressives haven’t won in a long while.

That’s one more factor that McCabe brings to the table. He isn’t just another anti-Walker option — he’d be a true pro-Wisconsin candidate, with a vision for improving the state that isn’t just a reaction to what the current governor has in mind. McCabe has his own ideas, and they’re ideas that the rest of Wisconsin can readily get behind.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Five years of stats, one glaring conclusion: concealed carry didn’t make Wisconsin safer

Crime has increased by 24 percent statewide since concealed carry was passed

The Wisconsin Department of Justice released crime numbers for 2016 this month, and with those numbers we now have five full years of crime stats since concealed carry became law. The results aren’t good.

Concealed carry was described as a way for citizens to defend themselves, but it was also sold to voters and lawmakers on the basis that it would deter crime across the state. The idea was simple enough: if criminals didn’t know who was packing, they’d be hesitant to commit a crime against a victim who might have a gun.

Of course, just the opposite could have been true: criminals could have become even more aggressive if they didn’t know who was carrying a weapon. That side of the debate was conveniently ignored by conservatives, however. The bill passed, and Wisconsin became the 49th state to enact concealed carry, requiring a (lax) training process and a permit to do so in allowable places.

Since then a slew of legislation has been proposed by extremists that would extend where those allowable places would be — including school hallways, college campuses and more. There’s even been talk about ending the permit process altogether, simply allowing anyone able to purchase a gun to carry one wherever they want without concealed carry training.

The five years of data, however, seems to contradict the idea that concealed carry should be expanded. The statistics released this month (and in past years) demonstrate that violent crime has gone up since 2011 by more than 24 percent — and the murder rate has similarly gone up by 67 percent.

And it’s not just in Milwaukee, as some conservatives will likely point out. While murder did climb in the state’s largest city from 2011 to 2016, it climbed at a faster rate throughout the state: the non-Milwaukee murder rate increased by 74 percent throughout the rest of Wisconsin.

After signing the bill into law, Gov. Scott Walker promised that concealed carry would make the state safer. In 2015, Attorney General Brad Schimel also wrongly claimed that concealed carry made Wisconsin a safer place for families across the state.

The numbers don’t lie — since passage of concealed carry, crime has gone up, not down.

The idea of deterrence is provably wrong. Yet lawmakers plan to pass future bills that site deterrence through concealed carry as a means to prevent crime. That would be like trying to use water to stop a flood — it just won’t work. And we shouldn’t expect otherwise.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

On Constructing Political Arguments

Emotion, especially anger, is driving too much of the debate

Has our society lost the ability to engage in sensible debate?

I have often asked whether people would listen to my arguments on this site based off the evidence alone. Providing data to back up an opinion isn’t a very compelling way to win an argument.

I’ve long been a proponent that every good argument, in fact, contains three elements: pathos, ethos, and logos.

To explain these concepts further, here’s what says on each of them:

  • Ethos is an appeal to ethics, and it is a means of convincing someone of the character or credibility of the persuader.
  • Pathos is an appeal to emotion, and is a way of convincing an audience of an argument by creating an emotional response.
  • Logos is an appeal to logic, and is a way of persuading an audience by reason.
I learned to use these concepts in arguments not from some liberal propaganda book, but from a conservative instructor at UW-Milwaukee, Jessica McBride, who was teaching an opinion writing class at the time. Her invaluable insights have helped me become a better writer, even if I do disagree with her on nine issues out of every ten.

I fear, however, that America is beginning to lose the value of constructing a good argument. Rather than using pathos, ethos, or logos, we are beginning to place value on ignorance and talking points that disregard these important concepts.

With logos, we are seeing debate dwindle down to made-up facts. Whether on climate change, or even the simple concept of why there was an American Civil War, facts don’t seem to matter any longer. Donald Trump has even taken to using the term “fake news” to discredit detractors who oftentimes rightly correct the president on topics he fails to coherently grasp. The use of logos, or rather the lack of proper use of it, is reaching dangerous levels.

We’re also seeing a diminishing use of ethos in the national debate. Rather than empowering the legitimacy of the arguer, the debate has too often devolved into attacking the character of the opponent. We see this daily on cable news networks — arguments quickly shift into what an opponent’s stance was or statements were three weeks ago, rather than staying on point with the current argument at hand. Cordiality and an emphasis on why an individual is a credible source of information, is losing out to simply bringing the other side down.

Pathos seems to be a favorite arguing point among both sides these days, but it faces the opposite problem: rather than being underused, it’s being overused, so much that emotions like anger flood the debate.

