Monday, June 25, 2012

Keep the recall process the way it is

Criticisms are unwarranted, and miss the point: recalls serve democratic purpose

With yet another article describing how lawmakers are calling for a change to Wisconsin's recall law, it's time once again to argue in defense of the current system.

There's no doubt that a majority of the state is suffering from recall fatigue. And exit polls from the election indicate that a majority of voters only want a recall to occur when "official misconduct" occurs.

Yet that wasn't the true foundation of recalls in our, nor any other, state. Recalls serve as a check for citizens to have on their representatives, to ensure that their interests are being promoted and that outside interests are limited -- especially those of a corporatist nature.

"Fighting Bob" La Follette, who championed the idea of a recall in Wisconsin at the start of the 20th century, expressed it best when he stated:
Whenever a representative government fails, it fails because the representative proves incompetent or false to his trust. Entrenched in office for his full term, his constituency is powerless and must submit to misrepresentation. There is no way to correct his blunders or to protect against his betrayal.
La Follette added, "I do not believe you will ever get any true representative government in the United States until there is in the hands of the people the power to recall the representative who betrays him." In other words, recalls grant the electorate the chance to change course, if they determine it's needed, after a politician has lost their confidence.

Egregious behavior definitely classifies as a reason to recall an elected official. Anytime a representative acts in a manner unbecoming to the office he holds, he should be held to account for those actions -- including criminal acts that he may have committed.

But recalls were never intended to be limited to that condition. Elections themselves are meant to place into office the people we feel are best able to serve our interests. Recalls are instruments used to get rid of "lemons" -- politicians that seemed great at the time of the original election, but turned out to have serious policy problems midway through their term.

Wisconsin has a lemon law for vehicles found to be defective after purchase. It makes sense that we also have a constitutional provision allowing for removing defective leaders.

The recall law should remain in place to protect voters from both egregious behavior and misrepresentation of the people's values.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Corporate campaign spending allows "speech rights times-two" for elites

Rights of individuals diminished when heads of corporations are allowed twice the speech rights of everyone else

Corporations aren't people. This shouldn't have to be said, but according to a majority decision of the Supreme Court in 2010, corporate spending in elections cannot be restricted.

The rationale? That corporations, because they are made up of individuals who have interests and stakes in various elections across different levels of government, are indeed people.

That rationale is skewed, however, because it assumes that those individuals don't have the ability to express their interests without use of the corporate dollar. But CEOs making millions of dollars a year don't need to use their company's profits to promote a certain candidate for office -- they can simply contribute their incomes, the same way every other person who doesn't run a company does.

In fact, that's the main difference between a real person donating to a campaign and a corporation making a sizable contribution to a political action committee. On the one hand, a person -- a real, living, breathing individual -- earns their income, determines a candidate to support, and makes a decision to do so by providing a portion of their income to the candidate or committee of their choice.

A corporation, on the other hand, uses profits from sales of its goods or services, relying on dollars not given to real, living, breathing people. Those making the decisions for the corporation determine where the money goes to, yet they do so using money that's not technically theirs but that of the company itself.

While that may seem like nit-picking, consider this: if a corporation is a group of individuals, how is it restricting their individual rights by stating that they cannot use corporate dollars to donate to a campaign, but must rather use their OWN individual salaries to do so?

That's the grand problem with corporate influence in our elections: it allows citizens who have control over corporate wealth to use speech rights twice -- essentially, granting those individuals greater control over the discourses of our political process than those who don't have such powers.

A worker for a company might be able to put $2,500 towards the campaign of "Candidate A" (the maximum federal limits for individuals), but when the CEO of the company can put $2,500 towards "Candidate B" in ADDITION to UNLIMITED dollar amounts from the corporation towards the political action committee of their choice (which may support "Candidate B"), it renders the worker's speech rights almost moot.

Additionally, not all of that money from the corporation is the CEO's to spend as he likes -- a portion of it is derived from the worker's labors. Where is his speech rights when it comes to how the company he works for donates to political campaigns?

The answer: it's non-existent.

Campaign spending laws in their present form allow corporate leaders to squander other individuals' liberties. By granting companies the ability to donate to political action committees, we give corporate elitists "speech rights times-two." There shouldn't be any "multipliers" of rights for any individual, regardless of whether they run a business or not; yet this is precisely the way we do things in America.

