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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Scott Walker is needlessly stubborn on medicinal marijuana in Wisconsin


Legalizing medical marijuana would help combat the opioid crisis in the Badger State


Gov. Scott Walker is planning to sign into law a bill that would allow families to possess cannabidiol (CBD) oil for use in the treatment of seizures.

Walker opposes marijuana legalization
Good on him. This bill is a commonsense approach to the issue, and allows individuals to treat their conditions without fear of committing a crime.

CBD oil doesn’t produce a high, but it has shown promising results for many who are afflicted with epilepsy. Walker should be given credit for signing the bill into law that allows patients to seek this treatment if it is an option their doctors have laid out for them.

This should be just the first step, however, and we should allow further use of marijuana to treat medical maladies in Wisconsin. Medicinal marijuana is helpful in treating all sorts of ailments, and it’s crucial that those suffering from debilitating diseases and other conditions be given the opportunity to utilize its benefits.

Earlier this year, Democratic state lawmakers suggested that Wisconsin should become the 29th state to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes, pointing out that it’s a safer alternative than other medications that are oftentimes abused.

Walker isn’t supportive of the idea, and has expressed his opposition to it on numerous occasions. Yet this goes against a trend that most of the states have already recognized: marijuana helps millions of patients, and in some cases it can help save lives.

There is definitive truth in that statement: a study from the RAND Corporation discovered states that loosened regulations on marijuana usage (or that legalized pot outright, in some cases) “had experienced reductions in fatal overdoses and addiction treatment center admissions relating to opioid abuse,” according to NBC News.
[I]n 18 states where medical marijuana shops are allowed, they found a 16% reduction in “opioid-related mortality” and 28% reduction in opioid-abuse treatment admissions.
Opioid addiction is an issue that Scott Walker himself is trying to combat. He even called a special session of the legislature to order to address the problem, calling it “a public health crisis” back in January.

Why then, when it’s clear that a solution exists in the form of medicinal (or recreational) marijuana decriminalization, does the governor so readily reject it? Walker has made the right decision in allowing patients access to CBD oil to help those afflicted with epilepsy and other seizure-inducing ailments. We should thank him for doing so.

But more has to be done to address other medical problems in the state. The key to some of those problems may lie in marijuana decriminalization. Democrats have recognized the potential for helping thousands of Wisconsinites by making medical marijuana a reality. The governor, thus far, has failed to even consider that move...and has failed countless patients across the state.

Trump decries "Super Liberal," and the comic book nerd in me cannot resist


My crudely-drawn interpretation of the superhero we all need...


President Donald Trump recently sent a tweetstorm of whining (not winning) about the media and a special election in Georgia.

This tweet in particular grabbed my attention:
So, being the comic book nerd that I am, I decided the world deserved, nay, needed to see pictures of this Super Liberal in action. Here's my crude drawing:



Happy Monday.

UPDATE: I had some more time on my hands:

Jon Ossof: Super Liberal.




Thursday, April 13, 2017

Republicans in Wisconsin refuse to recognize, reject rise in hate crimes — an unfortunate, though unsurprising, circumstance


Is anyone in the Republican Party courageous enough to say they reject hate?


A woman was harassed and beaten this week in Milwaukee, simply for being Muslim and wearing a hijab.

This woman did nothing to provoke her attacker (not that it matters). Instead, a white male who was driving past her on Monday morning simply ordered her to take her garment off. The woman, who was just leaving a prayer service, refused. So the man got out of his car, and proceeded to beat her.

From Wisconsin Public Radio:
Milwaukee Muslim Women's Coalition President Janan Najeeb said she met with the women after the attack. Najeeb said the attack should be treated as a hate crime.

"He grabbed her scarf and tried to take her scarf off of her head," Najeeb said. "She was holding on to it but then he started beating her on her head and he pulled the scarf off. Then she fell to the ground and he began kicking her."
It is disgraceful and gut-wrenching to hear about this attack. And there should be no confusion: this was a hate crime.

State lawmakers from Milwaukee, Rep. Jonathan Brostoff and Sen. Chris Larson, both condemned the attack.

“We must continue to stand up against the misguided hate and violence being fueled by a loud but small minority,” they said in a joint press release. “Keeping America on the path of inclusion and opportunity depends on us standing up against hate each time it seeks to divert and diminish us.”

