Wednesday, February 22, 2017

My Ed Garvey Story


Remembering the progressive leader who fought the good fight in Wisconsin


I formally met Ed Garvey just once in my life, at a political celebration honoring then-State Rep. Frank Boyle, a Democrat from Superior, Wisconsin. I was still a greenhorn to Wisconsin politics — I was in college, and my father had suggested we attend this celebration.

Garvey was the kind of guy you knew was a big deal, even if you didn’t know much about state politics, which admittedly I didn’t have a complete understanding of at the time (I preferred to write about George W. Bush and national issues during this point in my life). Boisterous, jovial, and kind-hearted, he took time to shake my hand and hear my story, even though I was just a college kid that didn’t know the names of half the people in the room (though I should have). I told him I was a progressive writer for the student newspaper; he encouraged me to keep writing.

I’ll never forget his kindness. And I’ll always remember his fiery passion for progressivism. I attended a few Fighting Bob Fests, which Garvey founded, in the years after that initial meeting. “Passion” is an understatement — Garvey was a master of the podium, captivating and thrilling the audiences he spoke to...including a young wannabe-writer who was still discovering his own passion for politics.

I was saddened to hear of Garvey’s passing this afternoon. I didn’t have a close personal connection to him, but his presence in my life was still meaningful, and I’m glad I did get to meet him, at least that one time, and hear him speak in person when I had the chance.

His life’s work needs to be carried on by all of us now. We especially need to fight for fair (and corporate-free) elections, to ensure our elected leaders are beholden to the people, and not to the highest bidders.

Ed Garvey was a great man. What more needs to be said? Thanks, Ed, and we’ll keep fighting the good fight.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Press conference freak show


President Trump’s performance in Thursday’s press conference leaves much to be desired


Image via CNN.com
President Donald Trump originally set out to announce his new choice for Labor Secretary on Thursday (it’s Alexander Acosta, by the way). But what followed was a press conference (of sorts) that included a plethora of lies, distortions and attacks.

While there are plenty of examples to choose from, there are a few statements that I want to focus on for the purpose of this specific blog post. It is these instances, in my mind, which exemplify just how much of an embarrassment our current president is, and how horrid a situation we now find ourselves in.

Trump says he inherited a mess, including the economy.

Trump decided to air his grievances, and to knock his predecessor in the process by implying he had a lot to deal with.
Our administration inherited many problems across government and across the economy. To be honest, I inherited a mess. It’s a mess.
The problem? Obama inherited much, much worse when he took office than what Trump did — and what Trump did receive was a reinvigorated economy. It’d be hard for most to complain about 75 straight months of consecutive job growth, but Trump still finds a way to do it.

Trump says drugs are cheaper than candy.

This one seemed real odd to me. (Emphasis in bold added)
We’ve ordered the Department of Homeland Security and Justice to coordinate on a plan to destroy criminal cartels coming into the United States with drugs. We’re becoming a drug infested nation. Drugs are becoming cheaper than candy bars. We are not going to let it happen any longer.
For some reason that little comment stuck with me. It took a while, but I realized why it bothered me so much. How seriously can we take the president’s plans for combatting drug abuse if he’s making silly assessments like this? He doesn’t have a real-world grasp on what’s  going on, and even if it’s hyperbole, it’s a distracting one, at best.

Trump says he would have told Flynn to talk to Russians...violating federal law.

Michael Flynn, Trump’s former National Security Adviser, resigned earlier this week because of revelations that he had been speaking to Russians about removing economic sanctions before Trump became president. The following exchange details just how insignificant this is to Trump himself, who suggests he would have encouraged Flynn to commit what’s ostensibly a crime.
Q: Did you direct Mike Flynn to discuss sanctions with the Russian ambassador prior to your inauguration?

TRUMP: No, I fired him because of what he said to Mike Pence. Very simple. Mike was doing his job. He was calling countries and his counterparts. So, it certainly would have been OK with me if he did it. I would have directed him to do it if I thought he wasn’t doing it.

I didn’t direct him, but I would have directed him because that’s his job. And it came out that way — and in all fairness, I watched Dr. Charles Krauthammer the other night say he was doing his job and I agreed with him. And since then, I’ve watched many other people say that.

No, I didn’t direct him, but I would have directed him if he didn’t do it. OK? Jim?
It seems as if Trump doesn’t understand the gravity of the situation — or merely doesn’t care.

