Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Ignoring rise in gun crimes statewide, Wisconsin Republicans seek to remove requirements for concealed carry permits

It's no exaggeration to say that there's a public health crisis when it comes to gun violence in Wisconsin (the numbers prove it)

Leave it to the Republicans in Wisconsin to propose a dangerous gun bill while I’m trying to relax on vacation.

The new bill would allow anyone who owns a gun to conceal their weapon in public places — without a permit — including in schools and other sensitive areas.

Eliminating the permitting process would take away an important standard meant to keep families safe in Wisconsin: such classes ensure those seeking a permit are given proper guidance to be responsible with their privileges.

Furthermore, allowing guns into sensitive areas (like on school grounds) would mean allowing dangerous weapons to be present mere feet from your loved ones.

Republicans tend to think concealed carry will make our state safer. In fact, the idea that “deterrence” would stave off crime — that "would-be" criminals would think twice before attempting to do harm against law-abiding citizens — was a concept Republicans used to sell the idea of concealed carry in the first place.

In actuality, crime has gone up significantly in the years since concealed carry became law in Wisconsin. Violent crime rates have risen by nearly 30 percent across the state overall. And the murder rate is up by 172 percent in rural counties alone since that time, meaning it’s not just a problem for cities. Deterrence has failed completely, and although concealed carry may not be responsible for the rise in crime itself, it has not been a reliable method to lessen crime over the course of the past six years.

It’s numbers like these that make recent comments by Rep. Melissa Sargent (D-Madison) seem less hyperbolic and more realistic: “Gun violence in Wisconsin isn’t a joke, it’s a public health crisis,” she said, adding that “This bill is irresponsible and dangerous, and quite frankly, defies logic.”

Senate Democratic Leader Jennifer Shilling (D-La Crosse) agrees. “Allowing anyone to carry a loaded, concealed firearm in public without any safety training or a simple background check is completely irresponsible,” she explained.

Indeed it is. Concealed carry permits ensure those seeking to exercise the privilege are doing so only after they have received proper safety training. Removing that standard means allowing those without this knowledge to carry a gun wherever and whenever they want.

Wisconsin won’t see less crime as a result — in fact, if trends hold true, and if this bill passes, we could see devastating consequences instead.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Monona decriminalizes marijuana use, possession: Wisconsin should follow suit

The economic — and health — benefits of marijuana could be a boon for the state

The city of Monona, which sits just to the southeast of Madison, just decriminalized marijuana use and possession for law-abiding citizens over the age of 21.

By a 4-3 vote of the city council, a measure that would reduce the fine from $200 to no fine at all was approved. Mayor Bob Miller is also supportive of the measure.

The fines for users under the age of 21 remains $200, a point that advocates pushed for themselves to reinforce the idea that marijuana use should only be decriminalized for adult use only.

This move is the right direction to head in, and the state ought to look at its own standards as well. Other states across the nation have already decriminalized or outright legalized marijuana use. Wisconsin should follow suit: there is no reason that this drug, which is safer than alcohol consumption in most cases, should remain illegal.

It should be strictly regulated, of course. Every effort should be made to prevent minors from using marijuana, and hotels, restaurants and apartment complexes should have the right to tell occupants that they cannot smoke marijuana in their buildings (in fact, Wisconsin’s smoking ban should apply to marijuana smokers, too). Use while driving should also be strictly forbidden.

But we must remember that marijuana is relatively safe to use. And its legalization could be a boon to the economy. In Colorado, for instance, reported $17 million in added tax revenues — and that’s just for January of this year. For the entire year of 2016, the state reported over $200 million in tax revenues.

Wisconsin should follow other states' leads and look into legalizing marijuana itself, especially since we’re currently suffering the effects of being hit with a tight budget. A substantial amount of those revenues could go toward ensuring roads are well funded, or that public schools receive the adequate supplies that they need, for example.

Even taking a moderate approach on marijuana decriminalization would be helpful: legalizing it for medicinal purposes could comfort hundreds of thousands of patients in the state, and can help stave off the opioid crisis that Wisconsin is facing.

