Tag Archives: 2015

Scientists’ annual physical of planet: ‘Earth’s fever rises’

Earth’s fever got worse last year, breaking dozens of climate records, scientists said in a massive report nicknamed the annual physical for the planet.

Soon after 2015 ended, it was proclaimed the hottest on record. The new report shows the broad extent of other records and near-records on the planet’s climatic health. Those include record heat energy absorbed by the oceans and lowest groundwater storage levels globally, according to a report last week from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“I think the time to call the doctor was years ago,” NOAA climate monitoring chief Deke Arndt, co-editor of the report, said in an email. “We are awash in multiple symptoms.”

The 2015 State of the Climate report examined 50 different aspects of climate, including dramatic melting of Arctic sea ice and glaciers worldwide. A dozen different nations set hottest year records, including Russia and China. South Africa had the hottest temperature ever recorded in the month of October: 119.1 degrees Fahrenheit (48.4 degrees Celsius).

Even though it was a relatively quiet hurricane year in the Atlantic, there were 36 major tropical cyclones worldwide — 15 more than average, said NOAA climate scientist Jessica Blunden, co-editor of the report published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.

And at the heart of the records is that all three major heat-trapping greenhouse gases — carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide — hit record highs in 2015, Blunden said.

“There is really only one word for this parade of shattered climate records: grim,” said Georgia Tech climate scientist Kim Cobb, who wasn’t part of the report, but called it “exhaustive and thorough.”

But it’s more than just numbers on a graph. Scientists said the turbo-charged climate affected walrus and penguin populations and played a role in dangerous algae blooms, such as one off the Pacific Northwest coast. And there were brutal heat waves all over the world, with ones in Indian and Pakistan killing thousands of people. One-third of Earth’s land mass had some kind of drought last year.

Much of the intense record-breaking and record-flirting weather was because of a combination of a natural El Niño — the periodic warming of parts of the Pacific that changes weather globally — and ever increasing man-made global warming.

“This impacts people. This is real life,” Blunden said.

Oklahoma University meteorology professor Jason Furtado said in an email that the report, which he wasn’t part of, illustrates the combined power of nature and humans on Earth’s climate: “It was like injecting an already amped-up climate system with a dose of (natural) steroids.”

About 450 scientists from around the world helped write the report and in it NOAA highlighted one of the lesser-known measurements, ocean heat content. About 93 percent of the heat energy trapped by greenhouse gases — such as carbon dioxide from the burning of coal, oil and gas — goes directly into the ocean, the report said. And ocean heat content hit record levels both near the surface and deep.

NOAA oceanographer Gregory C. Johnson, a study co-author, said the oceans are storing more heat energy because of man-made climate change with an extra El Nino spike.

Johnson summed up Earth’s climate in a haiku, published deep inside the report:

“El Niño waxes,

warm waters shoal, flow eastward,

Earth’s fever rises.”

Online:

Report: https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/bams/2015

 

Times Square Poll: Shootings weighed on Americans in 2015

Mass shootings and attacks weighed heavily on the minds of Americans in 2015, according to a new poll that found most believe this year was worse for the world than last year.

A look at the key findings of The Associated Press-Times Square Alliance poll:

FOCUSED ON MASS SHOOTINGS

Americans say the most important events of 2015 were a string of mass shootings, including the attacks in San Bernardino, California, and Paris, plus Islamic State group atrocities.

Fifty-seven percent of those polled say this year was worse than the last year for the world as a whole, up from the 38 percent asked that question a year ago. Only 10 percent believe 2015 was a better year than 2014, while 32 percent think there wasn’t much difference.

Americans also are much less likely than they were a year ago to believe that the current year was better for the United States — only 17 percent compared with 30 percent a year ago. Thirty-seven percent think this year was worse for the country than last year, while 44 percent don’t think there was much difference.

On a personal level, fewer than a third (29 percent) believe 2015 was better for them than 2014, while 21 percent feel it was worse, compared with 15 percent in 2014.

