Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Assembly Speaker defends use of state-funded resources to proselytize religion

Would Robin Vos afford a Muslim legislator the same courtesy? It's doubtful...

State Rep. Scott Allen (R-Waukesha) is taking some heat for religious comments he made on a YouTube video. Specifically, Allen is getting criticism for using state resources to produce a video that encourages individuals to convert to Christianity.

“For those who may watch this who are not Christians, I invite you to consider the hope offered by the Prince of Peace,” Allen said in the video, before going on to quote several biblical verses.

Rep. Scott Allen (R-Waukesha)
via YouTube
Allen is free to promote his religious beliefs on his own time. But using state-funded resources -- amounting to using taxpayer dollars -- to proselytize his religion flies in the face of what the First Amendment is all about: that government “shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” nor promote one belief over others.

There certainly is gray area to consider when it comes to the separation between church and state. Churches can rent out public school space, for example, to hold Sunday services. But the school itself cannot advertise or promote the event, unless it is open to promoting other events for religious services of other beliefs. Schools cannot lead the student body in religious prayers, as another example, even non-denominational prayers that are meant to be more inclusive.

Rep. Allen’s actions do not allow other faiths to have equal promotion, so it is a clear misuse of state resources.

Not everyone agrees that this is important. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, also a Republican, says that people are making too big a deal on the video, and that Allen’s message was wholly appropriate.

But I’m curious whether Vos would say something similar if a person of a different faith were promoting his or her beliefs. If a Muslim legislator had encouraged people to convert to Islam, there would probably be a huge uproar from the right, and I’m willing to wager that Vos would suddenly be against such actions.

Vos, after all, backed calls to prevent Syrian refugees from being allowed to enter the United States. “With no guarantee that a refugee does not have an association with radical Islamic terrorists, we cannot take any chances,” Vos said. “This is not the time to open our doors to Syrian refugees.”

Vos had no reason besides their Islamic faith to suggest a broad ban on Syrian refugees. He’s also been silent on whether Christian-leaning terrorists, like those that target Planned Parenthood facilities, should render restrictions on Christians from being able to enter the country.

So it’s not too much of a stretch to suggest he’d be against promoting Islam using state resources either. (And if Vos is anything like Gov. Scott Walker, he’d meltdown and scoff at the line of questioning itself, rather than answering it at all.)

Scott Allen’s usage of state property to disseminate his religious views was an abuse of taxpayer dollars. Robin Vos and others shouldn’t defend that action, and should say that Allen erred in doing so.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Walker's performance during economic recovery is at a slower pace than Doyle's

Journal Sentinel editorial board isn't impressed with current gov's performance

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which in 2010 had endorsed then-candidate for governor Scott Walker, isn’t impressed with his current spin -- especially when it comes to jobs.

“Gov. Scott Walker can't avoid the latest bad news on jobs in Wisconsin,” the editorial board writes. “A new government report shows that our state ranked 32nd in private-sector job growth among the 50 states in the five-year period that ended in June. That's the entire recovery period since the last recession.”

Although they don’t blame Walker entirely for the sluggish Wisconsin economy, they do take him to task for his failed campaign promise made more than five years ago. “Certainly, Walker should own his record -- he did make the brave claim in 2010 that the state would grow 250,000 jobs by the end of his first term.”

Ranking 32nd since the recovery began is indeed bad news. But it’s even worse when you isolate Walker’s performance from that of his predecessor, former Gov. Jim Doyle.

The recovery began under Doyle’s watch, after all. And the final budget under Doyle ended in June of 2011 -- six months into Walker’s term.

At that time, Wisconsin had gained 39,909 new jobs, and new jobs growth was at 1.8 percent year-to-year.

We have yet to replicate those results under Walker’s watch.

You heard that right: Walker has yet to do better than Doyle on year-to-year jobs growth in second quarter jobs reports.

All data derived from Blue is Gov. Jim Doyle's
final budget year; red is Gov. Scott Walker's years in office.
Walker’s performance over the four years when his budgets were in place average out at around 33,275 jobs per year -- a pace that is 16 percent slower than Gov. Doyle’s last budget year.

When you look at his performance compared to the nation, it’s worse than what the Journal Sentinel describes: Wisconsin under Walker is ranked 37th overall, from the start of his first budget to the second quarter this year.

The Journal Sentinel is right to call Walker out for failing to create jobs at a rate that he promised. They, like the rest of Wisconsin, are frustrated with the governor’s performance.