Trump said his Electoral College count was the highest since Reagan — then was called out for it, and stumbled afterward.

It’s become commonplace to see Trump frequently celebrate his Electoral College “landslide,” as he calls it. In actuality, Trump’s win is ranked 46th out of 58 presidential campaigns, hardly one of the best.

Initially in the press conference, Trump touts his greatness:
We got 306 because people came out and voted like they’ve never seen before so that’s the way it goes. I guess it was the biggest electoral college win since Ronald Reagan. In other words, the media’s trying to attack our administration because they know we are following through on pledges that we made and they’re not happy about it for whatever reason.
But later on, a member of the press asks a serious question based on this repeated lie:
Q: You said today that you had the biggest electoral margin since Ronald Reagan. … In fact President Obama got 365 in 2008 —

Trump: Well, I’m talking about Republicans.
But Trump wasn’t talking about Republicans — that qualifier was never made until the reporter started with the question. But let's give him the benefit of the doubt, because even with that excuse he's still wrong, as the reporter pointed out.
Q: President Obama 333, George H.W. Bush 426 when he won. So why should Americans —

Trump: I was given that information, I was just — we had a very big margin —

Q: I guess the question is, why should Americans trust you when you accuse the information they receive [from the media] as being fake when you’re providing information that is not accurate?

Trump: Well, I was given that information. I was, actually I’ve seen that information around. But it was a very substantial victory, do you agree with that?

Q: You’re the president.
Trump successfully moved away from the question itself, of why we should trust him if he’s willing to lie about something so trivial. But that question should still be asked — why SHOULD we trust him if he’s going to such lengths to deceive us on something so insignificant?

Trump disregards rise in anti-Semitic violence across the nation.

A line of questioning from a Jewish reporter caught my attention as well. (Emphases in bold added)
Q: So, first of all, my name is Jake Turx. I haven't seen anybody in my community accuse either yourself or anyone on your staff of being anti-Semitic. We have an understand that you have Jewish grandchildren — you are their zayde. However, what we are concerned about and what we haven't being heard addressed is the uptick in anti-Semitism and how the government is planning to take care of it. There are reports that 48 bomb threats have been made against Jewish centers across the country in the last couple of weeks. There are people committing anti-Semitic acts or threatening to —

Trump: He said he was going to ask a easy question — okay sit down, I understand the rest of your question. Folks, number one, I am the least anti-Semitic person that you have seen in your entire life. Number two, racism. The least racist.

We did relatively well — see he lied about what was going to be a very straight simple question. I hate the charge. I find it repulsive, I hate even the question because people that know me and you heard the Prime Minister, you heard Netanyahu yesterday. Did you hear him, Bibi, he said I've known Donald Trump for a long time and said forget it so you should take that instead of getting up and asking a very insulting question like that. Just shows you about the press but that's the way the press is.
Trump took offense to the questioning because he felt the reporter was attacking him. But look again at the question: it’s not about Trump being anti-Semitic, it’s about the rise of anti-Semitism in the nation following his election, and what he’s going to do about it. Trump doesn’t answer that question, choosing instead to disregard it entirely and spin his response as if he’s the victim instead. Talk about repulsive...

Later, another reporter sought to get clarification from Trump, attempting to explain the question in a way that even he could understand. From the Hill:
A second reporter followed up, pointing out to Trump that the question was “not about your personality or beliefs.”

“We’re talking about a rise in anti-Semitism around the country, some of it by voters in your name,” the reporter continued.

Trump fired back that the rise in anti-Semitic attacks is coming from his political opponents.

“This has to do with racism and horrible things being put up. Some of it, written by our opponents,” Trump said. “Do you know that? Do you understand that? You don’t think anybody would do a thing like that. Some of the signs you’ll see are not put up by the people that love or like Donald Trump, they’re put up by the other side and you think it’s like playing it straight? No. But you have some of the signs and some of that anger caused by the other side. They’ll do signs and drawing that are inappropriate. It won’t be my people. It will be people on the other side to anger people like you.”
Again, he disregards the question — what’s he going to do about the problem? — and instead blames his opposition for stirring up anti-Semitism, without any proof to back up his claims I might add. Trump just doesn’t care, and he won’t acknowledge that yes, there are some hateful elements in his base.

