Thursday, September 29, 2011

Questions linger over Walker's call for bipartisanship

After 10 months of chicanery, can we really take the governor at his word?

After ridding state workers of their rights to collectively bargain their contracts, a practice that has been respected for over five decades;

After cutting hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes for corporations, yet raising taxes through the elimination of a tax credit for working families in the state;

After dismal unemployment numbers over the course of past two months, including figures that demonstrate less Wisconsinites are working than when he took office;

And after all of this, after a series of bills that have nothing to do with job creation (voter ID, concealed carry, etc.), and after it has been revealed that Walker's own cronies have seen wage increases in their government-appointed jobs --

-- Governor Walker has finally decided to make jobs a priority.

Calling the legislature back into session (after a month in which they, too, tried to refuse to work more than a single day), Walker has called on Republicans and Democrats to work together to pass sweeping legislation designed to make Wisconsin a more employable state.

Of course, the last time Walker called a special session on jobs (back in January), we saw huge corporate tax cuts of over $140 million and a bill designed to end the rights of state workers.

Still, the call for bipartisanship is welcomed, and the need for more jobs in our state a serious issue to tackle. Even if we may disagree with the guy, the fact that he wants to shift the focus towards positive action in increasing jobs is something all politicians should aspire towards as well.

But exactly how serious can we take Walker? How can we take his word as sincere, after campaigning all of 2010 on jobs yet doing close to nothing on it for 10 whole months? And how can we expect him to contribute in a bipartisan manner after he worked in a dictatorial way those first 10 months, going so far as to threaten his political opponents in private with a Louisville Slugger?

I truly hope I am wrong on all of this, that the questions I bring up here are simply a mild case of paranoid skepticism. But given Walker's track record and limited commitment to both jobs and cooperation, can you really blame me?

We should encourage calls for cooperation whenever and wherever they come from. But we should avoid being naive as well, save ourselves from being duped and keep a wary eye on those whose record, like Walker's, has been anything but cooperative.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Moves to change recall election misguided

Amendment for recalls would have allowed for no legislative recalls in prior years

There's been a strong push as of late, by Republican legislators in the state and news media alike, to restrict the terms under which recall elections can occur. This call has come after an historic nine recall elections occurred this year alone, more than doubling the number of recalls that had previously been seen at the state legislative level.

I have written extensively on the subject, on why recalls strengthen our democracy rather than hinder it (1, 2, 3, 4, 5). The ability of the people to have a check on their legislators isn't something we should try to restrict -- indeed, the process itself is much harder to initiate than people give it credit for.

18 state senators were eligible for recall this year; of those, only nine faced election, and only two of those were successfully removed from office. The idea that recalls don't respect democratic preference is hogwash, not only because it requires a democratic election in order to succeed, but also because it requires a strict timeline, allowing tempers to cool down, ensuring that the change in personnel is a change that's really desired.

To alter the conditions of recalls would also ignore the intent of what recalls were all about. Our state constitution doesn't limit why recalls can happen -- in fact, no recall election at the legislative level has ever occurred on the bases or merits that the proposed constitutional amendment would restrict them under.

Only four recall elections of state legislators had occurred before this year. Only two of those were successful. Of those four, one occurred over constituents' disagreements with that representative's views on Indian treaty rights, another over a vote on a regional sales tax, and another over a legislator's overly-compromising behavior, having crossed the partisan divide too many times and seemingly "selling out" his constituents.

The only reasonably close instance that may merit a recall under the new conditions being proposed was in 1932, when Sen. Otto Mueller refused to present himself at a roll call vote that then-Gov. Philip La Follette had ordered the legislature to convene on. But even that instance (which resulted in Mueller staving off a recall challenge) wouldn't fit the terms of the proposal by Rep. Robin Vos:
His amendment would mean state officials, including the governor and legislators, could face recalls only for one of three reasons:

- If they are charged or convicted of a felony.

- If they are convicted of a misdemeanor.

- If they are found guilty of an ethics violation.
Otto Mueller was never found to have violated any ethics violation, nor convicted of any crime for his refusal to comply with La Follette's wishes.

So under Vos's terms, none of the legislative recalls in Wisconsin state history would have been justified, including the four before this year's slew of recall elections.

This anti-democratic measure deserves to be defeated. There is no reason that Vos or any legislator for that matter should propose an amendment that would lessen the democratic ability of the people in this state. Such a move is radical, even for Vos's standards.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Journal Sentinel still wrong on the issue of recalls

Recall elections should be based on the people's desire to have one

When a representative fails to adhere to the values or ideals of their constituents, they no longer serve a productive purpose within the office they hold. The interests of the people fail to be represented, are essentially ignored for the remainder of that person's tenure.

Some have contended that recalls should be limited, should only be initiated after a legislator, mayor, etc. acts in a criminal or disrespectful way within that office. But should constituents have to wait for this person to "slip up," for them to make a personal judgment error, in order to remove them from office? Isn't this person's refusal to represent the people in a way they deem acceptable reason enough to warrant removal?

It makes no sense to advocate for a change in the recall process that makes it MORE difficult for the people to be respected by their lawmakers. The threat of recall makes officeholders more receptive to their constituents' wishes and less likely to perform a "bait and switch" from campaign season to the actual time they begin public service.