It will take a lot to turn the state around. It will likely require a fresh set of ideas, a set that runs counter to Walker’s failed programs.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Political Heat's 2015 year in review

A look at some of the headlines on this site over the past year

This past year has been a pretty good one for Political Heat. Readership was up, and I wanted to take the time to thank you, the readers, for visiting my blog.

This year also marked my tenth year of writing political opinion. You can read more about that here.

For a year in review post, I thought I’d suggest twelve posts I’ve written in 2015 -- one from each month of the year -- that I felt highlight some of the topics I’ve discussed on the site.

Once again, thank you for reading, and I wish for all my readers a prosperous new year.

  • January: Former Mayor Dave suggests concealed carry didn’t make WI safer (he’s right, too)
    The average crime rate of the two years that Wisconsin has had concealed carry on the books saw a significantly higher rate of violent crime than the average seen during the ten years of the assault weapons ban.
  • February: Why didn't Walker answer "Yes" when asked whether Obama loves America?
    “I’ve never asked the President so I don’t really know what his opinions are on that one way or another.”
  • March: Religious Freedom should not become a means to discrimination
    Protecting individual beliefs is an important aspect of the American identity. But generally speaking, that protection has been afforded to individuals against state persecution, not the exercise of other people’s own lives.
  • April: Call to Wangaard's office turns up flimsy rationale for removing 48-hour gun waiting period
    Sen. Van Wanggaard's office could point to only one story in the four decades since the waiting period was passed that he felt "cost someone his or her life." And upon closer inspection, that incident's outcome likely didn't involve the 48-hour waiting period at all.
  • May: No, Scott Walker: Women don’t need “more information” through forced ultrasounds
    Wisconsin women were already receiving an informed choice about their options before the law was passed.
  • June: #LoveWins across the nation, but opposition remains
    It’s been a long time coming -- but now, gay and lesbian couples are finally allowed to get married in the United States, no matter where they are.
  • July: Scott Walker’s legacy: more children living in poverty
    Walker’s policies have done anything but help stave off this rising trend.
  • August: Restore the Wisconsin Covenant
    [The Wisconsin Covenant] 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.
  • September: Soglin's "crusade" against liquor downtown hits already established businesses
    Retail won’t grow because of Soglin’s decision, and his move will just hurt an already-established restaurant on State Street.
  • October: Will Wisconsin Republicans apologize to Kevin Kennedy?
    When State Sen. Chris Kapenga had questioned Kennedy’s professional relationship with Lerner during hearings on the GAB, it summoned memories of McCarthyism-era tactics, of guilt by association.
  • November: On at least three measures, Scott Walker is worse than Jim Doyle
    If we’re looking strictly at how Walker’s time in office compares to Doyle’s, it’s clear that the better of the two was the Democrat.
  • December: Walker’s bad week means more “Wisconsin Comeback” propaganda
    When bad news dominates the headlines, Walker of course does what comes naturally to him: he spins.
  • Monday, December 21, 2015

    No WI death penalty so make your own, encourages GOP lawmaker

    GOP lawmaker suggests citizens should become vigilantes

    A conservative lawmaker in Wisconsin says that, since we don’t have the death penalty in the state, citizens should take it upon themselves to “help clean our society of [the] scumbags” that perpetrate crime.

    No, really. And Rep. Bob Gannon (R-Slinger) goes on to say that, since “criminals no longer have any fear of our courts or our prisons,” it’s “time that the citizens of this fine state stand up and fight back.”

    These remarks come in response to a shooting at East Towne Mall in Madison last week. Gannon, who supports concealed carry so fervently that he refuses “to spend my money at any business that believes my second amendment rights have to be left in my car,” penned a snarky and spiteful press release (PDF) simply titled, “Hole Shot into Gun Free Zone Theory.”

    “A gang banger in the mall with a gun is going to think twice if there could be a law abiding
    CCW holder standing behind them fully prepared to shoot center mass,” he writes.

    It’s the fantasy of many concealed carry holders that they can defend a large population of shoppers/church-goers/college students/etc. if only they were allowed to carry their guns everywhere. Yet the facts fly in the face of this imagined scenario: active-shooter incidents rarely end with another citizen using their gun to stop a criminal.

    In fact, according to FBI statistics that have studied active-shooter situations (PDF), a person without a gun is more likely to stop a shooter than someone with a gun. Thirteen percent of active-shooter situations studied by the FBI ended with someone using means besides a gun to end the situation. Conversely, in only three percent of all active-shooter situations did a “good guy with a gun” actually stop a “bad guy” with a gun.

    “But so what?” many will ask. Surely, Gannon is right that having more guns will stop more criminals, resulting in less crimes in the state overall.

    However, that’s not what we’re currently seeing. According to FBI crime stats since concealed carry was implemented in the state, violent crime has gone up in Wisconsin by 22 percent.