Trump thinks a black reporter should set up a meeting between him and the Congressional Black Caucus.

Another reporter, and African-American woman, asked Trump to explain what his plans were for the inner cities, since the president so frequently cites the problems that are going on in them.
Q: When you say [that you plan to do something to help] the inner cities, are you going — are you going to include the CBC, Mr. President, in your conversations with your urban agenda, your inner city agenda, as well as —

TRUMP: Am I going to include who?

Q: Are you going to include the Congressional Black Caucus.
Trump, apparently, believes that this woman, because she’s herself black, will set the meeting up for him.
TRUMP: Well, I would. I tell you what, do you want to set up the meeting? Do you want to set up the meeting?

Q: No — no — no. I’m not —

TRUMP: Are they friends of yours?

Q: I’m just a reporter.
Presuming that a black reporter can set up a meeting between Trump and the Congressional Black Caucus is itself racist. And Trump believing that she must set up the appointment for him is lazy at best, racist (again) at worst. He’s the president; they’re members of Congress. He can request they meet with him any time he wants.

---

We used to have a president that treated the press with respect, even if he didn’t like what they had to ask. We used to have a president who didn’t have a compulsive need to brag about his electoral victory at every opportunity he had. We used to have a president who didn’t quibble with known facts, and who didn’t suggest he was fine with his surrogates breaking the law.

Trump’s press conference on Thursday left me missing former President Barack Obama even more than I had missed him previously. Trump hasn’t even been president for a month yet, and I am so embarrassed by him being our leader. America deserves better than this circus act. America deserves honest and humble leadership. And it’s evident that we’re never going to get that from President Trump.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Wisconsin Republicans: please explain WHY you don’t support redistricting reform


Changing how we draw political maps just makes sense


Redistricting reform is an issue that very few Republicans are willing to get behind. There are exceptions, of course, including Maryland’s Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, who even reached out to former President Barack Obama about the issue last year. Several Republicans in Virginia’s state legislature also support measures aimed at taking partisanship out of the process of redrawing political boundaries every ten years.

(Click here to read how redistricting reform would work)

But for the most part, Republicans across the nation reject the idea, and Wisconsin is no exception. To the best of my knowledge (and if I’m wrong, someone please correct me), there is no Republican in the state legislature who believes in the idea of redistricting reform; and certainly, Gov. Scott Walker hasn’t indicated support for it either.

And why should they? For several years their maps, clearly drawn to give them huge advantages in state elections, have helped them maintain a majority in the state Assembly, and made holding the state Senate an easier task as well, in turn allowing them to pass their right-wing agenda with little to no resistance.

Whether that’s fair or not is up for debate, though a recent ruling seems to give us reason to assume it’s not. A federal court recently deemed those maps to be unconstitutional, requiring that they be redrawn. But the order requires the legislature – which is still controlled by the Republican Party – to create better maps.

That’s like giving the keys back to a teen driver immediately after they went for a joyride and wrecked the car. In other words, we have no reason to assume that state Republicans will do a better job in redrawing the maps this time. We’d be better off to have a nonpartisan commission produce the maps, a system that has worked wondrously in neighboring Iowa for several decades now.

Of course, Republicans won’t change the process of map-drawing on their own. It will take pressure from constituents to make the case to their representatives that this is the right – and fair, and just – move to make. Already across the state, nearly 20 newspapers have endorsed the idea, even in areas that include Republican strongholds.

We need to ask Republican lawmakers (and re-ask, and re-ask again): why do they oppose a fair system of redistricting? Why do they prefer to stand in the way of creating competitive districts to give voters more choices across the state?

And I challenge any state lawmaker that supports keeping the status quo to defend his or her position. I’ll even let you post your opinion, without edit, on this site. Explain to us why redistricting reform isn’t for Wisconsin.

The citizens of this state deserve an explanation, especially since thousands of dollars have been (and will be) spent defending a system that clearly allows the ruling party to unfairly preserve their positions in power. Wouldn’t it be easier to institute a nonpartisan system of drawing maps? Republicans – we need an answer.

Friday, February 10, 2017

The 9th Circuit Court states the obvious: Trump has no respect for the separation of powers


Republicans must stand up to Trump when his encroachments go too far


The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday affirmed a previous judgment from a lower court that put President Donald Trump’s immigration ban on hold, and refused to put any sort of stay on that ruling. That original judgment found that Trump’s executive order banning people from certain Muslim-majority nations from entering the U.S. was unconstitutional.