Being receptive is, after all, the entire point of representative democracy. And while legislators shouldn't be bound to support everything that their voters desire, shouldn't continously poll the people they work for on every single issue, they should be held to account for the choices they make that their residents disagree with.

It's irresponsible for lawmakers to be introducing proposals to limit this democratic right of the people; it's even more irresponsible for news media, which serves as a purveyor of democratic discourse in the community, to urge for the elimination of that right as well.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has previously advocated that recalls be limited to instances of "egregious behavior." Now, with Rep. Robin Vos (and others) pushing for a constitutional amendment limiting when and how the people can initiate a recall, the Journal Sentinel editorial team has endorsed the plan.

"The recalls were unwarranted," they wrote. "A vote or stance on one issue is not sufficient in our view to justify the expense of a recall election."

But how is that beneficial to democracy? The purpose of having representatives in office is to have an individual who reflects the values and views of the community at-large. It's impossible to have that individual reflect the views of everyone; but while that's an unachievable goal, a more realistic possibility is having a majority of people lose faith in your ability to represent them, whether that's through your actions or your votes.

Politicians aren't elected on the basis of whether we believe they will act nobly -- it's expected that they will, but that isn't the crux of their campaign rhetoric, what will get them the endorsement of their constituents. Rather, politicians are elected based upon what policies they will support, what positions they will take on hot-button issues, and in what direction they plan to move their district. These are what matter most to constituents. As such, our leaders should be held accountable for the votes they make or the positions they take after they enter office.

The Journal Sentinel has been wrong on this issue before, and it's still wrong for endorsing Vos's plan. The right of the people to select their representatives in the first place is based on the right to have someone share their voice in the office they serve. When that voice of the people is ignored in an extraordinary way, that lawmaker no longer respects his role as "representative."

For that reason, recall elections, as they exist in their current form, should remain preserved.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Abolish the death penalty

Too many problems, both practical and moral, plague the practice

It took me a few days to come up what I wanted to say on the topic of the death penalty. The issue has been in the news on three separate fronts -- it seems fitting to talk about it now.

Up until now, I had been a wary supporter of the death penalty in some cases. The attacks of 9/11 led me to that conclusion. Had we caught Osama bin Laden, I would have wanted him to go on trial and to be put to death. But in recent years, I’ve realized that this sentiment, though something I may want for one individual, shouldn’t be implemented in this way. Our emotional response, though justified, doesn’t override the rights of others, even those convicted of heinous crimes.

I understand the death penalty -- the seemingly “equal” justice of it (a “death for a death”), the satisfaction of seeing a killer be taken from this life into the next to see their maker, exterminated for the crimes they’ve committed. I “get” that emotion, that need for vengeance, and (what seems like) ultimate justice under both the court of law as well as the court of the victims’ families’ minds.

But its mark on society, its troubled implementation, its costs, and its overall effectiveness, all point to one singular conclusion: the death penalty has got to go. It simply isn’t good to hold onto any longer, to carry it on in spite of its significant problems.

Practically speaking, the death penalty simply doesn’t “work.” Let’s first define what “working” would look like. For the death penalty to function properly, we’d expect the process to be quick and relatively cost efficient; we’d expect it to be a proper punishment for those destined to face it; and it’d have to be an effective deterrent for future crimes.

But for states that implement it, the death penalty is none of those things. The costs for states with death row inmates are, on average, substantially higher than the costs to house a prisoner serving a life sentence. One study shows that the costs are more than $10 million per state that implements it. California alone spends $130 million on its death penalty system, a significant cost for a state that has had huge budget problems.

It’s effectiveness is put into question, too, especially since states that implement tend to have higher rates of murder than the 12 states that don’t. That fact isn’t based solely on averages either, but also geographically: in most cases, death penalty states that border non-death penalty states have higher rates of murder. West Virginia has a lower rate than Virginia; North Dakota has a lower rate than South Dakota; Rhode Island has a lower rate than Connecticut; and Wisconsin has a lower rate than Illinois. In each case, the first state mentioned doesn’t have a death penalty; the other state does, or in the last example, did.

That last comparison, however, comes with a caveat: in 2000, Illinois initiated a moratorium on the death penalty. In July of this year, the death penalty was officially abolished. In 2010, the state’s murder rate was 5.5 per 100,000 people. In 1998, two years before the moratorium, the rate was 8.4 per 100,000, indicating a sharp decline following the institution of its moratorium. For comparison’s sake, Wisconsin’s murder rate in 2010 2.7 per 100,000; it was 3.6 in 1998.

These stats (and others like them) indicate that there isn’t a correlation between deterrence and lower rates of murder; in fact, if anything they show the opposite, though there are misnomers for both pro- and non-death penalty states. Still, the evidence seems to show that states with the death penalty, on average, have higher rates of murder than states without it, indicating deterrence is failing in those states.