Conservative lawmakers that run Wisconsin will not likely budge on this. But it’s an issue they ought to reconsider: marijuana decriminalization, and eventual legalization, would be beneficial to the state’s budget as well as to the overall health of its citizens.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Trump is a dangerous president because he lacks this crucial skill

The president lacks the basic ability to think critically

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, and I’ve come up with a definitive reason that Donald Trump is quite possibly the worst person to have serving as president of the United States — he lacks a critical mind.

That isn’t to say that Donald Trump lacks opinions. He has plenty of them, visible to the world of social media through his tweets (whether we want them or not). But his opinions are rarely the result of his own thought processes. Rather, they come from other places, usually cable news programs he’s just watched or far-right wing internet websites with questionable sources for their content.

Critical thinking is defined as “the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment.” We had a president with a critical mind when Barack Obama was in office. To be sure, he took advice from several of his close advisers, and had his own “presidential bubble.”

But Obama was an enlightened mind also, and weighed each person’s opinions against the evidence at hand, formulating a carefully thought-out opinion based on the ideas of several individuals and, most importantly, his own thinking. He acted coolly and calmly, never making a brash decision without first going over what the possible outcomes could be.

We don’t have that careful, measured analysis in President Trump. The current commander-in-chief throws out wild accusations without evidence, and relies too heavily on what information is being spoon-fed to him rather than taking stock from several different sources of information and coming up with his own decisions.

That allows for many mistakes to be made — and for many to manipulate the decision-making process of the president to reach their desired outcomes. That makes Trump’s presidency potentially the most dangerous one in recent history, and it’s why we need to stand up to him at every juncture possible.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Scott Walker “shifts” on his promises — so why should voters trust him?

Walker tries to spin excuses for why he's failed to deliver on jobs pledge

In 2010, Gov. Scott Walker made a huge promise: that under his leadership, the state of Wisconsin would create 250,000 jobs in four years.

It was a promise that many derided him for. 250,000 jobs was overzealous, a lot of people warned. But Walker persisted, and even doubled-down on his pledge, saying that 250,000 jobs was his FLOOR, not his ceiling, for creating jobs in the state. In other words, he fully expected to create more than that amount.

Walker even said that his job depended on meeting this pledge.

This week the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel noted that Gov. Walker has still failed to come close to his jobs pledge — more than two years after he said it would come about.

So how does Walker react? By stating that he’s shifted his goal. From Chuck Quirmbach of WPR:
"I qualify that now saying ... I got more people employed than ever before," Walker said. "You ask people on the street who are hiring, it's not how many jobs are created, it's how many people are there to fill them. And so, I've shifted from that, and said my number one issue is workforce. I need to find those people."
Someone should inform the governor that promises don’t work like that. When an elected official says that their job depends on something — which Walker said in 2010 — it should not be dismissed so easily.

Much more than that, Walker needs to keep in mind that anyone who became governor when he did would have “got more people employed than ever before.”

That’s like bragging about the growth of population — which has been slow, but has been growing. The same holds true for jobs growth...it has increased, to be sure, but at a snail’s pace.

As I pointed out last week, the pace of jobs growth under Walker is slower than his predecessor’s rate of growth. And Jake, over at Jake’s Economic TA Funhouse, points out that we’d have added more than 300,000 jobs by now if we had kept pace with the rate the U.S. overall had maintained since Walker took office.

So no — we should not allow Walker to “shift” his promise. Voters should not trust this governor to do what he promises for them. He failed to create the number of jobs he said he would. A respectable person would own up to that fact. Walker, on the other hand, makes excuses, including “shifting” his goals when they don’t come true.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Rachel Maddow, Trump's taxes, and my thoughts on what this president is still hiding

The story here is how we still don't know anything about the president's connections to foreign incomes

My quick thoughts (in audio) on Rachel Maddow's revelations tonight about President Donald Trump's 2005 tax returns.