    That’s not to say that concealed carry was responsible for that rise in crime -- but it has failed to make us safer, as proponents like Gov. Scott Walker promised it would in 2011.

    It’s not just in Wisconsin. In Missouri, where the state relaxed stringent gun laws starting in 2007, gun homicides increased by 16 percent. And in South Dakota, where the 48-hour gun waiting period was rescinded in 2009, suicides also went up by 16 percent statewide.

    Bob Gannon worries that the lack of a death penalty doesn’t deter crime in our state. He’s wrong in this assumption as well: the death penalty doesn’t deter crime any better in states where it’s carried out. Here’s another instance where the facts go against his rhetoric: in every year since at least 1991, states with the death penalty had higher rates of murder than states without it.

    Gannon is trying to sound tough and act “Trumpish” with his insistence that criminals can be stopped if citizens simply arm up. But in Wisconsin, we adhere to the principles of the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution just as much as the Second Amendment. And that means that citizens deserve due process of law -- not a system that requires citizen vigilantes to become judge, jury, and executioners, as Gannon is seemingly advocating.

    Walker errantly blames workers for state's poor jobs numbers

    "Unskilled workers" aren't a problem for the state -- this governor is

    Last week it was revealed that jobs in Wisconsin were growing slower than they were on average throughout the nation.

    The rate of job growth, in fact, is the worst in the Midwest since Gov. Scott Walker’s first budget passed in 2011, and the 37th worst in the nation overall since that time.

    The governor didn’t miss a beat. Walker took the opportunity, on the same day that those bad numbers came out, to tout his “Wisconsin Comeback” -- which, as it turns out, was completely overblown. Wisconsin isn’t on a comeback, and much of the state readily agrees that Walker is failing as a leader.

    In the face of these sad jobs numbers, Walker decided to shift the blame elsewhere, to unskilled workers in the state.
    Walker said that more companies would add jobs if more workers were job-ready.

    “Employers have increasingly told us, we’ve seen it even in some of the Chamber (of Commerce) surveys, that until we can get more people in the workforce, employers aren’t going to add more work until they can fill the positions that are vacant right now,” Walker said.
    This isn’t unlike Walker in the slightest: in the past the governor has blamed a plethora of problems when it comes to slow jobs growth, including the recall election, protesters, former Gov. Jim Doyle, data that wasn’t (but apparently now is) the “gold standard” to go by, the fiscal cliff, and Obamacare (H/T to Political Environment for keeping track). Each of those problems were touted by Walker as to why Wisconsin was slipping, but each of those problems didn’t hinder job growth elsewhere in the country.

    It’s not hard to believe that Walker would continue shifting the blame onto anyone but him for failing to meet his promise of 250,000 jobs in his first term (which we haven’t even come close to reaching one year into his second term). So seeing him blame the workers themselves isn’t that unbelievable.

    Unfortunately for Walker, that line of thinking has already been suggested -- and debunked. From the Capital Times, in 2013 (emphasis in bold added):
    State officials -- including Gov. Scott Walker -- [are] saying there are loads of great jobs out there if workers could improve their skills. ...

    It all sounds plausible except for one thing: There may not be a major skills gap problem in the Wisconsin labor market.

    A new analysis from the UW-Madison’s LaFollette School of Public Affairs released Thursday found there are enough tech school and college graduates for both the current and projected job openings in Wisconsin through 2020. It’s the second study in the past year with similar findings.
    Walker may cite surveys from various Chambers of Commerce across the state. Unfortunately, those surveys are often incomplete. Additionally, they carry with them opinions on what’s failing the state, and not empirical evidence for what’s actually happening.

    The state workers are trained. And for those that are not, companies should be training them.

    It is not the fault of workers for the slow growth of jobs in Wisconsin. To find where the blame truly belongs, Walker needs only to look into his own mirror.

    Saturday, December 19, 2015

    Walker’s bad week means more “Wisconsin Comeback” propaganda

    Walker spins facts to make himself loo good, but fails to lead our state towards progress

    Here’s some fast facts about Gov. Scott Walker:
    • Walker’s administration knew about alleged abuses at the Lincoln Hills School for Boys, a juvenile prison in northern Wisconsin, for almost a year. Those abuses were physical and sexual in nature, and the turning point to do anything about it for Walker apparently came earlier this month when guards crushed a kid’s foot in a door, resulting in the youth requiring amputation of his toes. 