Yesterday’s 3-0 decision held that the administration failed to produce any evidence that a stay of the previous order was needed. From the decision:
To the extent that the Government claims that it has suffered an institutional injury by erosion of the separation of powers, that injury is not “irreparable.” It may yet pursue and vindicate its interests in the full course of this litigation.
Washington State on the other hand, which brought the original suit against the Trump administration, did provide ample evidence that they were unduly burdened by the executive order:
When the Executive Order was in effect, the States contend that the travel prohibitions harmed the States’ university employees and students, separated families, and stranded the States’ residents abroad. These are substantial injuries and even irreparable harms.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals made the right decision. The Muslim ban – the correct moniker for Trump's executive order, as affirmed by Rudy Giuliani – was based on prejudice and unwarranted fearmongering.

But there was another disturbing aspect to yesterday's decision, and it had to do with part of the Trump administration’s legal argument. Trump’s legal team asserted that “the President’s decisions about immigration policy, particularly when motivated by national security concerns, are unreviewable” by the courts themselves, “even if those actions potentially contravene constitutional rights and protections.”

The 9th Circuit Court soundly rejected that notion, stating in no uncertain terms, that:
There is no precedent to support this claimed unreviewability, which runs contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy.
The president’s comments on the judiciary have similarly been discouraging, to say the least. He described the author of the original ruling as a “so-called judge,” a blatant attempt to belittle the position he specifically holds, and perhaps diminish the role that the judiciary plays in our nation at-large. Even his own Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch has said he was demoralized by Trump’s comments.

Trump and his administration have demonstrated that they don’t regard one-third of the three branches of government with much respect. It’s only a matter of time until he does the same to Congress, if and when they have a disagreement with the president on a separation of powers issue.

I’m hopeful that Republicans will join Democrats in standing up to this president, who has already demonstrated his preference for assuming some authoritarian tendencies since assuming office last month. If Republicans don’t take a principled stand against Trump, then I worry that our democracy may be unrecognizable in the years ahead as a result of their inaction.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Governor Walker vs Speaker Vos?

If anyone has been following Wisconsin politics lately...and I hope you have because the budget is kind of important...

Its no secret that Speaker Robin Vos and Governor Walker haven't seen eye to eye on transportation funding.

From June 2016 Vos said:
Vos said "all options should be on the table" when it comes to the funding.
"I just disagree fundamentally with Gov. Walker's assumption that we can kick the can down the road, push decisions onto a future legislature, which will end up being more expensive and potentially not in the interest of taxpayers," Vos said.
Last year, the governor proposed borrowing $1.3 billion over two years for roads spending. Republican legislators disagreed, and cut the amount to $850 million.
A legislative audit of transportation spending is expected to be released this fall. Vos said the audit would help legislators figure out how to move forward, whether that's with revenue increases or other fiscal changes, during budget negotiations next year.
Vos said the public can play a role in convincing the governor to change his mind.
"We just have to have the public engaged in that conversation to work on convincing Gov. Walker that it's not more conservative to borrow as opposed to spending it smartly now," Vos said
Fast forward to today when the Speaker was visibly frustrated with portions of the Governors budget address

Then as an exclamation point, Vos reminded reporters he's an equal branch of government and does not feel the need to salute the Governor. These are not signs of a quiet rumbling beneath the surface, they are cannon balls fired between two ships.

We are reading the early chapters of what is sure to be a spicy and contentious story:
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said on Wednesday that fellow Assembly Republicans want to tackle the transportation issue this year and that he doesn't have an answer than they have right now.

"And if that means we go till October, that's not my goal. I would prefer to be out by July and enjoy the summer," said Vos. "But I also think we gotta have an answer that's actually gonna happen."

Speaker Vos says a recent audit shows the state's transportation budget deficit is actually closer to $2 billion, than the roughly $1 billion lawmakers thought they were dealing with.

(I definitely laughed when I saw the TMJ4 video of Vos making faces behind Walker as he talked about transportation funding...well played Speaker..well played)

Monday, February 6, 2017

Seeds of authoritarianism – Pres. Trump tries to incite anger against the media


His latest jab: that the media is suppressing news of terrorist attacks


President Donald Trump is trying to sow doubt in the public’s trust in the news media.

