Sunday, July 28, 2013

Wisconsin GOP defies logic (and showcases hypocrisy) in criticism of Obama

@wisgop touts Walker's job growth over Obama's, even though Obama's rates are better

The Republican Party of Wisconsin has a very odd petition they’re hoping you’ll sign.

They’re also hoping you’re not one who normally engages in critical thinking, because if you are, you’re likely to get a big laugh out of it.

The tweet from @wisgop
The Wisconsin Republicans want you to “hold President Obama accountable on jobs!”

Yes, with an exclamation point and everything!

In a press release detailing how Obama has supposedly failed on creating jobs for the nation, the state Republicans explain it thusly:
“As the President visits the Midwest this week, he continues to do what he does best – giving speeches without actually offering a real plan to get our economy back on track. Instead, the national economy continues to see sluggish movement as he refuses to work with Republican leadership,” said Jesse Dougherty, Press Secretary of the Republican Party of Wisconsin.

As President Obama speaks at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, he can take comfort in visiting a state that aligns with his failed economic policy: massive deficits, large tax increases and staggering job loss.

Instead, the President should look to Wisconsin for solid economic leadership: A balanced budget, less spending and lower taxes across the board to help middle-class families, job creators and businesses.
Emphases added.

It’s odd that the Wisconsin GOP says that President Obama refuses to work with them on producing jobs. It’s national Republicans, after all, who have obstructed and prevented legislation and cabinet nominations from even being considered at unprecedented levels, all the while offering no new solutions to the crisis at hand.

But what’s even more puzzling is the gall of the Wisconsin Republicans specifically, who are calling out President Obama for his “slow” job growth. By being critical of the president’s “rhetoric over results,” they’re not only ignoring the difficulties their own party has imposed on creating jobs, but being hypocritical by overlooking the bigger problems we face here.

Image from the Wisconsin Budget Project
At last measure, the U.S. rate of job growth was 2.3 percent. That’s a growth rate that is indeed too slow, but again the fault can’t be entirely placed on the president when the opposing party is doing all that it can to prevent him from growing that rate.

Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, where the government is run by Republicans in both the legislative and the executive branches, the rate of job growth is at 1.4 percent -- nearly 40 percent slower than the national rate. And what do the Wisconsin Republicans have to say about that?
“As we here in the Badger State continue to see job creation and economic growth under the leadership of Governor Scott Walker and Republicans, Obama continues to align with rhetoric over real results. The President could take a lesson from Wisconsin Republicans,” said Dougherty.
Emphasis added.

In other words, Wisconsin Republicans forget completely how to do math. In their minds, 1.4 percent is GREATER than 2.3 percent, a math problem that any grade school student could comprehend is wrong.

Which means we’re officially in an Orwellian state under the leadership of the Wisconsin Republican Party.

Wisconsin Republicans need to spend less time creating storylines that don't match up to realities. It's fine to be critical of the president, but to imagine that Gov. Walker is doing a better job than President Obama in terms of job growth is insulting to the intelligence of the people of Wisconsin.

Singers are right: the Capitol was designed to be a place of public discourse

Both court order and a description of the Capitol call the rotunda a public space and forum

I wanted to share some more thoughts on the unnecessary and highly restrictive practice of suppressing free speech rights being implemented by the Department of Administration, with regards to arrests being made on Solidarity Sing Along participants.

Namely, two excerpts -- one from a U.S. District Judge, the other naming the Capitol building a national historical site -- bear significant evidence of malicious and purposeful wrongdoing on the part of the DOA.

These excerpts point out the fact that the Capitol, while a place where business is meant to be conducted professionally in some areas, is a public forum and meeting place, especially in the rotunda area, where these singers have met regularly.

From the National Park Service:

The clear demarcation between public and private spaces is central to the development of Post’s scheme for the Capitol interior...More than any other space in the building, the Rotunda expresses the intended symbolism of the structure. With the Rotunda’s verticality culminating at the Edwin Blashfield painting, “The Resources of Wisconsin,” the space was intended to be morally uplifting and inspirational in a manner that references the dome’s ecclesiastical origins. Traditionally a symbol of religious expression, late nineteenth century American architects transformed the dome and its interior into one of civic celebration. The soaring rotunda of the Wisconsin State Capitol is designed to induce its citizenry to be, as individuals, among the “resources of Wisconsin.” Whereas some statehouses are maintained apart from the urban fabric, the Wisconsin Capitol Rotunda functions, both literally and symbolically, as a city center and is fully utilized as a public space to which all have claim
Emphasis added.

