Tag Archives: editorial

Boston Globe publishes satirical Page 1 on Trump

The editorial board of The Boston Globe is using a satirical front page to express its uneasiness with a potential Donald Trump presidency.

The newspaper has printed a satirical front page for its April 9 “Ideas” section.

The page is dated April 9, 2017, and features a large photo of Trump below dominant headline that reads “Deportations to Begin.” The accompanying story has Trump calling on Congress to fund a deportation program amid protests.

Another article focuses on a plunging stock market. Some jokes are included, such as a mention of Yellowstone National Park being renamed for Trump.

In an editorial, the Globe calls the satire “an exercise in taking a man at his word.”

The Trump campaign didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Concerns linger over ‘transitory’ records in Wisconsin

The last six months have been a roller coaster for Wisconsin’s open records law. After the Legislature’s failed attack on the law over the Independence Day holiday, August brought a new threat.

A little-known state board expanded the definition of “transitory records,” which can be immediately destroyed. Once this action was revealed, there was an impressive outcry from the public and that change was dialed back last month. But there is still cause for concern.

The state Public Records Board sets retention schedules for state and local government records. Retention is important—if records aren’t retained, they can’t be requested and obtained by the public. State law makes retention the rule, and records can be disposed of only if the Public Records Board grants permission. The board’s mandate is to “safeguard the legal, financial and historical interests of the state in public records.”         

But in 2010, the board made the questionable decision to allow immediate deletion of some correspondence. Such “transitory records” were deemed of such temporary value as to not require any retention. State agency employees could simply delete these records after they were created, without any further oversight.

On Aug. 24, 2015, the board held a meeting and expanded the transitory records category. Now it included not just correspondence, but other documents such as “interim files” and “recordings used for training purposes.”

The board’s meeting notice and minutes contained no indication of this change, later prompting the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council to file an Open Meetings complaint with the district attorney. The day after the new definition was passed, the Walker administration notified the Wisconsin State Journal that records it previously requested had already been destroyed as “transitory.”

News outlets then reported the Public Record Board’s actions, and the reaction was swift. Critics said the change undermined the records law and the public’s right to know, inviting abuse. They pointed out that records the board defined as “transitory” were actually of significant public interest.  There were also concerns that whole categories of electronic communications would be deleted as “transitory.” The Public Records Board was flooded with nearly 1,900 emails.

Fortunately, the board listened. At a meeting in January, it rescinded its August decision to expand the definition of “transitory records.”

But the danger has not passed. The old, 2010 definition of “transitory records” is still in place. Records custodians can still immediately delete some correspondence. Comments from board members in January suggested they are resistant to eliminating this category, despite state law suggesting that no records can be instantly deleted. Board president Matt Blessing said the issue would be revisited at a future meeting.  The board next convenes on March 7.

Another positive step is a bill being circulated by Democratic lawmakers that would create penalties for destroying public records. As Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca observed, “There’s no recourse if agencies destroy records.” The bill would shore up existing provisions in the law that deter premature destruction of public records.

Let’s hope one or both of these potential fixes advance. Otherwise, Wisconsin’s weak records retention requirements will continue to undermine the public’s right to know.

Christa Westerberg is an attorney at Bender Westerberg LLC in Madison, and co-vice president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council.


For the record: Water crisis in Flint, Michigan, an obscene failure of government

There’s good news: The City of Flint, Michigan, could soon reconnect to the Detroit Water and Sewer Department, a water source that doesn’t leach lead from aging pipes into the municipal water supply.

And there’s bad news: Three Flint elementary schools have water with lead levels more than 15 parts per billion, which is the limit according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency guidelines. At one school, Freeman Elementary, water tests found lead levels of 101 ppb. Add this to months of data showing elevated lead levels in homes across Flint, and a higher percentage of children with elevated blood-lead levels.

Lead poisoning causes behavioral and developmental problems in children. It is irreversible. Pregnant women and children are most vulnerable. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say there is no acceptable level of lead exposure.

And in at least three Flint schools, children have been drinking lead-contaminated water for up to 16 months.