There’s also the question of whether death serves as a proper punishment for the crimes committed, though this is less empirical and more substantial thought than anything else. Regardless, the question still begs to be asked: is death too “good” of a punishment for these offenders? For me personally, I’d hate to spend my entire life in a prison cell, removed from society and forced to live the life of a prisoner. Death may be a salvation rather than a punishment for many of these offenders. Does the death penalty serve as an easy way out for these violent offenders?

Those are just the practical arguments against the death penalty, and they form a pretty good case against the practice on their own. But there is more to be said, from a moral point of view, that should cause us to rethink this method of punishment in our legal system.

Firstly, the death penalty turns the state into a hypocrite. We tell citizens that the act of murder is a terrible thing, that it’s unacceptable in our society to kill another unless it’s in self defense. The punishment for this crime? We will ourselves kill a defenseless individual. It doesn’t make any sense to say that all killings are wrong, except those killings that we carry out. It also provides justification to those without a conscience that the idea of SOME killing as a path towards justice outside of the law is acceptable, a notion that should not be disseminated.

Second, the death penalty is absolute -- that is, there isn’t any going back once it’s carried out. New evidence or technological advances in forensic investigation techniques may determine an individual who was executed was actually innocent -- yet, nothing can be done about it. The system of punishment that claims to be just leaves no room for justice for those struggling to prove their innocence. Justice under the law shouldn’t have a time frame like this; it should be indefinite.

A jury of your peers won’t ever be considered infallible; they can be wrong, can render a judgment that implicates you in a crime you didn’t commit. Should they be particularly disgusted with your crime, they will submit to the court that you should be put to death. This happens more often than people like to admit -- and yet, we just let it slide, pretend it’s no big deal?

A jury’s mistakes shouldn’t result in an innocent’s death. We should recognize this infallibility as possible, err on the side of caution rather than on the side of preferred vengeance. Support for a system that has been shown time and again to have made mistakes puts the entire idea of justice under the law on its head. Both the practical and moral reasons behind abolishing the death penalty make more sense than keeping the flawed practice in place.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Van Hollen refused to help in John Doe investigation

Refusal to assist raises more questions within "Walkergate"

The John Doe investigation into whether Scott Walker's administrative staff (back when he was Milwaukee County Executive) used public resources to do political work is gaining steam. Cognitive Dissidence has a great explanation on what is fast-becoming known as "Walkergate" throughout the Wisconsin blogosphere.

A new aspect into that investigation was revealed yesterday. State Attorney General JB Van Hollen was asked to assist in the investigation last November -- but Van Hollen refused to lend his assistance and that of the highest legal office in the state.

Now, with the seizure of evidence from Walker's employees' homes, it's clear that there's substantial merit to the claims within "Walkergate." At least, the FBI seems to think so.

You would think that Van Hollen would have wanted to take part -- he is, after all, the "top cop" in the state of Wisconsin. But the mere fact that he won’t even look into the matter in a joint investigation with the feds sounds the alarm of concern over whether Van Hollen, himself a Republican, refused to take part due to his political allegiances rather than his constitutional oaths.

Admittedly, there isn't any evidence to substantiate this notion. But it warrants asking, if simply to point out the irony of it all, whether JB Van Hollen refused to involve himself in an investigation on improper political use of country resources BASED upon political pressures or preferences.

At the very least, Van Hollen did a disservice to the people of Wisconsin for refusing to take part in the investigation. These are pretty serious (and apparently legitimate) allegations against Walker and his administrative staff, many of whom followed the governor to Madison when he assumed office.

Unfortunately, doing a "disservice" to the state is the best-case scenario in this situation. At worst, it would appear that our state AG is engaging in the very behavior that is under investigation in the first place.

Let's hope for the "best-case" option, that we’re dealing with an incompetent, lazy AG, rather than a corrupt one. The state can’t bear another controversy -- or the leaders behind them, it seems.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

What's the answer to Obama's poor polling? Move further left

Americans support progressive policies of president, want him to challenge the GOP

Political strategist James Carville said last week that President Barack Obama needs to start getting into "panic" mode when it comes to his re-election bid next year.

Carville is wrong -- the president need not panic. He simply needs to be more bold, act as the progressive candidate Americans elected in 2008.

I've pointed this out in the past, and it stands to reason that it's still true: Obama's polling numbers aren't dismal because he's too liberal, but rather because he's not liberal enough.

There's proof of this in the latest polling data available to us. The CBS/New York Times poll released just last week shows that President Obama has the lowest approval rating he's ever received from that poll -- just 43 percent of Americans approve of his job performance, while 50 percent disapprove.

But that doesn't mean that Americans are turning to conservatism to fix the country. Only 19 percent of Americans approve of the job performance of Republicans in Congress. What's more, the major initiatives that Obama has been pushing in the past week -- namely increases in tax rates for the wealthiest of Americans -- receive strong support as well.

In fact, a poll last month (PDF) shows that a plurality of Americans don't consider Obama "too liberal" at all. 48 percent of Americans don't feel Obama is too liberal or too conservative. Only 36 percent felt he was too far to the left.

In that same poll 42 percent of Americans felt that Democrats in Congress were too liberal. But a larger number, 48 percent of Americans, felt that Congressional Democrats were either "on the mark" (36 percent) or "too conservative" (12 percent).