Then there’s this observance of wrongdoing by the state, asserted by U.S. Judge William Conley, who writes:
...the Capitol rotunda is closer to an out-of-doors, traditional public forum in that it is a capacious gathering space with a unique history as a place for government and public discourse, which admits for (indeed, was designed for) a certain level of disturbance that would not be proper in a typical state office building or even a typical state capitol. And, although its four wings are offices for many, most of this work is sufficiently remote to be impacted by small groups...


Said another way: permits chill speech.
Emphases added.

The point of it all? It isn’t about getting a permit or not. The real issue here is that the singers are in a space that already allows -- and indeed encourages -- open and thoughtful speech and demonstrations.

Their assembly is perfectly legitimate, and cannot be defined as “unlawful” under Wisconsin state statutes. Such “unlawful assemblies” require that the group in question is capable of causing (and likely to induce) harm to others, or that the group may restrict others from entering or leaving the premises.

The Solidarity Sing Along singers have yet to show such wanton hostility towards visitors to the Capitol. They are not interfering with patrons of the building, nor those who are trying to conduct work there.

As Judge Conley stated in his preliminary injunction, “the burden of proof in free speech challenges rests on the government” to provide sufficient rationale to restrict speech in open areas, including the use of permits that can stifle free speech in their own ways. Without that rationale, Gov. Scott Walker and his Department of Administration have no case to make against open speech.

Which makes this a clear case of suppression of dissent on the part of the Walker administration. There isn’t a threat of harm of any sort, except perhaps a bruising of egos. Yet the arrests and the harassment go on.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

In Sing Along dispute, question the motives of those trying to quell dissent

State statutes demonstrate that lunchtime protesters are acting within the bounds of the law

Over the past two days, Capitol Police have cited dozens of fines against Solidarity Sing Along demonstrators.

Day one saw a blatant crack-down on the singers. Octogenarians were placed in handcuffs. Peaceful demonstrators were ticketed. And the result?

An increase in support for the singers came out in droves. The second day again saw citations, but remarkably more people joining the Sing Along in support of their right to peaceably assemble, even knowing that they could get ticketed themselves.

"Like" the Solidarity Sing Along on Facebook
The defense of the right to assemble is the most important aspect in this whole thing. Whether you support their message or not, the singers (and everyone else for that matter) have a right to address their lawmakers directly, in a public forum that is architecturally designed to bring people together.

There are some who would criticize the singers for their insistence to remain in the Capitol building. They knew the rules, after all, and should understand that those rules would be enforced.

Some say the singers are an annoyance. Others deplore their very presence, based on political stances taken by group members.

Whatever their rationale, the critics have got it all wrong. It’s not the singers who have to justify being in the rotunda, but rather the governor and his administration who have to justify restricting the people’s presence.

Wisconsin statutes do provide an outline of when an assembly of people can be lawfully dispersed. Chapter 947.06 of the statutes declares that an “unlawful assembly” can be ordered to be broken apart by “sheriffs, their undersheriffs and deputies, constables, marshals and police officers.”

But it goes on to specify what constitutes an “unlawful assembly” in very specific terms:
An “unlawful assembly” is an assembly which consists of 3 or more persons and which causes such a disturbance of public order that it is reasonable to believe that the assembly will cause injury to persons or damage to property unless it is immediately dispersed.


An “unlawful assembly” includes an assembly of persons who assemble for the purpose of blocking or obstructing the lawful use by any other person, or persons of any private or public thoroughfares, property or of any positions of access or exit to or from any private or public building, or dwelling place, or any portion thereof and which assembly does in fact so block or obstruct the lawful use by any other person, or persons of any such private or public thoroughfares, property or any position of access or exit to or from any private or public building, or dwelling place, or any portion thereof.
Emphases added.