Case in point: this recent op-ed from the Washington Times by Charles Hurt, which is simply an angry diatribe titled “Shut up, Jimmy Kimmel, you elitist creep.” Hurt uses his anger to make an argument against Kimmel’s recent calls for providing insurance to families that can’t afford it — and anger seems to be the only argument Hurt utilizes (emphases in bold added).
He just had a kid and the kid nearly died and he wants you to know that if you are not for bloated federal bureaucracy, socialized medicine, higher taxes and tons of more debt piled onto your grandchildren, then you are not a “decent person.”

Actually Jim, if you were a “decent person,” you would shut your fat trap about partisan politics and go care for your kid, who just nearly died, you elitist creep.


My overall point is this: a good argument is well-balanced. It contains emotion, but it also contains logic and ethical arguments.

Emotional responses to issues are important — the push for health care reform, for example, is in part based on an emotional response. But too much of anything can be problematic, and an argument based solely on emotion (and utilizing only anger) can drive the conversation away from a proper debate, turning it into a yelling match instead.

Logos, pathos, and ethos should be part of every debate — and it’s what I strive for on this blog site.

Friday, April 28, 2017

My quick thoughts on a possible Clarke appointment to Homeland Security

Clarke could play loose with the definitions of terrorism, setting a dangerous precedent

I share my thoughts on my Twitter account (through video) about Donald Trump possibly appointing Milwaukee County Sheriff Clarke to a position within Homeland Security. It was announced today that the president is considering this appointment, despite the troubled history Clarke has within his own department.

One more thing I'd like to add: if Clarke, who considers Black Lives Matter to be a terrorist organization, gets any position of power, it's likely he'll play loose with the definition of what "terrorism" actually is...which could set dangerous precedent for Trump to follow as well.

Testimony sheds light on allegedly “deceptive” practices in jails overseen by Sheriff Clarke

A change in leadership is needed in the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Department

Testimony in Milwaukee this week seems to suggest that there’s a cover-up going on at the Milwaukee County jail.

The jails are administered under the direction of Sheriff David Clarke. Earlier this week, I suggested that Clarke ought to be removed from his position by Gov. Scott Walker because four individuals had died under his watch at the county jail.

One of those deaths included an infant who was born to a woman who was in the jail. The mother’s pleas for help went unanswered, and the child died before medical attention was given to either.

Another of the deaths, involving 38-year-old Terrill Thomas, came about as a result of dehydration. Thomas was not given a sip of water for seven days while in solitary confinement.

A Milwaukee PD commander testified in court this week that it was “unconscionable” that members of the sheriff’s department had viewed video of Thomas but failed to let the city department know.

What’s more, the video itself was recorded over — meaning that anything that the sheriff’s department said was on the tapes has to be taken at their word.

From the Journal Sentinel:
“It’s unconscionable,” said Eric Donaldson, a homicide lieutenant who helped lead the probe. “It’s like you’re hiding something.”

Donaldson said that top Sheriff’s Office officials failed to tell him that a sheriff’s captain had viewed the video of a key portion of Thomas’ jail stay — video that officials say later was recorded over.

[Donaldson] didn’t find out until 11 months after Thomas died that [corrections Capt. George] Gold had seen the video, he said. Sheriff’s officials hadn’t even mentioned Gold, he said.

Chisholm dwelled on that point, asking Donaldson his reaction.

“To me, that’s deceptive,” Donaldson said.
A member of the Milwaukee police department is calling an action by the Sheriff’s department deceptive. At the very least, it’s indicative of a failure of leadership, which should have righted problems at the county jail long before four people died there.

Sheriff David Clarke ought to show some responsibility for his failed leadership, and offer up ideas on how he’s going to change things. And Gov. Scott Walker, who has already stated he won’t remove Clarke from office, ought to reconsider, in light of this and possibly more testimony detailing problems within the Sheriff’s department.

Failing that, new leadership ought to be selected by the citizenry — at the county level, as well as at the governor’s office — especially if no action is taken by either.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Prisoners have rights — and Sheriff David Clarke needs to be held responsible for violating them

David Clarke should be removed from his position as sheriff

Prisoners have rights.

That statement shouldn’t be so profound. But too often, many in our society tend to forget, purposely or not, that prisoners have legal rights that must be adhered to. Even if prisoners have committed a heinous crime, if these rights are violated an injustice has occurred.