The lawmakers, who are both Democrats, also took their colleagues from across the aisle to task for failing to sign onto a resolution earlier this year that would “show solidarity with our Muslim neighbors.”

The petition calls on lawmakers to reject “language and policies targeting people based on their faith.”

Not a single Republican lawmaker, from either the Assembly or the Senate, signed on.

It is incredibly discouraging and frustrating, but perhaps not all that surprising, that Republicans refuse to sign on to this supposedly controversial issue of rejecting hate. After all, when Republicans in the state complain about a class at UW-Madison that seeks to evaluate and examine white supremacy, why should we be surprised that they don’t think legislative action is warranted on crimes targeting minorities?

This is the same Republican Party of Wisconsin, mind you, that also repealed requirements that local law enforcement keep data on traffic stops to ensure racial profiling wasn’t happening in the state.

It is unfortunate that it would actually be more surprising to see Republicans take a proactive role on this issue, to see at least one member of the Republican delegation in the state legislature recognize the rising trends of hate crimes occurring since Donald Trump was elected president, and to say, “I reject this.”

One would think that should be the least they could do...to voice outrage at these attacks on American citizens. Instead, their silence instead speaks volumes.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Josh Kaul would be a welcomed change for Wisconsin’s Attorney General


Brad Schimel has shown an inability to run the DOJ properly


While they may be lacking a significant candidate for governor still, Wisconsin Democrats seem to have found a strong candidate for Attorney General.

But Josh Kaul, 36-years old and a Stanford graduate, isn’t just another political firebrand: his credentials demonstrate his capacity for the office.

Kaul previously worked as an assistant U.S. attorney in Baltimore where he “served in the narcotics section and prosecuted cases involving homicides, gangs and racketeering,” according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. His work undoubtedly put some very bad people behind bars.

Still, the Republican Party of Wisconsin took a shot at Kaul earlier this week, suggesting that he works only for special interest causes.

“Josh Kaul has built his career as an attorney for liberal special interests and Washington insiders like Hillary Clinton,” the party’s statement read.

While it’s true that Kaul was an attorney who represented Clinton during the presidential campaign, it’s hardly indicative of what he’s accomplished in his career. Kaul has prosecuted violent drug dealers, and successfully challenged voter restrictions employed by the Wisconsin legislature, including limits to early voting. His work also helped to ensure that the state make it easier to provide ID’s to voters who didn’t have birth certificates.

The Republican Party’s statement also sought to highlight its own presumed candidate, incumbent Attorney General Brad Schimel.
Attorney General Brad Schimel has fought for Wisconsin families by improving public safety, upholding the rule of law, and stopping federal overreach from Washington.
Let’s break that line down a bit. First, let’s look at improving public safety. In a blog post from last year, I pointed out that Schimel had complimented the concealed carry law in Wisconsin as making the state safer for law-abiding citizens — a characterization that is undeniably false: the state has seen a substantial increase in crime since concealed carry was passed.

Crime has gone up also during Schimel’s tenure: Schimel took office on January 5, 2015. By December of 2015, crime increased from 290 incidents per 100,000 citizens the year prior, to 305 incidents per 100,000. The murder rate also went up significantly, increasing by a rate of 45 percent during Schimel’s first year in office.

So can we put to rest the notion made by Wisconsin Republicans that Schimel made the state safer? They can’t possibly say as much when crime has actually gone up.

Let’s also consider the second assertion by the Republican Party of Wisconsin, that Schimel upheld the rule of law. It’s a strange notion to make, considering that the status of more than 6,000 rape kits are currently unknown in the state. Those kits remain untested even after $5 million has been given to Schimel’s DOJ specifically to address the backlog of evidence.

But never you worry: Schimel has instead prioritized the creation of commemorative coins that encourage recipients to “Kick Ass Every Day,” costing the state $10,000. When asked about this curious purchase, a Schimel spokesperson initially scoffed at reporter Dan Bice’s question by saying, “Your story is trivial and not a high priority for our communications shop at the moment.”

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There’s one more thing that should be mentioned: Kaul’s mother is former Wisconsin Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager, who served from 2003 to 2007. But this point should be a footnote more than anything else: Kaul demonstrates, through his own impressive resume, that he’d be ready to tackle the job on day one.

Schimel, on the other hand, has already demonstrated his failure to effectively lead the state’s Department of Justice in a positive direction. His decision making is precisely what the Republican Party hypocritically warns against — it is a partisan process that caters to special interests.