Such "multipliers" don't grant additional rights, but simply diminish the rights of others to be involved in the political process. Campaign spending should be equal among individuals, even between those that do run a corporation and those that don't.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Eric Hovde summons ghosts of Nixon and McCarthy, calls Baldwin a communist

Conservative candidate for senate uses history's worst campaign tactics for political gain

Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Eric Hovde is gaining traction. This past week, he gained the all-important (though not necessarily exclusive) endorsement of Wisconsin Right-to-Life, seen by many as necessary for any GOP candidate to obtain in order to have a chance in the primary this fall.

Yet Hovde, whose political resume is almost non-existent (but claims to be qualified for office based on his business career), has had some problems with recent comments. Recently, Hovde stated he was sick of the media too frequently portraying poor people's woes as "sob stories."
Stop always writing about, 'Oh, the person couldn't get, you know, their food stamps or this or that.' You know, I saw something the other day - it's like, another sob story, and I'm like, 'But what about what's happening to the country and the country as a whole?' That's going to devastate everybody.
Insensitive comments aside, Hovde is again in the news for a statement he made against his potential Democratic rival, current U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin. Hovde claimed that Baldwin was the most liberal member of Congress, and implies that she's a Marxist, among other things.
Her philosophy has its roots in Marxism, communism, socialism, extreme liberalism -- she calls it progressivism -- versus mine, which is rooted in free-market conservatism.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

May jobs report fails to inspire

Gains in May come primarily from public sector

File this month's jobs report under "at least we're moving forward" (even if it's at a snail's pace).

May's jobs report (PDF) shows that Wisconsin gained jobs during that month, and revised numbers from April also show some gains as well. Unfortunately, those gains are barely worth taking note of, and in the end the state's unemployment rate went up by a tenth of a percent.

From April to May, Wisconsin gained 2,600 jobs. Those gains represent about 0.095 percent of the total number the state now currently has, barely a significant gain. In total, Wisconsin has about 2,736,300 jobs -- about 4,300 jobs LESS than what we had when Walker assumed office.

When you look at private sector job growth, May's report sounds even worse. Wisconsin only gained 900 private sector jobs from April to May. Walker needs significantly more than that to reach his jobs pledge of 250,000 jobs before his first term ends.

In fact, since Walker became governor, there has only been a net gain of 6,800 private sector jobs.

Consider the governor's record thus far. In 18 months, he's had a net gain of 6,800 jobs, less than 378 private sector jobs created per month on average. From the start, to create 250,000 jobs in four years, Walker originally needed more than 5,208 jobs per month.

Now, Walker needs 243,200 more jobs in 30 months' time -- or roughly 8,107 jobs per month from this point on.

When you look at jobs from this standard, it's clear that Walker has failed. But even by his own standards, the governor's record on job creation is still dismal.

No matter how you look at it, the reforms Scott Walker continuously touts as "working" are, in reality, failing our state.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Skepticism warranted over governor's call for "compromise"

Walker needs to show he's serious about compromise before he's to be believed

UPDATE: Others have now signaled that they intend to skip the brat-and-beer summit, including legislative members from both Democratic and Republican persuasions.

Assemblyman Mark Pocan announced today that he doesn't intend to attend Gov. Scott Walker's "beer and brat" summit.

Walker's invitation came following his recall victory last Tuesday:
"I'm going to invite all the members of the state legislature, Republican and Democrat alike, and what better way to bring people together than some brats and burgers, am I right?" Amid cheers, he continued, "And maybe a little good Wisconsin beer as well."
But Pocan remained skeptical of the invite, deriding the event as nothing more than theatrics for a governor with a real problem of being anti-cooperative:
I welcome the spirit of bipartisanship and I am prepared to sit down with the Governor and my friends across the aisle to create jobs and address the concerns of Wisconsinites. However, after people in my district, and statewide, worked tirelessly over the past months to let their voices be heard, I feel that I owe my constituents more results than sharing beer and brats at the Governor’s mansion.

Over the past 2 years, the Governor repeatedly refused to respond or even acknowledge requests to meet with him, roll up our sleeves and resolve our differences


The requests to have policy discussions stand: I am willing and ready to meet with the Governor. After last Tuesday, it's time for us to go back to work with a strong spirit of respect. Still, I refuse to be involved in what appears to be a media stunt -- true bipartisanship will only occur through concrete action made by Governor Walker. Those actions take real conversation in the State Capitol where we have been rebuffed over and over again.
Emphases added.

