Monday, April 30, 2012

Governor uses "Walker Math" in errant claims on Medicaid

Misleading statements on spending shows Walker uses deceitful calculations

An ad I frequently see on my Hulu commercials involves Gov. Scott Walker making an ambitious claim that his administration increased spending on Medicaid by more than $1.2 billion. To be fair to Walker, when I'm watching any show on Hulu, it annoys me to great ends to see any kind of political advertizing, even Democratic ads that I may support.

But I digress. The claim isn't anything new -- the Walker administration has been touting it for over a year, stating that any criticism due to supposed cuts to Medicaid are wholly unwarranted.

However, Walker's claim here is a ruse. Rather than be truthful with the people about what really is occurring, the governor is playing games with the numbers, creating an image of himself that is inaccurate when broken down deeper.

Walker's common talking point, that "Madison Math" employed by critics is working against him, may have to be replaced with "Walker Math" -- that is, dubious and deceitful calculations made to make the governor appear credible.

Gov. Scott Walker misleads the public on Medicaid spending.Wisconsin did indeed raise its Medicaid spending this year from last, by the amount Gov. Walker is claiming. That "raise" in state revenues, however, is due mostly to the fact that last year, as part of the stimulus package that Barack Obama and Democrats passed early in the president's term, the federal government picked up a significant chunk of the tab in Medicaid expenditures due to the global economic recession (in 2009 alone, the federal share of Medicaid spending jumped by more than 50 percent).

With Medicaid claimant numbers continuing to rise but the stimulus funds ending in June last year, the state had to pick up its normal contribution to the program:
The biggest increase in funding by far, in percentage terms, is for health services. Most of this 45% increase is replacement funds for lost federal stimulus dollars. Those stimulus dollars for Medicaid, the heathcare program for the poor, ended in June. Rising enrollments for programs such as BadgerCare Plus also drive the increase.
But when the state picked up that tab, it didn't do so fully. The program called for Wisconsin to increase its share by $1.8 billion if it wished to operate at the "normal costs to continue" Medicaid services it had the year prior.

Yet, Walker & Co. only funded $1.2 billion in "additional" revenues, a significant decrease from what was recommended. Those additional revenues, again, make up for what the federal stimulus had previously picked up, what would have ordinarily been the state's responsibilities in the first place.

The outcomes from that drop will be monumental. For example, the shortfall here is wholly responsible for tens of thousands of citizens set to be removed from BadgerCare.

Calling any increase in expenditures on a budget item the state was responsible for beforehand is a misleading way of characterizing what happened with Medicaid in Wisconsin. Walker is claiming that the $1.2 billion he put in his budget was an original decision on his part, an increase he created and should be credited for.

In fact, it was just a portion of what the state had to contribute towards in order to keep up with operating costs for the Medicaid programs that were being funded. On that bill, Walker shorted Wisconsin hundreds of millions of dollars.

The Obama ad everyone needs to watch

List of Obama accomplishments prove the president is needed for a second term in office

With focus being rightfully paid to the recall campaign in Wisconsin, it's difficult to remember at times that this is a presidential election year. So, the question becomes: does Barack Obama deserve a second term in office?

The answer is a resounding "yes." Not only does Obama make a better candidate for a second four-year term versus Mitt Romney, but the president has proven that his record as commander in chief has been stellar.

Don't believe me? Watch this ad put out by the Obama campaign and tell me different:

These accomplishments can be seen at 5:10 in the video:
-4.2 million jobs saved;
-Taxes cut for 160 million Americans;
-Wall Street reforms passed;
-18 tax cuts for small businesses;
-Unfair credit card fees eliminated;
-Nearly half a million new manufacturing jobs;
-$1 trillion in spending cuts;
-Protected reproductive rights;
-Stem cell research funded;
-Fuel efficiency standards doubling;
-U.S. oil production at eight-year high;
-Natural gas production at all-time high;
-Renewable energy production up 27 percent;
-First Latina Supreme Court justice appointed;
-$100 billion invested in science and research;
-Iraq war ended;
-Libya liberated;
-Osama bin Laden dead;
-Incentives to hire unemployed veterans;
-"Don't ask, Don't tell" ended"
-Unemployment benefits extended;
-Equal pay for women protected;
-Health care reform passed;
-Seniors' drug costs lowered;
-College Pell grants doubled;
-Guaranteed coverage for contraception;
-Medicare and Social Security protected;
-and the auto industry saved.
A huge list of accomplishments in just one term of office.