Sixteen months, as Flint residents told the state again and again that their water wasn’t right. Sixteen months, as independent researchers meticulously documented rising lead levels in water and in the blood of Flint children. Sixteen months, as the state worked to disparage and discredit the work of respected scientists, even as its own data supported those findings.

At a press conference, Gov. Rick Snyder appeared chastened.

He should.

Snyder appoints the head of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, the agency charged with ensuring that drinking water throughout our state is safe.

In Flint, it failed.

Flint’s decisions first to join a new regional water authority, and then to pump water from the Flint River _ ending a decades-long relationship with Detroit’s system — were made while Flint was under state oversight, during the tenure of a Snyder-appointed emergency manager charged with balancing Flint’s budget. That system is justified by the governor’s constitutional responsibility to attend to the health and wellness of all Michiganders.

In Flint, he failed.

This newspaper twice endorsed Snyder for governor, albeit with grave reservations. But because of the relative weakness of his opponents, the leadership he displayed in resolving Detroit’s protracted financial crisis and our hope that he would use his business acumen to ensure that government better served people, he narrowly won our endorsement.

Last year, in a detailed analysis of Snyder’s record, this editorial board expressed our dissatisfaction about Snyder’s first term: “The governor balanced the budget at the expense of cities and school districts. His disdain for politics is inappropriate in the state’s chief politician; his deficiencies as a deal-maker have sometimes resulted in terrible consequences for Michiganders.”

This, we wrote, was Snyder’s most profound flaw: “He has got to see people, not sums, as the bottom line of the state balance sheet.”

We wrote that he rarely exhibited strong, decisive leadership, that he must “grow into a more sure-footed, principled leader.” That we were fearful of what Snyder’s second term could hold.

Snyder defended the state’s decisions, saying it had followed EPA and MDEQ testing protocols. The state did the minimum required, his responses implied. Why should it have to do more?

This is what Snyder does not understand. To lead a state, accountancy is not sufficient. To lead a state, a balanced budget is not sufficient. To lead a state, doing only what is required is not sufficient.

The modern vogue for paring services and cutting budgets is an insidious misunderstanding of the foundations of government. Fiscal conservationism is correct to suggest that government should recognize the value of a dollar. But it is absolutely incorrect when it considers the value of a dollar more significant than other values. A dollar saved at the expense of public safety. A dollar saved at the expense of Flint’s children. A dollar saved at the expense of the public trust. These are equations that can never balance.

At this math, Snyder has consistently failed.

When Flint began to pump river water, it opted not to add a chemical that would have created a film inside its aging service pipes, preventing lead from entering the water. MDEQ signed off on that plan. Snyder’s representatives have said both decisions were in progress before Flint’s emergency managers were appointed, belying the reality of an emergency manager’s broad authority in the city he or she is charged to lead.

That Flint has aging service lines with lead materials shouldn’t have been a surprise. That Flint would need to treat the water it pumped to ensure it could flow safely through those lines shouldn’t have been at issue.

Here is all we can surmise: Pumping Flint River water saved money. And that, as they say, was that.

Snyder says that his team will issue an “after action report,” with recommendations about how things could have been done differently. This is a necessary step and should be conducted by a team with sufficient independence from Snyder’s office _ and the MDEQ _ to reach impartial conclusions.

Snyder has asked the Michigan Legislature to contribute $6 million of the $12 million it will cost Flint to purchase its water from Detroit. The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and the city itself will cover the remaining costs. The transition could be complete within two weeks. We applaud the Mott Foundation for its contribution and urge the Legislature to approve its portion of the funds required without delay.

Snyder and other officials have said Flint will continue to work to replace lead service lines. This is necessary work. The state has devoted $1 million to pay for water filters for Flint residents, another helpful measure.

People. Not sums.

Thus endeth the lesson. It is one our government should not forget. It is one Flint’s children can’t forget.

GOP plots revenge on bipartisan agencies that dare using truth and facts to hold government accountable

The cheap thrill of retaliation has no place among elected officials who are paid to serve the public, not their egos. But some of Wisconsin’s Republican leaders are on a payback binge that’s noteworthy for the sweeping changes it will make to the nature of democracy in the state and the irreparable harm it will wreak on our quality of life.

