Tag Archives: opinion

Public’s trust was abused over police videos

On Aug. 14, after a night of unrest prompted by the fatal police shooting of a black man, Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn said his review of body camera video of the incident proved the officer had acted appropriately.

“The individual did turn toward the officer with a firearm in his hand,” Flynn stated, later saying the man, 23-year-old Sylville Smith, “was raising up with” the gun.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said a still photo he was shown from the video “demonstrates, without question, that (Smith) had a gun in his hand.” In fact, Barrett declared, the officer “ordered that individual to drop his gun, the individual did not drop his gun.”

This purportedly exculpatory video itself was not promptly released, despite requests from Barrett and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker that this occur. It still has not been released. But we know now that public officials did not give an accurate account of what it shows.

Bill Lueders, Your Right to Know columnist
Bill Lueders, Your Right to Know columnist

We know that because, in mid-December, Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm filed criminal charges against Dominique Heaggan-Brown, the former Milwaukee police officer who killed Smith. (Heaggan-Brown was fired over an alleged sexual assault shortly after the shooting.)

According to the criminal complaint charging the officer with first-degree reckless homicide, Smith held a gun as the officer fired his first shot. Smith, struck in the arm, pitched the gun over a fence and fell to the ground. The officer then fired a second, fatal shot to Smith’s chest.

“A review of the body camera video from (both officers at the scene) confirms that at the time of the second shot, Smith was unarmed and had his hands near his head,” the complaint says.

A 2014 state law governing investigations of police shootings requires that gathered materials be released if a decision is made not to file charges. The law is otherwise silent as to whether and when these materials are released.

Barrett has renewed his call for release, while Flynn has weighed in against this. Chisholm told me his office will not release this evidence prior to its use in a criminal proceeding.

In this case, I believe, it is already too late to restore confidence in the integrity of the process. Flynn’s representations about the video were at best misleading, and Barrett’s statements suggest he was misled, as was the public.

The whole point of outfitting police with cameras, at taxpayer expense, is to ensure truthfulness and enhance accountability. That did not happen here. And many more months may pass before the video is released.

Other jurisdictions have more enlightened policies. In Chicago, for instance, videos of police shootings are normally released within 60 days, and posted online.

In the legislative session that begins in January, there will likely be renewed efforts to establish consistent state policies regarding police body cameras; a bill to do so in the last session went nowhere.

Now is the time, in the wake of this regrettable case, for the citizens of Wisconsin to insist that the video records they are paying for are not kept secret, or used to mislead them.

Recommended Earth Day reading

When spring begins and Earth Day rolls around, I join my neighborhood cleanup efforts and catch up on books about our environment.

This year I read Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. In this fascinating tour of our biosphere, I learned again how interdependent and vulnerable all species of flora and fauna are.

I haven’t studied science in many years, so the book helped me brush up on different aspects of geology, biology and zoology. It synthesizes in a very readable format the many crises posing an existential threat to life on our planet.

The introductory chapters show the way extinction events have been viewed historically, including theories about what caused the first five great extinction events on our planet. There is not one cause for all of them; some were gradual, and at least one was sudden and catastrophic.

Through discussions and observations with many scientists in the field, Kolbert argues that we may be starting to experience a sixth extinction due to human intrusion and global warming.

I found the testimony of the many scientists she spoke with compelling. They include herpetologists, botanists, marine biologists, paleontologists, ornithologists and more. All are conducting field studies whose findings point to rapid, alarming changes in plant and animal ecosystems.

The scientists reveal damage caused by invasive species and the collapse of tree populations and coral reefs. They document the loss of animal habitat due to over-hunting and over-fishing. They testify to the damaging impacts of warming waters and ocean acidification.

Kolbert reminds us that although humans have known since the late 19th century that burning fossil fuels warms the planet, we are failing to change our destructive habits.

Some people hate The Sixth Extinction and its thesis, because they either cannot or do not want to believe that people are responsible for any of this. Or they cling to their faith that their God will somehow resolve everything in the end.