The ad ends with a single word (especially familiar to Wisconsinites): FORWARD.

And that's the direction we'll move in if we send Barack Obama back to the White House.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Appeals court ruling ensures no voter ID for recall elections

State justice department fails to provide evidence that lifting indefinite injunction was necessary

A three-judge court of appeals ruling has basically stated that there won't be voter ID requirements within the recall elections for Gov. Scott Walker or any of the four GOP senatorial candidates facing challenges.

The court granted a motion to expedite the appeal, but said elsewhere in its decision that there is no realistic possibility that it would issue a decision before the June 5 recall elections. And even if it did, the decision would not take effect until at least 31 days after it was issued and would be subject to appeal to the Supreme Court.
Emphasis added.

Besides failing to provide a rationale reason why the injunction should be lifted immediately (as well as the disenfranchisement of minority and elderly voters as a result of requiring ID's to vote), there is yet another reason to consider disallowing recently passed voter ID rules from being enforced: Walker and his Republican allies weren't elected using them. If things are to be consistent, it makes sense that the same rules for electing Walker should also be used in either reaffirming or removing him from office.

The voter ID law is also, without a doubt, unconstitutional according to Wisconsin's own governing document. As Judge Richard Niess pointed out in his ruling last month (which forced the indefinite injunction of the law in the first place) the voter ID law was in direct conflict (PDF) with the state's strict mandates for who is and isn't a qualified voter.

Of course, upon hearing this Gov. Walker could only call Judge Niess just another Dane County activist judge. Weighing those arguments against one another -- common law precedent that's over 180 years old vs. partisan bickering -- and it's clear to see why the injunction will last beyond the recall election dates.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Video Heat: Job losses in Wisconsin -- it's worse than you think

Job losses prove it's NOT working in Walker's Wisconsin

Wisconsin has lost tens of thousands of jobs over the past year. We're the worst state in the nation, outdistancing our closest rivals to that feat by leaps and bounds.

A tale of two letters: Barrett and Falk talk unity, gender discrimination

Two open letters sent out today demonstrate positive character traits of Democratic recall candidates

Gubernatorial candidate Tom Barrett wrote an open letter to the Democratic Party of Wisconsin today, urging party unification following the primary outcome on May 8, no matter who the winner might be.

In what Barrett described was "uncharted territory," he urged DPW Chairman Mike Tate to "convene a Unity Committee between now and the May 8th primary that is comprised of representatives" of each candidate within the Democratic primary field. Those representatives would be charged the duty of devising a plan to transition from a spirit of competitiveness to one of backing the winner of the primary, who will go on to face Gov. Scott Walker in the general recall election.

"Voters throughout Wisconsin are tired of the Walker Administration's drive to divide us in order to push an ideological agenda from out-of-state interests," Barrett wrote. "They look to Democrats now to end this divisive discord and restore dignity to our political discourse. We must reassure them with our plan for unity."

The plan for unity is an excellent way for the candidates to work together while they simultaneously campaign against each another. It's clear that the overall objective is the removal of Walker from office and the restoration of Wisconsin's values once he's removed. While the candidates should debate vigorously over what issues matter most to Wisconsinites, it's equally important to devise a strategy to come together once May 9th rolls around.

Another letter was also sent today by a second gubernatorial candidate, Kathleen Falk. This letter was sent to Gov. Walker himself requesting he explain why exactly he felt the need to sign legislation repealing an Equal Pay law in Wisconsin.

The act Walker signed removed punitive damages that could be rewarded to victims of gender discrimination in the workplace, a large deterrent towards employers potentially paying half of their employees less for the same work performed.

In her letter (in which she was joined by Reps. Christine Sinicki and Chris Taylor), Falk questioned whether Walker was being honest with the people of Wisconsin.

"Our request is necessary because the answer you have provided to the people of Wisconsin does not appear to be honest when compared to the facts," they wrote. They continued (PDF): offered the following rationale for repealing the Equal Pay Enforcement Act: "In the past, lawyers could clog up the legal system."

Since the Equal Pay Enforcement Act was signed into law in 2009, we reasonably assume you are claiming there has been an exponential rise in state lawsuits regarding pay discrimination claims filed by women in Wisconsin.

