Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Speech promoting fear near school-zone not protected

A Madison man recently got arrested for mooning his neighbors, allegedly "gyrating" his rear-end towards them from his window. When he was arrested, he told cops his neighbors were lying, that what actually happened was he was having sex in his house.

None of this is relevant, except perhaps only to paint a picture of this man's typical behavior, because police ended up finding a sign outside his home with a disturbing message. It read, "Euthanize Welfare Kids."

Paul Olson has a history of placing such signs near his property. According to WISC, he's placed similar signage near his home before:
Police said he once painted his car with words suggesting that illegal immigrants be deported. Police said he also hung a flag displaying a swastika.
In fact, police have been to Olson's home fifteen times this year alone.

Besides their obvious offensiveness, Olson's signs present a difficult question: to what extent do our free speech rights protect such blatant hate, such disregard for human life? Obviously everyone is entitled to freedom of speech, but does Olson's case present a different take on it?

The sign in question is nearby a school, so plenty of children, including some on welfare, would be subjected to Olson's terrifying notion. Given Olson's history, his neighbors are also concerned that he might do something harmful -- indeed, many of them refused to give out their names for the story WISC conducted.

Olson's behavior is eccentric, to say the least. But his signage is decidedly political as well, which means his speech is protected by the First Amendment.

Yet, there ARE limits to that protection. If the speech in question causes harm to others, it can be restricted. You can't erroneously yell "FIRE!" in a crowded theater, for example, nor make threatening phone calls to members of the community and claim you are protected under the law to do so. Harassment, too, is not protected under the Constitution. It stands to reason, then, that Olson's speech, harassing in nature, isn't protected by his First Amendment rights -- they may cause severe psychological harm to both students walking nearby as well as their parents who are concerned for their safety.

For now, Olson has been forced to remove the sign because it violates city ordinances based on its size. It's a temporary solution to a larger problem. While people like Paul Olson are entitled to their rights, we must also be mindful of the rights others have, among them the right to feel safe in their community. Olson, by placing the signs that he owns within a school-zone, violates those rights.

In short, Olson can exercise his First Amendment rights in more productive ways than through fear.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Michele Bachmann believes God attacked the East Coast

GOP presidential candidate believes Hurricane Irene, earthquake, both the result of God's wrath

Republican Presidential candidate Michele Bachmann believes that God played a hand in the recent hurricane and earthquake that hit the eastern seaboard this past week.

"I don't know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians," Bachmann told a crowd of supporters recently. "We've had an earthquake; we've had a hurricane. He said, 'Are you going to start listening to me here?' Listen to the American people because the American people are roaring right now. They know government is on a morbid obesity diet and we've got to rein in the spending."

Yes folks, God is upset at America because of our finances. He could get past American abuses, overlooking slavery and racism, prejudice and suppression of speech rights, even wars that have been waged and have killed thousands of people. None of that matters because, as Michele Bachmann has pointed out, God is simply focused on our financial problems.

(Of course, Bachmann probably didn't even think to worry over past abuses this country may have perpetrated that God could be angry over -- she once erroneously believed our founding fathers eradicated slavery.)

Sarcasm aside, the fact that a leading contender for the GOP nomination for president believes that God is worried about our budgets shows just how off Bachmann's own beliefs really are. This is a woman, in fact, who has already prayed for the end of the world to come, believing that the end times are nigh.

Now I don't claim to be all-knowing; the end times could in fact be near, and I could be completely wrong on this whole thing -- maybe God really IS a right-wing economist, maybe Milton Friedman sits beside him in the Kingdom of Heaven. But to live out our lives expecting the end to be near is a dangerous way to be, especially with this view of God in mind.

Believing that the world could end in a year, a month, a week, or whenever you like gives you full clearance to live your life in a dangerous manner. It gives you permission to live in a selfish way, in a way that requires some politicians, like Bachmann, to pre-judge others, even in their capacity as secular lawmakers.

Our government requires us to treat each other with respect, to be neutral in terms of religious belief. If people want to believe the end times are near, that's fine -- let them believe it. But if their actions, through the takeover of American governance, brings forth an obstruction of rights for others, or otherwise impedes their ability to live fulfilling lives, the line between church and state is clearly crossed...which is precisely why a candidate like Bachmann would make a terribly frightening president.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Republicans barred from Wausau Labor Day Parade

Participation in parade should be contingent on support of workers' rights

Parades can be a joyous occasion, significant to the day that they are meant to represent. For example, Memorial Day parades remind us of the significant sacrifices that previous veterans gave to us defending our country; Independence Day parades remind us of our national historical lineage.

So it stands to reason that any Labor Day parade should symbolize workers from the past who fought for reforms that made working conditions more hospitable for people today, reforms that many take for granted -- things like the eight-hour workday, the two-day weekend, and child labor laws.

With that in mind, the Marathon County Central Labor Council, which sponsors the Labor Day parade in Wausau, has determined that no elected official that is Republican should be involved in their festivities:
Council President Randy Radtke said they choose not to invite elected officials who have "openly attacked workers' rights" or did nothing when state public workers lost most of their powers to collectively bargain.

Republican Rep. Sean Duffy's office received notice from parade organizers this week that no Republicans would be invited to walk in the parade. Duffy's chief of staff, Brandon Moody, told WAOW-TV the congressman was hoping differences could be set aside for the family-friendly event.
Many people may be wondering, "why the hostility towards Republicans?" A parade is meant to be fun, and since the event is open to the public (who elected the officials in question), some may argue that the people should be able to see those officials.