What does this all mean? We need to look into what's driving Obama's approval numbers, or rather what's driving them down. If the president wants more Americans to approve of him, he needs to move more to the left, not to the right. And if he's to win in 2012, he needs to distance himself from Republican priorities -- in short, he needs to stop placating the GOP and start working with Americans' interests at heart.

More Americans, in fact, want him to challenge Republicans than to work with them. That is perhaps the most important stat to take away from this poll.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Walker admin struggling to employ the state

Employment numbers from Doyle years match those from last month

I just felt like adding some more evaluation to the Wisconsin jobs numbers from last August, which were released just last week.

As I pointed out this past weekend, the job numbers from last month aren't impressive. Indeed, while the Walker administration may be able to claim that more jobs have been created this year, overall employment has decreased -- more Wisconsinites were employed in January, when Scott Walker assumed office, than were employed in August (by a margin of 3,300).

But the number of Wisconsinites who are currently employed in the state in August is also lower than a different time in our state's history. For instance, Walker's job numbers from August (2,816,003) are actually lower than the last month that former Gov. Jim Doyle was in office, by 1,039 (Doyle's last month total was 2,817,042).

But that's not the only bad news. In July of 2009, in the midst of the economic meltdown, the nation's unemployment rate was 9.5 percent while Wisconsin's rate was 9.2 percent. Yet in spite of those numbers, the state still had more individuals employed than was had in August of this year. 2,820,395 people were employed in the state of Wisconsin at that time.

In other words, 4,392 more people were employed at that time than were last month.

Wisconsin is headed in the wrong direction. After eight months of Walker's rule, his tax cuts to supposed "job creators" has failed to employ more Wisconsinites. A change is drastically needed, a departure from the current policy required, to put our state back on track towards recovery.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Assessing August's -- and Walker's -- job numbers

Still think Walker's "reforms" are adding jobs? Think again.

The latest employment numbers are out, and it's not good news. Wisconsin saw a drop in employment, which the Department of Workforce Development addressed this week.

However, despite a loss in jobs and a growth in our unemployment rate (from 7.8 in July to 7.9 in August), the DWD tried to keep things positive (PDF):
Even during these challenging times for our nation’s economy, Wisconsin has added manufacturing jobs over the month and, since December 2010, has outpaced the nation’s rate of manufacturing job growth by more than double,” Secretary Baumbach said. “And while Wisconsin showed a slight drop in private-sector job totals during August, we’ve created a net 29,600 private sector jobs this year, reflecting a rate of growth that is stronger than the nation’s. Overall, we are on a positive path and we expect to see continued improvement over the long term.
The important part about that statement is that it's not comparing the total number of jobs created so far during the Walker administration. That statement is based on jobs created in the year from the current date to 365 days ago -- so, from August 2010 to August 2011.

It's also comparing the total number of jobs in the private sector alone, not jobs altogether. Let's compare those numbers, using the same data DWD is looking at. From August 2010 to August 2011, total number of jobs (both public and private sectors) went up by 24,700.

So what about during Walker's term? Using the data that DWD uses, total jobs, both public and private, went up by 22,400, which would seem to imply most of the job gains from the past year (again, August to August) were due to reforms passed by Walker.

However, the numbers that DWD are using aren't entirely honest.

DWD uses numbers from the Current Employment Statistics (CES) survey, which measures the number of jobs created based on payrolls provided. There's a significant problem, however, with using that data set:
The headline jobs number from the CES survey (also know as the establishment or payroll survey), counts the number of employees on employer payrolls...

Imagine an individual already working part-time takes a second part-time job to increase his income. On the CES survey, one more job has been added.
A more accurate jobs survey, and the one primarily used to measure unemployment, is the Current Population Survey (CPS):
The CPS employment number comes from a survey of households for employed individuals (thus its alternative name -- the household survey). The CPS is also where the unemployment rate data comes from...

The CPS, however, does not count [a combination of two jobs for one person as two] in its employment number because the person was already employed and they're counting employed individuals not unique jobs. So while the CES employment number would go up when this person takes the new part-time job, the CPS employment number would remain the same.
This changes things drastically.

Earlier this week, I wrote a post that addressed the number of jobs created this year by the Walker administration. The data I looked at for that post used numbers from the CPS, not the CES survey.
Wisconsin's job numbers since Walker took office haven't been stellar. When Walker became governor, Wisconsin had 2,819,301 citizens with a job, and a 7.4 percent unemployment rate. In July, Wisconsin had a higher unemployment rate (7.8 percent) and a lower number of Wisconsinites with jobs (2,818,998). (Jobs data obtained at the Bureau of Labor Statistics,
Those numbers were comparing January of this year to July's employment assessment using CPS numbers. Let's now compare August's employment report to the beginning of this year.

August saw a fall in employment numbers. The CES numbers show a drop of about 2,300 jobs. But remember, CES is total number of jobs lost, not the total number of people who became unemployed. The CPS numbers, which reflect that standard, show that 2,969 people actually lost their job status of being employed.

The year-to-date totals are even worse to mention: The total number of employed Wisconsinites in August was 2,816,003. In January, the total number of employed persons was 2,819,301, a difference of 3,298 individuals losing employment status since Walker took office.

