Monday, January 28, 2013

Abusrdity of Walker's "bow" claim goes beyond the lie

Governor questions our intelligence with comparison between dangers of bows versus guns

Gov. Scott Walker is a darling of the gun lobby. It’s not exactly a secret.

The NRA gave Walker nearly a million dollars to help him win his recall election last year. No doubt that contribution was in recognition of Walker’s efforts to bring about gun legislation that catered to the organization’s likings.

A concealed carry law allowing gun owners across the state to have weapons in public areas, as well as a “castle doctrine” law that allows you to shoot a person dead when you feel threatened (even when the supposed “assailant” is unarmed), have given Walker a boost to his already conservative credentials, especially among gun enthusiasts (and manufacturers).

It’s not all-too surprising, then, to see Gov. Walker making outlandish statements about guns. In the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings, however, many conservatives have tried to avoid the issue, while others have defended the Second Amendment wholeheartedly, believing the right to be an absolute one that can never be regulated.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Reject changes to Wisconsin's electoral vote allocation

The move to allocate based on district winners is entirely political

The recent push for states to change how they allocate their electoral college votes should be soundly rejected. The move is nothing more than an attempt by Republican lawmakers to diminish the outcomes that are favorable to Democrats while empowering their own electoral achievements. 

Were it any different, were this truly a sincere gesture toward ensuring districts hand out votes in a fair way, we would be seeing this move enacted in state legislatures where Republicans are the clear winners instead of battleground states. Why don’t states like Texas, with 34 Electoral College votes that typically all go to the Republican candidate year after year, have similar legislation being proposed?

The answer is because the Republicans aren’t interested in fairness. Instead, we’re seeing this plan hashed out in swing states where the races have been close but won by Democrats in recent elections. The move allows those votes to be split, while Republican-leaning states that would also be split under a similar model remains intact, with a winner-take-all system of allocating votes still the preferred method.

The move is clearly political. And it’s not just happening in states like Virginia or Pennsylvania -- the Badger state is a target, too.

Gov. Scott Walker, himself a Republican, has called the idea “intriguing.” Current Assembly Speaker Robin Vos previously co-sponsored a bill in 2007 that would have allocated Wisconsin’s electoral votes along these lines. And current GOP national chair Reince Priebus, formerly the chair of Wisconsin’s Republican Party, publicly backs the change in how battleground states should set their votes out.

If Wisconsin become the next state to do encourage this change, and if it is successful, it will diminish our state’s importance in future elections. With the electoral votes split up, candidates would no longer feel the need to come to our state but rather travel to other states that have kept the old way in place -- it makes more sense, after all, to spend more time in a state where a winner-takes-all system would get them more votes. Campaigning in either Madison or in Waukesha, on the other hand, would each only grant you one electoral college vote if you influence minds there.

Of course, the ultimate goal should be eliminating the electoral college altogether. The president should be elected by a system that allows every vote to count, to hold equal weight to another individual’s choice, whether they be from the same state or otherwise. Only through a popular voting mechanism is this possible.

But until that goal is realized, splitting up the electoral votes in one state while keeping the winner-takes-all system in others only lessens the importance of the former. And it works entirely to the advantage of a single party alone -- the Republicans.

This is nothing more than a power grab by the GOP. It should be rejected by any decent legislature, vetoed by any governor with half a spine and even an ounce of moral judgment.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The choice should be clear: say no to state voucher expansion

Studies indicate that choice schools do little to improve, on average, students' marks

U.S. News and World Report recently reported on rankings for graduation rates across the nation, released by the National Center for Education Statistics. While 78 percent of high schoolers nationwide completed their four-year degree (the best since 1974), Wisconsin saw an even better rate of completion, with more than 91 percent of students graduating high school in 2010.

That rate puts Wisconsin at number two across the nation, just behind Vermont. It’s a distinction that we should be proud of, one that demonstrates as a prime example our dedication towards education in the Badger state.

