Monday, August 31, 2015

Restore the Wisconsin Covenant

Students who excel deserve educational opportunities, no matter what their family's income levels are

There once was a state that believed in some pretty important things, among them that education was paramount to producing thriving economies and communities.

It utilized the university system as a place to concoct political ideas, and to put them into practice to improve the process.

And it promised its students that if they worked hard, they too could get a college education, regardless of family income level.

Wisconsin was that state at one point. But since he came to office, Gov. Scott Walker has cut education at all levels, and our priorities have changed drastically.

In addition to millions of dollars in cuts to K-12 schools and higher education, the Wisconsin Covenant was also discontinued under Walker’s watch, a program which promised students earning a “B” average in high school the chance to go to a public university, no matter what their economic background was.

The rationale for cutting the program was that the state didn’t have the money to continue it. Some even blamed Gov. Jim Doyle, who created the program, when it ended up costing the state $25 million per year to keep it running.

But $25 million per year is a drop in the bucket when it comes to education spending in the state. And it isn’t hard to fund -- with about 2.9 million workers in Wisconsin, each worker would only have to contribute around $9 in taxes yearly to fund it, or about two-hundredths of a percent in taxes for the median household income for the state.

And it’s not as if government spending has gone down since Walker and legislative Republicans ended the program -- quite the opposite, in fact. The latest budget Walker signed is the largest in the state’s history at nearly $73 billion.

There’s plenty of reasons why we should restart the Wisconsin Covenant. It encourages students to work hard, earning good grades and becoming stellar members of the community in order to gain yearly grants that can go toward college spending.

The reasons against the Wisconsin Covenant -- costs, mainly -- are exaggerated. And the outcomes of those costs are well worth the spending.

At a time when students are struggling more than ever to pay for college, why are we against a program that combines personal responsibility with financial aide? It makes little sense when you think about it.

If the Democratic Party of Wisconsin is serious about winning back the state, they should play up programs like the Wisconsin Covenant. Resurrecting this successful program will surely play in their political favor -- but it will also do a lot of good for students in low-income families, and improve their chances to continue their education beyond high school.

That should be a priority for every Wisconsin citizen to embrace. Only fools would oppose such an ideal.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Hillary Clinton, Scott Walker offer different outlooks on shooting tragedy

Clinton pledges to "do something" about gun violence; Walker, not so much

After a shooting tragedy left two news crew members dead in Virginia today, politicians from both left and right offered their perspectives on the matter.

Look at these two reactions from presidential contenders Hillary Clinton and Scott Walker.

Here’s Clinton:

And here’s Walker:

Notice the difference? Clinton offers her prayers and says the time for action to stave off gun violence is now. Walker simply offers his prayers, and is deafeningly silent on what should or can be done.

Which isn’t all that surprising. Walker, who has received an “A+ gold star sticker” rating from the National Rifle Association, has deregulated gun laws in Wisconsin since the start of his tenure.

We’ve since seen a rise in violent crime overall, and a murder rate in our state’s largest city that will undoubtedly be higher than Chicago’s by the year’s end.

Walker’s condolences are obviously genuine. But it’s curious that he refuses to think that anything can be done about the nation’s gun problem.

Part of it is cultural. We rely on and worship our weapons, with some sanctifying the Second Amendment beyond religious texts. But part of it is also legal – allowing individuals to purchase guns without a background check is just plain stupid, for instance. We can change that, but politicians like Scott Walker don’t seem to want to.


Less than an hour after he made the tweet above, Scott Walker took the time to troll Clinton on Twitter. What did Hillary Clinton do with the rest of her day?

She renewed her pledge from earlier in the day in a speech on the campaign trail, coming out strongly for balancing gun rights with reasonable laws that can work to prevent future tragedies.

Kind of tells you little a bit about their priorities, don’t you think?

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Scott Free 2016

Help fund a Scott Walker documentary film crew

If you get a chance..check out this really well done documentary and project about what the state of Wisconsin has had to endure under Scott Walker since 2011.

My friend Leah Duckert is a teacher in the West Bend School district and is featured in the video.