Wisconsin deserves an attorney general that will provide excellent service, prosecuting the bad guys and running the DOJ in a respectable manner. We’d receive that with Josh Kaul in office. If more candidates come forward for Democrats, they should also be considered. But Kaul has a breadth of experience that would be hard to ignore.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Do we value lives, or ideology? Something needs to give on gun violence


Events across the nation demonstrate that there is a gun crisis


Tonight, a family has been dealt an unfathomable loss. A gunman entered an elementary school in San Bernardino, California, with one thing on his mind. He was there to confront his estranged wife. He shot and killed her, and then killed himself.

In doing so, he also shot two schoolchildren. One of them, an eight-year-old, passed away shortly after.

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I can only imagine what heartbreak this family is going through tonight. But this isn’t the only tragedy that occurred today — on average, seven children die from gun violence daily. That means that six other families likely are also grieving tonight as a result of guns. Their loss is also devastating, beyond what any words here could describe.

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And right now as we speak, a man is traversing southern Wisconsin with a deranged mission on his mind. This man stole a cache of weaponry, and is by all accounts planning something that can only end in more tragedy. He is anti-government, and anti-religious. Schools and places of worship have been closed or placed on high alert. No one knows what this individual might do. Some have described the situation as a “ticking time bomb.”

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We need to be honest with ourselves as a nation: we have a gun problem. More so than any other advanced nation on earth, the United States as a problem with gun violence, to the extent that we can honestly label it as a health crisis. This issue needs to be addressed, but unfortunately our nation treats this problem on a case-by-case basis. We refuse to believe the problem extends beyond the specific circumstances.

To some extent, it’s an understandable position to adopt. There are plenty of gun owners who don’t commit heinous crimes. But their ability to refrain from doing so doesn’t dismiss the fact that many individuals — and yes, this includes some who are law-abiding — go out, on a daily basis, and decide to deviate from their normal routines in order to perform acts of violence. Tomorrow someone will die. And the next day, and so on...

I don’t believe any one person or organization has the answer to this crisis. And there will still be violence even if we try to do something about it. But there are myriad options at our disposal that could make this a safer nation.

We could start by requiring that every gun purchase or transfer from one party to another does so through a criminal background check. If a history of violence is evident, that person should not have access to a gun. And where domestic violence has occurred, those who perpetrated the violence should have to surrender their weapons immediately.

These are commonsense actions we can take, and there are more that can be adopted as well. There will obviously be debate from the pro-gun side of things, and that side is entitled to defend their views.

But at some point, we as a nation have to do something about this. We cannot afford to ignore this any longer.

We have to look at each other and ask ourselves, what do we love and value more: our lives, and the lives of families in our communities, or a hunk of metal that represents an ideological argument?

Trump’s travel expenses on pace to cost half a billion dollars by end of term


Trump’s hypocrisy highlights how he won’t hold himself to account on any issue


Before Donald Trump won the presidency in November, and before he began campaigning for the Republican nomination, he was a frequent critic of President Barack Obama. Time and time again, he’d take to Twitter to vent his frustrations with Obama, who Trump doubted was even an American citizen.

While Trump was proven wrong — several times over — his “birtherism” wasn’t the only thing that he attacked Obama on. He also attacked the president on his vacation time.

Obama actually took less vacation time than his predecessor George W. Bush. But that didn’t matter to Trump, who unleashed a barrage of critiques against the president for taking time off with his family and going golfing.



Trump campaigned on the promise of never being a president that would “be very big on vacations.” Of course, when Trump became president, all of that changed. Presidential vacations are so commonplace that there’s hardly a weekend where Trump isn’t taking one.

Trump’s presidential respites have been so common, in fact, that in his first ten weeks of the presidency his travel costs have already exceeded the first two years of Obama’s costs.

In eight years of President Obama’s tenure, the former commander-in-chief’s travel costs amounted to around $12 million on average yearly. So his two-year average comes to around $24 million.

President Trump managed to reach $24 million in travel costs to taxpayers in his first ten weeks since being inaugurated in January.

Trump is on pace to cost the American taxpayer nearly half a billion dollars in travel costs, if he indeed serves out his four years in office.

Does either the hypocrisy or the costs to taxpayers bother the president? “No, he feels great,” says White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer.