In his latest off-the-script moment, the president asserted that terrorist attacks were frequent all around the world, so much so that the media had simply stopped reporting on them.

From the Washington Post (emphasis in bold added):
“You’ve seen what happened in Paris, and Nice. All over Europe, it’s happening,” he said to the assembled military leaders. “It’s gotten to a point where it’s not even being reported. And in many cases the very, very dishonest press doesn’t want to report it. They have their reasons, and you understand that.”
Trump, of course, provided no evidence that the media were purposely suppressing terrorist attacks from their news coverage. Stating that “they have their reasons” also implies that he believes that the press is purposely refusing to report on these events. But the president provided no basis to back his reasoning.

Trump’s rhetoric is getting more and more dangerous. The more he criticizes the press, the more clear it is he is hoping to control them, or at least control where their coverage is directed towards.

This is the sort of behavior that is often seen within authoritarian regimes. Indeed, the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. lists “Controlled Mass Media” as one of the warning signs of fascism.

via Washington Monthly

Whether fascist or not, Trump is showing his preference to become an authoritarian leader. I recently wrote in the Capital Times that,
I am still hesitant to call Trump an authoritarian. But the signs are there, and the seeds have been planted for a further defiance of the rule of law.
I wrote that op-ed in response to Trump’s refusal to follow a court order that ruled against his implementation of his contentious executive order aimed at preventing immigrants from certain Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. In his latest unscripted outburst, the “seeds” that are being planted are his attempts to control the direction that the media takes in the years ahead.

The news media need to hold their own against these attacks. They mustn’t succumb to Trump’s wishes, to acceding to his frames and lies on what the world around him looks like (or rather, what he'd like us to think it looks like).

There is certainly room to debate the merits of what is printed, and Trump is well within his rights to defend himself against what he may perceive as unfair press coverage. He is wrong, however, to assert that the media is maliciously preventing the American public from knowing about terrorist attacks occurring around the globe.

Trump is clearly trying to manipulate the public into distrusting the media. And that should trouble every American.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Scott Walker sends snarky tweets to Sen. Tammy Baldwin, disses Madison


Walker’s comments on Madison are alarming, given that he’s meant to represent the interests of the capital city, too


President Donald Trump’s nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court has caused controversy here in the Badger State.

It started when Gov. Scott Walker, who has a record of being snarky on social media, sent an especially snarky tweet directed to Wisconsin’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin.

Walker was sending a message to Baldwin because she had previously said she was looking forward to speaking with Gorsuch to ask him questions about certain policy topics, though at the same time she had expressed skepticism about his nomination. Later, Baldwin stated that, “Judge Gorsuch should be held to the same standard that Supreme Court justices have been held to previously and President Trump needs to earn 60 votes in the Senate, but I am not one of them.”

She cited her concerns over Gorsuch’s “rulings against disabled students, against workers, and against women's reproductive health care.”

Baldwin never made a promise in her original news release that she’d base her decision on a meeting with Gorsuch. Nevertheless, Scott Walker took to social media to vent his frustrations with Baldwin.


Nowhere did Baldwin state that she refused to meet with Gorsuch. But that fact didn’t prevent Walker from going on the offensive with his snarkiness.

Baldwin shot back a zinger of her own, responding to Walker’s tweet:


But Walker, who was apparently not finished with his snarkiness, laid into Baldwin with another tweet, as respectable governors of states are want to do:


More exchanges occurred, but I want to focus on this specific tweet for a moment. I take great offense to this characterization because, as a person who lives in the Madison area, the governor is making it sound like my opinions are worth ignoring. It’s not unfamiliar ground for Walker, who has frequently derided the state’s capital (as well as Milwaukee) as being out-of-touch without realizing that he is meant to represent these areas as well.

It also implies that Baldwin only won the Senate election in 2012 because she appealed just to Madison. Nothing could be further from the truth, once you look at the election map from that year (via the New York Times):


Baldwin won 36 counties in total, half of the total that are in the Badger State. And she won against Tommy Thompson, one of the most popular governors in Wisconsin’s history, and certainly one of the most successful electorally.

Walker is wrong to say that Baldwin only represents a small segment of “liberal interests” in Madison – after all, she won a majority of votes in 2012 across the state to become our United States Senator. Walker’s snarkiness is unbecoming of a person who is meant to similarly serve the interests of all in Wisconsin.