Contrary to your claim, you have provided no evidence that in the two‐year period since passage of the Equal Pay Enforcement Act that pay discrimination lawsuits are "clogging" the legal system.

In fact, you have not provided even one example of a suit being filed in that time period. Not a single suit.
The repeal of the law, in addition to taking away punitive damages that create incentives to pay women equally, also restricts women from accessing state courts to make their claims. Now, instead of going to their local courts to file a suit, women must travel to one of two federal courthouses, in either Madison or Milwaukee (a great distance to travel for a majority of women in the state).

Falk's criticism in Walker's motives for signing the bill are warranted. Walker has made phony excuses for repealing Equal Pay law, acquiescing to business interests rather than employee protections for the women of Wisconsin. It's a disgraceful move, one that Walker deservedly receives criticism for.

These two letters (from Barrett and from Falk) demonstrate that we do indeed have leaders within the Democratic primary field who will move Wisconsin forward following Walker's recall. No matter what the outcome will be, confidence in whoever wins should remain high. The fate of Wisconsin may depend on it.

Friday, April 20, 2012

A quick note on jobs in WI: it's a lot worse than you think

Our state's losses are many times worse off than other states that lost jobs...combined

According to a chart from the Bureau of Labor statistics, there were four states total that lost jobs from March of 2011 to March of 2012. Those states are Mississippi (-3,500), Montana (-1,400), Rhode Island (-2,200), and Wisconsin (-23,900).

Notice the significant drop that is Wisconsin. Our total job losses are worse off than the next highest loser in jobs by almost sevenfold. As if that weren't bad enough, our job losses are worse than the other three states' losses combined...more than three times over.

And just as a side thought, Illinois, whom Gov. Scott Walker criticizes constantly? Their state saw job GAINS of more than 31,000 jobs during that same time period.

How is this working, by any sane definition of the word?

Walker spokesman spins education data, blames three districts

Werwie unfairly scapegoats Milwaukee, Janesville, and Kenosha schools

On Wednesday, the Wisconsin Department of Instruction released numbers detailing how cuts to education this year resulted in losses in staffing within schools across the state (PDF).

Overall, more than 2,300 jobs were cut in 73 percent of districts across Wisconsin. Of these cuts, 60 percent (or about 1,446) were teachers. In the end, the teacher/student ratio reached the highest level it's been at in nine years.

Perhaps in anticipation of such dreadful news, the Walker administration was ready with their excuse rationale for the dismal numbers. Cullen Werwie, Gov. Scott Walker's spokesman, placed the blame on three districts in particular: Kenosha, Janesville, and Milwaukee.
Gov. Scott Walker's spokesman Cullen Werwie had a different take on the numbers. He highlighted that 43 percent of the staff cuts came in Milwaukee, Janesville and Kenosha, which account for 13 percent of the state's student population.

Districts that took advantage of the flexibility under the state's new collective bargaining law could have cut positions and saved money by requiring teachers to take on an additional class period each day, Werwie said.

"DPI’s data is further proof that Governor Walker’s reforms are working," Werwie said.
So we're led to believe that teacher cuts are the fault of these three districts, that if we accounted for those districts' losses, the rest of the state would have been typical, comparable perhaps to losses in the last year or so.

But when you look at the data (EXCEL), it doesn't fit the implications that Werwie makes. When you take a look at teacher cuts over the past three years, a different picture is painted. In 2011-12, there were (as already mentioned) 1,446 teacher cuts. The year before, there were 825, and in the year before that there were 810 teachers cut statewide.

But Werwie blames this year's cuts on the three districts that didn't enact Act 10 (or, at least he implies it's all on them). So let's take them out of the equation. If Werwie is correct in his assumption, if Walker's "reforms" are truly working, we should see a decrease in teacher cuts:

What we see instead is the exact opposite -- an increase in losses between the 2010-11 school year and 2011-12, the first year with Act 10 in place and Walker's billion-dollar education cuts. In fact, the increases in teacher cuts are more than double what they were last school year in Act 10 schools, and are also more than the previous two years of losses combined.

It's clear that schools are losing teachers and growing their class sizes. Since Walker took office, it's become even worse, due mainly to shortfalls in school districts' budgets across the state. In blaming Milwaukee, Janesville, and Kenosha, however, the Walker administration is trying to deceive the people of Wisconsin into thinking Walker's reforms are "working."

