Monday, September 28, 2015

Wisconsin sees 20 percent increase in crime since Concealed Carry passed

Promise from Gov. Walker in 2011 that state would be safer untrue

Every year when the FBI releases its crime stats, I make certain to follow up on a claim that Gov. Scott Walker made in 2011. And since the FBI released its crime stats for the year 2014, it’s time once again to revisit that claim.

In a signing ceremony where he put his signature to a new bill that would make concealed carry into law, the governor made the lofty claim that citizens in Wisconsin would be safer because of the new legislation.

Since that time I have pointed out on numerous occasions that Wisconsin has not been safer due to the law. In fact, more crime, not less, has come to our state.

In the graphs below we see that crime in Wisconsin was already on a decline from 2009 to 2011 (I consider most of 2011 to be a non-concealed carry year, since Walker signed the law in November). In those three years violent crime decreased by more than seven percent.

In the three years after concealed carry was passed, Wisconsin saw a 22 percent increase in the rate of violent crime, as well as a 20 percent increase in the state’s murder rate.

(Blue represents the years before concealed carry; red, the years after it was signed.)

Concealed carry wasn’t the only gun law that Gov. Walker signed. And Walker also made drastic cuts that affected law enforcement across the state.

But I highlight the concealed carry law because Walker specifically stated that it would make the state safer. This analysis doesn’t show that Wisconsin is less safe because of concealed carry, but it does demonstrate that the governor’s claim (that it would make us safer) was untrue.

One other interesting note to point out: overall, crime in the U.S. went down from 2013 to 2014 by a rate of about one percent. Over that same time period, crime in Wisconsin shot up by about 4.4 percent.

It’s clear that whatever Walker & Co. have done for the state to prevent crime, it isn’t working. No amount of NRA-backed legislation can change that fact.

All data derived from the FBI Crime in the United States website.

Part-time worker Gov. Walker wants to change state workers' hiring rules

Why should we take advice on workers' changes from a governor who spent a fraction of his time working?

What would happen to you if you only showed up to work one day in the course of two weeks or so?

You’d probably get fired, long before that month even ended. But it’s perfectly acceptable for Scott Walker, who spent only one day of July in Wisconsin after announcing his presidential bid, to work such short hours.

From NBC 15:
Walker's official calendar for July released to The Associated Press under the state's open records law shows Walker spent one day in July in Wisconsin on official business after launching his presidential run July 13.

That was to attend a Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation board meeting and to sign a bill banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
The governor earns $144,423 per year. But for those 17 days campaigning and one day of actual work as governor, Walker earned more than $7,221.

If you or I work one day out of 18, we’d get canned. But now, Walker thinks he’s entitled to change the way all state workers’ jobs are hired, fired, or promoted.

Which would mean a return to politics from more than 100 years ago in Wisconsin: of resume-based hiring that promotes political prospects more so than quality workers.

When the civil service law was passed in 1905, Gov. Robert M. LaFollette declared that “the best shall serve the state.” If he’s successful in repealing the law, Walker may tweak that slogan to “the most connected shall serve the state.”

Wisconsin should reject Walker’s changes. We don’t need someone who spent less than one day working in the state dictating who deserves to work in government jobs. And we don’t want a governor who’s happy to promote friends and family of donors to higher positions of power to change the rules to fit his ambitions.

We rejected those days long ago. Wisconsin should tell Gov. Walker to keep those days in the past.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Walker must now govern a state that he abandoned

Most in the state did not support his run for president

The Germans have a word -- schadenfreude -- that describes happiness at the misfortune of others. There’s certainly no shortage of that today here in Wisconsin.

This week, Gov. Scott Walker announced he was suspending his campaign for the Republican nomination to run for president. With recent polls showing terrible numbers -- one even demonstrating less than one percent of support among GOP voters (PDF) -- the demise of Walker sent a shriek of joy across the state on Monday.

Walker has certainly been dealt an embarrassing blow, not only to his future prospects, but to his ego as well. His biggest challenge now will be leading a state that overwhelmingly disapproved of his run for president, and which now has a majority of its citizens viewing him in a negative light (PDF).

Sixty-three percent of Wisconsin residents didn’t like Walker’s decision to run for higher office; and 57 percent disapprove of how he’s handling his job as governor.

Those are some tough numbers to come back to. And with his return, one of a few things may happen:
  • He will take it out on us. Walker might go hard right, even further than he already was, in an effort to make himself appear viable in 2020. Women’s rights, workers’ rights, changing the makeup of government’s all on the table for legislative Republicans, and Walker may join them in refocusing his efforts to appear better in four years.