Listen to "Rachel Maddow, Trump's taxes, and my thoughts" on Spreaker.

Paul Ryan objects to key CBO claim, but here’s why he’s still wrong

People will be economically forced into refusing insurance under “TrumpCare” plan

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan is having a tough time selling his healthcare proposal.

That’s because the recent Congressional Budget Office (CBO) scoring of the bill, officially titled the American Health Care Act, would leave 14 million additional individuals out of insurance coverage by 2018. That number increases to 24 million by 2026.

But Ryan is stubbornly defending his Republican Party’s proposal for replacing Obamacare. And he doesn’t worry about those individuals losing coverage because the CBO estimates a large portion of those people are going to voluntarily forgo paying for insurance.

"Of course they’re going to say if we stop forcing people to buy something they don’t want to buy they’re not going to buy it," Ryan explained. "That’s why you have these uninsured numbers, which we all expected."

Expected or not, it’s still not good news. Even if people are voluntarily giving up their insurance plans, the reasons why they’re doing so is a symptom of a larger problem.

That problem is simple: these people will not be able to afford insurance coverage. According to the Kaiser Foundation, most people who don’t buy insurance can’t afford to do so. Obamacare sought to correct this problem by offering to subsidize some of the expenses, alleviating the hardships of paying for costly health coverage.

There were still some Americans who couldn’t afford insurance even after those subsidies, and they were generally granted exemptions from the mandate penalty if they could prove their hardships outweighed the ability to pay.

But generally speaking, the GOP health plan will force people out of insurance coverage — even under the guise of conservatives claiming "they're doing so voluntarily."

Conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin explains it like this:
Ryan continues to insist that if people choose not to buy insurance under the new plan that is no concern of his. However, if they choose not to insure because they can no longer afford to, Ryan will have created the Unaffordable Care Act and stranded millions of people.
Emphasis added.

So to recap: Ryan believes that the 14 million who will lose coverage as a result of this bill will be choosing that route voluntarily. In actuality, they’ll be forced into that choice — without the subsidies that Obamacare offered to them, they’ll likely have to pay much, much more for insurance coverage. Which makes their “voluntary” refusal to buy insurance seem much less voluntary, doesn’t it?

Saturday, March 11, 2017

How is Trump making America Great Again? (Cartoon)

...by changing his views on jobs reports

A new installment that I'll try to do weekly. A political cartoon, drawn by yours truly.

This week President Donald Trump celebrated new jobs numbers that demonstrated the U.S. created 235,000 jobs in February. Most economists would agree there is very little that Trump could have done to contribute to these positive numbers — they are more likely the result of eight years of President Obama's policies than one month of Trump's.

Trump previously called similar numbers under the Obama administration "phony." But this week, he says they're "very real now," but his administration hasn't explained why.

Apparently that's how we're going to make America Great Again.

(Click to make larger.)

Friday, March 10, 2017

Who grew jobs at a faster rate, Walker or Doyle? (Here’s a hint: it’s the Democratic governor)

If we had kept pace with Doyle’s rate of employment growth, WI would have 31,300 more workers employed today

The latest monthly jobs report for Wisconsin was released this week, and the numbers are showing some positive things for the state. Unemployment is down to 3.9 percent, a remarkably low number that shouldn’t be disregarded.

However, we should put this report into context. For that, I want to start back in 2009. Former Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat, signed a budget bill in June of that year with help from a Democratic-controlled legislature. The recovery in the state began shortly thereafter, and in January of 2010 the unemployment rate in the state (then at 9.2 percent) began to decline instead of climb.

By the time Jim Doyle left office, unemployment was down to 8.1 percent.

In all, under Gov. Doyle’s last full year in office, Wisconsin saw a rise in total employment numbers from 2,795,997 workers employed in December of 2009, to 2,824,656 workers employed by December of 2010. Those were the first 12 months of the economic recovery in Wisconsin, and they represent an employment growth of 1.025 percent.