Presidents are, of course, charged with one of the most important and stress-inducing jobs in the world. Taking time off to unwind, to regroup their thoughts and to make sure they’re rested is important.

The problem with Trump, though, is that he frequently criticized the former president for taking time off — and now he himself is taking much MORE time off. The hypocrisy is blatantly clear to see, and it should trouble anyone who thinks this president is going to hold himself to account on this or any other issue.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

This week in writing: Concealed Carry, the Black Holocaust Museum, and Trump’s strike in Syria


A review of articles I wrote for this week


This week was an interesting one. Here’s a few things I wrote about.


I took a hard look this week at a proposal in Wisconsin to remove permit requirements for concealed carry. On my blog Political Heat, I looked at concealed carry itself, and noted that since it has been implemented in 2011, crime actually went up in Wisconsin, completely busting the notion that conservatives have that arming the populace would deter criminals.

I wrote about the same subject this week at the Capital Times in an op-ed piece titled, “Permitless concealed carry wouldn't make us safer.” I re-explained my position, and further explained that other states that took this direction have actually also seen a rise in crime since doing so. “Permitless concealed carry may not be directly responsible for the rise in crime rates,” I wrote. “But it also didn’t make these states safer, and there’s no reason to believe that eliminating the requirement to get a permit in Wisconsin would somehow lower crime either.”

Back at Political Heat, I also wrote about the Black Holocaust Museum in Milwaukee breaking ground to hopefully reopen sometime next year. The former museum closed in 2008, and went to an “online” exhibit after that. The reopening of a physical museum is important, I said, because “it provides educational first-hand accounts of what took place in our society in years’ past, and provides guidance for what can be done in the future.”

Finally, I wrote about how we should question the reasons why President Donald Trump launched an airstrike attack against a Syrian base this week. “For a president so obsessed with his own image and perception, the assumption that Donald Trump's motivations behind the attacks in Syria are due partly to his own failures so far in the White House cannot be dismissed so easily,” I wrote.

Thank you for taking the time to read my work. If you like what you’ve read, please share it on Facebook or Twitter with your friends!

Friday, April 7, 2017

Question the motivations behind Trump’s attacks on Syria


Did Trump express real compassion, or is he trying to redeem his poor start as president?


The chemical attacks perpetrated by the Syrian government on its own people should not be ignored. An action so heinous like this needs an appropriate response.

Yet for a president so obsessed with his own image and perception, the assumption that Donald Trump's motivations behind the attacks in Syria are due partly to his own failures so far in the White House cannot be dismissed so easily.

This evaluation of the Trump presidency isn't entirely fictional. Already administration officials are doing their best to create a positive image of the president, as part of a so-called “leadership week” demonstrating his tough stances against Syria and other foreign powers.

That doesn’t sound like policy making that is based on restraint and weighing facts when making tough decisions. Rather, it sounds like the president is trying to use the Syrian missile strikes to his advantage, to make himself seem like a stronger leader.

And it seems to be working: several journalists who are supposed to be scrutinizing the president are instead fawning over his supposed leadership skills as a commander-in-chief.

Greg Grandin at the Nation puts it this way:
 With the sole exception of Chris Hayes, MSNBC turned into something like a Patriots Day Parade, with one guest after another crediting Trump for his decisiveness. Needless to say, CNN is worse.
Trump’s compassion on the matter is also questionable. Earlier this week when he said he was affected by the images of Syrian babies, he demonstrated empathy by describing their deaths as “an affront to humanity.” But just a year ago, Trump, in campaign mode, said that he would tell those same children they cannot come to the United States to seek asylum from Assad or terrorism in their nation.

“I can look in their faces and say 'You can't come,’” he said.

The ability for the media to shift so easily on Trump — going into full-on “wartime president” mode following his strikes on Syria — is terrifying stuff, and it shouldn’t be tolerated. As I said above, an actionable response was needed against Assad for what he did to his people. But that action needed a demonstrable rationale, presented to Congress, before Trump took action. Trump, from 2013, agrees:


Whether the actions taken against the Syrian government adhere to the conditions of jus ad bellum or not, the media needs to start asking the right questions here. Why didn’t Trump get Congressional approval? Will he seek it now? And what really motivated his actions this week?