The founders of our nation recognized this fact. They enshrined, within the Eighth Amendment, that “cruel and unusual punishments [shall not be] inflicted” on those serving time behind bars.

So when an injustice is performed upon a member of the prisoner population, who’s to blame? It depends on a variety of factors: who issued the order, and who allowed it to happen; who carried out the action, and who turned a blind eye.

In Milwaukee County’s jail, which is overseen by the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s department, a prisoner died because he was not allowed to drink water while in solitary confinement.

From the Journal Sentinel (emphases in bold added):
When [Terrill] Thomas arrived in solitary confinement on April 17, 2016, a corrections officer went to a utility panel and turned off the water in Thomas' cell, surveillance video showed.

"This order to shut off Mr. Thomas' water was highly irregular and contrary to standard operating procedure in the jail," Benkley said. The cutoff of water was never marked in a jail log or written on a whiteboard used to note significant events on the solitary confinement wing, Benkley said. Surveillance video also showed nobody approached the utility panel to turn Thomas' water back on, Benkley said.


Although it likely doesn't factor into his death, prosecutors also noted Thomas was never once taken out of his solitary confinement cell during his seven days there. Inmates are typically given one hour of recreation time per day.
I’ve previously written about the dangers of solitary confinement, and how the practice ought to be curtailed. But this goes beyond problematic policies and ventures into prisoner neglect and abuse.

For Thomas to be deprived of water for that long of a period — even a single day would be outrageous — is demonstrative of a prison system in Milwaukee County jails that is in need of serious attention. Unfortunately, it’s not the only case we have to concern ourselves with.

Three other individuals died under Sheriff David Clarke’s watch in 2016. Two died of heart issues while in jail cells. A third hadn’t committed a crime at all — an infant, born while their mother was imprisoned in the jail, died shortly after birth. Prison guards allegedly “laughed off” the concerns of the mother when she tried to explain she was going into labor.


I'll repeat myself: Prisoners have rights. This includes the right to defend themselves in court, as well as the right to be given proper and safe living conditions in jail or prison until that time comes.

These inmates weren’t granted those rights. It’s disturbing enough that this happened to one inmate. That four have suffered the consequences of gross negligence in Milwaukee County jail demonstrates that the blame goes to more than one individual.

Harry Truman famously said, “the buck stops here.” The responsibility for problems in his administration rested at his feet, and nowhere else.

Sheriff David Clarke offers a different point of view, one that we should reject. He regularly harasses people at airports and on social media. Four individuals have died while under his watch. And he doesn’t seem to see why some might think he has a role to play in that.

A Wisconsin lawmaker from Milwaukee recently requested that Gov. Scott Walker remove Clarke from his duties, a privilege that governors have if they wish to do so. Walker has said he won’t make that move.

But it would be the right one to make. It won’t provide justice for the victims who died on his watch, but it might prevent the occurrence of future victims of his cruel and unusual style of management.

Memo to Democrats: people STILL WANT CHANGE! Here's three electoral reforms to get behind

Three electoral reforms could help Dems get support

This weekend’s beautiful weather allowed me to grill outside, and to contemplate some ideas that had been brewing in my mind for a while. Among them, I got to thinking about what is and what isn’t working in the messaging against President Donald Trump and conservatism in general.

For starters, it’s important that we recognize a takeaway from this past election that not too many Democrats are going to embrace easily: that Trump’s rhetoric (though brash, crude and at times dog-whistle racist) was similar in some respects to what Barack Obama channeled in 2008.

Obviously Obama and Trump have different visions for what the nation should be, and for what government’s role in our lives should become. I'm not saying their ideas are similar, nor even that their rhetorical styles are the same. On messaging, however, there is a sliver of similarity. Trump, like Obama, promised significant change in DC. In that respect, we have to recognize that the messaging that Obama laid out in 2008 — “Change we can believe in” — is at the very least the distant cousin of Trump’s line of “draining the swamp.”

Trump’s promise of “draining the swamp,” of course, was hollow. He never intended to do as much, and Washington is every bit the same as it was before Trump came in (in many ways, it’s even more swamplike). But his messaging was what people wanted — he promised change, and millions of Americans believed him, whether rightly or not.


So what can we learn from this? Here’s my take: the message of “change” is still a very strong idea that American’s are desperate to seek out. They wanted to embrace it so much, in fact, that they were willing to give Trump, the example of the most ridiculous choice for president in modern times, the keys to the White House rather than allow another person with the last name of Clinton back in as president.