The project is also to warn the rest of the US what would happen under a Walker presidency and why this guy needs to be stopped.

If you can spare a few bucks send some their way or check out their Twitter page and give them a share.

Nicely done guys!


Monday, August 24, 2015

Walker shames Planned Parenthood, but his jobs agency gave millions to fetal tissue research firm

Walker continues streak of hypocrisy in his run for president

When highly edited videos came out of Planned Parenthood organizers allegedly trying to pay for harvested fetal tissue, Gov. Scott Walker did his best to come out against the organization.

He highlighted his moves in Wisconsin to defund the organization, and said that videos like those that recently came out justified those actions.
“We defunded Planned Parenthood, which is particularly important these days in light of what we’ve seen on video,” Walker said during a campaign stop at Joey’s Diner.
Conservatives of all stripes -- and not just Walker -- continue to decry the videos as proof positive that Planned Parenthood is a rotten organization.

But just the opposite has come to light in recent days, as statewide investigations across the country have found absolutely zero evidence of any wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood. Even the Department of Health and Human Services has found that the organization is “in compliance with all applicable legal requirements.”

Despite these assurances, Walker and other presidential contenders continue to use the videos as a catalyst to fight against their imaginary Planned Parenthood boogeyman.

That may soon be a problem for Walker. According to the Journal Sentinel, Walker’s flagship jobs agency, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), gave substantial sums of money to a medical firm, which used the funds to do research on fetal tissue.
The state of Wisconsin has provided $750,000 in loans — and nearly $2 million more in tax credits for investors — to benefit a Madison biotech firm using tissues derived from aborted fetuses, practices that are being closely scrutinized by conservative lawmakers and GOP Gov. Scott Walker.
In a remarkable turn of events, Flu-Gen Inc. (the firm in question) has been a stellar borrower, unlike many other groups that WEDC has loaned to.
Flu-Gen is current in its loan payments to the state, with the $250,000 loan on track to be paid off by the end of the year.
This puts Walker in a very tough situation. His quasi-private jobs agency -- of which he served as chairman of -- lent state taxpayer dollars and gave away huge tax credits to a company that did work on fetal tissue.

Which is probably a good thing. Research on fetal tissue can do amazing things for the health and well-being of future generations of Americans. Indeed, this type of research has been in practice since the 1930s, and has led to many helpful discoveries, including the rubella and polio vaccines, as well as treatment for Parkinson’s disease.

But for Walker this spells political trouble with a capital “T.” He has called for more defunding of Planned Parenthood at the national level due to the controversies with these videos and fetal tissue research. Though the allegations held within them do not stand up to scrutiny, he has continued to call for tough action against the group.

Yet his own jobs agency, which he put into place at the start of his gubernatorial career, has contributed millions of dollars in loans and tax deductions to a research firm that specializes in fetal tissue research.

If Walker doesn’t want to sound hypocritical, he needs to defund and shut down the WEDC at once. But then again, when has Walker ever cared about not sounding hypocritical?

Sunday, August 23, 2015

That awkward moment when..

Donald Trump is dead on in his criticism of our Governor:
“Well, I’m not worried because his state is really in trouble,” Trump told host George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “This Week.”
“I mean, it’s a fantastic place,” he said. “I love the people of Wisconsin, but if you look at what’s going on, they have a $2.2 billion deficit. They were supposed to have a surplus of $1 billion and they have $2.2 billion.”
“There’s tremendous divisions throughout the state,” Trump added. “He stopped a lot of work because he didn’t want to raise taxes. So instead of raising taxes, he’s borrowing to the hilt and his state is overleveraged.”

Friday, August 21, 2015

Walker says he can’t talk to BLM or Tea Party. Here’s his Tea Party speech in 2009.

Hypocrisy runs rampant from Scott Walker's lips

Scott Walker said on Friday that he won’t speak to leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement because he doesn’t know who that would include.