Interviewed separately from the poll, Jason Pruitt, a 43-year-old corporate pilot from the Detroit area, said security concerns were a factor in deciding whether to take his wife and daughter along on a Christmas trip to New York.

“We were thinking about not coming this year, because of everything that’s going on,” Pruitt said. But they went ahead “because when you change your life, the terrorists win.”

THREE EVENTS SHARE THE TOP SPOT

Of those polled, 68 percent listed mass shootings in the U.S. as very or extremely important news events this year, including the one in San Bernardino that heightened fears of domestic terrorism, plus shootings in Charleston, South Carolina; Roseburg, Oregon; and Chattanooga, Tennessee. 

Close behind, at 64 percent, were the Paris attacks that ushered in 2015, targeting Charlie Hebdo and the Jewish market, then the Bataclan concert hall and other city sites in November. 

And third, at 63 percent, came the Islamic State group’s various far-flung atrocities.

Commenting on the completed poll was 32-year-old J.P. Fury, working in a food truck in Times Square.

“At this point, I’m numb to all of it,” he said. “This is nothing new. Every week there’s a new shooting somewhere in America, and there’s a new terrorist attack somewhere around the world.”

Mass shootings and attacks weighed heavily on the minds of Americans in 2015, according to a new poll that found most believe this year was worse for the world than last year.

Domestically, 44 percent of those polled rate as extremely or very important the deaths of blacks in encounters with police that sparked “Black Lives Matter” protests in Baltimore and Chicago. 

Another 44 percent rate the deal reached to curtail Iran’s nuclear program as important, and nearly as many (42 percent) Europe’s migrant crisis.

Only 40 percent said the presidential race was important to them, with the Paris climate change conference right behind (at 38 percent), followed by the Supreme Court’s legalization of gay marriage (36 percent) and the Cuban-U.S. thaw (30 percent).

RINGING IN THE NEW YEAR

Most Americans plan to celebrate New Year’s Eve either at home (48 percent) or at the home of a friend or family member (20 percent). Nine percent plan to be at a bar, restaurant or organized event, while just under a quarter (22 percent) don’t plan to celebrate at all.

A majority of Americans (56 percent) will watch the New Year’s Eve events in Times Square, and 95 percent of those will see it on TV.

Those findings were similar to those of the past two years.

THE YEAR IN POP CULTURE

No single pop culture event of 2015 stands out, with fewer than four in 10 Americans rating any as memorable. 

The eagerly awaited “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” was memorable only to 37 percent of those polled, and forgettable to 34 percent.

Bill Cosby’s legal woes were memorable to 36 percent; forgettable to 33 percent.

Bruce Jenner becoming Caitlyn Jenner, with a highly orchestrated publicity campaign, was forgettable to 52 percent, and Taylor Swift’s world tour to 55 percent.

2015: Another eventful year for Wisconsin

A failed presidential bid, a new job for Rep. Paul Ryan and a capital city on edge were some of the most notable stories in Wisconsin in 2015. A look back at those and others:

SCOTT WALKER: The Republican governor spent the first half of the year hop-scotching across the country laying the foundation for his presidential run, visiting early primary states and courting Republican donors. He officially jumped into the race in July but floundered in a crowded field that included real estate mogul Donald Trump. Less than three months later, with poor poll numbers and the prospect of dwindling donor support, he was out.

PAUL RYAN: Wisconsin’s other national political figure found himself under pressure to take over as House speaker after John Boehner announced plans to quit the job. Ryan appeared to want nothing to do with the job before relenting and being elected in October.

MADISON UNREST: Wisconsin’s capital city was on edge for weeks after Tony Robinson, a 19-year-old biracial man, died in a confrontation with a white police officer in an apartment building in March. Robinson’s death sparked waves of street protests, but District Attorney Ismael Ozanne ultimately decided that no charges were warranted against Officer Matt Kenny.

WISCONSIN DRIVERS: The state’s drivers got the green light to hit the gas _ on some roads, anyway _ after Walker signed a bill giving state transportation officials the power to bump the speed limit from 65 mph to 70 in some places.