I’m hoping that the media will do its job and get to the bottom of things. But I’m also worried that any attempts at digging for the truth here will be drowned out by chants of “USA! USA” — some of which will come from the media itself.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Black Holocaust Museum breaks ground in Milwaukee


History of black oppression an important lesson every American should hear


After almost a decade of being “online only," the Black Holocaust Museum is set to break ground and have a physical address once more in the city of Milwaukee.

From Wisconsin Public Radio:
Lynching survivor James Cameron founded the museum 30 years ago, to look at hardships faced by African Americans, dating back to the first slave ships. The building closed not long after Cameron passed away in 2006.
The reopening of the museum is important. The terrifying history of black oppression in the United States — from slavery, to Jim Crow, lynchings in the south, and more — needs to be documented. Future generations need to know what happened in order to prevent history from ever repeating itself. Indeed, that is part of the screed of the Black Holocaust Museum itself:
[The American Black Holocaust Museum] builds public awareness of the harmful legacies of slavery in America and promotes racial repair, reconciliation, and healing.

We envision a society that remembers its past in order to shape a better future – a nation undivided by race where every person matters equally.
Racism is still rampant today, and atrocities against blacks and other minorities are still occurring. These actions cannot be prevented by the establishment of any museum — yet the Black Holocaust Museum's reopening is still important, as it provides educational first-hand accounts of what took place in our society in years’ past, and provides guidance for what can be done in the future.

Please consider making a donation to the Black Holocaust Museum. You can do so by clicking here.

Monday, April 3, 2017

State Sen. David Craig ignores his own advice and won’t “look at the facts” when it comes to permitless carry


Craig ignores statistics, court cases, in his push for a questionable gun law


A Wisconsin lawmaker says we should allow anyone with a gun the ability to carry it concealed, without requiring a permit or safety classes beforehand.

Republican State Sen. David Craig of Vernon says that he understands the negative reactions to his bill, but tells naysayers they have to “look at the facts” before saying no.

“If other states are doing this without ill effect, and we’ve had the level of permitless carry in Wisconsin without ill effect, why would we not break down that barrier?” he recently asked rhetorically.

Craig may want to heed his own advice, and look at the facts.

He totally ignores the facts, for instance, when it comes to Wisconsin’s track record instituting concealed carry. Wisconsin became the 49th state to do so in 2011, and since then violent crime and murder rates have skyrocketed.



But Craig asks us to look at the facts from other states. If they’ve enacted permitless concealed carry “without ill effect,” then certainly Wisconsin can do the same, he contends.

Yet the first qualifier of his statement — that other states enacted the same type of policy “without ill effect” — is itself misleading. To explain this further, I took a look at FBI statistics from the states that enacted permitless concealed carry.

Specifically, I looked at the three-year average of violent crime in four of the 13 states that have so-called “constitutional carry.” (A quick note: I only looked at four states because several of the other states have only recently enacted their permitless concealed carry laws, and their effect cannot be determined. Vermont also has never required a permit for concealed carry, and cannot be compared either.)

I calculated the violent crime rate averages of Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas and Wyoming in the three years prior to those states enacting their permitless laws. I then took a look at where their violent crime rates stood in the latest crime stats, which are from the year 2015.

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StateYear enactedPrev 3 yr violent crime rate avg2015 violent crime rateRate change
Alaska2003581.7730.225.53
Arizona2010421.13410.2-2.60
Arkansas2013470.1521.310.89
Wyoming2011214.46222.13.56

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In three of the four states, the violent crime rates went up. In two of those states, the rates went up by over 10 percent. In one state, the violent crime rate did go down, but not significantly so (less than a 3 percent difference).

In other words, Sen. Craig, again, isn’t heeding his own advice — he’s telling us to look at the facts when he hasn’t done it himself. Violent crime is more likely to go up than go down following the enactment of permitless concealed carry laws.

But what about rights? Sen. Craig declared, “This is a constitutional right, this is a fundamental right laid out by the Second Amendment.”

Except, concealed carry isn’t a protected right recognized by the Second Amendment. This isn’t just my theory: two federal courts from two different circuits have made similar conclusions in this decade alone.

Sen. David Craig ignores the facts on Wisconsin’s concealed carry law, and the rise in crime since its implementation. He ignores the facts that demonstrate a rise in crime in other states that have allowed permitless concealed carry. And he ignores the facts from federal court rulings that state that, no, permitless concealed carry is not a constitutional right.