But if those officials' beliefs run counter to the parade in question, do they really deserve a place in the lineup? If a LGBT parade takes place, should event organizers permit an elected official to take part if their politics run against gay and lesbian couples' goals? Should a parade on Independence Day allow other countries who are hostile to American interests to be recognized?

Ultimately, it's up to those running the parade to determine who should take part. If the Republican Party wants to have its officials recognized in pro-labor events, they shouldn't govern in a way that's anti-labor. Furthermore, they shouldn't expect their appearances in parades to be automatic, to be a given -- their positions on issues that are important to labor make a difference, help organizers decide whether their appearances are appropriate or not.

People may see the Council's moves as vindictive or mean-spirited. But it makes no sense to have people taking part in a celebration of Labor rights when those same people are working to dismantle them. Republicans shouldn't cry foul when they're the ones committing the larger infractions, against workers.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Justice Prosser escapes criminal action

But dismissal of criminal complaint doesn't justify his psychological abuse

This week Special Prosecutor Patricia Barrett determined that no charges would be filed against Justice David Prosser with regards to the incident involving alleged violence against fellow Justice Ann Walsh Bradley.

The incident in question occurred just before the State Supreme Court was set to release its ruling on the controversial budget repair bill, in which the majority opinion held that the State Senate acted accordingly when it violated open meeting laws.

Accounts of what exactly went down vary, but what is known is that Prosser put his hands on Bradley's neck, enough to "feel the warmth" of it (his own words) but did not squeeze or cause any physical harm to her.

However, with Prosser's history of losing control -- he once called Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson a "bitch" and vowed to destroy Abrahamson -- it's clear that psychological harm has been done. After the incident, Bradley had to leave, distraught over what had happened.

As with most instances of abuse, it's not always about the physical but the mental control one has over another. Prosser may not have harmed Bradley in any noticeable way, but he's definitely made the Court a very worrisome place for any justice to be, especially the female members of the liberal bloc.

Another aspect that most abusers share is that they don't ever feel like they've done anything wrong. Following his leaving his office, by Prosser's own admission he refused to apologize because he didn't feel like he needed to. He also refused to apologize to Abrahamson for his calling her a bitch, saying that it was "entirely warranted."

This type of behavior isn't right, for anyone in any workplace, but especially for someone who serves as a member of a court. That Prosser refuses to apologize for his actions demonstrates serious character flaws for one of our State Supreme Court justices.

Remorse isn't only required when you cause physical harm but psychological harm as well. Prosser's actions may not warrant a criminal complaint, but they're certainly not excusable either.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Recalls serve democratic purpose

Proposal to amend State Constitution unwarranted

Following the tumultuous recall election season Wisconsin just experienced, it's understandable that many citizens may be ready for a break from the need for more challenges -- at least until the governor's time comes. But Republican legislators want to do more than take a break: they want to restrict the conditions under which recalls can be initiated.

Republicans are busy crafting legislation to amend the State Constitution to limit recall elections solely to instances of misconduct on the part of the official in question. In other words, lawmakers wouldn't need to fear a recall based upon their political decision-making or policies.

The move would definitely make recall elections more difficult to initiate -- but for a process that's already rarer than a constitutional amendment itself, do we really need to make it tougher to recall elected officials? Consider the rationale behind each side.

Why make recalls more restrictive? Because it's annoying? Because people are tired of the process? A similar argument could be made that democracy itself is annoying, bothersome, intrusive in the lives of others. Yet it's also the best thing we have, the best form of government available, allowing the people themselves to bear the responsibility and privilege of selecting its leaders.

I don't believe that people who are advocating added restrictions of recall elections are anti-democratic; but if successful, their move to restrain the process will limit the power of the people to have direct influence in their government. It's not necessarily anti-democratic, but it's certainly not empowering democracy either.

Conservatives are arguing that lawmakers, if so elected, deserve to serve their terms to their fullest extent. But where is the justification for that? If a politician loses the confidence of his people, how is it that he can justly govern them in a way that they clearly unsatisfactory? Conversely, there is plenty of justification for the preservation of recalls as they stand now. For one, they're still incredibly difficult to get started. Of the 16 senators eligible for recall this year, only 9 actually made it to the election stage, and of those only two were successfully recalled.

But more importantly than that, recalls are justified because they serve a democratic purpose. A leader who no longer rules under the conditions that his constituents deem proper should be subject to removal by them because he no longer serves their interests.

By making politicians subject to recalls only if they conduct themselves in an egregious way, we limit the power of the people. Political leaders can remove the rights of people, can curtail their privileges, and yet would still be acting within the parameters that Republicans are proposing. Recalls serve a purpose -- they allow a people, acting democratically, to remove a public figure from office who no longer serves their needs.
Should the process to recall political leaders be more restrictive? The answer is no. Find out why, tonight on Political Heat.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Republicans want to raise taxes -- on the poor

Debate on payroll taxes set to center around hikes for the middle class and poor

Having nearly collapsed our economy due to their stubborn, unwavering defiance towards raising taxes, it's pretty clear to most people that the Republican Party is opposed to new ways of raising revenue for our nation. Tax hikes aren't an option, it seems, for the party that wants to cut as many social services as possible.

So it's surprising, then, to see the GOP now advocating raising taxes.

President Barack Obama is fighting for a renewal of the tax cut to payroll taxes, which was put in place late December of last year in the bargain with Republicans that helped keep the Bush-era tax cuts in place. Payroll taxes, unlike income taxes, largely affect lower-income wage earners. Republicans are hoping that the previous tax rates for Social Security will go into place next year, a move that would technically be a rise in taxes. The tax cut is set to expire January 1 if no action is taken.