JOHN DOE INVESTIGATION: For nearly three years Walker endured ugly headlines as the state Government Accountability Board and Milwaukee prosecutors pursued a John Doe investigation _ a procedure similar to a grand jury proceeding where information is tightly controlled _ into whether his 2012 recall campaign illegally coordinated with outside conservative groups on issue ads. The state Supreme Court finally halted the probe in July, ruling such coordination is legal. Three months later, Walker signed a bill prohibiting prosecutors from using the John Doe against politicians.

YOUTH PRISON INVESTIGATION: Word broke in December that the state Department of Justice has been investigating allegations since January of misconduct at the facilities housing youth prisoners in Irma. Allegations at Copper Lake/Lincoln Hills School included sexual assaults, physical confrontations and child neglect. A top corrections official and the Copper Lake/Lincoln Hills superintendent were relieved of their duties.

MILWAUKEE ARCHDIOCESE BANKRUPTCY: A federal bankruptcy judge approved a reorganization plan for Milwaukee’s Roman Catholic archdiocese in November that called for distributing $21 million to hundreds of clergy sex abuse victims. The plan splits most of the money among 355 people. Another group of 104 people will get about $2,000 each. Archbishop Jerome Listecki apologized to victims in court shortly before Judge Susan Kelley approved the plan, saying he believes the archdiocese has turned a corner.

TOMAH VA MEDICAL CENTER: Wisconsin Veterans Affairs Medical Center Chief of Staff David Houlihan was put on leave in January while the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs investigated allegations of overprescribing narcotic pain medications and retaliatory behavior at the Tomah facility. In August the VA’s inspector general said deficiencies in care led to the death of 35-year-old Marine Corps veteran Jason Simcakoski in 2014. Houlihan was fired in October, a month after the center’s director, Mario DeSanctis, was dismissed.

UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN SYSTEM: A tough year for the UW system included a $250 million budget cut and a tuition freeze. State lawmakers also removed tenure protections for UW professors from state law, though system regents were considering restoration of some protections in a process expected to last into the spring.

LABOR UNIONS: Not a good year here, either, as Walker signed a bill making Wisconsin a right-to-work state. That means workers can’t be required to join a union or pay union dues, a change likely to erode membership. The state AFL-CIO is suing, arguing the law is unconstitutional.

MILWAUKEE BUCKS: The NBA team is getting a shiny new $500 million arena, with taxpayers committed to half that under a bill signed by Walker. The new building may open for the 2018-19 season.

SUPREME COURT UPHEAVAL: Longtime Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson was bounced from that post by the court’s conservative majority after voters approved an amendment letting the justices pick their chief rather than going by seniority. Justice Pat Roggensack was made the new chief. Separately, 77-year-old Justice Patrick Crooks died in his chambers in September, giving Walker an opening to appoint conservative-backed Rebecca Bradley to finish his term. She’ll have the advantage of incumbency in the spring election for a full 10-year term.

MARTY BEIL: The often brusque leader of the Wisconsin state employee labor union died in October at age 68. Beil was the face of the union for years and was at the center of the losing fight against Walker’s signature public union restrictions.

RUSS FEINGOLD’S RETURN: After losing the U.S. Senate seat he’d held for 18 years to Republican Ron Johnson in 2010, the Democrat announced in May that he would run against Johnson in 2016.

Education, transportation highlight 2015 in Congress

In a chaotic year, when Republicans in the House unseated a speaker, Congress produced a significant amount of bipartisan legislation that affects every American.

It enacted laws recasting federal education policy, restricting government access to bulk phone records, renewing highway and transit programs and even resolving a longstanding problem of how Medicare reimburses doctors. Before leaving town for the year, it sent President Barack Obama bipartisan legislation Friday financing government agencies in 2016 and cutting taxes, mostly by extending dozens of expiring levies.

Highlights of an eventful year in Congress:

BUDGET DEAL

A $1.1 trillion spending bill approved Friday funds the government for the 2016 budget year running through Sept. 30 and extends $680 billion in tax cuts for businesses and individuals. The deal — a victory for new House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. — avoids a government shutdown, allows crude oil exports for the first time in 40 years and extends a huge variety of tax breaks, including those for college tuition and renewable energy such as solar and wind power.