Pocan points it out marvelously that it's odd that Walker, who spent much of the election deriding his opponent's record using questionable statistics and exploiting the death of a young child for political gain, would want to try to bridge the great divide in Wisconsin.

His previous uses of bipartisanship (or lack thereof) have shown he's hardly serious on the matter. Take the spat over collective bargaining last year: when Democrats fled the state to avoid the quorum needed to pass the bill above their objections, it seemed that any chance for agreement was lost. Yet State Sen. Mark Miller kept it up, calling the governor's office when he could to try to reach Walker to strike a deal, asking for mutual respect and compromise.

Unfortunately, Walker was listening to someone else -- a prank caller who disguised himself as billionaire political donor David Koch. Miller's calls to strike a deal were pushed aside.

Even with moderates in his own party, Walker rejected compromise -- Sen. Dale Schultz, a Republican from southwestern Wisconsin, tried promoting an agreement wherein the removal of bargaining rights would only have been temporary, to be reinstated the next budget cycle.

That plan fell on deaf ears, and the hard-lined Republicans, along with Walker, went forward with their bill, again denying the chance of compromise even being discussed. Schultz ended up being the lone Republican to vote against it.

Want another example? Democrats and Schultz, again working together, didn't like a new bill that Republicans were putting forth regarding the deregulation of mining in the state. So, following the new make-up of the Senate after the legislative recall elections last fall, the 16 Democrats and Schultz -- composing a majority -- offered up a compromise bill, allowing for some deregulations to occur while still protecting the environmental interests of the people surrounding the region in question.

The rest of the Republicans, however, again with Walker on their side, said "no dice." They refused to let the compromise bill to even hit the Senate floor. Had it been able to receive a vote, it would have undoubtedly passed. Compromise was achieved, but not allowed to move the very people now calling for compromise and civility.

Now we find ourselves, a week after the recall election, still divided over many of the issues that face Wisconsin. Pocan's distrust of Walker's intentions are likely shared by half of the state -- while the other half are probably thinking that he's still behaving bitterly.

But while some might criticize Pocan for refusing to attend the event -- what kind of Wisconsinite can refuse beer and brats, after all?? -- he's right to be skeptical of Walker's motivations. Such an event does make good press, after all. However, when it comes to true compromise, Pocan is correct when he states that it will only come from action on Walker's part.

If Walker's serious about instituting real compromise following the recall, he has to show it rather than merely talk of it.

Friday, June 8, 2012

We were duped: Walker fooled us all on jobs in 2011

Governor, DWD hid evidence of losses during last half of 2011

There is some great analysis over a couple of spreadsheets obtained by the blog site Badger Democracy from the Department of Workforce Development.

Apparently -- and this is a shocker, I know -- Walker lied about those job numbers he kept saying would vindicate his first year in office.
The numbers Wisconsin DWD sent to US BLS shows an anemic gain of 19,248 jobs in 2011 – not the 23,000+ (later revised to 26,000+) the Walker Administration/Campaign heralded.


Scott Walker claimed he created 23,608 jobs in 2011. Based on the source of QCEW data, which he is citing, that number is only between 19,248 and 19,535. An overstatement of 16-20%. Those numbers are only accurate if the inconsistent data from the state’s own reporting is accurate. That is why this early data release was so misleading and misstated – nothing has been verified.
Emphases added.

So the unverified data showed that Walker's assessment of 2011 was off by around 4,000 jobs.

"But so what?" you might be asking. "19,000 jobs is still a significant growth in jobs." (Actually, it pales in comparison to the last year of Gov. Jim Doyle's job numbers, but let's go with it.) "You shouldn't be so critical of Walker for having a full year of job growth."

That might make sense -- were Walker actually responsible for those jobs created. As I've pointed out on this blog on countless occasions, Walker's budget wasn't implemented until the end of June 2011. In those previous posts, it was clear that Walker's budget stagnated the growth that had occurred at the beginning of the year -- which was created by an entirely different (and Democratic) administration.

How do Walker's own numbers (Excel) hold up to this trend? See for yourself:

A significant gain in jobs from the first six months, then a decline, a recovery, and then another decline in the following six months.

Overall, the first six months of 2011 -- again, when Doyle's budget was in play, not Walker's -- were a net gain. The last six months (Walker's budget) produced a net loss, halving the gains created in the first part of the year.