The tax to fund Social Security was lowered by two percentage points in the deal, from 6.2 percent of a worker's paycheck to 4.2 percent. However, Social Security taxes only affect the first $106,000 you earn. So while a person who is earning $50,000 would pay that full 4.2 percent (about $2,100), a person earning $500,000 would only pay 4.2 percent on $106,000 of their income, the rest of it being untaxed as far as Social Security goes. That amounts to about $4,452, or roughly 0.9 percent of their income.

Any rise in payroll taxes, then, amounts to a regressive tax (that is, a tax that hits the poor harder). Let's examine those same income levels once again, with the proposed 6.2 percent the Republicans are insisting upon: the person earning $50,000 would pay $3,100, the full 6.2 percent; the person making half of a million dollars would pay $6,572, or just over 1.3 percent of their income.

The way that Social Security taxes work is that the wealthier you are the less you pay -- thus, the Republicans are proposing a tax increase on a group of people who already pay more proportionally than the rich do.

Republicans argue that this hike is needed to stave off reductions in revenue for Social Security. But there's a better way to do that: raise the cap on Social Security taxes, or better yet remove it completely. If we did that, we could even lower the tax, to somewhere between the 2-4 percent range, and still keep Social Security solvent for generations to come.

That's not a scenario that seems very likely, however. It appears that the GOP just doesn't want to raise any taxes at all -- at least when it comes to the rich.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Today's Daily Stat: Creationism in TX schools

Rick Perry claims schools in Texas teach both evolution and creationism

Texas governor and presidential candidate Rick Perry recently told a boy in New Hampshire about his views on evolution and creationism.
"Evolution is a theory that's out there," Perry says crouching down and staring into the eyes of an elementary-school-age child, who stands with his mother's hands on his shoulders.

"It's got some gaps in it," Perry continues, "but in Texas we teach both creationism and evolution..."
Science requires us to reject as fact things that cannot be falsified -- that is, that have no way of being definitively proven true OR false. We are free to believe these things as individuals, but a belief in supernatural forces serves no scientific purpose if it cannot be proven one way or another. How do you provide proof of an invisible being, much less justify teaching it as fact in a school setting?

Conversely, ideas known as theories in science are oftentimes wrongly rejected by many people simply due to their name. A person may hear the word "theory" and assume it's just a made up concept. In fact, theories are well-grounded ideas that are based upon observable evidence that may be alterable from time to time, but the overall idea endures, and is accepted by the scientific community at-large. Other examples of "theories" include Einstein's theory of Relativity and Quantum theory, the latter being utilized in much of the technology that powers your cell phone. Theories, in short, shouldn't be so readily dismissed, unless Rick Perry has some kind of fossil evidence that throws the whole idea out the window.

Aside from Perry's ludicrous notions on scientific theories, he is wrong on another front -- Texas schools don't teach creationism. If the topic comes up in discussions, teachers are permitted to talk about it, but they're not teaching the subject matter as scientific fact or even as an alternative to evolution. And that's today's Daily Stat.

Number of public schools in Texas that teach creationism alongside evolution: zero.

Feingold bows out: no to Governor, Senator in 2012

Ex-senator's departure means more opportunities for other Dems

Earlier today, former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold announced via email to his supporters that he wouldn't seek any elected office next year, neither for Senator again (to replace retiring Sen. Herb Kohl) or in the case of a recall against Gov. Scott Walker.
After 28 continuous years as an elected official, however, I have found the past eight months to be an opportunity to look at things from a different perspective.
The absence of Feingold is a huge setback, as he was polling better than any other Democratic candidate seen as viable in either race.

But his stepping aside also opens up doors for other potential Democratic candidates. Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin hasn't been shy about her wanting to enter the race, making it very clear that if Feingold were to step out she'd be stepping in. As far as the race against Gov. Walker goes, if it happens, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett has made it clear that he'd be interested in making another run, too. Barrett lost to Walker in the general election last year but a poll conducted earlier this year shows that many voters suffered buyer's remorse following Walker's collective bargaining bill.

Feingold's choice to sit out in 2012 is disappointing, but it's nothing to fret over. Plenty of viable, electable Democrats (beyond even Baldwin and Barrett) are out there, worthy of the U.S. Senate seat up for grabs as well as the governorship should that come into play.

Russ Feingold won't seek office in 2012

Won't run for senator, governor

Former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold has decided not to seek office in 2012, either to replace fellow Democratic Sen. Herb Kohl who is retiring or in a recall contest against Gov. Scott Walker:
In an email that supporters will receive when Friday morning, Feingold writes: "I have decided not to run for public office during 2012."

"This was a difficult decision, as I thoroughly enjoyed my tenure in both the State Senate and the U.S. Senate, and I know that progressives are eager to reverse some of the outrageous policies being pursued by corporate interests at both the state and federal levels. I am also well aware that I have a very strong standing in the polls should I choose to run again for the U.S. Senate or in a recall election for governor," the former three-term senator who was defeated in the "Republican wave" election but then quickly rebounded to become a popular prospect for the marquee races of next year: as the Democratic nominee to fill the seat that will be vacated by U.S. Senator Herb Kohl, D-Wisconsin, or the party's candidate in an effort to oust the controversial governor. "After twenty-eight continuous years as an elected official, however, I have found the past eight months to be an opportunity to look at things from a different perspective."
More commentary on this tonight.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Walker admin. spins July unemployment numbers

Market fluctuations in August to blame for jobs lost in July

After the June jobs report for Wisconsin came out last month, Gov. Walker was quick to point out the improvements to the state, citing it as evidence that Wisconsin was on the fast track to gaining the 250,000 jobs he promised during his campaign. That goal, by the way, would eliminate unemployment completely, to 0.0 percent.