EDUCATION

Obama signed a sweeping overhaul of the No Child Left Behind education law, the biggest education reform since 2002. The bipartisan law ushers in a new approach to accountability, teacher evaluations and the way the most poorly performing schools are pushed to improve. Students will still take federally required statewide reading and math exams, but the law encourages states to limit time spent on testing and diminishes the stakes for underperforming schools.

COLLEGE LOANS

Congress extended a federal loan program that provides low-interest money to the neediest college students.

HIGHWAYS AND TRANSIT

After years of stymied efforts, Congress approved a bipartisan bill to improve the nation’s aging and congested highways and transit systems. The new law assures states that federal help will be available for major projects, although it does not resolve how to pay for transportation programs in the long term.

TRADE

Congress approved a bill granting the president trade promotion authority. The law allows Congress to ratify or reject trade agreements negotiated by the executive branch, but not change or filibuster them. Obama has not submitted to Congress a recently competed trade agreement with 11 Pacific Rim nations.

SURVEILLANCE

Obama signed into law the USA Freedom Act, which extends three expiring surveillance provisions of the USA Patriot Act, passed after the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington. The law overhauls the previous law’s most controversial provision, which had been interpreted to allow bulk collection of U.S. phone records by the National Security Agency. The new law gives private companies more leeway to publicly report information about the number of national security surveillance demands they receive.

DEFENSE

Congress approved a sweeping defense-authorization bill that includes a troop pay raise and prohibits transfer of Guantanamo Bay detainees to the United States.

PHYSICIAN PAYMENTS

Under a bill shepherded by former House Speaker John Boehner and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, Congress finally approved a bipartisan measure that permanently recasts how Medicare reimburses doctors for treating over 50 million elderly people. The $214 billion measure prevented a 21-percent cut in physicians’ Medicare fees, preventing a flood of complaints from doctors and senior citizens that lawmakers dearly wanted to avoid.

EXPORT-IMPORT BANK

Congress revived the federal Export-Import Bank five months after lawmakers allowed it to expire.

IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL

GOP lawmakers were unable to block a deal involving the United States, Iran and five other world powers that would curb Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for giving Iran access to billions in frozen assets and oil revenue.

PLANNED PARENTHOOD

Congress did not halt federal payments to Planned Parenthood, after secretly recorded videos of Planned Parenthood officials discussing tissue donations caused an uproar among congressional Republicans and abortion opponents.

HEALTH LAW

Lawmakers tweaked the edges of Obama’s 2010 health care law but did not overturn it despite repeated votes to repeal all or part of it.

ENVIRONMENTAL REGULATIONS

Congress did not block Obama administration regulations on clean air and water and was unable to stop Obama’s signature environmental accomplishment, a high-profile plan to curb greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants.

KEYSTONE XL PIPELINE

Despite many attempts, Congress again failed to win approval for the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada. Obama finally rejected the pipeline last month after seven years of indecision.

BENGHAZI

House Republicans continued a widely criticized investigation into the deadly 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, which killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador. An 11-hour hearing featuring Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton failed to produce revelations Republicans were seeking. Clinton was secretary of state when the attacks occurred.

IMMIGRATION

Neither chamber approved a comprehensive immigration overhaul.

‘Witcher 3,’ ‘Fallout 4’ lead top 10 games of 2015

Associated Press video game critics Lou Kesten and Derrik J. Lang’s favorite titles of the year featured monster hunters, treasure hunters, guardian spirits and murder suspects:

LOU KESTEN

1. “The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt”: This role-playing drama from Poland’s CD Projekt Red set a new standard for weirdness when it sent his hero in pursuit of a flying ghost fetus. For all its baroque touches, “Witcher 3” boils down to a domestic drama about a jaded warrior and his impetuous adopted daughter — and it’s quite moving.

2. “Fallout 4”: The latest epic from Bethesda Softworks crams in a bunch of genres — role-playing, first-person shooter, even a civilization-building — and veers from hilarious black comedy to heartbreaking tragedy. It’s most memorable for its haunting vision of humanity somehow surviving after nearly destroying itself.