    • Three DA’s in Wisconsin are planning to appeal the John Doe decision delivered by the state Supreme Court that said collusion between third party political interest groups and political candidates in state elections could conspire together to avoid laws regulating donation limits. That’s exactly what Walker did during his recall campaign, when he encouraged millionaire donors to give to third party groups like Wisconsin Club for Growth, which could receive unlimited sums of campaign money, unlike the candidate Walker himself who was bound by campaign limits.

    • The Walker administration was caught red-handed in trying to skirt open records laws by encouraging members to text message each other rather than email or use otherwise traceable means of discussing proposed legislation. Two former members of Team Walker admitted they were told to use such means in order to avoid open records requests during their time working for the governor.

    • A recent jobs report shows Wisconsin is once again behind the rest of the nation when it comes to jobs growth. In fact, since Walker’s first budget went into effect in June of 2011, we’ve grown jobs slower than 36 other states and DC, and are dead last in the Midwest in jobs growth during that time.
    Those four facts would be bad enough for any politician to deal with. Sadly, each of those facts have all come to light within the past week, demonstrating just how bad this governor is for the state in a very short span of time. Imagine what his impact on the state will be in the years ahead...

    Wisconsin is thankfully starting to realize Walker’s failure as a leader as well -- recent polling from the Marquette Law School shows that less than four in ten residents approve of the way Walker is handling his job in office, and 58 percent of Wisconsinites disapprove of his management skills overall (PDF).

    So when bad news dominates the headlines, Walker of course does what comes naturally to him: he spins.

    This weekend Walker penned an opinion piece called “The Wisconsin Comeback.” Sound familiar? It’s the same mantra he repeated over and over again during his 2014 gubernatorial campaign against Democratic candidate Mary Burke.

    And much like that campaign, Walker again spins the facts into positives, even though they’re not that great to begin with.

    On taxes, Walker says, “Middle-class taxpayers are better off in Wisconsin today than we were five years ago.”

    But it’s really not that drastic of a change. In 2014, for instance, a middle class married household earning $60,000 paid $3,565.71 to the state on their income taxes. In 2010, they paid a little more (an additional $110), but nothing substantially different in the time span that Walker is talking about. The savings are about $2 per week of work, or about $9 per month.

    Meanwhile, the state is facing billions of dollars in budget deficits, and many services that Wisconsin has traditionally provided for citizens are facing drastic cuts.

    Walker also brags about jobs growth in his column -- on the same day that the slow jobs report came out, no less. “The 45,100 new private sector jobs added October over October is statistically significant,” he writes.

    There's just one problem: those jobs numbers come from a series of monthly estimates that Walker himself has called unreliable in the past. They are frequently revised, and as Jake’s Economic TA Funhouse points out, “we are down 10,000 total jobs from where we thought we were” using Walker’s numbers in his column.

    The third strike? Gov. Walker pretends that he’s a friend to college students. “For the first time in University of Wisconsin history, in-state tuition is frozen at all UW campuses for four years in a row. That makes college more affordable for our students and working families.”

    But tuition freezes don’t make college more affordable -- in fact, in the long run they make things worse. Even with the freeze in place, the average graduate of a UW System school faces more than $22,000 in debt. Tuition freezes don’t fix the problem -- like stopping a faucet in a clogged sink, there’s still a mess in the pipes to deal with. But Walker won’t call the plumber, calling it “a job well done” without actually fixing things at all.


    The Wisconsin Comeback that Walker touts is nothing but spun nonsense. Some will choose to believe Walker’s spin. For the rest of the state, we’re left dealing with Walker’s messes until he leaves office.

    Thursday, December 17, 2015

    June 2015 jobs report shows Wisconsin still lagging under Walker's watch

    Governor had promised 250,000 jobs in four years -- it's been five and a half, and we're still not close

    It’s become routine to point this out, but it’s still important to shine light on the fact that jobs are slow-coming in Wisconsin, lest anyone who still “Stands with Scott Walker” think things are somehow working (they’re not).

    In the latest yearly survey released this week, Wisconsin grew just 30,759 private sector jobs from June 2014 to June 2015. That’s just shy of 1.3 percent growth for the year.

    Across the nation, we’re ranked 37th in the states and DC in terms of jobs during that time. Aside from Iowa, that makes us the worst state in the Midwest for that time period.

    When looking at jobs growth from the start of Scott Walker’s first budget in June 2011, however, there’s no mistaking it: we ARE dead last overall in the Midwest.

    Wisconsin ranks 37th in the nation in job growth from June 2011 to June 2015. During that time, our growth rate was about 5.73 percent over four years.

    For comparison, Illinois had a four year rate of growth of 6.26, Iowa had a 6.70 rate, Minnesota had a 7.66 rate, and Michigan had a growth rate of 10.5 percent.