The state GOP also made the (false) claim that the number of jobs created in Wisconsin numbered half of the jobs created in the entire United States. The net number of jobs created across the country in June numbered more than 18,000. Wisconsin had a net increase of 9,500, but other states also had net increases that made the party's claim a foolish one to make (it didn't take into account the gross number of jobs created, without the number of lost jobs subtracted).

But even with an increase in jobs, the unemployment rate still went up...which meant more people were trying to get jobs in our state, those who had previously given up. This didn't matter...in fact, the governor's office tried to spin a positive on the higher number!
Wisconsin’s unemployment rate did rise two-tenths of a percent to 7.6% [in June].

Walker’s labor chief, Scott Baumbach, said it was due to more job seekers entering the workforce with optimism for finding something.
But news from July that came out today doesn't bode well with the optimism Walker has tried to employ previously.

Wisconsin lost 12,500 private sector jobs last month, equaling the total number of those same jobs gained in June.

I don't celebrate those numbers; I abhor them. I'd LIKE for Gov. Walker's plans to work, would LOVE if someway we were able to get employment back on track in Wisconsin. The fact is, however, Walker's policies haven't saved us the way the governor pretended they had in June.

So our losses last month erase our gains from the month before. Our unemployment rate has jumped to 7.8 percent, up from 7.4 percent from when Walker took office.

The Walker administration, of course, has made a major decision upon reviewing this evidence: they've decided to blame Washington.
“The wild market fluctuations during the debt ceiling negotiations, the European debt crisis and other factors contributed to a great deal of uncertainty, which may very well have affected Wisconsin’s jobs numbers given our state’s ties to the national economy,” DWD Secretary Scott Baumbach said in a written statement released Thursday.
Except the jobless rate across the country actually went down, not up, in July, from 9.2 percent to 9.1 percent. The uncertainty of the debt ceiling didn't occur until late July, hardly affecting that month's employment outlook. And those "market fluctuations" that really did a number on Wisconsin in July didn't even start happening until after the month was over!

In fact, between July 1 and August 1, the Dow Jones Industrial fluctuated very little. It started the month at 12,582 points, reached a peak of 12,724, and ended at its lowest point of 12,143. As of today, it sits at 10,990.

It's no surprise that Gov. Walker and his administration are trying to put the blame elsewhere for the jobs lost in July; governors from every state, from every political party, do that all the time. But the Walker administration does itself no favor, nor the people of Wisconsin, by casting blame where it's nonexistent. Fairy tales about the fluctuations of markets being the reason behind our negative job numbers won't rest well with unemployed Wisconsinites trying to find work in our state.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Results of recall elections show shift in voter attitudes

Wisconsin voters reject overreach of Walker administration

A quick thought occurred to me last night as I watched the recall returns come in (both Jim Holperin and Bob Wirch, Democrats, fended off recall challenges). After Democrats picked up two state senate seats last week, conservative commentators across the state declared it as a "loss," a rejection from voters overall of the opposition to Gov. Walker's agenda, all because they failed to pick up the required third win in order to take back the legislative body.

The "loss" left the chamber in a 17-16 split, with the Republicans still in control. With Wirch and Holperin both winning last night, those numbers are secured, at least for now, within the State Senate.

However, it's hard to understand how a "loss" of two pickups can be seen as a "win" for Republicans -- especially when it makes a moderate senator the most powerful man in the Senate. But what about the losses for Republicans last night? What did they represent, if anything?

Conservatives launched recall drives in response to Democrats leaving the state in order to stall Walker's controversial budget repair bill. Democrats' efforts failed, but only three of the eight eligible Democrats were served recall challenges (as opposed to six of the eight Republicans who received one due to their support of the bill).

Yet all three Democrats defeated their challengers. So with a record of 0-3 (and again, a loss of two seats picked up by Dems), it's clear that these results show us something...but what, exactly, is it that Wisconsin voters are trying to tell us?

I have one theory in mind. Wisconsin voters are acknowledging a gradual shift -- not a huge change, mind you, but a shift nonetheless -- away from the far-right policies of Gov. Walker and his allies. This shift was indicative in the election for Supreme Court, where Justice Prosser, a sitting incumbent (and ally to Walker), nearly lost his seat to an unknown challenger. The shift happened then, and it's continuing to happen now.

The people of Wisconsin want responsible governance, they want balanced budgets...but they also see the enormous overreach that Walker has performed as bad for the state, as running counter to Wisconsin's values. The shift is happening, slow as it is...but it IS happening.

Today's Daily Stat (8/17/2011)

Obama's vacation roughly one-third of Bush's at this time in his presidency

President Barack Obama is getting a lot of heat from some Republicans regarding his plans to meet up with his family in Martha's Vineyard for ten whole days. Following the economy in peril (due mostly to Republican stubbornness), the president took a three-day tour across the Midwest, after which he will go to his much-needed vacation.

But some in the GOP are not too thrilled about this time off:
“Don't go,” veteran Republican media strategist Mike Murphy emailed Thursday when I asked about Obama’s plan to vacation on the elite Massachusetts resort island from August 18 through August 27. “It’s not a good time to start acting like the rich guys he wants to raise taxes on.”