3. “Super Mario Maker”: Nintendo gives its fans all the tools they need to build two-dimensional challenges starring Mario and his crew. Somewhere out there, kids are learning the ropes on their way to designing the games we’ll be talking about 20 years from now.

4. “Ori and the Blind Forest”: This melancholy yet action-packed adventure follows an orphaned spirit creature as it tries to restore life to a devastated woodland. It’s the year’s most beautiful game — and one of its most challenging.

5. “Her Story”: Viva Seifert plays a young wife with a missing husband in this time-hopping mystery that takes place entirely within a police interrogation room. I’m not sure it’s even a “game,” but creator Sam Barlow’s clever plotting and Seifert’s nimble performance combine to deliver a knockout tale.

6. “Rise of the Tomb Raider”: Chapter two of the franchise reboot finds young Lara Croft searching for the secret to immortality. It’s at its best when the Tomb Raider is, you know, raiding tombs, with clever environmental puzzles that work your brain cells harder than your reflexes.

7. “Pillars of Eternity”: A character cursed with mysterious visions tries to find out why babies are being born without souls in this indie role-playing game from Obsidian Entertainment. Fans of old-school classics like “Baldur’s Gate” and “Planescape: Torment” will feel right at home.

8. “Undertale”: This lo-fi project from Toby Fox turns game conventions upside-down. A human child is trapped underground — but instead of killing all the monsters he encounters, he can negotiate with most of them. It’s a thought-provoking approach, and one I hope more big game publishers will notice.

9. “Rock Band 4”: The ultimate party game returns, inviting you to jam anew with all those fake instruments that have been gathering dust over the last five years. The ability to download songs you purchased for earlier versions is a huge bonus. (“Guitar Hero Live,” which streams its tunes, is pretty good, too.)

10. “Until Dawn”: A bunch of teenagers plan a weekend at a secluded cabin. What could go wrong? This thriller initially looks like dozens of slasher movies, but it twists all the familiar tropes into something perversely original. Throw in a witty performance by TV’s breakout star of the year, Rami Malek of “Mr. Robot,” and you have a nasty little horror gem.

DERRIK J. LANG

1. “Fallout 4”:  Despite its unforgiving density, “Fallout 4” was the year’s most captivating title. I wanted to stop returning to Bethesda Softworks stylish version of a nuclear-ravaged Boston and the staggering array of choices it presented, but I couldn’t stay away from carving out my own destiny in this special role-playing saga.

2. “The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt”: From the bonus swag in the box to the gratis downloadable content, the third installment in CD Projekt Red’s sweeping role-playing series is as much of a love letter to fans of monster hunter Geralt of Rivia as it is to the fantasy genre as a whole. This majestic entry should be remembered for years to come.

3. “Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain”: After a stunning 28 years of crafting “Metal Gear” games, Hideo Kojima’s open-world coda brought the walls surrounding protagonist Snake down for the first time. In a year overstuffed with open-world titles, “Phantom Pain” was the most technically flawless of them all.

4. “Her Story”: Sam Barlow’s voyeuristic mystery is a rarity. The game features a provocative performance by actress Viva Seifert and gameplay that almost anyone can engage with because it involves simply searching for words on a screen. If more developers created games like “Her Story,” the medium would be taken more seriously.

5. “Rise of the Tomb Raider”: Lara Croft is on a roll. After a much-need reboot of the treasure hunting franchise, developer Crystal Dynamics keenly avoids a sophomore slump with a snowy, survival-focused second installment that meticulously builds on what made 2013’s “Tomb Raider” an adventure worthy of the iconic heroine.

6. “Ori and the Blind Forest”: This luminescent platformer did something that no “Super Mario Bros.” has ever accomplished. It made me tear up — and that’s not just because it’s so darn difficult. Moon Studios managed to artfully balance intricate riddle solving with an emotional tale about loss and discovery.