Unfortunately, that distinction may not be around for long: the data comes from graduates in the 2009-10 school year, before Gov. Scott Walker made the largest cuts to schools in our state’s history.

Now, with class sizes increased and resources cut in schools across Wisconsin, Gov. Walker and legislative Republicans are set to embark on expanding a new set of “reforms” they say will help our children: school vouchers.

Expansion of voucher program, proponents argue, would allow students to take the funds ordinarily given to their public school district and use them in private schools of their choice. The idea here is entirely capitalistic: parents will select only the best schools for their children to go to, and those that “fail” will see less enrollment.

But that idea removes much needed funds from schools already burdened with cuts. Having already lost hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue statewide, how much more can our public schools take?

Aside from that, there’s little evidence to suggest that voucher schools do better than public schools. The largest piece of evidence comes from Milwaukee, where a voucher program has been in place for more than twenty years.

Studies have shown that, overall, the students who qualify for a voucher and enter a new school have shown little-to-no improvement when compared to their counterparts who stayed in the Milwaukee Public School district. In fact, more evidence points to the contrary: that students in the voucher system performed worse.

When you compare reading and math scores from the 2010-11 school year (PDF), MPS schools show the same or better performances than average choice schools. In reading, the number of students who scored “proficient or advanced” in MPS were 60.7 percent, and 56.2 percent for students in MPS who were lower-income. Choice school students (who are all lower-income) had 52.3 percent of its students score “proficient or advanced.”

Green indicates measures where MPS students who are economically disadvantaged outperform choice school students. Red indicates measures where choice school students outperform MPS students. Blue indicates measures where neither MPS students nor choice school students outperform by more than three percent.
In eighth and tenth grades, the choice school students did outperform their MPS-counterparts in reading, but not by a statistically significant amount.

Overall, in fourth, eighth, and tenth grades, the number of choice school students who scored “proficient or advanced” in testing was only greater than MPS students who were economically disadvantaged in four categories: eighth grade reading and science, and tenth grade reading and science.

MPS students who were lower-income, meanwhile, outperformed their choice school counterparts in five of the categories: eighth and tenth grade math, and all three fourth grade subjects tested (math, reading, and science).

When looking at the numbers closer, it reveals that the differences where the choice school students fared better were particularly negligible. Of the four categories listed above where choice schools had a higher percentage of students performing at “proficient or advanced” testing levels, three of those categories are within only three percentage points, meaning that they performed at basically the same levels.

Choice schools outperformed MPS students facing economic challenges by more than three percent in only one of the nine categories listed above; those MPS students, on the other hand, outperformed choice students by more than three percent in four of the five categories they did better in.

Choice schools don’t make MPS students do better -- at best, the students who enter the voucher program do about the same as their MPS peers do. At worst, their marks go lower than desired.

Now, poised with an insurmountable majority in both houses of the state legislature, Gov. Walker has a choice of his own. Expand the voucher program, or fund the public schools he recently gutted.

Which choice do you want him to make?

Monday, January 21, 2013

We honor Dr. King by keeping his dream alive

The fight for equality is a long road faced by many

Dr. Martin Luther King’s vision for America is not yet fully realized. Not when so many still judge a person on their skin color, their gender, or their preference for whom they choose to love.

We have come a long way since 1963, when King made his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. But we have a long way to go before the tenets of that speech are fully realized. Roads still lie ahead to be traveled, hearts and minds to be won, before the King’s words ring true in our land.

His vision for America didn’t stop at race -- he fought hard for equality not just among whites and blacks, but for many other people who had been victimized by stigmas and lack of power in society.

I have no doubt in my mind that today, King would be on the side of encouraging rights for others beyond just racial discrimination. His words would be hypocritical were it otherwise. The man who is profiled based upon his skin color, the woman who is passed over for promotion despite having stronger credentials, and the couple who can’t express their love in a legal fashion, all face similar struggles against a wall of unyielding hatred. That wall must come down, their struggles overcome, if we are to call our nation a tolerant and just one.