“I’m a strong believer in the president getting away from the White House and doing whatever he can for his mental state to run the country,” [Joe Scarborough] the host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe told me. “That’s not only good for the president, it’s good for America. But In this case, I just believe that politically, the image of the president vacationing in Martha’s Vineyard, while world markets are teetering on the brink of collapse, would send a horrific message—-not only to the market but to Middle America.”
But the president deserves the vacation. The headache that Congress is giving him is reason enough to warrant a few days away. And the president won't really be away from his business -- as with any vacation, the president brings his work with him (well, maybe with the exception of President Bush during Hurricane Katrina).

Yet there exists another reason why Obama is deserving of a vacation: he's taken far less time off than previous presidents have at this point in their tenure. In his first 31 months in office, Barack Obama has taken only 61 days of vacation time, compared to 112 taken off by Ronald Reagan 31 months in, and a whopping 180 days of vacation taken by George W. Bush at this time. And that's today's Daily Stat.

At this time in their tenures, President Obama has taken three times less vacation time than President George W. Bush had.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Corporations aren't people

Revisiting the notion that is re-shaping the political landscape of our nation

Are corporations people? Mitt Romney recently argued that they were on a campaign stop. The Supreme Court also ruled, in its Citizens United decision, that corporations were people, too. The argument certainly can be made that corporations are people based upon the fact that they are made up of many individuals with a similar goal in mind: profit for their corporation.

Yet, if you asked the average person, it's clear that there are reasonable distinctions between people and corporations. Corporations, for example, don't bleed, don't breathe, and don't eat; however, that's taking the argument to a simplistic level, one that's warranted for sure but still worth looking into the subject at greater depth.

People and corporations each face different pressures, different challenges when it comes to survival. Both can, in theory, "die;" but while we're well aware of how a person dies, a corporation only dies when it fails to make a profit and goes into the red. People also face the pressures of keeping themselves healthy, of paying the rent, of taking care of their families, etc. while the comparative versions of these for corporations focus solely on that entity making money. Corporations worry about staying healthy (by being profitable), paying rent (by making enough money to survive), and taking care of its families (by ensuring its subsidiaries are profitable, too).

These are very important things for corporations to do: however, this does not make corporations the same as people -- Wal-Mart cannot drive a car, cannot walk to the park, and perhaps most importantly cannot vote in elections.

That last distinction is the most important of all to consider: corporate entities aren't permitted to vote, aren't allowed the right to make decisions regarding the makeup of our democratic republic, because they aren't, in the end, people.

The reason that this matters is that the whole Citizens United decision existed solely to allow corporations to take part in our democratic process through influencing elections in campaign donations. That Supreme Court decision allows corporations to insert as much campaign cash as they want, since they are made up of "people," which in turn somehow make corporations people too.

But there's nothing to say that the individuals within that corporation can't make donations on their own to campaigns -- just as individuals are allowed to vote because they are "people," so too should they be the sole entities (and not corporations) allowed to donate to political causes.

In the end, it's hard to convince anyone that corporations are "people," especially since they cannot interact or behave like people do. In our political process, this is further demonstrated by the fact that corporations cannot vote. In the same way, they shouldn't be allowed to make campaign contributions the same way people can. Keeping corporate influence out of our politics is important because the only thing that should have ANY influence on our government leaders' decision-making should be REAL people, not institutions that have pseudo-personhood.

Some facts on Mitt Romney

GOP frontrunner's history as governor clues us in to the type of leader he may be

Here are some thoughts on presidential contender Mitt Romney. The former Massachusetts governor is the current front-runner for the nomination from the GOP, and as such the most likely to face Obama in the general election next year. The following points are meant to diffuse any positive points Romney has made for himself while serving as governor. Much more has been said about Romney, but what follows is just a general synopsis of his ability to lead -- or rather, his ability to have done very little at all, except benefit from dumb luck, while he was governor.


During Romney’s tenure as governor, Massachusetts ranked third-lowest in job creation. Manufacturing jobs were a big loss for the state, declining by 14 percent between 2002 and 2006, more than double the national average.

Unemployment went down in Massachusetts, but experts believe this was largely because so many people left the state in the face of its declining economy. Only one other state, Louisiana, had a larger “out-migration” than Massachusetts during the time Romney was governor. More than 3.5 percent of the state’s population left between 2002 and 2006 according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Housing prices also went up during Romney’s tenure. By 2005, Massachusetts saw its housing prices increase by 95 percent (the national average was 40 percent).

Source: http://www.boston.com/news/globe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2007/07/29/romneys_economic_record/


Romney touts having turned around a $3 billion deficit in his state while governor. But that deficit was more than halved by an unexpected gain in capital gains taxes. In other words, half the deficit that Romney “fixed” was due to absolutely no action on his part -- and also due to an unpopular form of taxation from Republicans, which means it’d be unlikely that Romney could utilize it if he became president. The other half was by closing corporate tax loopholes, essentially raising taxes on corporations, a move that Romney has indicated he wouldn’t do as president also.

And while Massachusetts saw a few gains in its economy during Romney’s tenure, the improvements when compared to the rest of the country were minimal. For instance, the measure of real output of goods and services grew by 9 percent between 2002 and 2006 -- but in the nation as a whole, it grew by 13 percent. The average wage of workers, too, only grew by $1 per weekly paycheck while Romney was governor.