There are also huge industries whose wealth is built on ecological destruction and whose riches support the campaign to deny global warming.

How we are going to reverse or ease the damage already done is the greatest moral and practical challenge we face. The science is pretty clear and Kolbert’s book is an excellent wake-up call.

I also read Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard’s nature essays published in 1974. Dillard kept a diary of a year spent in Virginia’s Roanoke Valley observing and interacting with nature.

Dillard is not a scientist, so her approach is one of a lay observer writing with curiosity, wonder and sometimes horror about the beauty and cruelty of nature. She draws vivid pictures of insect mating habits, aquatic diversity, bird migration, animal predation and the rebirth of plant life in the spring. Her writing is expository but also poetic.

This is how she describes the falling leaves and coming of winter: “When the striptease is over; things stand mute and revealed. Everywhere skies extend, vistas deepen, walls become windows, doors open. … All that summer conceals, winter reveals.”

Ultimately, Dillard is a pilgrim on a journey of faith, searching for the Creator who built a world of such complexity. I don’t share her conclusion about a creator, but I respected and enjoyed her journey.

Award season is not over…

This year’s Oscar Award hubbub is over but it’s never too late to bestow honors on the deserving and undeserving in all facets of American life.

Leonardo DeCaprio was touted for the bold environmental statement he delivered during his Oscar acceptance speech. The respected actor deserves the “Clueless He-Man” Award for gushing repeatedly about his film The Revenant that “This is the kind of movie we should be making!” Sure Leo, Hollywood does not make nearly enough male revenge epics.

For its decision to pursue a $150 million tax-avoiding corporate inversion with Tyco International, Johnson Controls wins this year’s “Corporate Parasite” Award.

Among the “talking points” issued to defend the merger, Johnson Controls said that it and Tyco have “successful and robust” contracts with the U.S. government. In other words, they’re bullish about reeling in the government largesse as long as they don’t have to pay their share. That’s supposed to make it OK?

The “Take That, Scott Walker” Award goes to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee for being elevated to the status of a research university by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. UW-Milwaukee now joins the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the ranks of the 115 best research institutions in the country.

Congratulations to the researchers and professors at UWM whose dedicated work in the arts and sciences advances our civilization. And let’s give a big raspberry to Walker and other Republican dullards for attacking tenure and cutting UW System budgets.

Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. gets the “Raging Impotency” Award for the hateful comments he spews, usually while pandering to right-wing audiences on Fox News. Among the contributions of this “peace” officer: calling Black Lives Matter activists “sub-human creeps” and denying police brutality exists.

Clarke reminds me of self-hating homosexuals who preach hell fire and damnation for gay people. His towering ego is in conflict with his inadequacy. In the scheme of things, Milwaukee County sheriff is not a very powerful position. The big cowboy hats don’t fool anyone.

A special Merit Badge goes to Chris Rock, host of the Oscar telecast, for promoting the Girl Scouts and their cookies. A companion “Shut the Front Door” Award goes to the archbishop of St. Louis who, days before the Oscars, declared that the Girl Scouts were exhibiting “troubling behavior … incompatible with our Catholic values.”

The “troubling behavior” apparently includes: having fun, empowering girls, and being open-minded and inclusive of different people. Support the Girl Scouts: Make the patriarchy quake.

The “Goodbye, Already” Award goes to late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia who left a legacy of division through his mean-spirited decisions and dissents.

Scalia openly demeaned African Americans, gay people and immigrants and frequently denigrated the thinking of his fellow justices. He refused to compromise or reach consensus with them. He is not someone to emulate or admire and he hardly ranks with the giants of American jurisprudence. Goodbye, already.

The “Soldiering On” Award goes to the staff and volunteers of Planned Parenthood in Wisconsin and nationwide. GOP funding cuts, smear tactics and daily threats of violence do not keep these brave women and men from providing the professional, non-judgmental reproductive health care that millions of Americans need. Thank them by making a tax-deductible contribution to Planned Parenthood today.