But the numbers don't lie -- things are getting WORSE, not better, and to ignore this fact is a disservice to the schoolchildren of our state. Making these three districts a scapegoat doesn't negate the fact that the rest of the state did twice as bad this year in teachers cuts than last. The Walker reforms are failing Wisconsin -- and it's time everyone acknowledges that.

March jobs report reveals more bad news

Less than two months to recall, Walker's jobs performance goes deeper into the red

The Department of Workforce Development announced Wisconsin's job numbers for the month of March yesterday, and it appears as though the "Scott Walker Slump" has returned (if it ever left at all).

After two months of pseudo-job gains (improvements that were due largely to "seasonal adjustments"), March saw losses of 4,500 jobs total, more than 95 percent of which came from the private sector.

The losses come just two months before the governor's scheduled recall election. Having originally pledged to improve Wisconsin's economic climate, boasting that he would create 250,000 jobs in his first four years of office, Walker has instead taken our state in the opposite direction, making his pledge seem more and more like a fantasy.

Since Walker assumed office, Wisconsin has lost more than 10,000 jobs total. But while Wisconsin continues to plummet, the rest of the nation has gained jobs. In fact, the country overall has seen 25 straight months of job growth, a stark contrast to what Gov. Walker considers "working" in Wisconsin. It's clear that Walker's "reforms" are anything BUT working, as the chart above demonstrates.

The governor has failed to create economic conditions that spur job growth for the state. His solution to job creation has relied solely on tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations (two-thirds of which don't pay any taxes at all in the first place). But this plan has failed to create jobs, nor will it do so in the future unless proper incentives to create work are included.

Walker needs to take a direct approach on jobs, end his attacks on working class families, and reverse polices we know to be job killers for the state. Unfortunately for Wisconsin, Walker will undoubtedly stay the course, plunging our job numbers deeper into the red.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Repeal of Equal Pay Act encourages unfairness in Wisconsin

Gov. Walker signs law that eliminates incentives to pay workers fairly

How does one legitimately justify ending equal pay for women? In signing the repeal of the state's Equal Pay Act, Gov. Scott Walker has thrust Wisconsin into membership within a small club, becoming one of only a handful of states without gender equality protections.

Yes, federal protections continue to exist. But these protections barely do anything to deter companies from unfairly shorting their female workers. Women in Wisconsin can now only sue for back-pay, making it worthwhile for businesses to try and get away with paying women less. At best (at least for these companies), they succeed; at worst, they're forced to compensate their workers for income they'd have paid anyway, were they to treat women fairly.

Punitive damages -- which were removed through the repeal -- create economic incentives to treat everyone fairly. Without those conditions, it's almost in a business's best interests to TRY and be sneaky, hoping that no one will notice discrepancies in pay.

But the repeal doesn't just limit what damages can be recouped from unfair compensation -- it also makes it more difficult for women to sue.

The Equal Pay Act previously allowed women the ability to sue in the state court system. Women in every county throughout the state could file a complaint relatively near their homes.

But because the law was repealed, only federal courts will suffice now -- and the only two federal courthouses in Wisconsin are in Milwaukee and Dane Counties, which only represent about a quarter of the state's population.

In eliminating the Equal Pay Act, Walker has incentivized discriminatory pay practices in our state while simultaneously making it more difficult for women to seek a redress of their rightly owed compensation. This was supposedly done to lure more businesses to our state...but are these really the types of companies we want here anyway?

This issue only reinforces the need to remove Gov. Walker from office in June. Those who value equality in pay for equal work performed can do no greater deed in the coming months than committing themselves to voting against Walker in his recall election.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Ron Johnson votes "no" on the Buffett rule

Millionaire senator votes to protect his own assets over desires of the people

It comes as no surprise, but Wisconsin's Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, himself a wealthy millionaire, voted against a tax proposal that would ensure all millionaires paid a reasonable tax in this country.

As it stands right now, millionaires like Johnson oftentimes only pay effective tax rates that are near or around 25 percent of their incomes -- about the same rate as what middle class Americans pay. What's more, as incomes get higher, it seems that the rich are paying less proportionally in taxes.

Nearly 100,000 millionaires pay LESS than what the middle class pays as a percentage of income. And in 2009, nearly 1,500 Americans earning more than $1 million paid NO taxes on that income whatsoever.