Source: http://www.reuters.com/article/2008/01/20/us-usa-politics-romney-record-idUSN2033704120080120


Unemployment in Massachusetts mirrored that of the national average during Romney’s tenure, being off about half a percentage point or less in either direction at any given point. This indicates that Romney’s policies didn’t improve (nor hinder really) the unemployment rate in his state. However, we must remember: more than three percent of the state’s population left Massachusetts while Romney was governor in direct response to the economic climate at that time. Had they stayed in the state, there’s no doubt that the unemployment rate would have been higher, perhaps significantly so, than that of the national average.


There are plenty of more examples why Mitt Romney shouldn't be president. But these short synopses offer limited proof of why anything the candidate may tout during his tenure as governor weren't as great as he lets on. Romney was a governor, a former executive office holder -- but not exactly a stellar one.

Justice Prosser doesn't worry about conflicts of interest

Embattled justice plans to sit on case involving law firm he paid $75,000 to for recount

The recount for the State Supreme Court election earlier this year produced more than just a narrow win for incumbent Justice David Prosser -- it also produced hundreds of thousands of dollars in fundraising for the sitting justice.

Prosser, who raised more than $272,000 during this time beyond the actual election, saw most of it coming from out-of-state interests, "including three $50,000 donations and two $25,000 donations." Assistant Attorney General Kloppenburg, who opposed Prosser in the election, also raised vast sums of money, the largest of which was $10,000 from her mother-in-law; all other donations were under $2,500.

Prosser's donations are more concerning for two reasons: first, he ended up winning, so the effect of his donations means more than they do for Kloppenburg, who will not be serving on the Court. Second, his donations could mean a potential conflict of interest, creating a situation where his decision-making on the Court could be influenced by his monetary interests.

Take, for instance, the Troupis Law office, which received $75,000 from Prosser to help assist in the recount. Prosser and the rest of the Court are set to rule on a case involving the law office, and Prosser intends to sit in on the case despite clear biases.
Prosser has previously said he believes he can remain impartial when the case comes before the court Sept. 6. However, experts in legal ethics say it would be inappropriate for Prosser not to recuse himself from the case.

Prosser's campaign director, Brian Nemoir, said the justice planned to stay on the case and could remain impartial.


But legal ethicists say Prosser shouldn't sit on the case because of state ethics rules prohibiting judges from sitting on cases where a reasonable person would question their ability to remain impartial.

Prosser "has put his trust and confidence in this lawyer in retaining him," said Monroe Freedman, a professor at Hofstra Law School in New York. "The fact that the judge has had this kind of extremely close relationship with this lawyer...might well cause a reasonable person to question the judge's ability to be impartial."
Clearly, besides having a temper problem, David Prosser has a problem dealing with ethics as well. Conflicts of interest matter not to Justice Prosser, who himself is a former Republican Speaker of the Assembly.

Unemployment rising? Higher change during Bush years

Numbers show gain in unemployment higher during Bush years than Obama

Many critics have come out against President Obama for his failure to address the loss of jobs. Their criticism is warranted, but oftentimes goes beyond what they reasonably can fault the president for. Consider these changes in unemployment during the last two presidents' terms:
4.2 percent in January of 2001 (Clinton leaves office)
7.8 percent in January of 2009 (Bush leaves office)
Difference: 3.6 percent

7.8 percent in January of 2009 (Bush leaves office)
9.1 percent in July of 2011 (present)
Difference: 1.3 percent

7.8 percent in January of 2009 (Bush leaves office)
10.1 percent in October of 2009 (Highest rate under Obama)
Difference: 2.3 percent

10.1 percent in October 2009 (Highest rate under Obama)
9.1 percent in July 2001 (present)
Difference: -1.0 percent
What facts we can draw from this: while Obama didn't halt the rise of unemployment during the first few months of his tenure in office, he did slow it down through the stimulus bill his administration promoted and passed through Congress. At worst, the stimulus stopped the drastic loss in jobs; at best, as indicated by the last line, it halted the loss and actually gained some jobs back.

The change to Bush from Clinton resulted in a 3.6 percent gain in unemployment, double what we have seen as a net loss during the Obama administration thus far (and thus, double the jobs lost). And while we shouldn't necessarily celebrate that fact -- a loss of employment, no matter how small, is still not a good thing -- we shouldn't fault Obama as much as conservatives as late have been doing.

Bush left Obama with a steamroller pushing against him; Obama picked up that challenge, and pushed back. It didn't lead to immediate results, and in fact couldn't be halted immediately; but in the end, President Obama showed that he could do what President Bush had neither time nor ability to do: end the rise in unemployment. Obama's next challenge, if he's to win in 2012, is to show he can now lower unemployment rather than keep its levels stagnant, as he has done over the past few months in office.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Recall fallout: Moderate Sen. Dale Schultz wins

Republican Sen. who voted against collective bargaining bill now the most powerful man in the state

It's understandable why some within the progressive movement may seem deflated today. Having failed to pick up three seats in the recall contests last night, the Democratic Party won't be able to take control of the state Senate, thus ensuring the Republican Party retains control.

But last night wasn't a defeat by any means. Two seats previously held by Republicans were won by Democrats -- that's two more seats that aren't in control of people who support Scott Walker. More importantly, that tips the scales of the Senate control from 19-14 to 17-16. Why is that important? Because Sen. Dale Schultz now becomes the most powerful man in that chamber.

Schultz, a moderate Republican, was the only one within that caucus that went against his own party, voting against the controversial collective bargaining bill. For that reason, Democrats sought to keep Schultz out of the recall pandemonium, agreeing that his district wouldn't be targeted while focusing their efforts elsewhere.