    Data derived from the Bureau of Labor Statistics

    Now, some will say that 30,759 jobs is a lot, and that I shouldn’t be too critical. Maybe our jobs growth is slower than some other states, but surely we’re doing better than before...right?

    Not so much. We have to remember that the first year of recovery didn’t actually take place under Republican Gov. Walker’s watch. It happened while Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle was still in office.

    During the final year of Doyle’s last budget, from June 2010 to June 2011 the state grew 39,909 private sector jobs. That means the latest year for jobs growth under Walker was 22 percent slower than the first year of recovery.

    When Walker was running for office back in 2010 he said that he’d have his campaign promise of “250,000 jobs” tattooed on the foreheads of his cabinet members and staffers. Some doubted that the governor could achieve that pledge, but Walker made it clear that 250,000 jobs was his minimum acceptable jobs numbers he would create in the state.

    In the five and one-half years since Walker took office, Wisconsin grew around 180,000 jobs, or about three-quarters of what he promised he could do in four years. At the pace we’re going at, Walker’s pledge will be fulfilled in the year 2018 -- three full years after he initially said it could be done.

    That’s not acceptable. Political promises matter, especially ones that are the pillars of a campaign, and this governor said he should be held accountable to this one specifically. It’s far past time we hold Walker to his word, and hold him responsible for his failures.

    All data derived from the Bureau of Labor Statistics

    Sunday, December 13, 2015

    Supreme Court justices deserve limits to their tenure

    Lifetime appointments prolong arguments from past generations that are no longer relevant

    The disastrous way Justice Antonin Scalia described how black students would benefit from attending “slower track” universities (PDF) shows us that racist beliefs are prevalent even within the institutions we normally assume are meant to protect everyone equally.

    His generalization of an entire race, of implying that black students who are the recipients of affirmative action did not otherwise earn their place at prestigious universities, is a disgusting mark on his record, and a disproven idea at that.

    Certainly, fifty years into the future, we will look back on Scalia’s tenure as one mired in many missteps, misstatements, and terrible jurisprudential positions; this latest comment from him will be among many others he has made that are an embarrassment to the position he currently holds.

    But we don’t live fifty years in the future, and alas must deal with his actions in the present. Impeachment is the wrong route to take, unfortunately, as removal of a justice is much like that of a president -- it requires a compelling case of ill behavior, of a justice allowing personal political views to interfere with judicial decision making (beyond philosophical judicial arguments). What's more, it takes a supermajority of senators to affirm, once impeachment charges have been made by the House of Representatives.

    It’s unlikely any justice (liberal, conservative, or moderate) could in reality face threats of impeachment in this hyper-partisan political climate. Only one justice has ever been impeached, and was acquitted of charges by the Senate in 1805:
    The single justice impeached but subsequently not forced out was Samuel Chase, a longtime Maryland legislator who was appointed to the court as an associate justice by President George Washington on Jan.  26, 1796, and who served there until his death on June 19, 1811.

    In 1804, eight articles of impeachment accused him of allowing his political views to interfere with his decisions.
    Even with Samuel Chase serving as an example, it’d be incredibly difficult to muster up a case that could remove a justice for pushing their own political views on the Court, even if they are racist views.

    A more compelling option might be to amend the Constitution itself, and require justices of the Court to serve out no more than twelve years on the bench rather than serve lifetime appointments.

    Three presidential terms seems sufficient time for an appointment to have influence on the Court’s decisions. And it would allow a better flow of ideas, and of generational input, if the Court were required to have new justices more frequently.

    The average justice has served 16 years on the Court over its history, with many others having served much longer time spans. Scalia himself has served since 1986, approaching thirty years total on the bench, which to me seems longer than is necessary.

    Much has changed during that thirty year period. Having a justice serve that long serves no purpose, except to hold onto ideals that are no longer relevant to the current generation of American citizens. This isn’t just important for the left -- conservatives, too, would benefit from allowing more turnover to the Court.

    It’s an idea worth looking into, but one thing is for certain: lifetime appointments to the Supreme Court have got to go. They provide nothing positive for the Court overall.