  • He will lose support and his significance will dwindle away. In the 2016 elections half of the state senate will be up for grabs. Unless Walker can convince much of the state to remain loyal to Republican policies, he could see a Democratic Party takeover of that chamber, making it impossible to pass anything meaningful and creating a lame duck session.

  • Wishful thinking, but he may resign. Walker isn’t a dummy -- not all the time, at least. He may see the writing on the wall, and consider a lucrative job in the private sector. It’d be his first in more than two decades, so the transition might be a rocky one, but one that he’d probably consider given the animosity he now faces back in Wisconsin.
Only time will tell which of these options, if any, he will take. But one thing’s for certain: Walker will have a difficult time once he does return to Wisconsin. The left is energized, the right is disheartened, and typical Wisconsinites are frustrated with a governor that abandoned them after suggesting he’d stay less than a year ago.

Friday, September 18, 2015

With slow jobs report, Alberta Darling errantly blames benefits programs

Statistical evidence shows that benefits programs actually help, not hinder, job creation overall

The state of Wisconsin improved somewhat, but it still ranks in the bottom half of states when it comes to jobs growth.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Wisconsin ranked 30th overall in first quarter yearly private sector job growth. From March 2014 to March of this year, the state saw an increase of more than 39,000 jobs.

That represents a 1.7 percent growth. For comparison, the nation as a whole had a rate of growth of 2.4 percent.

For those keeping track, that’s a slower growth rate than the last first quarter report during former Gov. Jim Doyle’s last budget, which was in effect in the first half of 2011. During that first quarter report, Wisconsin grew 41,350 jobs, a 1.9 percent growth that was 16th in the nation

This year's first quarter report pales in comparison to neighboring Minnesota, which saw a liberal governor take office at the same time as our conservative governor Scott Walker did, and had a rate of growth that was 23 percent faster than Wisconsin.

But it’s not policies or jobs plans that’s the issue, according to one state lawmaker. Even the scandal-plagued Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation isn’t to blame.

No, the real problem, at least according to Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) is that benefits to people in need are making everyone too lazy.
“It’s hard to get people who have government benefits, for instance, who might be qualified for the jobs, to talk them into coming to work,” she said. “Because the individual might say, ‘You know what, I earn up to X number of dollars with my benefits from the state, and what’s the incentive for me to go out and actually work?’”
Darling says she gets this “intel” from actual business owners. But her reasoning flies in the face of research on the issue.

Unemployment compensation, for example, doesn’t make a lazy worker. The benefits eventually run out – you can’t keep claiming unemployment indefinitely. So the incentive to find work is greater than the incentive to sit on the couch.

Furthermore, there isn’t any evidence that suggests that workers are doing their best to avoid work while on unemployment.

Unemployment insurance provides a much needed boost to the economy as well, and allows people who would otherwise be part of the consumer class to continue purchasing goods and services. Indeed, the Congressional Budget Office in 2014 estimated that expanding UI would generate around 200,000 extra jobs in our economy.

Alberta Darling may be talking to “job creators” about what’s the best option to stimulate our struggling economy. But the evidence suggests her anecdotal discussions are just that -- nothing more than the opinions of some wealthy people, and not statistically accurate.

It’s clear that Scott Walker’s jobs plan is failing to produce at a rate that’s comparable to the rest of the nation. We need to change course -- and that process may require the governor’s resignation.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Tax the rich more: A defense of a progressive form of taxation

The rich utilize government resources far more than they care to admit

Or more "cents." Sorry.
Arguments against a progressive form of taxation -- of taxing the rich more than the poor and middle class -- are not rare to find. And the rationale behind these arguments make a lot of sense, if you don’t delve into them too deeply.

We strive for fairness in America. So it’s understandable that some might advocate for a fair form of taxation, wherein the rich and the poor pay the same rate to Uncle Sam.

It’s a tidy argument that’s hard to refute in just a few short lines. That makes it very effective, but hardly right.

The reason we can justify taxing the wealthy at a higher rate isn’t so simple. We need to consider other factors, including who benefits the most from the expenditure of government revenues.

Consider the interstate highway system. Everyone with a car uses it, so it’s a good example to use. Yet, we should consider at what rate people use the interstate. The poor use it to commute to work, and occasionally to travel on vacations when they can afford to do so.

Their use of the interstate, as well as their monetary gains from it, are minimal when you compare it to the use of the wealthy. Business owners and investors utilize the interstate far more than we ever consider -- truckloads of products and goods are traveling across the country every hour, and an immeasurable amount of revenue is being created in the process.