Schultz has also become rather chummy with Democratic moderate Tim Cullen, Senator from Janesville. The two could form a coalition with one another that would require the Senate to court both in order to pass any meaningful legislation.

It's not the shift from the right that Democrats would prefer -- but it IS a shift in the proper direction, from extreme-right to centrist policies. At the very least, it requires that legislative body, and what's more the entire government, to make compromises in order to make laws.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Notes from canvassing: Part 2

Two days of canvassing, two days of thoughts on the recall campaign

This is part two of my series on canvassing for the recall elections. You can read part one here. For the past three months I have canvassed against Gov. Walker's proposed budget as well as in favor of a recall candidate involved in one of the six contests taking place tomorrow. The following I wrote during the day on Monday, while near Baraboo.

August 8, 2011
In 24 hours' time, most of the voters that will take part in tomorrow's recall contests will have gone to the polls. It's a bittersweet end to a job I have enjoyed (for the most part) over the past couple of months. I've worked for more than 40 days to ensure that people will spend four minutes or less in their polling booths tomorrow, making a vote for a candidate I believe will make Wisconsin a better place to live in -- or, at the very least, who will stand up to the agenda of Gov. Walker and his legislative allies.

I bear the heat of discussion for this, the last day before the election begins. People are sick and tired of canvassers like me coming to their doors -- but I remind them that they ought to be sick of what Republicans have done to their state. A few grumble, but most of them agree.

These elections represent a lot of things to these constituents. Some have personal gripes with the candidate up for recall himself, some with the issues he supported (or failed to support); but more often than not these elections serve as a way for these people to show Gov. Walker that this state has not accepted his plan, has not accepted his policies, and most of all has not accepted his transformation of this state's values.

Regardless of the outcome tomorrow, win or lose, I know what I did was good work. Not because I necessarily fought for a "just" candidate over one who has neglected to listen to the people; not necessarily because I fought to create a check on a governor hellbent on destroying Wisconsin as we know it; but because I fought for a strengthening of our democracy. These recalls are representative of a direct democratic action, of a power the people deserve to have over their lawmakers in order to ensure their voices are being heard and responded to.

I have walked in support of Democratic candidate Fred Clark; I have walked in opposition to Gov. Walker's egregious budget; but most of all, I have walked to preserve a democratic right of the people of Wisconsin, a right that should never be taken for granted, by constituents or their representatives in Madison. We have walked for the past six months, whether marching around the Capitol or door-to-door. Democracy isn't a spectator sport -- it requires us to take part in it, consistently, not just through the ballot but also through making our presence known to the people who make our laws.

Tomorrow, we shall all take part in this right of the people. We shall play a hand in determining whether they deserve re-election or whether they should be removed due to a loss in confidence from us. Tomorrow, we take Wisconsin back.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

MJS wrong: recalls warranted when people desire them

The Journal Sentinel released an editorial yesterday, and in the first sentence alone I have two separate ideas about the opinions of the JS staff.
So not only are the recall elections ugly and unnecessary, they're expensive - and offer even more reason for campaign finance reform that requires transparency from all groups. (Emphases mine)
One of those assertions I take issue with; the other, I can agree on.

First, on what the JS gets right: campaign finance reform is sorely needed. But we knew this long before the recall elections took shape. Campaign spending in Wisconsin has been growing and growing, and with five of the Senate recalls breaking records on spending for legislative races in the state, it's clear that something has to be done. The emergence of "anonymous donors," too, has me worried.

But the Milwaukee newspaper is wholly wrong on these elections being "unnecessary." That is entirely up to the voters of those districts to decide. Recall elections shouldn't be limited "only in the cases of exceptionally egregious behavior by a politician," as the Journal Sentinel later asserts. They should also be subject to egregious legislation or policies that the citizens of districts (or the state at-large) determine to be wrong for Wisconsin.

Consider an extreme example. Gov. XYZ submits a bill for the legislature to consider that severely limits a privilege of the people, let's say speech rights. A Sedition Act pushed by state senators who are supportive of Gov. XYZ could easily pass the bill -- but they also risk the people's ability to remove them from office for passing such legislation. Their actions while in office may not have been "exceptionally egregious," but the laws they put into place go against the values of the people in their districts.

In that extreme example, it is entirely justifiable to remove those senators from office. To restrict the justification for recall elections to the requirements the Journal Sentinel suggests acceptable limits the ability of citizens to take direct control of their government, thus limiting the people in that example from protecting their own rights.

In our present-day situation, the citizens of each senate district holding a recall have determined that their legislators warrant challenges based upon their votes within the past six months, including the controversial collective bargaining bill (but certainly not limited to that). It's their right, whether they're challenging Democrats or Republicans, to make that determination.

Recall elections shouldn't be subject to "egregious behavior" alone -- they should be deemed justified when constituents lose confidence in their elected official's ability to represent their district. That loss in confidence can come from both the senator's behavior AND a disregard for the people they're meant to represent. To suggest otherwise neglects what the purpose of recall elections was in the first place -- to give a greater role of democratic influence in our state's government.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Notes from canvassing: Part 1

Two days of canvassing, two days of thoughts on the recall campaigns

The following is part one of a two part series on my experiences over two days of canvassing. I have been working with different political canvassing organizations for the past three months, on the recalls as well as fighting against Gov. Walker's proposed budget. These two stories focus on my thoughts on the recall elections in the waning days of the canvass.