The Solidarity Sing Along doesn’t fit the criteria of an “unlawful assembly” under the terms of Wisconsin statutes. No one can reasonably believe that the group would cause injury to others or to property. Furthermore, they do not obstruct any business, or prevent visitors from entering or leaving the rotunda.

The real issue here is the motives of those trying to suppress these singers. What is the aim at stifling their voices? Why are the Capitol Police being ordered by the Department of Administration to fine and handcuff these peaceful demonstrators?

Most of all, why is it important for Gov. Scott Walker and his administration to stop the demonstrations? Is it for practical purposes, or is it political?

The answer, my friends, is blowing in the wind.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Wisconsin's February-to-June job numbers the worst since the recession

June's "jump" merely a rebound of losses sustained in months prior

Wisconsin's job numbers for the month of June were released last week (PDF), and on first look they give us something to feel optimistic about for a change.

However, they also come with a huge caveat.

Preliminary estimates for June show that Wisconsin gained more than 17,500 jobs overall, 13,800 of which came from the private sector alone.

Though the Walker administration “urge[s] the public to look at all the economic indicators, including actual job counts” (the QCEW numbers), they were quick to point out the gains as signs of the state economy getting better.

“These economic indicators point to a trajectory of economic growth in Wisconsin under Governor Walker’s leadership,” Department of Workforce Development Sec. Reggie Newson said in a press release.

Indeed, as the release pointed out, this was the largest May-to-June gain in jobs since 2003, a feat that shouldn’t be ignored.

Unfortunately, the Walker administration is ignoring plenty of other data that puts these supposed gains into greater perspective -- namely, how insignificant they truly are.

Case in point: June’s total job numbers are still lower than February’s job totals from earlier this year, highlighting the fact that there were huge losses in the interim months between.

Taking a look at private sector jobs only, the February-to-June gains were lackluster at best, and the worst performance Wisconsin has seen since the recession. Even Walker’s predecessor, Gov. Jim Doyle, had a better February-to-June performance in his last year in office.

In fact, job numbers have gotten slower and slower ever since Gov. Walker put his economic policies into practice, especially considering the fact that Doyle’s budget was still in play during the first February-to-June cycle that Scott Walker was in office for:

The trend shown above is hardly worth celebrating.

While it’s nice to see an uptick in June’s numbers, we need to remember: this is merely a rebound in losses already sustained in the months prior, and nothing more. They don’t indicate that the job picture is getting better -- if anything they highlight it getting worse, with the majority of June’s jobs actually coming from the hospitality and tourism sector, meaning they aren’t permanent.

A May-to-June jump that fast for the tourism and hospitality industry is unprecedented for the past decade. The closest growth in that industry happened just last year, when Wisconsin gained 1,100 jobs in that sector. This year, we gained more than six times that, 7,200 jobs in hospitality and tourism in a single month.

Both the quality and the quantity of jobs that are being created under Gov. Walker’s “leadership” are sub-par. Wisconsin residents have a choice to make: accept Walker’s spinning of the numbers, or accept realities and realize that this governor has failed his state in job creation.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Does Gov. Walker think Wisconsin women are dumb?

Scott Walker joins legislative Republicans in belittling the intelligence of women in our state

Last month, I took a swipe at Republicans in the legislature for insisting that women need to be better educated when it comes to abortions. Lawmakers justified the intrusive act of transvaginal ultrasounds prior to the procedure as a means toward “providing information for women” in Wisconsin:
“It’s time for women to know the facts. It’s time for them to know what they’re carrying in their womb and what they’re doing.”
Women who seek abortions, however, aren’t as “in-the-dark” as Wisconsin Republicans make it seem. In fact, our state had some pretty stringent rules already in place, before this law was even introduced, that made sure women were given information they needed to know about abortions.

Among the steps that women have to take:
  • First, they must receive counseling when they come into a clinic
  • Then, they must wait 24 hours before they can actually have the procedure
  • If, after 24 hours have elapsed, and they haven’t changed their minds after counseling, they can return to the clinic and have the procedure performed.
Furthermore, it’s not as if there are “abortion mills” running rampant across the state. If a woman wants to have an abortion in Wisconsin, she better be prepared to travel: only four sites (outside of hospitals or doctors’ offices) actually perform abortion services. 93 percent of Wisconsin counties (of which nearly two-thirds of Wisconsin women reside in) don’t have an abortion provider.