Interestingly enough, looking again from the August 2010 to August 2011 numbers, Wisconsin actually gained jobs overall (10,982). But net gains from that time period were mainly from the Doyle administration, not Walker's. Between August 2010 and December 2010, Wisconsin added 12,021 more individuals to the status of "employed."

To be fair to Walker, jobs continued to increase during the first half of this year -- from January to May, Wisconsin saw an increase of more than 24,903 individuals employed. But from May to August, that number was eliminated entirely (plus some), with the total amount of employed Wisconsinites in the state lessened by 28,201 in just 3 months' time.

That short upward blip could be from a number of factors -- including conditions that may still have carried over from when Doyle was governor.

That can't be definitively concluded, but this statement can be: that blip was part of an upward trend in job increases that began while Doyle was governor, uninterrupted from August 2010 by any loss in job numbers; the sudden decrease in the number of employed individuals, however, was during Walker's term alone.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Protester douses Rep. Vos with beer

Speech rights aren't protected when actions become harassment

I recently wrote a post regarding Rep. Robin Vos’s distaste with Madison police, and how his consideration (alongside that of Glenn Grothman’s) to stiff the city of Madison of reimbursement for the officers’ service (which these lawmakers deemed inadequate) was inappropriate. More on that in a later post as well.

For right now, I feel it's also necessary for me to comment on another event involving Vos, one in which he was the victim this time around.

A Racine-area protester who has frequently protested against Rep. Vos turned himself in last night for pouring beer on the Republican legislator in a Madison bar earlier this week. He was charged with disorderly conduct, and was issued a citation by Madison police.

You'd be hard-pressed to find me telling anyone that their form of protest is inappropriate -- even those I disagree with politically have the right to confront their lawmakers about issues they feel passionately about. But when your version of protest becomes harassment, a line has been crossed. When your actions interfere with another person's life (through threats, direct violence, and yes, even beer) you cross that line and your speech rights are no longer protected.

Furthermore, these actions become fodder for conservative foes, who see these acts as justifying their warped views of the protesters in Madison, who have for the most part been peaceful. It's hard enough to defend the movement's goals to someone already so hard-headed -- it makes it nearly impossible to do so when someone from "our side" does something as foolish as what Miles Kristan did to Rep. Vos.

We should continue to find creative was to protest the mess that Walker & Co. have put us into. But harassment of individual lawmakers is not the way to carry out our goals.

Pat Robertson encourages divorce for Alzheimer's couples

Inconsistencies in marriage vows, rights for others, within troubling comments

Who Would Jesus Divorce? For Pat Robertson, the answer is obvious: people with Alzheimer's.

When asked a question regarding a cheating husband whose wife was suffering from the debilitating disease, the Christian leader had a very unorthodox answer -- he actually suggested that the husband divorce his wife, comparing the disease to already being dead.

"I know it sounds cruel," Robertson explains, "but if he's going to do something, he should divorce her and start all over again."

Robertson's answer is bizarre for a plethora of reasons. For starters, most marriage vows (certainly close to all in Christian marriages) ask couples to remain faithful and supportive of one another, "in sickness and in health, till death do [they] part." But Robertson suggests otherwise, that a partner with a terminal illness grants the other partner the "religious right" (pun not intended) to depart from those vows.

So if they've got the sniffles, stick with them. If their prognosis is bad, hey, there are plenty of fish in the sea. Why not start "fishing" now?

Sarcasm aside, the comments are troubling for yet another reason: for a man who spends a lot of his time railing on and on about the sanctity of marriage (usually as a justification for barring state-sanctioned marriages to gay and lesbian couples), Robertson sure doesn't find much fault with straight couples who abuse the privilege.

Now, I don't claim to be a theologist of any kind, nor am I saying that there ought to be restrictions on when divorce can occur. What is important to note here, however, are the inconsistencies between Pat Robertson's beliefs on marriage. Either the practice is sacrosanct, or it's not. Excluding a group of people in a state marriage based on rules you make in your own religious beliefs is wrong on its own; but giving those you permit to partake in the practice free reign and even encouragement to break those rules, while still excluding others who'd happily live by them, is even worse.

Robertson needs to reassess his stances on marriage, both politically and from a religious point of view. His inconsistencies with the issue do a disservice to those who are unfortunate enough to consider him a leader.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Grothman and Vos show disrespect to Madison police

Republican Joint Finance Committee members consider stiffing the city of Madison

Republicans on the Joint Finance Committee are having a difficult time figuring out what to do about the expenses for law enforcement during the Capitol protests earlier this year...likely due to how hostile they want to be towards Madison police.

Sen. Glenn Grothman and Rep. Robin Vos, both Republicans, decided to let their tempers flare over the events from earlier this year. Grothman had particularly unkind words for former Mayor Dave Cieslewicz.

"I hope you're aware that the mayor of Madison clearly would have preferred his police officers to stay on the other side of the (Capitol) Square," Grothman said.

Ironically, Grothman's words, typically the most outlandish in other instances, paled in comparison to Vos's, who claimed that there were "legitimate concerns about actions of individual officers" during the protests.