Part one: August 4, 2001
I'm a tired, sweaty mess. Today is August 4, and there are five days until the recall elections. The weather is humid, overcast but still hot, and you can almost taste the moisture in the air. My shoe is broken, digging into my heel, a small reminder of the pain this state is experiencing under this governor's leadership.

As a canvasser, I get sent out to cities and rural areas alike -- no potential vote is left unspoken to. Some people are pleasant, happy to see me, others are skeptical and rude. Those that fit the latter description are just as tired as I am, tired of the mess that Wisconsin has seen, even if they don't readily admit it. Government has become ineffective, they say, and so they escape despair by entering cynicism. I don't blame these people, I empathize with their feelings. But change isn't meant to come easy. And so, I walk.

It's not a thankless job by any means. Every now and again, I get a household that actually thanks me, endlessly, for what I do. It's my job, I say, and move on with a bit more hope. Still, all of the "thank yous" in the world I would gladly trade for a win on Tuesday.

I'm not a naive person -- I'm very realistic. Even if Democrats win the Senate back, they won't be able to reverse the damage of Scott Walker's agenda. But just because the fight can't be won instantaneously doesn't mean it's not worth fighting. This is one step towards restoring Wisconsin's values, towards the restoration of the state I grew up in and still love.

Walking from house to house, you have a lot to think about. I've thought about these recall elections, countless times. They aren't about collective bargaining, cuts to education, cuts to welfare, a disregard for the rule of law, or even the arrogance of the governor and his legislative allies. Those issues all matter a great deal -- but they are mere symptoms of a greater problem this state is facing.

These recalls aren't about a singular issue. Rather, they're about the destruction of values, of core beliefs that makes Wisconsin what it is, or was, or STILL CAN be. Those issues -- and others like them -- were destroyed in the wake of Walker's overall assault on our state's traditions. Bringing them back to Wisconsin will take awhile, will require patience and a constant struggle towards removal of his allies, and of him as well.

And so, I walk. I won't stop walking, not until the time comes when ALL of Wisconsin, not just the donors of Walker's campaign, receive the respect and attention they deserve from their governor.

The good news is that I'm not walking alone.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Americans For Prosperity send phony mailers, disrupt democracy

Absentee ballots' return address sends ballots to conservative organization

Democracy requires equality, openness, and most importantly fairness. When people refuse to play by the rules -- when they purposely distort information for the purposes of their own political gain -- democracy suffers for it. Running political advertisements that suggest your opponent raised her own salary while in office when just the opposite was true, for example, gives voters a false vision of reality, clouding their judgment against issues that truly matter (and truly exist) within the campaign.

Such practices are rotten on their own. But when you distort information and propagate it for the purposes of disposing people's rights, it gets downright despicable.

Americans For Prosperity, a Koch brothers-funded, Tea Party-affiliated organization, sent absentee ballots to households of strongly-identified Democrats, urging them to submit their ballots on August 11 -- two days after the recall elections were set to occur.

The organization purports that it was a simple typo, and that it being sent to Democratic households was the result of these individuals trying to "keep tabs" on the organization by becoming members of it.

That would explain everything -- if it weren't for the fact that, instead of a city clerk’s office, the return address sent the ballots to Wisconsin Family Action, an organization that is most definitely as anti-Democratic Party as one can get.

Now THAT'S one hell of a typo. Had the ballots been sent there, there's no question they would never have been counted. Ballots need to be returned to a city clerk's office, not a non-profit organization, who, once in possession of them, could feasibly do whatever they wanted with them.

The "typo" cop-out is also fishy for other reasons, namely the extent to how bad a typo it would actually be, requiring the typist to type an extra number than what is needed. For instance, a typo of the number "9" (the actual election date) would result in either an "8" or a "0" -- but an "11" requires a complete opposite-side-of-the-keyboard mistake, as well as a conscious decision to type the same number twice (there are no election dates with two of the same numbers in them).

It's clear to see that AFP is trying to step in and ruin the rights of Wisconsin citizens across the state. Telling people to send an absentee ballot form 1) on the wrong date and 2) to an organization that isn't a governmental entity is as low as one can get. To put it bluntly, it's corporate dollars trying to ruin your democratic rights. It’s suppression through deception, a lie to Wisconsin voters to get them to unwillingly invalidate their own vote.

In America, and especially in Wisconsin, that shouldn't be tolerated. The Republican candidates who would benefit from such vile practices ought to come out and oppose Americans For Prosperity and Wisconsin Family Action for engaging in blatant voter suppression.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Dane Co DA steps aside in case against Prosser

Citing conflicts of interest, Ozanne recommends a special prosecutor

Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne has requested a special prosecutor to judge whether or not the county should pursue the case against Justice Davide Prosser, who allegedly put fellow Justice Anne Walsh Bradley in a stranglehold more than a month ago in her office.

The move is the proper one to take: Ozanne, a Democrat, was the chief prosecutor over the case Prosser and Bradley had been arguing over, the collective bargaining bill. His decision to pursue further action could be conveyed as a personal act against Prosser, who ruled with the majority opinion authorizing the bill as having passed legally.

I do not question the integrity of our county's district attorney. In fact, I have been quite pleased with him thus far during his tenure. But there is no doubt that the legitimacy of his actions could be questioned by conservatives if he were to pursue this case himself. Choosing to opt out of that decision-making process is the right move to make, to preserve the legitimacy of whatever decision is made.

For his recognition of both the potential fallout as well as the questions of conflicts of interest presented to him, Dane County is truly blessed to have such a sound legal mind and considerate public figure running its DA offices.