To compare, that’s a higher hurdle than the national numbers, which show 87 percent of U.S. counties (of which only one-third of women reside) don’t have an abortion provider.

The rules described above are mandated by state law -- no woman who enters a health center who is seeking an abortion receives one without knowing what she’s doing. Shining the light on “ignorant women” is not a justification that Republicans can rightly make for passing this law -- doctors were already mandated to grant a patient the choice to have an ultrasound, so if she was unsure, she could opt to have a chance to see images of what was inside her womb.

In other words, women aren’t ignorant when it comes to abortions in Wisconsin -- they’re granted the choice to receive specific information, and mandated to receive general knowledge of what exactly an abortion is and what will happen to their bodies.

I pegged legislative Republicans as believing women were too dumb to understand what the procedure entailed, even after all of this information was given to them. If Republicans believed an ultrasound was required for these women, even after the counseling and the 24-hour waiting period, then it was clear the Wisconsin GOP didn’t think much of the intelligence of women in our state.

Last week, Gov. Scott Walker joined his legislative friends in showing his true colors when it came to his respect for the intelligence of women. Releasing a press release following his closed-doors, over the holiday weekend signing of the bill, the governor’s office noted that: 

This bill improves a woman’s ability to make an informed choice that will protect her physical and mental health now and in the future.
Again, I ask: does the governor really think women are this dumb? After receiving all the mandated information about abortions, after being counseled and waiting 24 hours before they can receive the procedure, are women really lacking the mental capacity to make an informed choice about their bodies at that point?

Does he trust women to make decisions over their own bodies?
In Scott Walker’s mind, and in his Republican colleagues’ minds, the answer is yes -- these women ARE too dumb, at least to make the choice that CONSERVATIVES want them to make. And to make them “smarter,” they’re going to require a transvaginal ultrasound.

Sure, this legislation grants women the “choice” to receive their preferred method of ultrasound -- abdominal or transvaginal. But for certain stages of pregnancy, only a transvaginal ultrasound will do. Why else would the law require clinics to have both forms of ultrasound in them in order to perform an abortion?

It’s clear that Walker’s actions provide little reason to doubt that he finds women to be ignorant fools -- at least, those who disagree with his views on abortion. But the most damning of evidence comes from not just what the governor said, but also in how it was disseminated to begin with.

The announcement that the Walker administration put out after he signed this law was buried in a non-confrontational, apolitical release entitled “Governor Scott Walker Signs Several Bills Into Law.” In it, the release described in short detail a series of 18 laws that Walker signed over the July 4th weekend.

None of the bills were titled in the release with anything more than their legislative numbering. The abortion law, simple called “Senate Bill 206” in the document, was item number 17, the second-to-last bill mentioned in the press release.

Gov. Walker signed a restrictive bill on women’s rights into law on a day when no one would notice, and released it to the public in a document that looked boring and inconsequential on its face. If that’s not insulting to the intelligence of women in Wisconsin, I don’t know what is.

For now, there is an injunction against the law that Walker signed. But the damage is done: the governor put it out there, rather bluntly, that he finds women to be unintelligent when it comes to their own bodies. Let's hope women don't forget come 2014.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

On Independence Day, Scott Walker sticks to "divide and conquer"

Partisan cheap shot taken on governor's Twitter account shows his true colors

I typically like to stay away from politics on important holidays. It’s important to respect these days as unifying, as anniversaries or recognitions we can all honor together, and that’s why I waited a until tonight before making this post.

Earlier, Gov. Scott Walker had a few choice words to say on Twitter about Independence Day. The words he chose to disseminate were harsh and uncalled for, especially on the anniversary of our nation’s birth.

To be sure, Walker didn’t spend the whole day as a Twitter “troll.” He had many great things to say about the Fourth of July, too, like how he had enjoyed the many parades he attended, and this one about the reasons our founders fought for independence more than two centuries ago, and why we preserve it to this day:

But it wasn’t that tweet that got me riled up. Conservatives and liberals can both agree on the sentiments expressed above, and they don’t stir up much to be concerned about. 
Rather, it’s the nature of a tweet he made later on in the day that upset me:

On a day when we’re supposed to celebrate our unity, our enduring commitment towards the principles of American idealism, Gov. Scott Walker instead chose the low road.