That sounds insignificant on its face, but let’s hold judgment until we compare it to the second governor during Wisconsin’s recovery, Republican Gov. Scott Walker. From December of 2010 to January of 2017 the number of workers employed in the state jumped up to 2,998,400 — or a growth of 173,744 employed workers, about 6.151 percent growth in employed workers since he took office.

That number is obviously higher than Doyle’s. But keep in mind, Walker has had 85 months of Wisconsin recovery, whereas Doyle only had 12 months of recovery in office. So Doyle’s 1.025 percent of growth during 12 months represents around 0.0854 percent growth per month, on average. Walker’s 6.151 percent growth for 85 months represents an average growth of about 0.0724 percent per month.

In other words, if you look at Wisconsin’s recovery from an apples-to-apples comparison — looking at the average monthly growth of each of the state’s governor’s during the recovery ― Republican Scott Walker performs about 15 percent slower, on average, than Democrat Jim Doyle did during his final year in office.

And here’s the big number to think about: if we had kept the pace of the Democratic Doyle’s recovery instead of the Republican Walker’s rate, we’d have 3,029,698 workers employed today. That’s 31,298 more workers that would be working in Wisconsin today if Doyle’s rate of employment growth had held true.

Even when employment numbers look good for Walker, there’s always something he’s hiding. And this is a huge omission he’s kept from the people of Wisconsin these past six years.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Case for raising the Minimum Wage (to fix Scott Walker’s failed jobs promises)

Raising the minimum wage would have a direct (and positive) impact on local economies

In response to another dismal jobs report in the Badger State, Gov. Scott Walker did his very best to try and change the subject, to income gains, specifically in the manufacturing industry.

“"If we see wages go up in manufacturing, to me, that's my ultimate goal,” Walker said.

Which seems odd, because that’s the first time I’ve heard that goal said out loud by Walker, or anyone else from his administration for that matter. In 2010 Walker was saying “jobs, jobs, jobs!” was his ultimate goal. I guess being the 13th worst state for jobs growth over the past five years changes your goals a bit. Losing 4,000 manufacturing jobs in the past year might also be cause for Walker’s sudden shift on what his goal should be.

But while most people would change their method of attaining their goal when they fail — perhaps seeing that what they’re doing isn’t working — Walker suggests we change the goal altogether, towards a metric that he’s conveniently spouted out at the last minute.

I might have to try that the next time my diet goes bad. I didn’t “fail” at losing ten pounds, I “succeeded” at enjoying more options at area restaurants over winter. Goal achieved!

Meanwhile, Walker’s assertion isn’t even that grand: manufacturing workers saw an increase of $59 in weekly pay from September of 2015 to September of 2016, and while that sounds great, it’s more of a correction than anything else. It also ignores the past five years of stagnant wages in manufacturing.

In 2016 workers in the manufacturing industry earned $1,071 per week. In 2011 they earned $996 per week. But that doesn’t take into account the rate of inflation. In 2016 dollars, that $996 is equal to about $1,062. So workers basically saw the spending power of their paychecks go up by about $9 over five years.

The tax breaks for manufacturing companies, then, resulted in a weekly wage increase for employees of just a hair above the equivalent price of a Big Mac combo meal. Thanks, Walker!

There is a way, of course, to positively affect wages AND grow jobs across the state: grow demand, and one of the ways to do that is through a carefully adjusted increase of the minimum wage.

Here’s how it works: if workers are given more income for the work they do, they can spend more money on consumer goods and services throughout the state. A minimum wage increase to $12 an hour means a person currently earning minimum wage, working 40 hours per week, would see an annual wage increase of nearly $10,000.

Currently 59,000 workers are at the minimum wage in Wisconsin (this number doesn’t count the additional 32,000 working below the minimum wage). If those 59,000 saw $10,000 yearly raises, that’d an infusion of $590 million in the state alone.

This doesn’t even consider those workers whose wages are above the minimum wage, who would also be likely to see their own incomes go up as a result of a raise at the bottom. One study, for example, demonstrates that a 10 percent raise in the minimum wage (that’s about 73 cents) would result in a two percent raise in income for the bottom 10 percent of all workers. Sounds insignificant, but remember: that’s what happens when only $0.73 is added to the current minimum wage.