    Tuesday, December 8, 2015

    Walker leaves out Muslims when discussing religious freedom

    Governor blames “typical” media response for pointing out the omission, doesn’t correct himself

    During an event in Milwaukee commemorating the start of Hanukkah, Gov. Scott Walker expressed his support for freedom of religious belief, listing off a number of faiths as examples of religious plurality celebrated in the United States.
    ...whether someone is Jewish, or Christian, or Hindu, or Buddhist, or whatever it might be, that particularly here in America, we recognize that [religious freedom is] one of the great tenets.
    Notably absent from the list of faiths Walker listed was Islam. When a reporter asked Walker about that, he got upset over the question, and blasted the media for asking what really is a simple request.
    “Pointing that out is typical of the media,” said Walker. “Somebody asked me the other day, what did I find out about the media? It's like, what did I leave out? I just rattled off a bunch [of faiths]. You could mention three or four other religions. I didn't specifically single one or the other out.”
    It’s likely that Walker meant what he said -- it would be impractical for the governor to list out every single religious belief in making his point.

    But it’s also an inquiry that didn’t require a long-winded response like what he gave, and it seems that Walker is trying to avoid answering it rather than provide clarity on the issue.

    It’s not a silly question to ask, either. In light of Republican candidates for president making blatant attacks against Islam in recent months (including Walker, who suggested there were only a “handful of reasonable, moderate followers of Islam” back in August), it’s important for Republicans to signal that these rights apply to Muslims as well.

    Indeed, with GOP frontrunner Donald Trump suggesting a ban on all Muslims from entering the country (including those who are U.S. citizens traveling abroad), now more than ever it is necessary for Republicans to distinguish themselves from this type of nonsense.

    Walker’s rant against the media is ignoring another important facet: there are many more Muslims in America than Hindus or Buddhists. According to Census figures, Muslims outnumber Buddhists by about 13 percent. And there are 130 percent more Muslims than Hindus in the nation as well.

    To list those faiths over adherents of Islam is a questionable move, and one that was rightfully asked about by a reporter. Walker’s snippy answer speaks volumes about how he really feels, and does a lot more damage than a simple response of “Yes, Muslims have the same rights, too” would have done.

    Monday, December 7, 2015

    Gov. Walker uses devious "tricks" to avoid open records laws

    His willingness and eagerness to avoid providing open records demonstrates his cowardice and incompetence as a leader

    The lengths that Gov. Scott Walker’s administration, and Republicans in general, have gone to restrict access to open records is disgraceful, especially in a state like Wisconsin which has traditionally prided itself on being open to public scrutiny.

    Previously legislative Republicans had tried to obliterate open records laws that would have allowed lawmakers the ability to hide how bills were drafted.

    Walker and his administration initially denied being a part of the scheme to change the law, but it was quickly discovered that they had been a part of it after all.

    The plan would have “made it harder for the public to monitor how [state] government works.” It was removed from the proposed budget after tremendous outcry from the public.

    Walker’s office has also repeatedly denied open records requests for newspapers across the state, using tired excuses that don’t pass the sniff test in order to justify denying what are reasonable requests.

    Now the Walker administration is using another method to deny open records laws: using text messaging to communicate with donors regarding proposed legislation, and then promptly denying that the messages are available for open records requests, calling them “transitory records” that don’t have to be kept.

    From the Wisconsin State Journal:
    In at least two recent cases, the administration says it doesn’t have to keep certain “transitory” records and therefore can’t release records it doesn’t have. ...

    [These records] include text messages between top administration officials related to a failed $500,000 state loan to a struggling Milwaukee construction company owned by a top Walker donor.
    The inability of the Walker administration to keep proper records isn’t enough of an excuse. It’s their responsibility to be held to account when asked to produce these records. That includes logging them elsewhere for the public to view them should they make a request.

    What’s next for this governor? Using Snapchat to ensure the communications between him and his staff exist for only ten seconds?

    Then again, what did we expect from a politician that kept a secret router in his office to avoid documentation of his exploits? This is Walker’s modus operandi -- and it’s why he’s unfit to govern this state.

    Sunday, December 6, 2015

    Freedom from Fear -- the need for gun reform is evident

    Americans are ready for better gun laws

    Freedom from Fear
    Norman Rockwell, via Wikipedia
    In January of 1941, eleven months prior to the bombing on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt delivered his State of the Union speech, which later became known as the “Four Freedoms” speech.

    The importance of this speech cannot be underscored. It influenced the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and continues to be a source of inspiration for those fighting oppression across the globe.

    These rights include: the freedom of worship; the freedom of speech; the freedom from want; and the freedom from fear. Each of these rights, Roosevelt declared, were to be recognized globally, and not just in the United States.

    The last freedom Roosevelt expressed -- the freedom from fear -- is especially important today, in light of the rise of mass shootings across the country in recent years.

    Roosevelt was referring to international fears when he made his speech in 1941:
    The fourth is freedom from fear -- which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor -- anywhere in the world.
    In national terms, however, it could be argued that Roosevelt would have advocated for a reduction of arms in the U.S. itself, including curtailing related loopholes in gun laws. Indeed, before the Four Freedoms speech was ever given, Roosevelt had advocated for a registration and taxation on all guns in the nation.