I wholly endorsed Hillary Clinton for president after she won the Democratic Party’s nomination contests. But she did not portray herself as a candidate looking to change things in America during an election where voters wanted something different, something that would affect real change that they could see for themselves. Though she won the popular vote by millions of ballots, what ultimately won Trump the presidency was the idea that he was going to drastically change things in Washington in a radical way.

Democrats, if they wish to be relevant in the future, need to embrace this idea as well — though not in a way that is as disastrous as Trump’s presidency is becoming. Rather, they need to exemplify change in a way that will come to benefit the people of this nation in a manner they can understand.

There is a simple way to do that: the Democratic Party needs to support fundamental changes to the way our government is designed. Not in ways that will lead to autocratic rule, or that will come at the detriment of the American people — instead, they should pick up where the Progressive Movement at the start of the 20th century left off, expanding democracy and small-d democratic reforms that makes Washington more responsive to the people’s needs

Runoff voting

This includes demolishing the primary system itself in favor of a runoff system where candidates from both parties (or, gasp, multiple parties) are part of an initial round of voting. Georgia and Louisiana already have this system in place, and it allows people to vote their conscience rather than compromise their vote for a candidate they deem to be more likely to win.

But where Georgia and Louisiana have a second round for voting, the reforms Democrats should promote should include Instant Runoff Voting (also known as ranked choice voting). Voters should choose their favorite candidate in the election, but also their second, third, etc. choices. FairVote describes the process like this:
First, every vote counts for its first choice. If a candidate has more than half of the vote based on first-choices, that candidate wins. If no candidate has more than half of those votes, then the candidate with the fewest first choices is eliminated. The voters who selected the defeated candidate as a first choice will then have their votes added to the totals of their next choice. This process continues until a candidate has more than half of the active votes or only two candidates remain. The candidate with a majority among the active candidates is declared the winner.

Supreme Court term limits

Another reform Democrats should push for is term limits for Supreme Court justices. In no other branch of government do we accept lifetime appointments. We’ve put term limits on the president, and Congress routinely toys with the idea of term limits for elected representatives there.

I oppose term limits in elections where the people are in control of selecting their legislator — if a constituency is happy with their representative, why strip them of their preferred choice? — but lifetime tenure to the Supreme Court is just plain nuts. By instituting limits, presidential elections become much less dire, as their Supreme Court choices won’t potentially last 20-40 years. And new faces, ideas and legal minds will consistently enter the Court.

It’s an idea that has overwhelming support: shortly after last year’s elections, more than two-thirds of respondents in a poll said they supported term limits for Court justices. Only 16 percent said they didn’t support the idea.

Redistricting reform and Proportional Representation

Democrats should endorse instituting a hybrid system of electing legislators in statehouses across the nation that includes implementing proportional representation. And if that reform goes well, they ought to support a Constitutional amendment expanding it in Congress as well.

What might PR look like? I elaborated on the idea in 2014:
PR works in a very simple way: rather than electing individual candidates, voters choose their preferred party on the ballot. That party would then select the representatives to be sent to the [legislature] depending on the proportion they received.
Proportional representation shouldn’t be the only way of selecting elected officials, however. Geographical districts should remain, allowing a person to have a legislative representative that caters to the concerns of their community. But with PR blended into the current system, voters will be assured, in most cases, of having a representative in their statehouses responding to their needs — even if their geographical district representatives aren’t who they voted for in elections, PR allows voters to have someone in office that they DID support.

But districts aren’t always drawn in ways that make sense either. So redistricting reform has to be supported by Democrats also. The boundaries of districts need to be drawn by independent authorities, not by the party that happens to be in power at the time of the census. And the Iowa method of doing this seems to be the model other states should adopt, as it hasn’t failed yet after decades of being implemented.


These are just some ideas that Democrats should propose in order to prove that they’re the party of true change. Other ideas include the abolition of the Electoral College or the implementation of citizens’ vetoes in states across the country.

But whatever Democrats do, they cannot suggest to voters that they are the party of change without following through. If, by some miracle, Democrats are able to regain power in Congress in 2018 and the presidency in 2020, and if they’re able to have similar outcomes in states across the country, they need to institute these reforms right away so that citizens can see they mean business.