What about small businesses? Wouldn't a raise in the minimum wage hurt them? A surprising number of small businesses actually support raising the minimum wage. In fact, 61 percent of small business owners in the Midwest want to see wages raised to at least $10.10 an hour, according to one survey. The reasoning behind this is simple: when more people are earning more money, their businesses reap the benefits. If a worker is getting $100 more in weekly take-home-pay, they’re more likely to spend that in the local community than if they weren’t getting that extra income.

So a modest raise in the minimum wage seems to make a lot of sense. Unfortunately for Wisconsin, Scott Walker doesn’t seem to think so. In 2014 he called proposals to raise the minimum wage a “political stunt.” What does he propose to do instead?

His next budget includes another tax break — one that would benefit the rich and the corporate elite, but that would give you and me pennies a week in wage increases.

Walker is dead-set on using failed policies of the past in the upcoming budget to grow the state's economy. It won't work: the proposed tax cut would give millions to the top earners in the state. Meanwhile, 70 percent of workers in the state would see an average tax break of about $44, or an $0.84 increase in weekly wages. That won't create demand, but it will make a lot of Walker's corporate donors happy.

It’s the same failed strategy that Walker attempted early in his gubernatorial career — the same strategy that didn’t increase jobs growth in the state, and that forced Walker to spin what his “goal” was all along.

We shouldn’t expect a different result: the same handful of individuals who received millions in tax cuts will get even bigger returns, while the rest of the state is left wondering what we get out of it (here’s a hint: nada).

Wisconsin should instead focus on ways of increasing demand, of making sure workers are getting paid reasonable wages and being able to spend those wages in significant ways at local businesses across the state. Sounds simple enough. But for this governor, and his Republican legislative allies, it’s a concept that’s apparently escaped them. Wisconsin has suffered as a result.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Wake up, Republicans: the lead crisis is real, and poisoning our children

A bipartisan effort is needed to address lead poisoning in Wisconsin

Assembly Rep. Melissa Sargent (D-Madison) penned another great op-ed in the Capital Times, in which she expresses her disgust and concern over the discovery of lead in Madison School District drinking fountains.

Her whole op-ed is worth a read, but these words specifically stuck out to me (emphasis added in bold):
It’s time for the Wisconsin Legislature to stop playing politics to start addressing the lead crisis in Wisconsin. As MMSD’s recent lead level tests demonstrate, even cities like Madison, which replaced all of its lead pipes 16 years ago, are not impervious to serious lead-related issues. But the fact is, most cities in Wisconsin aren’t Madison; many communities do still have lead pipes.

From Douglas to Manitowoc, Milwaukee to Marathon, and Brown to Rock, counties across Wisconsin have more than 176,000 lead services lines delivering water to homes and businesses. And it’s not just our water and pipes — Wisconsin’s number of old homes with lead-based paint is higher than average, and soil in areas around Wisconsin have high lead concentrations, affecting our locally grown crops and agriculture.
Lead poisoning is a serious issue that demands immediate action. While attention is (deservedly) given to Flint, Michigan, and its own lead crisis, Wisconsin was recently given an “F” rating for its failure to address the lead crisis specifically in school drinking water.

We cannot accept this. Our government leadership in Wisconsin needs to step up on this issue. Lead seriously harms the developing mind, and can result in reduced IQ, learning disabilities, and other irreversible problems in the future. When one in every 12 kids in Wisconsin has elevated lead levels in their blood, it requires serious action on the part of our elected leaders.

Democrats have addressed this issue by calling attention to it and demanding their colleagues across the aisle help them to do something. Republicans, meanwhile, have done little to nothing on the lead crisis in Wisconsin. It’s not too late — they should show true leadership to ensure our children aren’t being poisoned on a daily basis.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

National jobs report puts Wisconsin at 32nd (and 37th since Walker took office)

To put it bluntly: It’s (STILL) not working.