Should we judge a man based on his color or heritage? Should we discriminate him based on his apparent upbringing, on the stereotypes and lies conjured up by a bigoted few? King lived his life fighting against such ideas, believing that the content of a man’s character, and not his family lineage, should be the sole judgment of who he was.

So true were his words then -- and they remain true today, for classes of people King had yet to fight for before his death.

His struggle in his own time, he knew, would not come easily -- “We are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied, until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

And so it is that, even today, nearly 45 years after his assassination, we still strive to make our nation a nation of equality. The struggles continue, but they are struggles well-worth fighting for, until every person sees justice and is treated fairly.

The “promissory note” that King described and that our founders issued in our nation’s birth promised us a nation that would bestow justice FOR ALL, the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness FOR EVERYONE. And though that promise has taken more than two hundred years to be realized, and is still yet to be fully realized, the path that our nation has taken has shown that the American promise of equality should continue to be our goal.

For what better barometer of equality exists for our nation to have, in terms of how it treats its citizens, than to say, “We shall judge you based on your merits -- based on your personal story, and not that of your skin color”? What better form of judgment is there to have, based on how a person conducts him- or herself, rather than whom they choose to love? What better way to say we truly believe in equality than to pay a person, regardless of gender, a decent and equal wage for the work they have done?

Yes, inequalities still exist -- and they will linger for years to come. But for as long as they exist, we as a just people must resist them. We as a just people must fight for equality, for a day when our children can soundly say that their lives were not affected by the whims and prejudices of the people who surrounded them, but by the actions and abilities that they themselves possessed.

That day will truly be a day when we can celebrate Dr. King’s words and his vision as complete. But until that day comes, we must never stop working towards progress, bringing about justice for all. The fight for equality must live on -- and we honor Dr. King every day that the fight endures.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Digging deeper into the "Choose your own crime stats" video

Viral video chooses its OWN stats in gun debate

I recently was asked to watch a video called “Choose your own Crime Stats,” in which the host of the video tells you a myriad of murder and violent crime stats that are meant to shock you. Mostly, they’re meant to make you skeptical of gun control legislation.

Many of the points that are made in the video do, at first glance, cause you to pause and consider the host’s point of view. Which is what any of us should do when we have a rational discussion about any topic.

But what I found fascinating about the video was the fact that it went ahead itself and “chose its own stats.” It disregarded several aspects of the debate, glossing over a whole decade of crime stats, as well as making unfair comparisons of the United States to Britain.

I had three main criticisms of the now-viral web video. Please consider them each, and make up your own mind: who really is choosing their own stats here?

Electoral reform needed at the state legislature

Current electoral outcomes yield unrepresentative control

More citizens in Wisconsin voted for Democrats than Republicans in Assembly races. Yet Republicans have a significant majority in that chamber.

The same is true on the national stage: more voters across the country endorsed Democratic candidates, and still the House of Representatives has a Republican majority.

The way our elections are set up enables each district to have a single representative, someone who is meant to represent a single geographical area in the legislature. Which is what we want -- people in the state and national legislatures representing our concerns, understanding the challenges that their constituents have.

But at the same time, it’s possible for a minority to reign over the will of the majority -- and that’s indeed what’s happening within both the state and national stages.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

NRA ad deplorable, even for NRA's standards

Using the president's daughters, gun organization misleads the public

The gun debate seems to have brought out the worst in some people. While most Americans try to have sensible debates and rational discussions on the matter of guns, others have gone an entirely different direction.

Some have errantly called the actions of the president -- even before he made his announcement today calling for stricter gun regulations -- tyrannical.

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul
even likened President Obama to acting like a king.

Obama’s actions are hardly monarchical -- indeed, the president has issued the lowest number of executive orders out of all the past presidents of the last one hundred years. None of his executive orders today imposes new policy, merely enforcing laws already passed. And he’s even recognized that his call for a new assault rifle ban requires passage through Congress.

But none of that seems to matter to the fringe right. It’s frightening that those opposed to his call for reasoned restrictions are going so far, with some calling for outright civil war if they are imposed. Nothing that Obama has done warrants such dialogue, much less any action of such magnitude.