It’s the same with the military. We need to fund the military because we all have a vested interest in security for our nation. That being said, there’s certainly more to protect as you gain more assets.

The wealthy again have a higher interest in funding the military. While the poor and middle class may have some interest too, the rich have way more at stake were there to be an invasion of the country. Their contribution to funding the military, through higher taxation, is understandable versus the modest contributions that lower-income families may make.

Even welfare programs benefit the rich. Some may think that’s absurd, but think about it: the wealthy need a consumer class in order to continue amassing wealth. If the poor are unable to spend capital -- say, if their spending is tied up in medical bills and child care -- then they cannot buy as much of the products that the rich want them to purchase.

Programs like Medicaid and child care subsidies help families in enormous ways. But they also help the wealthy -- they allow workers to continue working full time jobs (at terrible wages, I might add, especially if they’re eligible for Medicaid) as well as spend some income on products that they would otherwise have been unable to purchase.

Fairness is in the eyes of the beholder. Some may say that our current progressive form of taxation is unfair. I’d argue otherwise -- it’s fair in that it taxes people based on the size of their assets.

The poor pay less in taxes because they have less assets to protect, and they utilize less of the public services than what the so-called “job creators” use. Even the public services that they do qualify for help the wealthy to preserve a consumer class of citizens.

When people talk about tax cuts for the wealthy, what they’re really arguing for is putting the burden of funding the government on the backs of the middle class and working poor. But if a good or service is used by someone else at a far higher rate, shouldn’t that person be paying more for it?

If we split a pizza, and you eat six pieces and I have two, should we split the bill evenly?

A progressive form of taxation is justified under the same reasoning. The rich are getting a bigger piece of the pie -- they utilize far more of the government’s resources than they care to admit. They shouldn’t expect workers to pay a higher portion of the bill.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Scott Walker's shameful "legacy" needs to be undone

We shouldn't wait for Walker to end his presidential ambitions before we work to undo his damage

In the pursuit for higher office, Gov. Scott Walker is embarrassing our state on a national stage. His presidential ambitions have created incredible moments of “facepalm,” of trying to explain to friends and relatives across the nation why we elected this man, three times, to be in charge of our state.

He’s not our “favorite son” any longer; he’s truly the shame of Wisconsin.

Just look at what he’s proposed and supported during his short presidential jaunt. A wall separating the U.S. and Canada. A health care plan that essentially eliminates coverage for millions. A desperate call to “trump” up support by promising to wreak havoc in Washington.

It’s no wonder that his polling numbers have dropped to dismal levels on the national scene. And it’s equally unsurprising that his state numbers have tanked, too.

Whatever happens in the coming months -- whether, by some freak miracle, Walker rebounds or not -- our governor needs to do the responsible thing. Having largely ignored our state since his re-election last November, Walker needs to resign and allow a governor to take office who will be in Wisconsin for a majority of the time.

I’m not going to pretend to like Rebecca Kleefisch’s politics. The Lieutenant Governor once compared same-sex marriage to marriage between a person and a table. As soon as we’re able, we should remove her from office through electoral means, allowing a more sensible option to lead our state back to its original stature before Walker and Co. took power.

But there is one positive about Kleefisch: she isn’t Walker. And she is, for the most part, residing in Wisconsin most of the time.

After this era of politics in Wisconsin is over, and after “presidential candidate” Scott Walker becomes “Citizen Walker,” we need to work fast to restore our state. We need a Democratic-controlled legislature, a tough but not impossible feat to accomplish given the legislative lines that Republicans drew earlier this decade.

We need to undo the damage that Walker has wrought. This isn’t just about workers’ rights, for public and private workers, but that will be a part of it. It will also include a series of legislative acts to restore women’s rights (reproductive and economic); to restore funding for schools; to allow low-income families better health care options; to care for and preserve the environment; to restore sensible gun legislation that he has demolished under his watch; and more.

Those aren’t crazy positions of a far-left party. Those are reasonable and sound policies that everyday Wisconsinites can get behind.

The shame of Wisconsin is definitely Scott Walker. But we won’t stand around waiting for him to come back to our state to fix things. Believing he even cares about us anymore is faulty logic.

We can take matters into our own hands. And it begins by electing reasonable candidates for office, not ideologues hellbent on “wreaking havoc” in our state.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The hypocritical and partisan push to change the Wisconsin Department of Education

Rep. Sanfelippo OK with Attorney General election (currently held by GOP), but wants changes to DPI (held by Dems)

The plan to make the Statewide Superintendent of Schools, the head of the Department of Instruction, a governor-appointed post, is a move that is mostly partisan and equal parts hypocritical.