These changes would allow citizens to voice their concerns more loudly, and to be heard more frequently by their lawmakers. Don't get me wrong: these reforms might come at the expense of the Democratic Party's own chances of winning, at times. But Democrats cannot win in the years ahead unless they recognize the desire for drastic change in Washington and beyond. They should embrace and enact these reforms, and others, and continue to engage with the people about how they can make government more responsive for everyone.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

WisGOP seeks to restrict abortions for state workers — even if a woman’s life is endangered

But don't worry, vasectomies are still covered for men

Wisconsin Republicans are aiming to make it so that state employees cannot have their abortions paid for through insurance plans offered to them — even if the abortion is a necessary medical procedure that could save their lives.

Besides being absurd on its face — the right to choose is a natural right — this bill seems to be a solution in search of a problem. The Beloit Daily News reports that the bill, if it does indeed become law, wouldn’t have much impact at all.
That's because the state currently requires health plans to cover only therapeutic abortions for its members. How those are defined is left up to the health plan, but they generally are only those considered to be medically necessary, said Nancy Ketterhagen, spokeswoman for the Department of Employee Trust Funds, which administers state worker benefits.
It’s unclear right now whether the proposed bill would make the exception for the health of the mother, but from what I’m reading in the news, it seems like that exception will be removed as well.

Which is pretty telling: Republicans are hoping to force women who are employed by the state to pay for their own abortions even if their lives are at risk. Their health care provider will be barred from helping them pay for the procedure, even if their health depends on it.

In defending the law, Rep. Dave Murphy (R-Greenville) tried to make a weird comparison to gun ownership.

Though some may relate to that allegory (how...I don’t honestly know...), it gets the point completely wrong. Women employed by the state of Wisconsin deserve to have their health coverage pay for such medical expenses. They bought the insurance, after all, to pay for unforeseen medical events. The harsh reality (that Republican lawmakers can’t fathom apparently) is that includes the sometimes necessary expense of paying for a life-saving abortion.

Meanwhile, if any male worker wanted to get a voluntary vasectomy, that’d be paid for in part by the state (as would reversal of that procedure if he changed his mind).

But a medically necessary abortion, one that could save the life of the mother? Republicans want to do away with that.

Because, of course they do.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

How to convert the "Resistance" movement into something real

Complaints with Trump have to have deeper meaning

In the first few months of Donald Trump’s tenure as president, we have seen quite possibly the worst first 100 days of any modern U.S. chief executive. His administration’s foibles and gaffes have demonstrated that the president and his underlings weren’t prepared for the job on day one; his failed policies and unpopular positions among the citizenry show that he’s set to lead this country in a direction it doesn’t want to take.

The “resistance” movement against President Trump has picked up considerable steam since January. Protests, some of them larger in stature than Trump’s own inauguration ceremony, are indicative of a true grassroots movement coalescing among the American populace.

But the resistance cannot choose a message that is simply “we are against Trump.” That line of thinking is appealing to a good chunk of Americans, to be sure, but if we want to go beyond “preaching to the choir” about why Trump’s policies are bad for the nation, the resistance has to provide its own set of ideas, independent of Trump’s, that will be beneficial as well.

Fortunately, there is a good place to start forming these ideas — with the complaints themselves. In every complaint, there exists an alternative vision of what should be offered. Instead of saying “here’s why Trump is wrong on the issue of X,” resistance leaders should embrace saying “here’s what we propose to fix X.”

This is basic human psychology, evident in politics as much as it is in childrearing — if your four-year-old daughter doesn’t want to watch Elmo, you can offer Bob the Builder instead. If you don’t like Donald Trump’s vision for immigration, offer an alternative idea that voters will support, that includes a pathway for current immigrants who have been here for decades. At the basic levels, people desire choices.

There is certainly a place for outrage to exist. The marches against Trump, demonstrating support for reasonable immigration reform, science-based governance, women’s rights and more, are fast becoming fixtures in our politics, and deservedly so. It is thrilling to see so many Americans take up these causes, and to become more involved in the conversation than they have been in the past.

These demonstrations, however, cannot be both the beginning and the end of the discussion. Lawmakers and community leaders who embrace the resistance movement against the Trump administration must also provide guidance beyond these marches, showcasing the alternatives that will push our country forward in a positive direction.

Their messages must be appealing as well, succinct and to the point. We cannot defeat Trump by going into a 12-point policy discussion. In this age of social media, 140 characters are all we have to explain why we’re on the right side of history. Policy papers and longer explanations are still necessary and have their places in debates, but selling a product, whether it’s a can of soda or a political movement, requires brevity.

The resistance has had an enormous first round of success, but in subsequent rounds more thought has to be given on what should be done for the future. Resistance has to evolve into reform and action if it is to convert anyone away from the current path we’re on.