The most disturbing recent Republican attack is on the non-partisan Legislative Audit Bureau, which has provided citizens and lawmakers alike with honest, reliable investigations of waste, fraud, abuse, inefficiencies and cronyism in state government since 1966. Not surprisingly, in doing so, the bureau has fallen into disfavor with Gov. Scott Walker and some of his supporters.

A series of LAB and external audits have found Walker’s much-touted “job creation” agency — the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation — lost track of $56 million worth of taxpayer-funded loans, lacked basic internal accounting controls and was staffed by unqualified Walker cronies.  LAB also found that WEDC had written off more than $7.6 million in loans, including a $500,000 loan to an unqualified company owned by a major Walker donor.

Auditors discovered that WEDC didn’t even require the beneficiaries of its largesse to create jobs in Wisconsin and didn’t track the results of the loans that it made.

So now, in typical Walker fashion, the governor and his colleagues want to eliminate the bipartisan, fact-finding bureau and instead empower the Assembly speaker and the Senate majority leader — in other words, partisan leaders — to appoint investigators at their discretion. There’s nothing to compel those leaders to launch fair, impartial investigations that might harm their interests.

Aside from investigating WEDC, the bureau has conducted numerous other audits that provided lawmakers with information critical to planning budgets and setting policy.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has said he will never support eliminating the LAB, and we urge readers to contact him directly to support his stance — and to hold him to it.

The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, Common Cause in Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign have said the draft bill, co-sponsored by state Rep. David Craig and Rep. Adam Jarchow, would destroy the best watchdog the state has — and for no good reason. We agree.

Besides eliminating the LAB, Walker and legislative Republicans also decided to fire scientists from the Department of Natural Resources who worked on issues related to climate change, pollution and mining. The GOP has been out to get the state’s environmental scientists ever since they refused to automatically green-light an iron ore pit mine in northern Wisconsin that could have devastated the area’s watershed and polluted Lake Superior.

Walker was humiliated over DNR scientists’ insistence on researching the consequences of the mine, because the mining company that proposed the project had given him $700,000. He’d empowered representatives of the company to rewrite the state’s mining regulations so the project could move forward.

There are numerous other examples of Walker dishing out payback, possibly including his elimination of state funding for the Wisconsin Transportation Alternatives Program, which supported projects for cycling and walking paths. He also floated the idea of imposing a tax on bike sales to pay for bike lanes on roadways.

Both actions were seen as retaliation against his 2014 Democratic gubernatorial opponent Mary Burke, whose family owns Trek Bicycle. That might sound too petty to be true, but sadly, it’s not. Apparently, nothing is.

A step toward ending the pot war

Lives wasted. Billions spent. The decriminalization of marijuana isn’t merely right-minded social policy. It’s the fiscally conservative thing to do.

Legislation to make possession of up to 15 grams on par with a traffic ticket breezed through the Illinois Senate Criminal Law Committee earlier this month, on its way to the floor. Urban Democrats propelled it through the House this past week. But Republicans, including Gov. Bruce Rauner, and rural Democrats, are doing all they can to stall the march toward reasonable permissiveness. 

It’s no secret that the state budget is a train wreck, caused by decades of gimmicks and mismanagement. Proponents of decriminalization say even the paired-down version of HB218 passed in the House would save Illinois $30 million. It would free more than 100 prisoners, now costing taxpayers more than $38,000 apiece. And, perhaps most important, it would expunge the records of the thousands of residents who have been victims of outdated, often racist drug policy.

These facts alone leave us perplexed by the opposition from the right flank and conservative Democrats in the House. Reps. Brandon Phelps, John Bradley and Jerry Costello, all Southern Illinois Democrats, dissented. They joined Republican Terri Bryant in opposition.

It’s a fact that marijuana bans were first created to hammer minorities. It’s a fact that the war on non-violent drug offenses disproportionately clogs the state’s court system with inner-city black men, who are nearly eight times more likely to get busted for misdemeanor possessing pot, according to a recent Rockefeller University study. And, with the intent-to-deal provision, it’s a fact that too many felons have been created for nothing more than a bag of weed.

Laws should protect the people. Never should they be drafted to feed the prison economy beast on which too many communities have come to depend.