Last week, the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development released its quarterly report on year-over-year jobs gains, from September of 2015 to September of 2016. As I mentioned on Thursday, the numbers weren’t that great:
The DWD reports that 25,608 private sector jobs were created from September 2015 to September 2016. It sounds like a large number on its own, but don’t be fooled: that’s a very, very low number. It’s also a growth rate of just 1.03 percent — which is 26 percent slower than the previous year’s rate.
Gov. Scott Walker and his administration have taken to releasing the state’s jobs report earlier than the rest of the nation, a relic of a strategy that was instituted in order to fluff up his jobs numbers before his recall election. Walker has previously called the yearly report, released each quarter, the “gold standard” of jobs reports because, unlike the monthly report, it takes a look at payroll reports from 19 out of every 20 businesses in Wisconsin.

But in recent years that hasn’t been the case — it’s become evident that the state has seen a slowdown under Walker’s watch, even when using the metrics of the “gold standard” reports. So Walker & Co. have begun spinning the numbers in the monthly releases, knowing full well that they haven’t been fully vetted yet (a criticism they once hurled at those reports themselves). Even in the most recent yearly report, the Walker administration tried to shift to the positive growth in weekly income for the average worker, rather than acknowledge the weak jobs gains year-over-year. (Remember this for later, though...)

On Tuesday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its jobs reports from all fifty states plus DC. The numbers demonstrate that Wisconsin continues to lag behind the rest of the nation, and has done poorly ever since Scott Walker became governor.

There are three takeaways you should take from this report.

1. Wisconsin ranks 32nd in the nation from 2016 to 2017

Wisconsin grew 25,562 private sector jobs from September 2015 to September 2016. That represents a rate increase of just 1.05 percent, and is a slower jobs growth than the previous year (26 percent slower, in fact).

Compared with the rest of the nation, that’s terrifyingly low — as Wisconsin Public Radio reports, private sector jobs grew twice as fast, on average, in states outside of Wisconsin.

2. Wisconsin ranks 37th in the nation since 2011, when Scott Walker took office

When the first 3rd quarter year-over-year jobs report under Walker’s tenure came out, Wisconsin created more than 41,000 jobs. Don’t be fooled, however: nine months of that yearly report were under a different (and Democratic) budget, passed by Scott Walker’s gubernatorial predecessor Jim Doyle. So much of the credit for that report goes to him, not Walker.

Since that report, Walker has not been able to surpass that last year of Doyle’s rate of 3rd quarter year-over-year private sector jobs growth. Not. Once.

As a result, Wisconsin’s rankings compared to the rest of the nation during Walker’s tenure are shockingly low: only 14 states have done worse than Wisconsin since 2011 in terms of jobs creation, and 36 states plus DC have done better than us. Of the states that border Wisconsin, only Iowa has done worse during that same timeframe.

3. Income gains aren’t as spectacular as Walker is making them out to be

Don’t get me wrong: whenever incomes go up, things are good for the state in the long run. But as Jake’s Economic TA Funhouse points out, the report “hasn't translated into significantly higher tax revenues” for the state, meaning something fishy is going on.

I’ve also pointed out in the past that these wage reports don’t always demonstrate there are better incomes for most Wisconsinites. In fact, if CEOs are getting richer while the rest of us are getting poorer or staying the same, it can skew the results upward in a dishonest way.

Within this latest report, there’s even more reason to delay the praises for Walker: while weekly wages went up, they did so for most of the country as well. Wisconsin is ranked 25th in wage increases, which means we’re not that spectacular after all.

Again, wages going up is a good thing. But there are two questions to ask here: 1) are the wages for middle class Wisconsinites going up, or is this measure being skewed somehow? And, 2) is Wisconsin’s improvement simply part of a larger nationwide trend of improvement, having nothing to do with Walker’s reforms at all?


Later on this week, I intend to provide insights into how we can grow our jobs in the state. It’s clear that the current way isn’t working — Walker’s so-called “reforms” haven’t provided a huge rate of growth, haven’t attracted new businesses to the state, and haven’t created incentives for businesses already here to hire more.