There seems to be a bit of confusion on the part of Vos and Grothman -- first, the mayor never directed his officers to do anything but uphold the rule of law and protect others within the crowds; and second, the people who benefited from this protection the most were Republican legislators, such as Grothman and Vos themselves.

That the two legislators would suggest otherwise, questioning the integrity of law enforcement personnel who served them nobly, is "almost a slap in the face," to borrow the words of Chief Noble Wray. But these two, in considering stiffing the city reimbursement of funds on that fabricated basis, go beyond even a slap in the face, and demonstrate the way these Republicans wish to legislate, employing pettiness and revenge towards a city that's merely politically unaligned with their own personal beliefs.

It's astonishing that people like Grothman and Vos choose to govern this way, especially at a supposed time of bipartisanship. It's a shameful display of the arrogance these legislators have, a perverted version of the elitism they claim to abhor.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Well, isn't THAT convenient: Reid Ribble moves out of Congressional district

Redrawn districts to include old home of freshman Congressman

Reid Ribble really wanted to run for Congress.

He wanted to run so badly, in fact, that he put his house up for sale last year because it was outside of the district he wanted to run in.

He leased an apartment in the town of Lawrence, officially becoming a citizen of the 8th Congressional district of Wisconsin. This allowed him to run, successfully, against Democratic incumbent Steve Kagen.

But now, Ribble is doing something, well, unorthodox. He's moving back to his old home, outside of the 8th Congressional district.

Don't worry, though: this isn't a major problem. Legislative Republicans redrew the district maps, thus changing the landscape of the Congressional districts all across the state.

And wouldn't you know it! Reid Ribble's old home is now in the 8th Congressional district!

Old District 8 map (District 8 in purple)

New District 8 map (District 8 in green)

If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck...

Monday, September 12, 2011

Scott Walker cautions state on his jobs pledge

Governor now says 250,000 jobs goal will be tough to reach

This past weekend Gov. Scott Walker spoke with WISN's Mike Gousha about the state of jobs in Wisconsin. Walker admitted that maintaining his campaign pledge of 250,000 new jobs in Wisconsin will be tough.
Gousha: Do you have to revise your expectations for what you can do in Wisconsin? You promised 250,000 new jobs, 10,000 new businesses, do you have to look at those numbers and say maybe that’s just not realistic?

Walker: Well, there are certainly some who may look at the numbers and suggest that may be the case. My goal is to still get there -- my goal is to actually exceed that amount. We’re still going to keep pushing.

Gousha: Is it going to be tough to reach that?

Walker: Oh, I think without a doubt.
This is especially true given that Wisconsin's job numbers since Walker took office haven't been stellar. When Walker became governor, Wisconsin had 2,819,301 citizens with a job, and a 7.4 percent unemployment rate. In July, Wisconsin had a higher unemployment rate (7.8 percent) and a lower number of Wisconsinites with jobs (2,818,998). (Jobs data obtained at the Bureau of Labor Statistics,

In other words, we've netted a slight loss in the first seven months since Walker took office.

But Walker, in the face of this realization, doesn't miss a beat. Rather than take responsibility for the drop in job numbers, he deflects blame to the national government:
Walker: You look at the national economy, the meltdown in Washington between both Democrats and Republicans over the debt, what that did to the financial market...we need to find ways to break through that.
That argument might work for Walker...if it weren't for the fact that the recent market stumble and the fallout from the clash between Republicans and Democrats over the debt ceiling had actually happened in August, and not in July.

We've seen this spin before: Walker is placing blame where it doesn't belong, at least in the last month where data is available. But let's examine his argument further, compare job losses nationally to Wisconsin.

In June of this year, Wisconsin's unemployment rate was at 7.6 percent. The U.S. overall unemployment rate was 9.2 percent. From June to July, both Wisconsin and the U.S. saw changes in their rates -- but in different directions. The U.S. unemployment rate went down .1 percent, to 9.1 percent, while the state of Wisconsin's unemployment rate went up .2 percent, to 7.8 percent.

It seems that Walker's idea that Wisconsin's job troubles are tied to the nation's at-large is wrong.

Now, there are many reasons why this may occur. If a larger labor force (the number of workers plus the number of unemployed) enters the market, unemployment can go up even with an increase in jobs. However, in Wisconsin the number of those in the labor force actually went down between June and July by more than 8,000 workers, and the number of workers employed went down by more than 12,000. In short, the jobs problem in Wisconsin is Walker's, not Washington's, to deal with.

Walker is wrong to pass the buck onto the national government for the state of Wisconsin's jobs outlook. He's also wrong to believe that the policies he's enacted (and has yet to enact) will benefit us. Wisconsin, and the workers within it, cannot afford to have Walker its governor much longer.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten years

Never forget

The events of September 11, 2001 will forever be etched into the memories of those who were alive to witness them. We must never forget that day -- the people who lost their lives, the heroes who sacrificed their own that day (and beyond), and the lessons of the past ten years that we have had to learn.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

DOT memo encourages trickery with new voter ID law

New policy tells employees to refrain from letting patrons know IDs are free

"While you should certainly help customers who come in asking for a free ID to check the appropriate box, you should refrain from offering the free version to customers who do not ask for it."