His response to questioning on the matter was interesting to say the least, and included comparing the group to the Tea Party:
"I'm going to meet with voters ... Who knows who [Black Lives Matter] is?" Walker said in response to a Daily Mail reporter in New Hampshire who asked whether he would meet with the representatives of the group. "I'm going to talk to American voters, period. It's the same way as saying, you're going to meet with the tea party. Who is the tea party? There's hundreds of thousands of people out there."
Apparently BLM activists aren’t voters by Walker’s standards, but let’s ignore that faux pas for now, as terrible as it might be.

Essentially Walker says it’s impossible to speak to BLM activists because it’s a disorganized group, much like the Tea Party is. And how on earth could anyone speak to the Tea Party? Right?

But in 2009, Walker spoke at a Tea Party rally in Milwaukee. Here’s the video:

Walker also embraced the Tea Party movement when he was running for governor. In 2010, he called himself the “original Tea Party” candidate in Wisconsin.

Ironically he did so by praising recall elections. Just two years later he would practically decry recalls as the scourge of the Wisconsin political process.

To sum it up: Walker says it’s impossible to talk to Black Lives Matter members because, like the Tea Party, they’re not a formal political group. But Walker spoke to an informal Tea Party gathering in 2009.

Hypocrisy, thy name is Scott Walker.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Dane Co. ban on workplace e-cigarette use a smart move

Preliminary evidence suggests some harm still exists in e-cigarette usage

There are a lot of “unknowns” when it comes to using electronic cigarettes, or e-cigs. The practice of “vaping” e-cigs has only been around a relatively short number of years, and any long-term effects of use can’t be definitively provided on the product yet.

E-cigs are different from conventional smoking. For starters, the tobacco is completely removed from the product. This gives users a sense of “safeness” on e-cigs, and some have even suggested that vaping has helped them quit smoking (although there is still conflicting data on that idea as well).

While the product is safer than conventional smoking, it is not without its own harms. E-cigs still contain nicotine, the addictive chemical found in cigarettes. And that's created its own problems: the number of calls to poison control centers related to nicotine and e-cigs has gone up substantially in the past five years as a result (with kids being the main victims).

Recent studies have also revealed that e-cigarettes produce higher levels of formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, than what was previously thought. The amount of formaldehyde present in the vapor is even worse than what’s found in conventional cigarettes – around 5 to 15 times higher.

With these thoughts in mind, several Dane County officials have determined it’s time to regulate e-cigs across the area. A new ordinance is being proposed that would restrict e-cigarette use in workplaces within the county, including in restaurants.

County Board Supervisor Jenni Dye makes a compelling case for such a ban:
“This proposal makes a very simple change in the interest of public health,” Dye said. “By treating e-cigarettes like we already treat cigarettes, we can make sure, in areas we share with others, the air is clean and enjoyable for everyone.”
This is a good move on the part of the county. The city of Madison has already instituted its own version of a vaping ban, and there hasn’t been any noticeable pushback.

Vapers may say that e-cigarettes helped them quit smoking, or that it’s a healthier alternative to conventional smoking. And they may be right. But with ample evidence already demonstrating that it’s not a safe product – even with the limited data that we have – it’s not something we should be promoting in a public setting just yet.

Other methods that help people quit aren’t so intrusive. The beauty of nicotine patches, for example, is that they don’t expose other people to the chemicals inside them – slap it on your arm, and no one else even knows.

E-cigs are a lot more “in your face.” And nobody knows for certain whether the exhaled smoke is fine or harmful to those in the surrounding vicinity, although the early signs are discouraging.

So until we DO know, it’s probably best to treat e-cigarettes like we do regular cigarettes. If we discover that they’re perfectly harmless, then the ban can be lifted. It’s a reasonable approach, however, to err on the side of caution, and a course of action that Dane County officials are smart in taking.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Media Trackers' attack on UW Professor reveals lazy, shoddy journalism

Selective citations portrays subject in different light -- and is negligence in reporting