Simply put, this latest jobs report confirms that things are moving too slowly. Wisconsin lags behind while the rest of the nation is seeing much more success.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Trump contends he was wiretapped (without tangible proof, of course)

The conditions for why he could be wiretapped, however, don’t make him look any better

President Donald Trump is making a very big accusation against his predecessor: that former President Barack Obama, during the presidential campaign, wiretapped his phone conversations!

The proof of this allegation, of course, is thin. Trump provided no evidence himself, and it seems that he lifted it off of a FOX News segment where the host suggested that there may have been a possibility, maybe, of this happening, possibly.

From NBC News:
On Friday, Fox's Brett Baier asked House Speaker Paul Ryan whether he was concerned "that the Obama Administration may have been surveilling members of the Trump campaign in a pretty detailed investigation during the election?"
Ryan’s response to that question was honest, and pretty mild mannered:
Ryan responded by saying: "I don't think that's the case."
Trump, however, had a different approach. The avid cable news watcher took to Twitter, and fired off a series of tweets in an angry rant against Obama.

Trump’s path to his conclusion on Obama’s alleged wiretaps is very circumspect, at best. He gets his information from a guy asking a theoretical question on a cable news network. That hardly justifies blatant accusations thrown out for the entire Twitterverse to see.

But let’s give the president the benefit of the doubt for a moment. Let’s pretend that Obama did in fact tap his phones in Trump Tower. Even if that’s the case — and again, that’s a big stretch, considering the evidence we have so far — the conditions needed to tap a person’s telephone are very strict, and require probable cause before it can occur.

From Cornell University’s Legal Information Institute:
Because of their similarity to searches and seizures, the Fourth Amendment Warrant Clause applies to electronic surveillance as well. Obtaining a warrant for electronic surveillance requires showing probable cause, describing in particularity the conversation to be intercepted, providing a specific time period for the interception of the communications device, and noticing the property owner unless law enforcement can show exigent circumstances.

As with ordinary searches and seizures, exigent circumstances may serve as grounds for law enforcement to dispense with first obtaining a warrant. If law enforcement encounters a situation threatening a person's life, a conspiracy threatening the national security, or a conspiracy suggesting organized crime, then law enforcement may proceed without first acquiring a warrant.
(Emphases added in bold.)

This is important stuff — the president cannot just tap anyone’s phones willy-nilly. They need to have probable cause to do so. And in circumstances where the president doesn’t need a court order, they need to be able to eventually defend the action as being pertinent to certain circumstances, including instances where the nation’s security may be compromised.

Federal law is also quite clear on the need to inform members of Congress of the wiretapping:
An electronic surveillance authorized by this subsection may be conducted only in accordance with the Attorney General’s certification and the minimization procedures adopted by him. The Attorney General shall assess compliance with such procedures and shall report such assessments to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence under the provisions of section 1808(a) of this title.
So here’s what this all boils down to: President Trump is upset about the fact that someone said that maybe, it could have happened, that the former president tapped his phone communications.

FOR THAT TO BE THE CASE, there had to have been probable cause requiring the need to tap Trump’s phones in the first case; or, failing that, a necessary reason to do so without a warrant, including Trump’s life being in danger or a matter of national security.

So there are four possibilities for what actually happened:
  • Trump’s phone was tapped because his personal safety was endangered;
  • Trump’s phone was tapped and a warrant describing the need to tap it was obtained;
  • Trump’s phone was tapped without a warrant, but the Obama administration had a compelling national security interest in doing so that they felt could be upheld in a court of law;
  • Or the whole thing is bunk, because, after all, the only proof Trump has that his phones were tapped by the federal government is a spotty presumption of a TV host on FOX News.
For my money’s worth, I’m banking on the last option being true. But even if you presume that Trump’s phones were tapped, for that to be true requires a pretty important reason why they were tapped. In short, it leads to more questions about Trump’s credibility than anything else.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Another jobs report, another dismal rate of growth under Scott Walker’s watch

Wisconsin’s third quarter year-over-year jobs growth rate is 25 percent slower than the previous year

UPDATE: The latest national report is out, detailing how Wisconsin did compared with the rest of the country. For my take on that report, please click here.