The Buffett rule would have changed that, requiring millionaires (who comprise about 0.3 percent of the U.S. population) to pay an effective tax rate of 30 percent.

The notion that the rich should pay a higher rate than the poor and middle classes isn't a notion that solely exists within the Democratic Party's minds -- it was also a notion shared by former President Ronald Reagan:
We’re going to close the unproductive tax loopholes that allow some of the truly wealthy to avoid paying their fair share. In theory, some of those loopholes were understandable, but in practice they sometimes made it possible for millionaires to pay nothing, while a bus driver was paying ten percent of his salary, and that’s crazy. [...] Do you think the millionaire ought to pay more in taxes than the bus driver or less?
A rather amusing notion to take note of, considering that those very views might force Reagan out of his own party were he to express them today.

Sen. Ron Johnson's "no" vote today symbolizes the current Republican Party's reluctance to realize the people of this country WANT this rule in place, in fact desire a truly fair tax plan. Whether that reluctance comes from the fact that millionaires are funding their campaigns, or that nearly half of Congress are themselves millionaires, it isn't quite clear.

Yet when it comes to our own senator who voted against the rule, it shouldn't be forgotten that, come Ron Johnson's re-election, when it truly mattered, the millionaire senator voted to protect his own interests over those of his constituents.

Recall endorsement: Tom Barrett will move us forward

The Milwaukee Mayor will garner the largest coalition of voters to remove Gov. Scott Walker from office

In the campaign to remove Gov. Scott Walker from office, many factors have to be considered. Can the nominee actually win in a recall contest? Does the candidate have the ability to unify a coalition of Wisconsinites that range in political persuasion, from fiery liberals to temperamental moderates? Lastly, will that candidate represent the people in the positive progressive vision that our state's leaders of the past have exemplified?

Each Democratic candidate seeking to unseat Walker has different strengths and weaknesses. On all three questions, the candidates certainly have varying degrees of qualifications that make them all strong potential opponents to the governor. However, the most well-rounded candidate to take on Gov. Walker is clear: Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

Known for his cool demeanor and centrist appeal, Barrett may not be the movement's first choice to take the recall forward. And yet, he is the right choice if we're hoping to win.

Other recall candidates may have a more leftist background than Barrett, or may have the backing of more organizations, or may even have a geographical advantage to the Milwaukee mayor (residing outside of the Milwaukee-Madison areas). This movement was energized by the progressive traditions of our state, and that momentum shouldn't change.

But there's also nothing to say that those traditions would be endangered by a Barrett candidacy. He's repeatedly stated he supports reinstating collective bargaining rights for state workers. He's indicated that job creation has to be among our highest priorities, an issue our current governor pretends to support but seemingly forgot about once he got into office. And as the spouse of an educator, Barrett understands that the best way to approach a quality education for ALL Wisconsin students is NOT making drastic cuts, but responsible investments in our state's schools.

Are there problems with a Barrett candidacy? Sure. For one, he's already lost to Walker in the past. Additionally, Barrett has earned the scorn of several unions across the state that have chosen to back his Democratic rival Kathleen Falk instead of him.

But the loss in 2010 to Walker was due in large part to a wave of conservatism that swept the country that year, which led to the loss of state houses and governor mansions across the nation (not to mention the U.S. Senate seat once held by Russ Feingold). Low turnout also contributed to that wave of losses -- more than 824,000 voters who had cast a ballot in 2008 stayed home in 2010.

And the fact that Barrett hasn't won the endorsement of most state employee unions doesn't mean he's not a pro-union candidate. Indeed, Barrett has gained the backing of several pro-labor legislators and former political leaders who have previously been backed by those very same unions, including the endorsement of the past five Madison mayors.

We should pledge to support any of the four Democratic candidates for governor that win the primary on May 8. Of the four that are running, each are far better alternatives to what we now have as our current governor. But when looking at who could best defeat Gov. Walker, as well as who has the best chances of garnering the votes of a broad coalition of Wisconsinites while still maintaining a progressive vision, the answer is clear: Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Walker ad claims he created jobs, omits the fact he lost thousands

Embattled governor tries to convert his greatest weakness into strength

Gov. Scott Walker is heading into the recall election swinging. Interestingly enough, he's doing so going down a path no one would ever expect him taking: touting his performance on creating jobs.
In the new ad, Walker touts the fact that Wisconsin has added more than 17,000 private sector jobs in the first two months of this year.
While it's true that jobs grew earlier this year, the gains came after a dismal 2011 -- as it is, the gains don't even make up for the losses we had. Upon review of the mess that we've witnessed under Walker, one has to wonder whether gains this year came simply because we couldn't lose any more jobs than we already had!