7. “Sunset”: While most games tell war stories from behind the barrel of a gun, “Sunset” dared to do so on the other side of a mop handle. Yes, it sounds boring to play as a housekeeper tasked with cleaning — and snooping around — er boss’ penthouse. Belgium developer Tale of Tales made it a strangely evocative interactive experience.

8. “Splatoon”: With an overreliance on a certain bouncy plumber, Nintendo has long been guilty of playing it safe. That totally changed this year with the introduction of the loveable paint-wielding squid kids. A splashy aesthetic and adrenaline-pumping action helped “Splatoon” successfully roll over all other multiplayer shooters.

9. “Batman: Arkham Knight”:  Rocksteady Studios’ apparent swan song  in their incredible “Arkham” series finally unleashed the Dark Knight across all of Gotham — complete with the Batmobile at his disposal — without sacrificing the cerebral storytelling or majestic fluidity of its well-oiled predecessors. Ben Affleck should take note.

10. “Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate”:  After last year’s buggy and boring edition set amid the French Revolution in Paris, Ubisoft’s stealth series rebounded in 2015 with a jolly jaunt to old England. A brilliant recreation of Victorian London — right down to the pubs — was a spectacular playground for quirky twin gangsters Jacob and Evie Frye.

Records show Walker repaid state for some security detail, but bigger bill looms

Gov. Scott Walker has repaid the state of Wisconsin what is billed so far for travel costs incurred by his taxpayer-funded security detail during his presidential run, according to new records. But a potentially bigger bill is coming.

Walker’s campaign paid $67,300 on Nov. 23, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. That covers the last of $125,100 the Republican governor had promised to reimburse taxpayers for travel costs of his security detail while he prepared to run for president.

But the state has yet to bill Walker for travel costs in the third quarter. That period covers his now-ended presidential campaign, which Walker announced in July and abandoned in September after just 71 days.

In April, Walker’s political committee pledged to pick up the costs for airfare, hotel and meals for his State Patrol security team when it travels with him to political events.

Walker’s political operations earlier paid $58,000 to the state.

“The state has received full payments for all of the invoices that have been sent. It is worth noting the state is still finalizing the (third quarter) invoices, which it anticipates to send in the near future,” Department of Administration spokesman Cullen Werwie said.

Walker’s gubernatorial campaign, his presidential campaign and Our American Revival, a political group he set up as he considered running for president, are making the reimbursements.

When he abruptly quit the race, Walker’s presidential campaign left his candidate committee with a debt of more than $1 million as of October. But Walker has said that he will repay the campaign’s obligations to taxpayers and private vendors.

Democrats contend Walker’s campaign should pay more of the bill and cover the expenses more quickly.

Year in Review: The Bucks buck political gridlock

Democrats and Republicans in Madison seldom agree on anything, but one proposal in 2015 drew cheers and jeers from both sides of the aisle: a massive new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks and an adjacent “entertainment complex” filled with bars and a public courtyard where drinkers can congregate. The three billionaire Bucks owners from outside the state who drew up the proposal had more than an admirable charm offensive, which was filled with promises of unimaginable riches for one of the nation’s poorest cities. They had the assistance of the NBA, which threatened to move the team to another city unless the project won approval.

They also spent a ton of money lobbying — more in the Wisconsin Legislature than any other organization during the first half of the year, when the NBA team was pushing for the project’s approval. The state elections board, which oversees lobbying, reported the Bucks spent just over $482,000 on lobbying through June. 

The lobbying effort was richly rewarded. The Legislature, on bipartisan votes, ultimately approved spending $250 million in taxpayer money on the scheme. Gov. Scott Walker, who cut higher-education funding by the same amount, signed the measure into law.

The amount spent by the Bucks on lobbying doesn’t include efforts in July, which is when the bill passed both the Senate and Assembly. Those figures will be reported in January.

And it doesn’t include the cost of lobbying Milwaukee city and county officials, who also put their taxpayers on the hook  for millions of dollars.

Similar downtown arena complexes have proven to be boondoggles in other cities. In editorials, Wisconsin Gazette disapproved of the scope of the project as well as the terms. WiG hopes to be proven wrong. The complex is scheduled for completion by the start of the 2018–19 season.