So, par for the course when it comes to the Wisconsin Republican Party.

Rep. Joe Sanfelippo
Currently the DPI is led by Tony Evers, a duly-elected Superintendent of Public Schools who won re-election in 2013 to his post with 61 percent of the state supporting him, a margin that is difficult to come by in a statewide race these days.

Evers is also a Democrat, which paints a huge target on his back for Republicans to aim for.

But a proposal to change the state’s constitution, introduced by Rep. Joe Sanfelippo (R-West Allis) would change that. Sanfelippo wants to make the position one that’s appointed by the governor, and approved by the State Senate.
“[This procedure] needs to be improved and the only way we can do that is by holding DPI more accountable, and with an appointed superintendent, we can do exactly that,” Sanfelippo said.
It’s unclear what needs improvement in the DPI. Wisconsin schools are often touted as being some of the best in the nation.

And while it’s true that appointing the head of our schools through the governor’s choice would streamline the process, it isn’t a move that has been proposed on in other offices by the GOP -- say, for the statewide Attorney General position, currently controlled by Republican Brad Schimel.

Were he to be consistent on the issue, Sanfelippo and his colleagues would call for that position to be a governor-appointed one as well. But there’s been no word on that thus far.

Sanfelippo seems concerned about just who is in charge of the DPI, citing that all-to-common (but rarely delved into) talking point Republicans love the most -- special interests (PDF).

“The students of our state should not be held hostage just because special interest groups can get someone without the proper qualifications to win a popularity contest every four years,” Sanfelippo said in a recent press release. “Our children and teachers deserve much better.”

Why doesn’t he seem concerned about the office of Attorney General, which has no requirements or qualifications either? Or for that matter, where is Sanfelippo's call to have special interests stay out of the election for governor itself?

And why is Sanfelippo pushing for a PARTISAN -- yes, PARTISAN -- Government Accountability Board? He even says it’s crazy to think that such a government post can’t be partisan in nature, so why bother trying?
To be quite honest, it’s rather na├»ve to believe the six former judges and staff members who make up the GAB can be completely nonpartisan.
Let’s recap this: Attorney General, elected and fine. State elections officials, partisan so let’s change it to be more so.

But the State Superintendent of Public Schools being elected? So disgraceful!

It seems pretty clear, even if they’re not saying it out loud, that Republicans are pushing this idea to change the DPI on a partisan basis rather than a necessary one. Changing who is in charge of our public schools through a governor's appointment will do little to nothing to improve them.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Kim Davis is acting out of bigotry, not religious conviction

Public officials must serve everyone, regardless of their own beliefs -- a short rant on Kim Davis

A sizable number of people are rallying to defend Kim Davis, a county clerk in Kentucky who refuses to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. After being told by a federal judge that she had to begin issuing licenses fairly, Davis still refused to do so, resulting in her being held in contempt of court and imprisoned last week until she agrees to comply.

County Clerk Kim Davis
Some consider Davis’s “imprisonment” to be a form of religious oppression, that her civil liberties are being threatened because issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples goes against her religious beliefs. But that’s faulty logic -- the same argument could be used by police officers to refuse defending a Muslim mosque, or firefighters refusing to rescue a Jewish family from their home if it were on fire.

Such actions, were they to be taken, would be considered absurd, as these public officials are meant to serve everyone, not just certain members of society that match their beliefs. If an officer or a firefighter behaved in such a manner, they would be removed from their posts without question.

That’s what’s going on with the situation surrounding Kim Davis -- as a public official, she refused to serve people on the basis of her own religious beliefs. She can’t do that -- same-sex couples lawfully gained the right to marriage, and so she has to serve them just as she would any other couple. When she refused to do so, she put her beliefs ahead of her position as a public official.

She’s free to do that, of course, but she must live with the consequences of her decision as well. She can either resign her position, or she can continue to sit in jail in contempt of court. As a public official, however, she can’t pick-and-choose who to serve -- she must apply the law equally to everyone.


Were I to be given the opportunity to ask Davis a question myself, I would ask whether this instance was the first in which she refused a marriage license on the basis of her religion. Has she issued out licenses to people of other faiths? Of other Christian sects? Of people with no faith at all?