In fact, from February 2011 to February 2012, Wisconsin only gained 500 private sector jobs. Not exactly the accomplishment Gov. Walker should be touting...and as a matter of fact, he doesn't, a convenient omission on the part of the Walker campaign.

Taking a look at total jobs -- both private and public -- Walker has unquestionably failed our state. From December 2010 (the month before Walker took office) to last month, Wisconsin lost more than 7,500 jobs. Overall, we're worst in the nation in the time since Walker took office.

And while Walker frequently touts that the unemployment rate dropped to 6.9 percent this year, a lot of that has to do with the fact that the workforce itself diminished by nearly 10,000 workers.

All of these little factoids observe how things went since Walker took office. But what about how things went after his budget and other reforms were implemented?

Unfortunately for Walker, much of the jobs data from 2011 that was positive occurred under his predecessor's budget. Indeed, nearly three-quarters of the job gains from 2011 were during the waning month's of the Doyle budget, while seven out of every ten jobs lost last year came during the Walker budget:

So while Walker may tout the first two months of this year's job gains, one has to wonder: how much of it was Walker's doing? The nation overall saw job gains during that time as well. But when the nation saw gains over the course of 2011, Wisconsin slipped backwards (though Walker had an excuse at every corner to explain the losses, even when they didn't make much sense).

At best, Walker can brag about not messing things up these first two months like he did last year. If that's something Gov. Walker wants to take pride in, then his chances of surviving a recall may be dimmer than anticipated -- not that I'm complaining.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Barrett gains endorsements from pro-labor legislators

Recall will require candidate that addresses both collective bargaining AND other issues

Former U.S. Congressman Dave Obey endorsed Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett to take on Gov. Scott Walker in the upcoming recall later on this spring. Obey, who chaired of the the House Appropriations Committee, had harsh words for the union that recently published a web video decrying Barrett as a poor choice:
"Blaming Tom Barrett for the actions in the Milwaukee budget that were forced by Gov. Walker is like blaming a surgeon who does surgery after a patient is hit by a truck," Obey told reporters. "It's just misdirected and unfair and it disserves every union member who receives that information, because they have a right to have accurate information in making up their own minds in who they’re going to support."
The video erroneously references an interview with Barrett, heavily edited to make it sound as if the mayor had supported Walker's move to end bargaining rights for state employees. In fact, Barrett was against the move, and stated in the very same interview (though omitted in the union's video) that he would have voted against it himself.

Obey joins current U.S. Rep. Ron Kind and State Sen. Jon Erpenbach in voicing their support for Barrett. Erpenbach was one of the 14 Democratic senators who fled Wisconsin in order to delay passage of Act 10, the bill that ended collective bargaining. Other state representatives, including Sen. Tim Cullen (also part of the Wisconsin-14), Rep. Tony Staskunas and Rep. Terese Berceau, also endorsed Barrett.

Unions have overwhelmingly supported Barrett's main Democratic challenger, Kathleen Falk. That's their right to do, politically, and no one is challenging that. But while unions are endorsing a candidate whose electability is questionable, Barrett is receiving endorsements from pro-labor lawmakers, a move that is beneficial for two reasons.

Number one, it indicates that Barrett IS pro-labor. He might not be the most ardent supporter of fiscal causes for state workers, supporting cuts to pay for employees. But he does support the larger issue at hand, that state workers deserve the right to bargain collectively their contracts and terms of their employment.

Number two, the endorsement of unions might have an adverse affect on the eventual recall nominee. This isn't to say that the issues important to unions (or that unions themselves) should be discounted, but rather that the recall needs to be more than about the issue of collective bargaining.

We've seen jobs decline in our state, the worst losses throughout the nation; we've seen a terrible attack on women, including on their reproductive and economic rights; we've seen drastic cuts to services and programs, including unprecedented cuts to education; and we've seen a distorted tax policy, granting billions of dollars in breaks to the wealthy and to corporations, while raising taxes on Wisconsin's working poor.