This is the new policy, put out by the state Department of Transportation, for the issuance of free IDs for the new voter ID bill. Rather than help people that come into the DMV to receive IDs for voting purposes, employees are now directed to refrain from mentioning those IDs are free, unless prompted from the patron themselves.

The move by the DOT is being criticized by many who see it as a poll tax -- and that criticism is entirely warranted. If the law is to issue free ID cards, then every effort to let people be aware of that policy should be made. Otherwise, some people will end up paying a fee simply to vote -- an unconstitutional practice.

Defenders of the move to suppress this information argue that it isn't exactly hidden -- indeed, signs at DMVs across the state will explain the ID card people need for election purposes is available to those who ask for it, at no charge. If people want free IDs for voting, all they have to do is ask.

But this isn't how we should run things. The DMV is a government-run institution, not an underground rave party. "Secret codewords" shouldn't be needed to take part in democracy, even if it's advertised openly. No one should have to pay any fee or tax in order to vote, and anyone who already has should be reimbursed for being misled by this new policy.

State employees shouldn't be encouraged or required to engage in acts of trickery. Government officials should instead push forward a policy of openness and honesty, especially when it involves democratic rights of the people.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

GAB seeks clarification for recall of governor, lieutenant governor

Recalls should require two petitions, one for each office

The Government Accountability Board is seeking an opinion from the office of the State Attorney General regarding the outcome of a potential gubernatorial recall. At issue is whether such a recall would remove the lieutenant governor as well, or if that officeholder would stay in place if the governor himself were to be successfully voted out.

For Democrats, the hope is that one recall petition/election would remove both Gov. Scott Walker and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch. If the opinion is otherwise, it means that two recall petitions -- and possibly two separate elections -- would be necessary to remove both Walker and Kleefisch.

Is that fair? Both the governor and lieutenant governor are elected within the same ticket (similar to the president and vice president), so it's reasonable to argue that both should be removed if the governor gets recalled.

But this is one instance where I must disagree with the Democrats, not because I want Kleefisch to stay in power, but because of a matter of principle. Even though this goes against my best interests, it's my belief that the lieutenant governor must be recalled separate from the governor.

Remove the politicians from the offices in question for a moment. The two are separate offices, separate people with separate responsibilities that are both subject to recall. Even though they are elected together, they perform different tasks within the executive branch of government.

If you still disagree, consider a different situation: suppose we were ONLY trying to recall the LIEUTENANT governor, not the governor himself. If that were the case, would we argue that both have to be recalled in order to remove the undesired lieutenant governor? That wouldn't make much sense -- and neither does removing the lieutenant governor in cases of gubernatorial recalls.

We could have a lieutenant governor that people felt was doing a great job, in spite of the governor's problems. People may wish to keep that person in office, while at the same time removing the governor. To preserve that possibility for the future, it's imperative that we recognize that the two should not be recalled as one. (With that said, I wholeheartedly support a Rebecca Kleefisch recall, too.)

We cannot tie two officeholders to one recall petition, and yet separate them in a scenario that is entirely different. Either they're together or they're not; and my rationale above shows that there could come a time when constituents would want to keep one and not the other.

Despite my wish to remove both Walker and Kleefisch simultaneously, recalls of both the governor and the lieutenant governor should require two separate petitions.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

How to stop a train wreck: what Obama needs to tell the American people

Stimulus worked, but more bold action is needed to fix economy, unemployment in the U.S.

President Barack Obama is set to give a speech on the need for revitalizing our nation's jobs situation. The Nation's John Nichols suggests it could become the most important speech of Obama's presidency. I have to agree with that assessment -- if the president is hoping to turn things around, to throw a Hail Mary to jump-start his re-election campaign, it will all depend on how the people view him on jobs.

So far in his presidency, however, most Americans are unimpressed.

To be sure, Obama has accomplished a lot. When you look at what he's done on paper, it's nothing short of remarkable. Obama faced an economic meltdown the way one might face a train barreling down the tracks toward them. Indeed, when it comes to stopping economic train wrecks, Obama might be the go-to guy to explain how best to do it.

That analogy is no exaggeration: when Obama took office, jobs were being lost at a rate of more than three quarters of a million per month; people were losing retirement plans, not to mention economic security; the auto industry was failing, banks too were failing, and Main Street was disappearing.

So how does one stop a train wreck? You throw everything you possibly can at it. Stimulus projects, tax cuts, aid to states -- Obama was criticized early and often by his GOP rivals over the costs of the stimulus, but few had any alternative plans as to how to fix the mess.

Despite the criticism, despite all that you might have heard, the stimulus worked. Our unemployment rate, which was dipping deeper and deeper as a result of the economic situation Obama's predecessor left us, slowed down, eventually halting and reversing course until it plateaued to where it stands today. Our economy is recovering, albeit at a slower rate than desired. Even Wall Street is doing better than when Bush left office, indicating that Obama's policies haven't hurt (perhaps even helped) the DOW Jones Industrial average gain by 4,000 points during the span of his presidency thus far.