Too many are defending Illinois’s failed drug policy, brashly supporting the broken status quo. Decriminalization is the next step toward full-on legalization, they say. There shouldn’t be any expansion to the recently approved medical marijuana law, they contend. And Illinois’s Republican governor is already refusing to extend the medicinal program pending review, while red tape and bureaucracy are hamstringing the test run.

Opponents are correct on one count. Decriminalization is a step toward a fully legalized, well-regulated marijuana system in the state. Their mistake comes by clinging to the hype of the aging anti-pot propaganda machine. A truly small government doesn’t needlessly impinge on people’s lives, which is exactly what fear-based pot laws now do.

Opponents are trying to stem a tide that has already consumed them. Rauner should immediately sign HB218 if it clears the Senate.

Decriminalization is indeed a step toward legalization. And, in light of the billions spent and millions of lives ruined by the war on pot, it’s a path worth following.

Editor’s note: This piece was published on May 8 in The (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan and made available through an AP exchange.



Survey: MPD is failing at public relations

Successful community policing is built on positive relationships between law-enforcement officials and the public. So the results of a recent ACLU of Wisconsin survey about attitudes among Milwaukeeans toward the police are concerning.

Milwaukeeans who live in heavily patrolled black and Latino neighborhoods and who have had contact with the police are less likely to trust law enforcement than people who haven’t had contact with officers. The survey’s subjects were primarily 14 to 24 years old.

Survey respondents who’ve had contact with officers are less likely to think that calling the police is helpful or to assist with an investigation. Even survey respondents who said they’ve had significant contact with police that wasn’t negative said they were less likely to alert police to a crime or help solve it.

ACLU of Wisconsin executive director Chris Ahmuty said the sheer volume of officer-initiated stops — 243,328 (in 2013) in a city of about 600,000 people — could be undermining the public’s trust in Milwaukee police. 

We agree with Ahmuty that the goals of community-policing programs are not being served by MPD’s aggressive program of targeted stops — neither the volume of stops nor the way they’re being handled. If MPD hopes to curb the terrible crime rates in some minority neighborhoods, leaders in the department need to rethink and refine the program.

Parsing the 2014 elections

A race is lost, and so is a rising star.

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Mary Burke took on the uphill — in retrospect, quixotic — task of trying to unseat a national hero of the corporate-backed right. Tea party leaders considered Gov. Scott Walker’s re-election essential to their long-term success in reducing government services, cutting taxes for corporations and the wealthy, and eliminating unions. Some right-wing leaders said that Walker’s defeat would be seen as a repudiation of those goals, since Walker strode boldly to the forefront of promoting that agenda.

According to right-wing thinking, a victory by the likes of Walker, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback would embolden other state leaders to follow them without fear of voter reprisal. On the other hand, if those governors had suffered defeat, GOP political strategists might be inclined to interpret the corporate right’s policies as too politically risky. But all four governors won, giving the Koch brothers and their corporate colleagues reason to feel vindicated. 

Those victories, however, were far from decisive concerning the corporate right’s agenda. Kasich was helped by a deeply flawed opponent, as well as by the way his state has benefitted from the nation’s economic recovery. Scott won by only one percent of the vote — and only because voter turnout was mystifyingly low in heavily Democratic Dade and Broward counties. 

Democratic turnout is generally small in midterm elections and polls show that Republican voters were more determined to punish Democratic President Barack Obama than to support right-wing corporate policies, which the majority of voters don’t even understand.

If Democrats in Milwaukee and Dane counties had turned out for challenger Mary Burke in the same numbers that they have during the past two presidential elections, Walker would not have won by the 5.7 percent margin he did, or perhaps not even at all.

Former President George W. Bush made the mistake of interpreting his slim 2004 reelection victory as a mandate to continue his first-term agenda. The results were losses in the 2006 midterm elections and a Democratic landslide in 2008. Pundits expect that history to repeat itself in 2016 if the GOP treats its 2014 victories, which reflected antipathy toward Obama more than anything else, as a burning desire among voters for more of the GOP’s corporate-right agenda.