I have to assume that she has. If she has, then she’s acting hypocritical. And her actions are derived more from outright bigotry than her religious convictions.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Soglin's "crusade" against liquor downtown hits already established businesses

Mayor aims to change direction of State Street, one liquor license hearing at a time

Madison Mayor Paul Soglin recently vetoed the liquor license for a young restaurant on State Street in an apparent attempt to stave off booze-heavy businesses in the area in favor of more retail opportunities for the downtown destination.

The thing is, Soglin’s veto doesn’t do anything to create retail. Whether the restaurant in question serves liquor, beer or nothing at all doesn’t matter – the restaurant will remain in place. Retail won’t grow because of Soglin’s decision, and his move will just hurt an already-established restaurant on State Street.

Mad City Frites applied for a liquor license with the city of Madison earlier this month. The State Street restaurant serves up “Belgian-style French fries, made in Madison.” And beer with French fries, we all know, is a wonderful combination.

Nineteen city council members agreed, with only one member voicing dissent. But the debate was highly spirited, with Soglin’s banter against the restaurant reminding some of a lecture more than a discussion, according to some reports.

In his veto message, Soglin expressed concerns over the growing alcohol presence downtown.

“We are experiencing creep – a gradual erosion of a long established philosophy about our downtown is destroyed in small incremental steps,” Soglin said.

Those concerns may be valid – there certainly isn’t a shortage of places to get alcohol on State Street – but Soglin oversteps his bounds when he tries to make Mad City Frites an example of his policy wishes.

If Soglin wants to grow retail on State Street, he should do so through grants and other incentives that encourage businesses to set up shop there. Punishing already existing businesses is not the way to grow retail. In fact, it sends just the opposite message: if you thwart the mayor’s wishes, you’re going to get burned.

Maybe I’m a bit biased here – Mad City Frites is a Millennial-owned business, and Soglin sadly plays the part of a past generation grouch all-too well. Were he to have a more open discussion about the matter at hand (rather than using a single license review to try and make his point), members of the council may be more open to his reasoning.

There are several valid points to Soglin’s arguments, and they deserve to have a proper hearing. It’s the approach to his crusade that is problematic more than the crusade itself. The end doesn’t always justify the means, and if Soglin thinks he can transform State Street one license review at a time, he’s going to have a hard time winning over people to his vision.

In all likelihood, the city council will probably override his veto. It only takes two-thirds of the council to do so, and with 19-1 voting in favor of Mad City Frites’ plans to sell beer the math is clearly in their favor.

Still, it’d be nice to read a story on in the future that talks about how cordial an argument between Soglin and the council had been, rather than reading about how the mayor threw a hissy fit over a single business just trying to grow its success.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Kentucky Clerk Kim Davis should resign -- or be held in contempt of court (UPDATED)

Davis, acting under her idea of "God's authority," uses her position of power for selfish means

UPDATE: Kim Davis has been found in contempt of court. The following is my blog post in its original form, before that ruling.

It’s not an exact rule, but in my experience whenever I’ve seen people argue that their actions are governed by “God’s rule” (or any other variation of that), it isn’t for anything good.

This excludes people who are trying to live the way they believe God intended them to in their private lives. Pastors, parishioners, and the like are certainly welcome to live in that manner.

But when it comes to people who are acting out in such a way that their actions get them noticed by a wide public audience, it tends to be for something negative.

In Kentucky, Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis is refusing to issue marriages to couples on the basis of their sex. The recent Supreme Court ruling allowing same-sex couples to wed isn’t enough to convince her to fulfill her job duties.

Davis, you see, is acting under “God’s authority.”

Which is to say that she’s acting under God’s authority based on her own religious principles. Plenty of people -- and other churches -- have no qualms with marrying couples of the same sex.

And as a public official, duty-bound to serve everyone in her community, I’m sure that Davis herself has probably issued many marriage licenses to couples who didn’t fit her exact definition of living under “God’s authority” -- atheists, other Protestants, or heaven forbid, Jewish people!!! (Please note the sarcasm)

I have real issues with people like Davis who say they are working under God’s supposed authority. It was a married couple in Wisconsin, after all, who allowed their daughter to die rather than seek medical help when she was sick, that also worked under God’s authority. And the same supposed authority told a mad man to kill abortion provider George Tiller.

Kim Davis is not a murderer. But she is acting under her definition of what “God’s authority” is, and that makes her dangerous. She is causing harm to the lives of members of her community, and she’s doing it for selfish reasons.

Her moral compass should guide her actions in her private life. But when she became a public official, she swore an oath to uphold the law of the land, and to administer the law in an equal way to every member of her community.

The law of the land now includes the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples. If she can’t do that willingly, she needs to resign. If she won’t resign, she needs to be held in contempt of court.