I just wanted to make a short comment tonight because new jobs numbers are out for Wisconsin, and they don’t look great. In fact, they’re positively dismal.

The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development released its latest report for private sector jobs growth earlier today. The result is the second worst outcome for third quarter year-over-year reporting in the past six years.

The DWD reports that 25,608 private sector jobs were created from September 2015 to September 2016. It sounds like a large number on its own, but don’t be fooled: that’s a very, very low number. It’s also a growth rate of just 1.03 percent — which is 26 percent slower than the previous year’s rate.

Gov. Scott Walker has been touting Wisconsin as an example of what other states should aspire to be. But it’s clear that his trickle-down approach to jobs growth is a dismal failure. The future isn’t so bright after all in the state, not with numbers like these.

You might be looking at the graph above also and wondering, what happened that one year when there were 41,461 jobs? That year was a special year, where nine months of jobs growth occurred under former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle’s budget and three months occurred under Scott Walker’s first Republican budget. In other words, jobs growth was faster when Democratic policies were in play.

We can’t compare jobs numbers to other states yet. Wisconsin releases jobs numbers earlier than other states (a relic from Scott Walker doing so just before his recall election campaign). The national numbers are set to come out next week on Tuesday, and we’ll be better able to see then how the state did year-over-year compared to the rest of the country.

Suffice it to say, I’m not holding my breath hoping for a high state ranking, especially since Wisconsin, since Walker took office, has trailed the national rate of job growth by about 35 percent.

Tammy Baldwin calls for Special Counsel in light of AG Sessions's Russian contacts

The investigation into Russian interference in our elections and government requires independent, uncompromised review

UPDATE: AG Jeff Sessions has recused himself "from any existing or future investigations of any matters related in any way to the campaigns for President of the United States." But he stopped short of naming a special counsel, or of saying there was the need for an independent counsel at all.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has apparently committed an act of perjury.

During his confirmation hearings, Sessions told a Senate committee that he had not been in talks with Russia or agents of Russia during the time of the presidential election.

When asked what he would do regarding investigations on members of President Donald Trump’s staff and their relationships with Russia, Sessions attempted to assuage several senators’ concerns by stating, “I didn’t have communications with the Russians.”

Now it’s been revealed that Sessions did in fact meet with the Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak twice during the presidential campaign. While Sessions maintains that he didn’t “discuss issues of the campaign” with Kislyak, the fact that he tried to calm the fears of several U.S. Senators by stating he didn’t communicate with Russian envoys is causing some to allege Sessions committed perjury.

Some have suggested this is simple politicking, but the involvement of the Russians in our elections and our government is an issue that’s important to most Americans. About 53 percent of Americans want Congress to investigate the Trump administration’s connections to Russia, while only 25 percent don’t want Congress to intervene.

With Sessions now himself involved in a Russian controversy, the calls for an independent counselor to investigate the matters are growing, Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin among them:
Two weeks ago, I called for Attorney General Sessions to recuse himself from Justice Department investigations and to appoint an independent Special Counsel. Now, with revelations that Attorney General Sessions had communications during the campaign with the Russian government, he must recuse himself and appoint an independent Special Counsel to investigate communications and possible ties between the Trump campaign, Trump transition team and Trump Administration, with the Russian government and individuals with connections to the Russian government.
Baldwin is absolutely spot-on. Sessions was compromised before this revelation. Now, the American people cannot expect (and will not accept) Sessions to investigate himself while also investigating the Trump administration.

A special counsel is desperately needed. And Sessions, who once called perjury a “high crime,” ought to resign from the office he currently holds. His appointment to Attorney General was based in part on the fact that he attempted to assure senators that he had no contacts with the Russians. That clearly was a lie.