Like many others I’m sure, I’ve felt a bit of a void since Jon Stewart stepped down from the Daily Show earlier this month. But I’ve taken one thing he mentioned on his last show to heart: the importance to “sniff out” bulls--t whenever it’s apparent, and to increase its visibility whenever possible.
There’s certainly no shortage of it here in Wisconsin, including among the various news media across the state. Media Trackers, a conservative reporting outfit that has a record of attacking left of center politicians and public figures has gone on the attack once more, this time against a UW professor named Michael Bell.
Bell teaches a series of classes within the Department of Community and Environmental Sociology. Some of the elements of his teachings touch upon problems of unfettered capitalism and its effects on society, which, of course, is simply unacceptable to organizations like Media Trackers.
In his piece against the UW academic, titled “Prof. Michael Bell and the Pursuit of Useless Knowledge,” Media Trackers author Brian Sikma derides Bell as “lazy,” pointing out several instances within his syllabuses and other writings where one might leap to that conclusion.

For example, Sikma points out that in one of his syllabuses Bell says that he doesn’t “want to lecture” his students, and assigns his own book as required reading. One might posit from that description alone that Bell indeed is a “lazy” educator.

But delving deeper into the syllabus reveals what Bell’s rationale really is. “The course is intended to be an occasion to read, to write, and to discuss – not a sit-back-and-take-notes-for-the-exam class,” Bell writes. “So please accept my invitation to engage in critical, cooperative interchange with each other (including me!).”

He adds that students should consider the class format as “the ‘three r’s’ of scholarship: reading, ‘riting, and responding.”

Bell’s approach is indeed not lecture-heavy. Instead it relies upon discussion, inclusion and questioning the topic at hand, aspects that Sikma and Media Trackers conveniently leave out in their criticism.

That doesn’t stop their attacks on him, however. As Sikma states, “A substantial part of the grade students earn is based on class participation. But never fear, in true Marxist fashion, contribution to class discussion doesn’t involve actually contributing.”

He again cites Bell’s syllabus: “Your grade for class participation will not be a measure of how loud you were, or of how often you spoke.” Sikma then cites more information from the syllabus, further down the page: “Grading in this area will be based on the initial assumption that everyone will get full credit in all areas of participation, with deductions made for negligent or ‘unthere’ performance, if necessary.”

This again sounds like a “lazy” move by the professor. But this is deception on the part of Media Trackers. Between the two points Sikam cites above is a list of expectations required by students in the class in order to get a good grade on participation. It’s hardly the “show up and get a grade” kind of assessment that Media Trackers makes it out to fact, quite the opposite (click the link to see for yourself).

Furthermore, the way Sikma puts it, the participation aspect of the class is a “substantial” portion of the grade. But he never defines what “substantial” is. 

In fact, it’s only a third of what constitutes the grade in Bell’s class, with the final paper and written critiques being the other two thirds, another point that Media Trackers conveniently glosses over.

Being able to smell bulls--t in news reports is a very important skill every person should attain. This Media Trackers “hit job” against a UW professor reeks of it. At best it's lazy journalism. At it's worst, it's purposeful deceit. Either way, it's lousy "reporting."

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Real data contradicts Scott Walker's employment claims

Walker says Wisconsin is doing better in unemployment, but employment rate compared to rest of the country tells a different story

Hours before the start of the first GOP debate, Gov. Scott Walker tweeted out an interesting statistic.

Walker is implying that his leadership in Wisconsin led to a better jobs recovery versus the rest of the nation.

But unemployment rates are tricky things – they don’t always lead to the reasonable conclusion that things are better. A drop in the labor force – the total number of people who either have jobs or are looking for work – can lower the unemployment rate, even if the number of people working doesn’t go up.

So let’s just look at employment totals – that is, the total number of people working.

An interesting thing happens when we do that: Wisconsin pales in comparison to the rest of the nation.

From June 2011 (when Walker’s first budget went into effect) to June 2015, Wisconsin saw a growth of around 104,037 people working. That’s nothing to sneeze at, but it’s way lower than what Walker promised in 2010 when he said he’d bring 250,000 jobs to the state. In fact, it’s only about 3.6 percent growth in employment.

But let’s forget about that broken promise. Let’s focus on how Walker’s rate compares to the national rate of change.