Criticism of the president’s plan is one thing -- calling him a tyrant or advocating secession over his proposals is completely uncalled for.

Taking their own brand to even lower levels, the NRA is not lost from the list of the president’s critics who have crossed the line. Just a day after releasing a new shooting App video game (while previously claiming video games were the problem), the NRA has released an ad claiming the president is a hypocrite for being uneasy about guns in schools while his children are protected by armed guards.

That would be hypocritical -- were it not for the fact that the president’s life is constantly threatened. The president’s daughters warrant protection because Obama is receiving threats on a daily basis. Were your children receiving threats the likes of Obama’s family, it’s likely, too, that you’d receive some sort of police protection in your own community.

So the analogy that the NRA is trying to make is a far cry from reality. But that isn’t the real issue -- what’s really mind-boggling is how low the organization is prepared to go in order to score politically.

Using the president’s daughters in a deceptive ad like this is unprecedented. The NRA is acting shamefully, misleading the American public while taking the danger the president’s daughters face lightly.

For anyone to support such an organization, to endorse these opportunists who try to influence policy in such a disgusting way, truly boggles the mind.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Barron Co. Republicans should apologize to Pres. Obama

Notions that the president staged the Sandy Hook shooting should not be entertained

In light of the terrifying events that took place at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut last December, I wrote on the need to assess the Second Amendment for what it was: a right protected to individuals to defend themselves, but a right that, nonetheless, comes with reasonable restrictions, as do all rights.

Several gun owners across the country have shown that they disagree with such a notion. Alex Jones, who appeared on Piers Morgan’s CNN show to defend his beliefs, stated that “1776 would commence again” if the government attempted to institute any regulations. Others have (errantly) compared the push to regulate with Adolph Hitler, whose gun reforms actually increased access to weaponry during the Third Reich, making that comparison seem rather foolish.

But what’s most remarkable among the gun-toting maniacs out there (not responsible owners, mind you) who oppose any action whatsoever are those who place blame of the Sandy Hook massacre on the president himself, believing that the event was a “false flag” scenario, completely staged to garner support for gun regulation.

A couple of university professors have come out and stated such a theory, and other conservative bloggers have voiced their “concerns” as well.

Conspiracy theorists have forever been involved in describing such events as “something more,” with little or no evidence to prove their case. “Birtherism” has previously plagued President Obama, but was never taken seriously by the mainstream -- and nor should this idea, this idiotic belief that he was somehow involved in the shooting and killing of children, be entertained.

What’s puzzling is that, for how horrendous and outrageous an accusation this may be, some on the right have actually taken it seriously, including official members of the Republican Party.

The Barron County Republican Party recently posted a link on its Facebook page to a blog by a right-wing writer that described the Sandy Hook shooting as a plot by President Barack Obama to help him confiscate guns. They made that post on December 19, and though it has just received attention this week by mainstream audiences, they have since left it on their page without edit of any kind.

Dissemination of such radical ideas without basis or regard for fact like this is irresponsible, even for a small group of Republicans in northern Wisconsin. In a political climate that’s already hyper-charged in a negative way (in regards to ethics and etiquette), the last thing that a political party like this ought to do is add fuel to the fire...especially when it’s not based on any remote semblance of truth.

Rumors and innuendo are one thing. Blatantly entertaining the idea that the president was part of a greater conspiracy that took the lives of 20 innocent children (or of staging the whole thing) is, by contrast, a completely reprehensible action.

A proper debate on gun ownership and rights, and where those rights might end, cannot take place when those involved accusing the president of such outlandish crimes. When mistrust is perpetuated, when it is endorsed by a political party (even at the county level) and actively disseminated in an attempt to discredit opponents’ characters, the debate has nowhere else to go but down.

The Barron County Republicans have no courtesy, no respect whatsoever, for the office of the president. They should be ashamed of themselves, and if they wish to be taken seriously ever again, they need to remove that post, issue a statement explaining their actions, and apologize directly to President Obama.