Year in Review: Partisan Supreme Court ends John Doe II probe with a whimper

Republican-backed conservatives dominate Wisconsin’s Supreme Court and, during 2015, they handed several major legal victories to Scott Walker, who seemed undaunted by the stench of politics attached to the decisions.

The biggest was John Doe II, a case brought by the Koch-backed Club for Growth and the big business-backed Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce. They claimed the investigation into the campaign coordination of their PACs with Scott Walker’s re-election effort violated their freedom of speech, even though the state had a law prohibiting such activities.

The court’s right-wing majority not only ruled for the PACs, which are the same dark money groups that donated big bucks to their judicial campaigns, but also overturned the state’s election law in order to accommodate those donors. Now it’s legal in Wisconsin for PACs, whose donors are anonymous, to coordinate their advertising strategies with candidates’ campaigns, so long as PAC advertising doesn’t overtly name a candidate to vote for or against.

After the ruling, the court’s GOP majority ordered all the evidence compiled in the case to be destroyed.

Prosecutor Francis Schmitz, a Republican and a Walker donor, went back to the bench saying he had evidence Walker’s 2014 campaign did indeed coordinate with PACs on precisely the kind of advertising the court said remained illegal. The justices said it was too late for that now. Then they fired him. 

The Legislature’s Republican leadership amplified the furor over this extraordinary case by outlawing John Doe investigations of elected officials, demolishing the Government Accountability Board — a nonpartisan watchdog group that provided information to prosecutors — and vastly increasing campaign contribution limits.

The Wisconsin GOP, which gerrymandered the electoral map in 2011 so that it cannot lose, either plans to remain in power forever or believes that Democrats, if they ever regain power, would emmploy the unethical tactics that the GOP has used.

That’s a grave error. Just ask the Republicans in Congress who gave president George W. Bush extraordinary executive powers. Now that Democrat Barack Obama is using them, the GOP is branding him a fascist.

Partisan court antics continue

Next up for the court is an election to replace conservative Justice Patrick Crooks, who died suddenly in the fall. Walker handed the position to Rebecca Bradley, a fervently anti-choice donor to the governor who’s been a judge for four years. The governor appointed Bradley to both the judicial positions she’d held in her meteoric rise to the top of Wisconsin justice.

Bradley was so confident Walker would appoint her that she registered the domain name “justicerebeccabradley.com” before the deadline for applying for the vacancy.

Bradley now has the advantage of running as an incumbent. She’s also backed by the Republican Party and the same moneyed groups as her conservative colleagues on the bench. They’re expected to fight to the last million to keep the court — Bradley’s loss would leave the court split.

Her two competitors are far more experienced justices and neither is considered a conservative. One opponent is 4th District Appeals Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg, who came to fame for very nearly beating anger-challenged Judge David Prosser in 2011. In fact, she was declared the winner before Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus mysteriously found thousands of votes for Prosser that she’d somehow misplaced. The other leading challenger is popular Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Joe Donald.

A Feb. 16 primary will narrow the field to two candidates for the April 5 general election.

Year in Review: Education funding slashed

Wisconsin has led the charge for unprecedented cuts in education funding, and since taking office in 2011, Walker has upped the ante.

Between 2008 and 2016, Wisconsin cut state general funding for K-12 schools by 12.7 percent. Only Oklahoma, Alabama and Arizona have made deeper cuts per students.

The cuts in recent years have been used by Republican leaders to hand out massive tax credits to corporations as well as tax cuts to the very wealthy.

At the same time they cut financial support for public schools, Wisconsin lawmakers in the most recent budget shifted millions of dollars to private schools with no educational standards, leaving even less for public education.

Local school districts are forbidden by state law to make up for the loss by raising property taxes.

In 2015, Wisconsin also became one of the few states to cut higher-education funding. Walker, a college dropout, slashed $250 million from the University of Wisconsin system in his latest budget, bringing his higher-education cuts to $500 million since he took office in 2011.