    It was clear that Americans also understood this fourth freedom to include domestic concerns as well. Eleanor Roosevelt, who took up the cause of pushing the Four Freedoms after her husband’s death, explained (emphases in bold mine):
    Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home -- so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.
    We live in fearful times. Ask any American about the world around them today -- from the international stage to their own community -- and they’ll likely mention some aspect of fear influencing their daily lives.

    At least one aspect of this fear lies in the growth of violent mass shootings. From San Bernardino to Newtown, Americans across the country are fearful that their community could be next.

    Roosevelt spoke of the Four Freedoms as a goal that was attainable to his generation: “[It] is no vision of a distant millennium,” he said.

    We have it in our power to alleviate these fears we live with in our lifetimes also. The need to do so is dire, so let’s do so without delay.

    Let’s get rid of the gun-show loophole that allows purchasers to buy guns without a background check.

    Let’s make certain weapons and accessories impossible -- or at least more difficult -- to attain.

    Let’s keep individuals on the terrorist watch list from being able to purchase tools of destruction, including guns.

    These are not solutions that will end violence completely in this country. But they would be a great start at reducing the number of violent and senseless attacks that we’ve become too complacent with seeing on a regular basis.

    We put a man on the moon. Surely we can stave off violent mass shootings. Many Americans are already willing to advocate for stricter gun laws that retain the rights to purchase weapons. The two are not mutually exclusive.

    The push for reform won't be easy, but it’s not impossible either. Once we envision an attainable outcome, all that’s left is to make it happen.

    Thursday, December 3, 2015

    Does Rebecca Bradley still think contraception is abortion? She won't say...

    Rebecca Bradley won't comment on misinformative contraceptive op-ed in lead-up to election campaign

    Women should not be denied the ability to purchase birth control on the basis of their pharmacist’s religious beliefs.

    Justice Bradley. Image via
    Wisconsin Court System
    It’s as simple as that. If your religious convictions prevent you from being able to carry out a medically prescribed drug, then you don’t belong in the pharmaceutical business.

    That’s not an infringement on anyone’s right to worship freely -- individuals can worship any way they like, but they shouldn’t be a pharmacist if they can’t perform the functions of the job. You shouldn’t be in control of making decisions for other people, especially important medical decisions that have been made by doctors.

    Current Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley disagrees, or at least she did in 2006. At that point in time, Bradley stated her support for allowing pharmacists to refuse service to women based on religious convictions.

    Bradley wrote, “The law certainly should protect pharmacists who choose not to be a party to the morally abhorrent termination of life,” explaining that “contraceptives may cause the death of a conceived, unborn child by preventing implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterus.”

    What Bradley described as an abortion, however, really isn’t. "We know that about half of fertilized eggs never stick around,” according to Susan Wood, the current director of the Jacobs Institute of Women’s Health at George Washington University. “[Fertilized eggs frequently] just pass out of the woman's body” before attaching to the uterine wall.

    That’s not called an abortion in most cases. We don’t even classify that as a miscarriage -- it’s simply the end of the ovulation process (called the luteal phase), the same as any other where a woman doesn’t become pregnant.

    That was apparently too difficult for Rebecca Bradley to understand in 2006, when she was getting most of her information from Pro-Life Wisconsin, an anti-abortion group that also promotes abstinence-only education, a technique that has been shown to be an utter failure.

    But that was then. Now, Bradley is on the State Supreme Court, and she’s up for election in the spring. So naturally, we should be asking her what her opinion is now, not what it was then.

    So what’s Bradley’s opinion presently? She’s not saying. From the Cap Times:
    Asked whether she would still support such a law, through a spokeswoman, Bradley declined to weigh in, citing the potential for the issue to come before the high court.
    That seems like a responsible answer, but it’s also a convenient one to make: rather than clear up any confusion from what she said in 2006, Bradley instead leaves it ambiguous, presumably making her decision more public after the election takes place -- and when it affects state law.

    Bradley’s pulling a page right out of the Scott Walker playbook -- keep quiet on the subject during the election season, and make a big splash once you’ve secured your seat, just as Walker did with abortion rights during his gubernatorial race.

    It’s a ploy that worked for Walker in the short term, but we’ll have to wait and see how it works for Rebecca Bradley -- the incumbent Supreme Court justice who just so happened to be appointed by Walker himself.