Progressive Wisconsinites owe Burke gratitude for operating such a disciplined, energetic campaign on our behalf. She promised to work hard every day if elected, and judging by her spirited and tenacious campaign, we have every reason to believe her. One of the greatest pleasures of observing the gubernatorial race was watching Burke find her footing on the campaign trail. But the last-minute, right-wing media smears perpetuated against Burke, still largely a stranger to the electorate, put her on the defensive at a time when she was gaining momentum. That, combined with typically lower Democratic midterm turnout, anti-Obama backlash and the long-established history of losses suffered by the party in the White House during the sixth year of an eight-year term, sealed the deal against her.

Nevertheless, Burke’s fortitude, commitment and remarkable restraint in a contest that grew more vicious as Election Day neared will not be forgotten. While she has vowed since the election to never again campaign for statewide office, we hope her example galvanizes progressives equally committed to reclaiming this state from corporate interests that see Wisconsin as nothing more than a political pawn. Wisconsin deserves leaders in her mold, pragmatic individuals with real-world experience who want to solve Wisconsin’s problems, not create more division.

On the record: Ann Coulter said what?

“This is a personal matter between him and his pollster. It is none of the public’s business what Walker decides in the privacy of his own governor’s mansion.”

— STEPHEN COLBERT mocking Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker for refusing to articulate his views on same-sex marriage.

“I’m pretty traditional guy, almost 60 years old. I think marriage is between a man and a woman. But again if the voters decide that they want gay marriage I’m not going to oppose it.”

— U.S. SEN. RON JOHNSON telling CNBC’s Squawk Box that Republicans must stop focusing on social issues such as same-sex marriage in order to win elections.

“An interracial gay couple, I mean that’s just weird for America right now. We f**k and friends don’t f**k. I have never f**ked one of my friends. Once I see you in that way, it doesn’t happen. But we do f**k.”

— Rapper ANGEL HAZE telling the The Independent newspaper she and Ireland Baldwin, the model daughter of Kim Bassinger and Alec Baldwin, are lovers, not friends. Haze expressed annoyance with the media for refusing to recognize their interracial intimate relationship.

“Any growing interest in soccer can only be a sign of the nation’s moral decay. Individual achievement is not a big factor in soccer.”

— Far-right pundit ANN COULTER writing that soccer is not a real sport. A real sport, she said, requires individual achievement and “the prospect of either personal humiliation or major injury.” Coulter blamed the nation’s interest in soccer on the late Sen. Edward Kennedy’s 1965 immigration law.

“It is just a building and Culver’s of Platteville is much more than that. It is the people and not the building and we didn’t lose the people and so why should we allow the fire to cause that to happen?”

— BRUCE KROLL, owner of the Culver’s Restaurant in Platteville, explaining why he paid 40 employees $144,000 out of his own pocket while they waited six months for the restaurant, which was destroyed by fire, to be rebuilt. All he asked in return was that they volunteer their time to help the community. 

“In the voting booth, economic perception beats economic statistics every time.”

— Republican pollster WHIT AYRES predicting that his party’s advertising and the right-wing spin machine will easily convince voters that the economy is still in the tank, despite the recent release of the best job-creation report since the peak of the dot.com boom of the 1990s.

“There’s less partying. There’s less sex. Everyone’s interested in politics and no one is having sex.”

— Californian LARRY PETTIT commenting on the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade, which took place on June 29.

Share your Pride

LGBT Pride month is about far more than the word “pride” suggests. Just as the 1960s “black is beautiful” cultural movement sought to challenge white paradigms of beauty, LGBT Pride seeks to counter the myth that people whose sexual orientations and gender identities do not conform are damaged or evil. LGBT Pride is not about boasting or “flaunting” ourselves, as our critics on the religious right say. It’s about celebrating the very characteristics for which they’ve persecuted us for centuries. It’s about claiming our right to equality and to celebrating the disproportionate number of achievements people like us have contributed to science, industry, socio-political reform and the arts, despite our relatively small numbers and the discrimination we’ve endured. 