None of this matters, of course, because Americans are still struggling. The basic measurement of how a president performs in office isn't shown in numbers or statistics, but how people are "feeling" during his tenure. And the people aren't "feeling" good right now.

Americans don't FEEL a better market. They don't FEEL a slowdown in layoffs when so many are still without work (though again, through no fault of Obama's policies). What the people feel is an economy still in shambles, still in ruin after the Bush administration left to Obama the task of stopping this train wreck. But Americans can't FEEL that Obama stopped the wreck; they feel only the effects of it, its aftermath and what it left behind.

It isn't enough for Obama to stop an economic train wreck; he has to fix the train itself, get it running right on the tracks again. Only then could Americans truly FEEL any accomplishment by Obama, even though he's already accomplished a great deal through the emergency policies his administration has enacted.

Obama faces several challenges -- along with this economic disaster, he also is having trouble with a dissatisfied base, which I believe is responsible for his dwindling poll numbers. If he can play his cards right, Obama can tackle both of these problems simultaneously, ahead of his 2012 presidential re-election bid.

Whatever he does, placating the middle -- or even the right -- won't help much. Another bold plan of action is needed. What's more, this time, unlike the original stimulus which was largely unpopular, the American people may actually desire it.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

No matter how you look at it, Gableman unfit to serve

Whether through insufficient memory or outright lies, Justice Gableman fails to serve Wisconsin

Illusory tenant has a brilliant post that digs deeper into the storytelling that State Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman has been up to lately.

Gableman made the claim that Justice Ann Walsh Bradley slapped him in the back of the head in front of other justices. But a few problems arose from his claim, including the date on which it happened as well as the fact that none of the other justices remember the event ever happening.

Both Justices David Prosser and Annette Ziegler told investigators (during the questioning involving Prosser's alleged neck-wrangling of Bradley) that they had heard of Gableman's fairy tale, but neither could say that they were present for it or actually witnessed anything like what Gableman described.

When previously confronted with a slip-up in his story, Gableman changed the facts of his story to fit the situation better. Will he do the same now, since no other justice is coming forward to corroborate his claims? It's rather odd that, according to Gableman's tale, out of a room full of his own colleagues none of the justices can confirm his account of what happened. So far, three have said it never happened, two have said that they've basically only heard the story from him, and one has had no comment on it. With this in mind, should we expect to hear a new explanation from Gableman next week?

Either way this pans out, there's a problem with Gableman. Either he has difficulties with his memory, in which case he may be mentally unfit to serve; or he has problems telling the truth, of fabricating a story to damage a fellow justice's reputation for political reasons, in which case he's ethically unfit. In both scenarios, the Wisconsin State Supreme Court is worse off for having Justice Gableman in its midst.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Justice Gableman's account of 2nd altercation has serious holes in it

Conservative justice claims Bradley "smacked him" on a date when the Court wasn't present

The recent spat (if you can call it as simple as that) between State Supreme Court Justices Ann Walsh Bradley and David Prosser brought about a lot of questions regarding the integrity of one of the members of our state's highest court. But new allegations -- this time levied by a conservative member against the liberal Bradley -- highlights how others on the Court may have integrity problems as well.

During the investigations against Prosser, Justice Michael Gableman told investigators that Bradley wasn't as innocent in the whole matter as she let on, describing an altercation between Bradley and himself involving a slap on the back of his head in response to disrespect Gableman allegedly showed towards Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson:
According to the sheriff's reports, Gableman said he was in a meeting with other justices, including Justice Patrick Crooks, who he said was "reading the horoscopes." Gableman said he made a joking comment to Abrahamson, calling her by her first name.

In response, Gableman said, "Justice Bradley came over to him, hit him on the back of the head and told him that he needed to show respect to the chief," according to sheriff's reports. He said he believed Bradley wasn't being playful because no one was laughing at the time.
Such allegations, if true, warrant an investigation against Bradley. However, it seems that the allegations made by Gableman can't possibly be true because there was no record of the Court even being in session at that time.

In fact, Gableman is the only justice on the Court that can corroborate this story. The only other justice who says she remembers hearing anything of it, Justice Annette Zeigler, can only do so because she remembers hearing the story from Gableman.

When confronted with this evidence against his claim, Gableman did something even more profound -- he changed the date of when the incident happened! According to his revised statement, the incident occurred in 2009, a year later than when he sad it had happened.

That doesn't stand by other aspects of his story, however, as Gableman told investigators it was a date he remembered "because it was his birthday and just weeks after he joined the court.

If that's how Gableman remembered the date, then it could only have occurred in 2008. If it occurred in 2009, then it was well after he had joined the Court. He either remembered the date that way, through remembering that he had just joined the Court, or he's full of BS.

If Gableman was a witness in his own courtroom, his testimony would have serious holes in it. He'd likely be dismissed by any court, Supreme or otherwise, for changing his story to fix the missing pieces within it. The fact that no other justice on the Court, even those aligned with him ideologically, has come forward defending his story, is further proof that he's likely making it up.

It seems we can't trust many of the Court's sitting justices, namely those on the right, based upon both their behavior and their lying to investigators. It's a sad sight when one of the most respected State Supreme Courts in the country is now one of the most abhorred.