    ENOUGH! Americans are ready for stricter gun laws (and more research)

    Fifty-eight percent (PDF) of Americans support "more strict" gun laws, according to recent poll

    There’s no one answer for the rise in mass shootings in America. There’s no silver bullet, no singular solution that can prevent events like what we saw in San Bernardino, or Colorado Springs last week, or anywhere else in the past year, or anywhere else in the next year.

    AP-GfK poll, Oct. 28, 2015 (Source)
    Some, in recognizing that there isn’t one answer, relegate themselves to accepting this is the new normal. They decide to arm themselves, something that is their right to do, but that ignores the fundamental problem altogether.

    But that is the wrong approach to take. Just because there isn’t a solution that will end ALL gun violence doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do our best to prevent it.

    Vaccines aren’t 100 percent effective, and fires still break out across the country despite fire detectors being in most homes. But the prevalence of vaccines and fire detectors have saved countless lives. We need to find a similar solution for gun violence.

    We need sensible gun laws in this country. We allow purchasers to avoid lawful background checks. We allow gun owners to have high capacity gun magazines, to own military-stylized weapons that serve little purpose except to inflict harm on others. We allow instant ownership of guns, without a waiting period.

    Worst of all, the one thing we do ban is research. Just hours before the shootings began in San Bernardino, a group of doctors held a press conference in D.C. to protest laws that restrict their ability to study and disseminate information about gun ownership, violence, and prevention methods.
    “Gun violence claims the lives of 90 Americans every day through unintentional shootings, suicides, or homicides,” said Alice Chen, MD, executive director of Doctors for America. “My physician colleagues and I are here today because we see too many of our patients affected by gun violence.” ...

    “We need to know: What impacts whether you use a gun for suicide? Which safe storage practices are effective at keeping kids safe?” Chen said. “We can answer these questions and save lives and still protect the right to bear arms -- the same way [we keep people safe while driving] and still allow people to drive.”
    Those are not unreasonable demands. And Congress would be wise to address them.

    But they probably won’t. As Igor Volsky, an editor with the liberal group Think Progress, showed us through a flurry of tweets yesterday, politicians on the right offer us just one solution to this mess: their thoughts and prayers. Meanwhile, they end up collecting thousands of dollars (millions, collectively) from the National Rifle Association.

    The only other solution I have seen came from Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who promoted a “see something, say something” campaign for citizen vigilantism at an event that was unfortunately scheduled during the San Bernardino shootings.

    Walker urged Wisconsinites to tip off local law enforcement if they thought they saw something suspicious going on. “It’s incredibly important for Wisconsinites to be aware of their surroundings, especially during the holiday season when we attend special events, shop for our loved ones, and travel,” he said during the press conference.

    Which is sage advice, to be sure. But it’s also common sense -- and a campaign the governor has had in place since 2012. Citizen awareness is helpful, and certainly has prevented violence in the past. But it’s not going to do enough.

    The mayor of Oak Creek, Wisconsin Steve Scaffidi agrees. He bore witness to a mass shooting three years ago in the city he leads, where a racist gunman shot and killed seven Sikh parishioners.

    Following the events from San Bernardino, Scaffidi explained that he has “had enough.”

    Among the solutions Scaffidi said were unacceptable was the “‘wild west’ mentality of frontier justice” that purports to believe that arming everyone is the best call to action.
    I am a gun owner. But I have to believe that one of the popular responses to mass shootings -- arm everyone and encourage individual and aggressive action against a mass shooter -- is at best naive, and at worst, dangerous.
    The mayor’s best idea? “Why not start with researching and funding programs that have been proven to reduce violence?” he writes. “We live in a country of tremendous resources and brilliant minds who tackle difficult and complex problems every day. Why would we not care as much about this epidemic of violence as we do about all the other ways people die every day?”

    Which brings us back to opening up research on the matter. If there’s one thing we need to not ban any longer, it’s that.

    We also need uniform laws on the books for gun ownership. Local laws are fine and all, but when cities like Chicago try to pass laws meant to curb violence, people just find guns from out of the state and bring them into the city. A uniform policy of gun ownership, rights, and privileges would make things better.

    Finally, we need to recognize the Second Amendment rights that ensure everyone can own a weapon for the purposes of defending themselves is not an absolutist doctrine. We have limits on speech rights -- we can’t erroneously shout “FIRE!” in a crowded theater -- and we should recognize that ownership of every type of weapon isn’t what the founders meant when they penned this right into the Constitution.

    We can’t prevent all gun violence. But common sense solutions that have worked elsewhere (inside America and beyond its borders) can be adopted while still adhering to the tenets of the Constitution. We can stave off gun violence through adoption of enforceable legislation.

    Thoughts and prayers are not enough. It’s time we take action. And most of America is ready for it.