These issues are but the tip of the iceberg of what Walker & Co. has done to our state in just over a year's time. If we're to select a candidate that's going to win the recall, we're going to need one that will address the issue of collective bargaining AS WELL AS all of these other problems that have been introduced since Gov. Walker was inaugurated.

That candidate may be Kathleen Falk. It may also be Kathleen Vinehout and even Doug La Follette. But the notion that it can't be Tom Barrett is completely false, an idea worth dismissing immediately.

Barrett is proving that he's capable of being on the right side of all issues within this recall, including collective bargaining rights for state workers. His recent endorsements from pro-labor legislators are proof-positive of it.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Erroneous attacks on candidates won't help recall movement

Web video wrongly pits Barrett as anti-worker

A new web video that's making headlines across the state erroneously attacks Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett for supporting Act 10, the bill that ended collective bargaining rights for state workers.

Barrett, a Democratic candidate to take on Gov. Scott Walker in this summer's recall, is quoted as giving in to Walker's ideas about the bill, and even suggests a scenario in which the gridlock from the departure of 14 state senators last year could be broken.

The sad part about this video is that it comes from a union website, a constituency that's supposedly in favor of any Democrat, even Barrett, defeating Walker.

But even worse than that is that this video is taken largely out of context, and omits Barrett's criticism of the bill from the very same interview. Conjecture over political options of state senators doesn't equate endorsement of those views, and the words the video quotes seem to be simply that: observations from a Democratic leader who was available to comment at that time.

Indeed, Barrett has received a strong endorsement from Jon Erpenbach, who was among the more outspoken of the Wisconsin 14 members. And while Barrett my like financial concessions that were in the bill, he's been a consistent critic of the move to strip rights of workers from day one.

Barrett seems to be the frontrunner for the Democratic Party's nomination to take on Gov. Walker come June 5. As the frontrunner, it's only natural that he receives some criticism from time to time, especially from the base of this newly-energized progressive movement.

Yet, we needn't do Walker or Republicans any favors by shooting ourselves in the foot and providing future campaign fodder, for Barrett or any other recall candidate who gets the nod.

Each Democratic candidate has strengths; each has vulnerabilities as well. We should scrutinize each potential nominee to ensure we have the best candidate running against Walker in June. However, there's no good done for the recall movement by promulgating false information against ANY of these candidates.

The video with misinformed content ought to be removed from the union website, and a proper, truthful discourse ought to be encouraged among all elements of the recall campaign.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Spring elections dominated by progressive turnout

Liberal voters come out to polls in droves

The results from last night's spring elections demonstrate one clear reality: progressives are energized, and ready to take back the state from conservative and corporatist interests.

In an election that should have drawn Republican voters more than anything else (who were taking part in the presidential nomination process), conservatives saw several losses at the local levels across the state. In our own neck of the woods, the Dane County board saw significant progressive gains, with 28 of 37 seats now held by liberals, or just over three-out-of-four board positions.

Voters also rejected a Scott Walker-appointed judge, opting instead for a more progressive choice in Ellen Berz, whose legal career makes her more than qualified to wear the judicial robes. Additionally, Dane County residents overwhelmingly endorsed a non-binding referendum item that called for the restoration of collective bargaining rights for state workers.

The remarkable thing about last night's results isn't that citizens of Dane County voted liberally, but rather that they voted SO liberally. Despite its reputation as a "liberal oasis," the county does have a sizable conservative population as well. You wouldn't have known that, however, from last night's returns -- even with the Republican presidential nomination contest, the progressive vote in local races far out-weighed conservatives.

What does this all mean? Progressives are "pumped up," ready to take action against the "conservative wave" from 2010 that resulted in the biggest overreach of power memory can provide us with. The lesson that "elections have consequence" will not be easily forgotten, even in local races, for the consequences we've witnessed from ignoring that mantra have been disastrous over the past year or so.

This new "progressive resurgence" will likely play a significant role in determining the success of the recall of Gov. Walker. There's no doubt that his supporters will show up to the polls. What will matter most will be whether progressives match (or surpass) their numbers, can counter the conservative turnout with an even larger one.

If Tuesday's results are any indicator, that shouldn't be too difficult of a task to overcome.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Planned Parenthood bombing demonstrates a need to reassess our values

Bombing at women's health clinic an example of heated rhetoric taken too far

A small bomb exploded on the windowsill of a Planned Parenthood building in Grand Chute, Wisconsin, on Sunday. There were no injuries, and the building is set to reopen Tuesday.