In the U.S. taken as a whole, the total number of workers who were employed grew by about 10,034,000 individuals. That’s a rate of growth of about 7.6 percent during the same period of time, or a rate that’s more than double what happened in Wisconsin.

Here’s a more visual way of how we’ve performed under Walker:

It couldn’t be clearer: we’re doing worse under Walker’s watch, falling way behind the nation overall.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Wisconsin principals tell it like it is: Walker's cuts are hurting our students

Letter to the governor details problems with budget cuts in school district funding

If the principal of your child’s school held a meeting to tell parents that the school’s funding was inadequate, you might be alarmed.

So how will Wisconsinites react when 35 Wisconsin principals of various school districts say the same thing?

In a letter addressed to Gov. Scott Walker last month, teachers from across the state made it clear that the cuts to education were having dire consequences. Most notably, the letter said, the cuts were creating separate classes of students: the “haves and the have-nots.”

“We are burdened by the cumulative effects of budget cuts resulting in increased class sizes, cut programs, and deferred maintenance plans,” the letter states. “Our districts are struggling to maintain our current educational and co-curricular programs, while recognizing we need to expand educational opportunities and choices for students and families to prepare students for 21st century skills in a globally competitive climate.”

While he’s off campaigning for president, Scott Walker will likely allow this letter to go unnoticed. In fact, he continues to believe that his “reforms” have improved the situation in schools.
Our school scores are better. Our ACT scores are second best in the country. Graduation rate’s up over the past four years. Reading scores are up over the past four years, because we put the power back in the hands of the hard working taxpayers and the people they elect to run their school boards.
But those claims are grossly exaggerated, and cannot be tied to any program that the governor put in place. In short: Wisconsin is doing well in test scores in spite of Walker’s cuts, not because of them.

In fact, Wisconsin’s ranking only went up because Iowa’s ranking went down. “Wisconsin’s 2014 composite score is the same as it was in 2011, when Walker took office,” notes the Washington Post.

When it comes to the state of our schools in Wisconsin, my gut tells me to trust the teachers and administrators running them. Scott Walker is running around the country trying to get elected president. His claims of improving test scores in his state are exaggerated, highly spun to make him seem like a successful candidate on the issue of education.

But he’s not -- he’s been an enemy of educators since the start of his tenure.

Trust the teachers, not the snake oil salesman.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Obama's environmental proposal a positive step in the right direction

We need to work towards reducing carbon emissions and increasing renewable energy sources

President Barack Obama released his plans this week for combating climate change.

The plans center largely on reducing the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) being released into the atmosphere. CO2 is a large contributor to the greenhouse effect, which allows energy from the sun to enter our atmosphere but traps the heat inside without being able to escape.

Some greenhouse effects are a good thing. Without some carbon in the atmosphere, our globe would become an ice planet.

But the levels of carbon dioxide and other harmful elements in our environment is reaching dangerous levels. Just this past year, CO2 levels reached 400 parts per million particles in the atmosphere. That may sound like a small amount, but it actually means a lot more to our survival than meets the eye -- a sustainable amount of carbon is closer to 350 parts per million

Dr. Gavin Schmidt, a climatologist with NASA, puts it this way: “We are a society that has inadvertently chosen the double-black diamond run without having learned to ski first. It will be a bumpy ride.”

To combat this rising trend and to reduce carbon emissions overall in the U.S., President Obama has proposed lofty but achievable goals.
  • Reducing emissions from power plants by 32 percent before the year 2030
  • Requiring that power plants invest in renewable energy sources
  • Creating CO2 emissions targets for states to shoot for
Conservative leaders from across the country have lambasted the proposal -- some before it was even published. They have vowed to oppose the limits, and to legally challenge the proposal should it get passed.

But we need to acknowledge that our climate is in a fragile state -- and more importantly, that we can do something about it. Man-made global climate change is a real thing. Ignoring our role in its creation isn’t going to change the fact that we’re destroying our environment.

The Obama administration deserves praise for this plan. It’s a good move forward, and deserves serious debate. Ultimately, a plan of action needs to be taken, one that will reduce our carbon output and increase our use of renewable energy.