Walker used the opportunity of Independence Day to divide. Rather than honor the idea that, despite our citizens’ many differences, we all stand committed together as one, he deliberately used the occasion of our independence as a means to take a partisan shot at his political opponents.

Let's be clear here: the problem with this governor isn’t just the fact that he’s misrepresenting the founders’ intents. Taking a swipe at tax day is not an unfamiliar move for conservatives, and they frequently point to the founders as why they deplore taxation.

The founders, however, didn’t oppose taxation outright; instead, they opposed taxation without representation. Indeed, the Constitution gives Congress the right to tax the citizenry, a power that, were conservatives accurate about the founders’ intents, would contradict the supposed reason for revolution.

As for the dependence line, Walker’s wrong there, too: ask anyone who receives help from the state, and you’ll find that people don’t like to be dependent on government, and they certainly don’t celebrate it.

What we do celebrate, however, is the morality of giving aid to those in desperate need of it, of not kicking our citizens to the curb when they’re hit by hard times. Austerity isn’t a handout, as conservatives like to portray it; rather, it’s a means to grant oneself tools for survival when things go awry.

All that aside, however, my true criticism of Gov. Walker isn’t any of his contextual errors: it’s the fact that he chose to use the celebration of our nation’s independence as a way to get in a political cheap shot.

This goes back to what we already know about Walker -- namely his method of “divide and conquer.” His statement is meant to incite ill-will among those who agree with him against those who support aid to the downtrodden.

That sort of division on its own is demeaning to the office he holds, no matter what date the calendar may be showing. Taking that tone on a day of national unity goes a step further, demonstrating for all to see what lengths he is willing to go to for his own personal and political gain.

Wisconsin sorely needs a leader who won’t use these tactics anymore. We don’t need someone in office who will, on what should be a day to forget about politics, utilize that sentiment in a negative way.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Gov. Walker's "B-minus" on jobs a distorted view of his actual performance

Compared to his predecessor, and to the rest of the nation, Wisconsin is worse under Walker

On job creation, Gov. Scott Walker thinks he’s done a pretty good job.

Taking a closer look, it’s clear he needs a better understanding of what letter grades really mean.

When asked what letter grade he deserved on creating jobs, Walker said he was doing above average:
B-minus, and the reason I say that is, put it in context. My critics hone in on the 250,000 goal by the beginning of 2015. They ignore the fact that when they were in charge just a few years ago, the four years before I took over as governor, when my predecessor’s last term was in place, we lost 133,000 jobs in the state.
For someone who complains about what his critics are supposedly ignoring, the governor himself conjures up some pretty selective storytelling.

Walker neglects to point out that Wisconsin lost jobs during what can only be described as a global recession. It wasn’t the policies of his predecessor that made jobs disappear -- in fact, every state in the nation was losing jobs.

But Walker doesn’t stop at distorting the past -- he also takes credit for what’s really a lackluster performance:
Now we’ve turned that around. Not only have we seen the gain of 62,000 jobs in the first two years I was in office, but we built the foundation upon which, we’re going to, I think will be even better going forward.
It’s important to point out that Walker’s characterization of a turnaround is actually a slowdown.

During his predecessor’s final year in office, Wisconsin gained 33,658 jobs. In the two years since Walker’s been in office, we have indeed gained 62,000 jobs -- but when those two years are averaged, the rate of job growth under Walker has actually slowed by 7.78 percent when compared to the year before he took office.

In fact, Walker has yet to have a year of job growth that is higher than previous Gov. Jim Doyle’s last year in office, as shown by the graph below:

Now, if Walker says his predecessor was bad, and Walker’s numbers are actually worse, at what level is Walker’s job performance? And if our state is doing worse than the rest of the nation (nearly a full percentage point slower growth), what grade level on jobs does the governor deserve?

It certainly isn’t B-minus, which represents a “better-than-average” grade. If anything, it should be a C-minus or D.