But, lo and behold, just weeks before the election was to take place, Walker released these numbers without the month-to-month breakdown. And the Department of Workforce Development refused to release them until after the recall. All we heard, then, was that more than 20,000 jobs were created in 2011. No context. No nothing.

Walker spun the numbers to make it sound as if he had been responsible for the job gains. In fact, he was responsible -- for cutting them in half.

We were duped. The job creation came under an entirely different budget. And after Walker passed his own budget, nearly 25,000 jobs were lost.

It's easy to win an election when you omit information that might jeopardize your victory. That Scott Walker used the Department of Workforce Development to conceal this knowledge is beyond reproach, a new low for this administration already accustomed to keeping Wisconsin in the dark about his record.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Notes on the recall

The work must go on if we're to remedy the situation in Wisconsin

It was admittedly difficult to get out of bed this morning. With the full understanding that Scott Walker would continue to sit comfortably in the governor's office (at least for now), that a majority of Wisconsinites either approved of his "reforms" or were so vehemently against the "other guy" that they were willing to look past Walker's obvious shortcomings, it's difficult to see how a brighter future in our state could can about.

But we cannot mope for too long -- we must re-group, assess what went wrong, and prepare ourselves for the challenges that are ahead of us.

We need to keep in mind that only 11 out of every 20 voters wanted to keep Walker in office. 11 out of 20 does not a mandate make. Furthermore, independents, mistakenly convinced that the recall process was only reserved for certain circumstances, won the election for Walker...but not necessarily because they support his ideals. And while we should worry that the recall may be endangered, we should continue to highlight our strengths and their attacks on the middle class.

I'm still convinced that, with the proper knowledge of what's really going on, the citizens of the state will come to understand that their governor is a bad fit for Wisconsin.

Money was a big player in this election. Walker broke all fundraising records, overwhelming Tom Barrett by inconceivable dollar amounts. We should be surprised even that Walker won by the margins he did, given the amount he raised. Indeed, the dollars-raised to voter ratio would show Barrett the winner (big time), which means his messaging was working -- it was just inundated by Walker's (and his third party supporters') relentless campaign to discredit the mayor's name through highly questionable means.

What this means is that we must dedicate ourselves to meaningful campaign finance reform. Through a fairer electoral system -- one in which the people, not the corporate elite, can positively utilize -- we will see a stronger and more educated citizenry that is able to comprehend both sides of the argument rather than simply being flooded with a single point of view.

We needn't change our values -- we should still support workers' rights, women's rights, strong education, care for the elderly and aid for the downtrodden. To abandon these issues would be disowning our values, and disregarding the right and just path for Wisconsin to take.

There is going to be plenty of finger pointing. Many may blame the president or the national party for failing to take seriously our state's struggles. Some may blame our own candidate for failing to provide a good reason to support him beyond the fact that he "wasn't Walker." Still, others may blame the voters themselves, deriding those who voted for Walker as delusional or misinformed, perhaps stupid even.

Many complaints will be valid to make -- but I reject that last one. Wisconsin made the wrong choice last night, but it did so because of two problems. First, the incumbent had the unlimited ability to raise funds, receiving corporate endorsements faster than a NASCAR driver. This allowed him to flood media markets with his distorted, fabricated record, making a case for his candidacy that was riddled with lies that couldn't be countered by his opponent.

Second, we failed to market our own candidate as the better option. Attacks on Barrett went unaddressed as we focused on problems with Walker instead. The two need to play off of one another -- a campaign that focuses on only one aspect (it's own candidate or the other) will fail every time.

Wisconsinites aren't stupid -- they're skeptical. Given the media they were spoon fed by the Walker campaign war chest, we shouldn't be surprised. We need to address our own mistakes, and figure out constructive ways to make sure we can take back the state from corporate control further down the line.

Mourn the outcome we've witnessed in the past 24 hours. Work harder tomorrow so that we won't ever mourn like this again.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Any way you look at it, Walker's reforms have hurt job numbers

Even by his own, unverified numbers, Walker's performance a dismal comparison to his predecessor's

A couple of job graphs to remind you that Walker didn't save the state, that his reforms aren't working for Wisconsin, and that any way you look at it things are worse under his watch.