As a result, Wisconsin students are graduating from college with more debt than ever. When Walker took office, they paid 40 percent of their college expenses. With this year’s cuts, they now pay half.

In 2015, Walker also went after faculty tenure, prompting fears that some of the state’s best academics would seek jobs elsewhere. Public school teachers began fleeing the state in 2011, when Walker passed Act 10 — the infamous law that eliminated bargaining powers for state workers, including teachers. In 2015, many Wisconsin school districts complained they were unable to fill positions — not only due to reduced benefits and lack of job security, but also because Republicans have so demonized school teachers that no one wants to join the profession.

The two largest schools of education in Milwaukee both reported unprecedented drops in students seeking teaching degrees. Enrollment at the UW-Milwaukee School of Education dropped from 2,135 in 2010 to 1,516 in 2014. Enrollment in Marquette University’s education program dropped from 445 in 2010 to 385 in 2014. 

Walker has often acknowledged that he was a solid “C” student in school, leading cynics to wonder whether he’s consciously or unconsciously getting even with the system that branded him as average long before America’s Republican voters did so.

Year in Review: A crowded field of candidates vies for the White House

“Will she run?” was the question in early 2015.

In April, an email to donors and a “getting started” video to supporters announced Hillary Clinton’s candidacy for the presidency. 

She went on a listening tour in key primary states and then, on a sunny afternoon in June, the former secretary of state, senator and first lady made her way through a crowd to a platform in Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island in New York City.

After the last notes of Sara Bareilles’ “Brave” and the crowd’s roar quieted, Clinton set out the framework of her campaign. “America can’t succeed unless you succeed,” she said. “That is why I am running for president of the United States. Here, on Roosevelt Island, I believe we have a continuing rendezvous with destiny. Each American and the country we cherish.”

The presidential election of 2016 dominated politics in 2015, which was ending with three Democrats and 14 Republicans running for the Oval Office.

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley joined the Democratic race on May 30, saying the “American dream seems for so many of us to be hanging by a thread.”

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Democratic socialist from Vermont, officially entered the race on May 26 and continued to run hard for the nomination as the cycle shifts into election season.

Addressing “brothers and sisters” in his announcement, Sanders said, “We begin a political revolution to transform our country economically, politically, socially and environmentally. Today, we stand here and say loudly and clearly that ‘Enough is enough.’ This great nation and its government belong to all of the people and not to a handful of billionaires, their super PACs and their lobbyists.”

On the Republican side, today’s front-runner entered an already crowded race for the party’s nomination with these words: “Wow. Whoa.”

Tycoon and TV personality Donald Trump announced his candidacy at Trump Tower in New York City in June with a blistering critique of President Barack Obama and a vow to build a “great, great wall” on the border with Mexico.

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people,” Trump said in his first official campaign statement.

For the rest of the year, Trump continued to stir outrage with bizarre behavior and statements that have not been heard in U.S. presidential politics since before the Civil Rights era. As the year ended, the Republican establishment was quaking at the prospect of fielding a candidate who comes off as a playground bully. GOP leaders already are preparing for a brokered convention.

Meanwhile, Clinton’s camp is enjoying every minute of it.

Yet, with each offense Trump commits, his support among Republican voters grows stronger.

Trump’s bombastic style crowded out a number of other hopefuls, including Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

Walker launched his campaign in Waukesha with the opening remark, “I love America,” and a predictable speech about baseball, Boy Scouts, Vietnam, God and country.

The governor sought to capitalize on his popularity with tea partiers for his assaults in Wisconsin on public sector unions, reproductive choice, gun restrictions and voting rights. But Walker seemed to disappear on the debate stage, faded in the polls and saw his donations dwindle.

Walker withdrew from the presidential race on Sept. 21 and, after many absences from the governor’s mansion, returned to Wisconsin with a $1 million campaign debt. He still owes the state $67,280 for security costs that taxpayers provided him during his travels.

By December, the GOP field was down to Jeb Bush, Ben Carson. Chris Christie. Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, Jim Gilmore, Lindsey Graham, Mike Huckabee, John Kasich, George Pataki, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Rick Santorum and Trump.