You can contact the Barron County Republican Party by calling them at (715) 651-1684.


As of this posting, the Barron County Republicans have removed their posting from their Facebook page. There has not yet been a formal apology or acknowledgement of wrongdoing at this time by those involved.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Note to Gov. Walker: avoidance is not “moderation”

Walker would rather we call him a moderate than actually be one

Gov. Scott Walker recently told the Wisconsin State Journal that he and his Republican allies in the legislature would be pushing for a more “moderate” agenda in the second half of his first term in office.
“We're not going to do things that are going to bring 80,000 or 100,000 people into the Capitol,” Walker told the State Journal in a recent interview. “It's just not going to happen again.”
While it’s commendable that Walker should seek out a more “moderate” agenda, saying he's moderate and actually sticking to it are two different things. Time will tell whether Walker’s agenda will truly be more inclusive, or whether it will turn out to be just as extreme as the first two years of his term.

Unfortunately, it seems as though Walker and Republicans aren’t proposing moderation for the right reasons. In fact, it seems more likely that it's being done in order to “save face” in the eyes of moderate voters.

Gov. Walker tries to portray himself as a "moderate."
Gov. Walker wouldn’t be the first to use “moderation” as a means to garner greater appeal. But his characterization of moderation is flawed, and not a true definition of the word.

For example, consider Walker’s “moderate” stance on eliminating same-day voter registration. Following the election last November, Walker was convinced that the decade’s-old practice of allowing Wisconsinites to register to vote on Election Day was worth getting rid of, despite having no shred of evidence that the practice did any harm to the voting process.

But Walker changed his mind when it was revealed that doing away with same-day registration would cost the state more than $5 million initially and several million dollars in subsequent years.

A moderate stance on the issue of same-day registration wouldn’t be changing your mind because it conflicts with your fiscal agenda; rather, it’d be changing your mind (or not even opposing the practice in the first place) because it conflicts with your beliefs on allowing people greater access to the polls.

Walker also came out strongly against a so-called “right to work” (for less) law reaching his desk. Though he didn’t say he would veto such a law, Walker did insist that it would be a distraction for the state, possibly creating protests much like those seen at the start of his tenure when he sought to destroy public sector workers’ rights.

While it’s good news that Walker won’t be actively pushing “right to work” in Wisconsin, it doesn’t exactly inspire confidence to hear him base his reasoning on such a battle being too much work for him to handle. It’s also important to keep in mind that, before he was governor, Walker once proposed a “right to work” law when he himself was working in the legislature.

Being a moderate isn’t saying you won’t do something because it’s too hard, or because it’d create too much of an uproar. Indeed, avoiding the subject rather than taking a definitive stance on it is in no way the definition of “moderation.”

Instead, a moderate considers the positions of two or more distinct ideologies, taking into account all points of view that are involved, and makes a rational decision on the subject that appeals to everyone, at least in some way.

Most important, a “moderate” is typically someone who isn’t a radical or extreme, in one direction or the other. They do take a stand on issues, but theirs stances aren’t usually the kind that cause the left or the right to be flabbergasted. Their de facto position, however, isn’t doing nothing at all on a matter, hoping to avoid confrontation from the public, as the governor is trying to make it seem.

If we take anything from this, it’s that Walker wants to be called a “moderate” more than actually being one. His stances aren’t in the middle -- and hiding those stances from the public’s eye doesn’t make him any less of a right-wing ideologue.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Why political compromise should inspire hope for 2013

From America's founding and onward, cooperation helped create a nation the envy of the world

2012 was a year of many things. We saw a man sky dive higher than anyone has ever jumped. We survived a few “end of the world” events, including the latest “scare” of the Mayan calendar. Technology in the palm of our hands grew, and our hearts swelled at the catastrophic events our minds could never have imagined.

Politically speaking, 2012 was a strange and frustrating year, one that encompassed contempt from the people for their lawmakers -- but specifically, disdain for the uncooperative among them.