Yet the size of the bomb is unimportant: its message of terror isn't any smaller simply because it's "explosive stature" was minimal.

The intent of the devise was well understood: "we know how to make these weapons, and we disagree with what you're doing here."

For an organization accustomed to such violence, the message goes beyond even that frightful depiction. This isn't an innocent prank, or even a gentle reminder that people disagree with their ethics.

Instead, it's a bigger reminder, one with more grim realities, that the employees of Planned Parenthood go into work with the slight possibility of being killed. Every day.

Say what you will about the debate on abortion: each side presents a reasonable discourse that has thus far kept the conversation alive for several generations. An embryo may very well be a living thing, but it may be something different, too; a woman should have control over her body and her own health decisions, but perhaps absolute control isn't right in all circumstances. The arguments for or against abortion don't seem to be going away, the debate being one that will last into the next generation as well.

But that debate needn't be a violent one. There's no excuse, none whatsoever, for either side to engage in actions that may cause bodily harm to another person.

Whether it be a bomb in Outagamie County or an assassin in Dane County, the needless call for violence on the part of a few hardliner "pro-lifers" is uncalled for. This isn't a war -- this isn't a battle for "righteousness" or anything like that.

The rhetoric that has shaped the debate this way needs to go away, along with the matched actions of radical fundamentalists. Terrorism in any form is unacceptable, in Wisconsin or elsewhere.

Don't let employers violate your online privacy rights

Attempts by companies to require relinquishing of Facebook passwords violates fundamental American principles

Should employers be allowed to ask for your Facebook password? Should they make hiring decisions based on a potential employee's preference to keep their information private? That is, should they only hire those that agree to open up their personal (and private) online lives?

A new trend for many companies requires just that. Many employers are now asking that any new hires turn over their social media passwords, making their hiring contingent on whether they comply or not. In our own neck of the woods, Madison Chief of Police Noble Wray drew national attention when he announced he utilizes one-time, voluntary "peeks" at a person's Facebook information during the interview process.

The practice has serious privacy concerns, to say the least. Democrats in Congress sought to nip the idea right away by offering up an amendment that would change FCC rules limiting what employers could ask for when it came to invasion of social media.

The measure was soundly defeated on a mostly partisan basis (only one Republican voted in favor of it). Among those that voted against the measure protecting individuals' passwords was Wisconsin's Republican bloc of Congressmen, Reps. Sensenbrenner, Petri, Duffy, Ribble and Ryan.

While stating the affirmative -- that these men WANT companies to have your information and passwords -- would certainly go a bit too far, by voting against the amendment Wisconsin Republicans are making it clear: businesses should have this right, at least in their minds.

The Unlawful Access to Stored Communications Act already makes it criminal to access information of another person's online communications without their consent, which includes social media interactions. It doesn't state that employers, however, cannot require their employees to consent to such practices, or that hiring decisions can't be determined on whether such information is "voluntarily" handed over.

But such moves would be a direct violation of privacy. We'd never consent to allowing companies to base hiring decisions on things like having a spare key to our house or reading our mail after we've opened it. Likewise, we shouldn't have to let a good job get away because we'd like to keep our social and work lives separate from another.

Requiring such coercive means to get a potential hire's background information is wrong, and frankly un-American. We've always prided ourselves on having protections to our privacy, requiring warrants for law enforcement to enter our homes or read our personal papers. We shouldn't ignore this inherent right just because a private organization wants to disregard it themselves.

Personal, private information is just that -- information reserved for that person, and that person alone. No company should compel their workers or applicants to hand any of it over.

Sign a petition to limit what employers can ask of you regarding your social media. Employers Shouldn't Get Employees' Social Networking Passwords!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Wisconsin vs Illinois: who's really doing worse?

Illinois outpaces Wisconsin in several economic indicators

We consistently hear Gov. Scott Walker or his supporters spouting off how much "worse" things are in Illinois. Things south of the border, so they say, are so horrible, so backwards, that it seemingly justifies everything Walker has done thus far in his short tenure in office.

The problem with those assumptions, however, is that they're just plain wrong: economically speaking, Illinois is doing much better than the state to its north, Wisconsin, at least on issues that directly affect each states' citizens.