First, some background. When Walker took over Wisconsin, the state was in the midst of a recovery. Like much of the nation, Wisconsin had been hit hard by the effects of the global economic recession, and had lost a lot of jobs as a result.

Gov. Scott Walker, in defending his record, wasted no effort in pointing this out, stating in no uncertain terms that his predecessor had lost 150,000 jobs during the three years before he (Walker) took office.

Again, to reemphasize the point here: during a catastrophic, global economic recession, Walker erroneously placed the blame solely on the governor's office. That isn't just spin -- it's irresponsible campaigning.

But Walker's point -- even if you look past the absurdity of it all -- ignores the fact that Wisconsin was in a recovery the final year of Gov. Jim Doyle's term.

That recovery continued even into Walker's term, up until March of 2011. At that point, however, Walker's rubber-stamp legislature passed his controversial Act 10, stripping state workers of their collective bargaining rights. Other "reforms," such as tax breaks for corporations and changes to tort laws, were passed in the early part of Walker's first year as well.

What's interesting to note about this graph is that, following Walker's budget being introduced, the number of jobs in the state never recovered to Doyle-budget era numbers.

There's no doubt, looking at these graphs, that Walker's reforms have failed to produce the jobs that Wisconsin desperately needs. Tom Barrett's criticism of the Walker administration's failure to focus on jobs is entirely warranted.

But perhaps you buy into Walker's claims that the Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers are off, that the new numbers Walker is trying to tout are more accurate indicators of his job performance.

Despite these numbers being as yet UNVERIFIED by the BLS, allow me to humor you -- let's assume Walker's incredibly optimistic numbers, which would indicate the biggest discrepancy in BLS history, are accurate. Even with that assumption -- a big leap to make -- Walker's job gains come at a slower rate than his predecessor's.

In other words, our state suffered a slowdown as a result of Walker's "reforms," a reduction of 30 percent from Doyle's last year in office.

And yet, we're led to believe that things "are working" in Wisconsin under this governor? A slowdown of more than 10,000 jobs isn't an improvement. It's a sign that things are failing, or starting to fail, under Walker's rule.

That's where we find ourselves on jobs, one day before the recall election is set to commence. Walker has either done worse for Wisconsin as governor, or he's done A LOT worse. Either way, it's definitely NOT working.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Some thoughts on the 2nd Amendment

"Right to bear arms" doesn't mean restrictions don't exist

In an effort to ensure I don't get burned out the weekend before the is a non-recall essay on the 2nd Amendment.

People always assume that liberals are against the right to have weapons. We're not -- we're for sensible regulation of weaponry, not an outright ban. There are a few fringe liberals who WOULD like to see weapons banned completely, but they're like the number of conservatives who protest soldier's funerals because of tolerance of homosexuality in America.

But I digress. Is regulation of the 2nd Amendment bad? Consider this: no other amendment to the constitution is an absolute. There are limits on speech; there are limits on 4th Amendment protections. The 9th and 10th Amendments don't give me free reign to claim I have other inherent rights without proper reason.

Yet many conservatives fight ardently for an absolutist approach to the 2nd Amendment. This isn't necessarily something they SHOULDN'T do -- many fight for absolute free speech as well, though protections to that degree may be impractical (if not foolish -- divulging secrets to our enemies isn't protected speech, for example). A defense of any amendment should be a strong one, and those who feel passionate about gun rights should defend them.

Yet, the 2nd Amendment is no more special than any other -- that is, we shouldn't be surprised by people's insistence that SOME restrictions deserve to be in place.

In short, regulations make sense if they're done in a sensible fashion. Banning weapons outright would be wrong, but allowing ownership of an indeterminate number of weapons could have dire consequences. An unrestricted 2nd Amendment could, in fact, lead to an argument that private ownership of nuclear arsenal is legitimate -- something that most, I believe, would agree isn't a right at all.

There should be impassioned arguments over what should be and shouldn't be restricted in terms of 2nd Amendment rights. Not having those arguments might lead to an overreach by the government against the rights of individuals to defend themselves. But stating that the 2nd Amendment is an absolutely inviolable right is a mistaken view to hold -- there are limits to rights, though the burden of proof on those limits always rests with the government, to make a proper defense of why it's both necessary and practical.

Restrictions on weaponry, when they fit that bill, are not unjust. Be on the guard for attacks on any right -- but some restrictions, too, make just as much sense as the right itself.