The political winners of 2012 were mostly Democratic -- President Barack Obama cruised to re-election, Senate Democrats grew their majority, and Congressional Democrats took over many seats in the House that were lost in 2010. While most state governments remained Republican, much of that is attributed towards conservative gerrymandering -- even in Wisconsin, where the Assembly remained in GOP hands, more people in the state voted for Democratic candidates than Republican ones.

Yet even in winning, Democrats aren’t truly victors -- there remains to be a lot of work ahead, and plenty of challenges for lawmakers to face in the coming months, if not weeks.

The past year opened the eyes of many Americans to the political happenings that surround us. The people are starting to understand something important, a fact that frankly terrifies some Republicans: when it comes to having a cooperative spirit, towards working with one another, many on the right have no intention whatsoever of listening or sharing ideas. Even in our own state, Scott Walker’s “Talk with Walker” tour was a blunder, exposing that the governor only wanted to talk with certain people who had already aligned themselves for the most part with him, closing the events off to the general public.

Nationally, Republicans are in danger of splitting their party in half, with Tea Party representatives and traditional, sometimes-moderate Republicans clashing over the simplest of notions -- of whether working together, of making a divided government function, is in their best interests. The extremist elements of the GOP have firmly planted their feet in the ground, while the realists have acquiesced to the idea that the American people deserve better than this.

It’s a positive sign that some Republicans are willing to work with others, but it’s troubling to see Tea Partiers act so brash to such basic ideas. In their ardent struggle to emulate some made-up semblance of what our founders stood for, they forget the most important element of all that made our nation’s founding so important: compromise.

It took several years for the formation of our country to complete itself, two separate charters before things finally clicked in America, at least in a lawmaking sense. It didn’t come from one man’s ideas, one man’s proposals, but from a set of proposals and counterproposals, critiques and debates, oftentimes leaving lawmakers of that time in heated arguments of their own.

But through it all, they came up with a compromise that worked, that culminated in the creation of our national Constitution, followed shortly by a Bill of Rights that worked to protect the god-given privileges of the people. This document wasn’t perfect; indeed, slavery remained within its clauses, though the word itself was never mentioned, and protections for minorities’ rights weren’t always practiced or cherished from the start.

Yet that framework helped mold our nation, steered it in the direction it was soon to take. A Civil War, a few recessions, a Great War, a Great Depression, and a second World War still weren’t enough to thwart the cause of representative democracy in America. And though it wasn’t always perfect, we endured to the point of becoming the envy of many around the world.

2012 caused many to doubt the way our nation worked. It caused us to call the system “broken,” and for many of us to lose faith in the way our government was meant to function.

But we mustn’t lose that faith -- our frustrations must motivate action, and from that action our lawmakers must in turn be moved to act themselves.

This weekend we witnessed that action taking place. Lawmakers who wouldn’t have ordinarily been moved, who wouldn’t normally budge on even the simplest of issues, did their duty and worked for cooperation with other lawmakers of opposing ideologies.

It was because of the people that they did so. They said to hell with pledges to political purists, and began to understand why they were sent to Washington in the first place: to deliver on what the people wanted to be done. It wasn’t through apathy that these lawmakers changed their ways: it was through considerations of what the people needed, and the voices of those people rising up to say “NO MORE” to the politics of “us-versus-them.”

There will still be frustrations; and there will still be arguments. Debate won’t ever end, but it’s not supposed to either. The strength of our nation isn’t in one side’s ability to defeat the other, but rather to have differing coalitions and ideologies come together to get real work accomplished.

It isn’t often that I’m motivated by Republican lawmakers -- but those who chose compromise over stubbornness should be commended for doing what was best for America overall. The enduring spirit of our democratic experiment lives on because of leaders from the past who were willing to work together in tough times, even with their adversaries.

Though we still have a long ways to go, this week’s acts of compromise and of willingness to set differences aside provide reason to hope once again that America can continue to endure, can push forward for generations to come, no matter what challenges we may face in the future.