The hundreds of festivals and parades observed worldwide in June to commemorate the Stonewall uprising that launched the gay civil rights movement seek to snatch pride from the jaws of shame. The religious right claims our celebrations are intended to indoctrinate youth and shove our sexuality in their faces. If human sexuality and gender were so simple that mere exposure to LGBT people could change the natures of children, then by extrapolation there would be no LGBT people on earth, since we’re exposed far, far more often to straight people than they are to us.

If LGBT Pride is about shoving anything, it’s about shoving aside the right’s judgment and reveling in our true selves. In recent years, Pride has also been about sharing our socio-political triumphs — advancements that were inconceivable a decade ago.

Pride is not only for LGBT people. It’s said that everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, when the entire community joins in the local parades and festivities. In a perfect world, everyone would join the Pride festivities in their hometowns as well, to celebrate not only the LGBT community but also the things that they are proud of. 

Whether it’s a promotion at work or a successful weight-loss program, a new grandchild or a new love, there’s something in your life to celebrate.

Whatever it is that you’re proud of, pack it in your heart and head to the Summerfest grounds on June 6–8 to enjoy spectacular entertainment and a glimpse of what Pride looks like. We guarantee you won’t turn gay, and you’ll have a great time.

Check the PrideFest pull-out section in this issue to see the awesome line-up of talent that the volunteers who organize PrideFest have pulled together this year — perhaps the best ever in the history of the nation’s premiere Pride festival.

In this, the first issue of our month-long Pride series, we look at pride from a variety of perspectives. With all the negativity and challenges that we all face every day, take this opportunity to celebrate your gifts, to bask confidently in your authentic selves and honor your LGBT friends and family members.

The take-away message of LGBT Pride is to live with authenticity and without shame, to be the best you possible every day and in every way.

Media, business outreach to LGBT market growing

Thanks to straight allies in the local media, Wisconsin’s LGBT population is gaining more widespread attention than ever. That speaks to the desirability of the gay market, which numerous studies have shown is loyal to marketers who reach out to them, and it’s welcome recognition of the vital role LGBT citizens play in our communities. WiG gives a shoutout to two of those media outlets.

In March, Milwaukee Magazine featured two brides on its cover as part of a story about the economic benefits that legalizing same-sex marriage would bring to the state. The magazine conducted original research and found that marriage equality here could result in almost $44 million in spending during the first three years of legalization. Their research is confirmed by the Williams Institute of the University of California – Los Angeles, whose work has repeatedly shown a comparable rate of return from same-sex marriage in other states.

Nationwide, people who have never heard of the economic benefits that come with doing the right thing are becoming aware. Wisconsin badly needs that kind of boost, and now fairness advocates have numbers to dangle in front of equality obstructionists who claim to be “pro-business.”

Several months ago, the Shepherd Express hired Colin Murray as a sales consultant. He’s an out gay man who also serves as the executive director of Buy Local Dane. And this week, the Shepherd launched a new LGBT events and advice column by the popular Milwaukee drag personality Dear Ruthie. Portrayed by professional food writer and actor Mark Hagen, the popular Ruthie is sure to enliven the Shepherd’s pages. In addition to his considerable talent, Hagen is a good egg. As the brassy redhead Ruthie, he’s raised untold sums of money for local nonprofit organizations. He’s a smart catch for any publication.

The Shepherd Express also recently joined the Wisconsin LGBT Chamber of Commerce as a gold member. More than 120 businesses around the state have joined the chamber in its first year-and-a-half of existence. Ranging from small mom-and-pop shops to such corporate giants as AT&T and MillerCoors, those businesses are in effect showing their confidence in the strength of our market.

Here at WiG, launched exactly four-and-a-half years ago, we welcome our newest media allies and celebrate the ongoing success we’ve had as Wisconsin’s go-to progressive/LGBT publication. Last week, we were proud to learn we’re being honored with eight Milwaukee Press Club Awards for our work in 2013. That means we’ve won a total of 17 awards in three years from the nation’s oldest — and the state’s premier — press club. There’s nothing more gratifying than having your peers recognize the quality of your work.

Many, many thanks to the hundreds of distribution sites and advertisers who have made us the fastest-growing and most honored alternative newsprint publication in Milwaukee. And, as always, special thanks to our mentor/CEO Leonard Sobczak, whose financial support and unflinching integrity guide us every step of the way.