‘Bombs away’ with the GOP

Just as Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell announced that more than 90 percent of Americans now have health insurance coverage, Republicans in Congress tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act — again.

In Wisconsin, there was an increase of 16 percent in the number of people signing up in the latest enrollment period. Almost a quarter million Badgers who previously had no coverage now have health insurance under the ACA.

Why in the world do Republicans want to reverse this progress? 

Better yet, why do they do anything they do?

Our GOP-controlled state Legislature just passed a law enabling citizens to legally carry concealed switchblades. What’s next? Brass knuckles? Garroting cable? Machetes? 

The same Republican gang bragged about a measure that allows hunters to wear pink, a cockeyed attempt to lure more women into the woods. The jerks who continually block enforcement of equal pay laws and deny women control of their reproductive health have apparently adopted the slogan “Let them wear pink.”

More insidious is a bill that would allow majority ownership of water utilities by out-of-state companies. The measure was dictated by a lobbyist for Aqua America who is — surprise! — a former GOP lawmaker. Aqua America wants an easier path to buying local water systems. The bill manipulates the referendum process in current law, hampering public input.

An Aqua America flack tried to reassure doubters, noting that water utilities are still regulated by the state. 

In this GOP-dominated Legislature, how long will that last? Remember Gov. Scott Walker defending Act 10 by saying, “After all, we’ll still have our civil service regulations” to guide government employment? Five years later, those civil service regulations are history. A one-party state can impose and de-regulate anything it wants.

Meanwhile, the rhetoric of Republican candidates for president gets more dishonest and bombastic by the week. 

In the New Hampshire debate, Donald Trump declared angrily that U.S. tax rates are the highest in the world. Not by a longshot, according to many fact-checkers. But the truth does not serve his purposes.

“I would bring back waterboarding,” Trump bellowed about the torture method the U.S. has been condemned for using against terrorist suspects. “And I would bring back a hell of a lot worse,” he added with menace.

Torture is really nothing to the Republicans. Not when Ted Cruz defiantly insists he will “carpet bomb” ISIS into oblivion. Military experts have tried to correct or modify his phrasing, but I think Cruz means exactly what he says. “Carpet bombing” makes him sound like a tough Texas he-man. 

Cruz reminds me of Slim Pickens in the final scene of Dr. Strangelove. If he is elected president (god forbid), I hope Cruz will straddle his first bomb and ride it all the way down to its target. Yee-ha!

“Bombs away!” is pretty good shorthand for Republican plans for Wisconsin, the nation and the world. Screwy priorities, thoughtless policies, deceit, weapons proliferation, crony profiteering, war mongering and collateral damage from all of the above will not create a better future. 

We need to seize the opportunity we have this year with our votes to send GOP-elected officials, GOP candidates and their judicial enablers like Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley into permanent retirement.

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.

Bringing Wisconsin values to DC

Halfway through my second term in office, it is my Wisconsin roots that have shown me how to make things work in an unworkable Congress to accomplish things that matter to our district.

Amid the year end business, a bill I authored with Rep. Mike Bishop (R-MI) to save the Perkins Loan program, at the request of UW students and staff, passed so a lifeline to low and middle-income students trying to finance their education will again be available.

In the rural town of Vermont where I reside, I frequently hear that broadband speeds are slow and kids cannot do their homework. This is why I led a bipartisan group of Members of Congress in the creation of a Congressional Rural Broadband Caucus.

My colleague and friend, Rep. Reid Ribble (WI-08) and I teamed up this year to bring Wisconsin values to DC by working on two bills to reform our federal budget process to provide more accurate and long-term budgeting.  

I always stand up for my beliefs and helping working families and there is much more work to be done, but we can still find paths forward, often with bipartisan collaboration. I learned that in my 14 years in the Wisconsin legislature and I will keep working with colleagues and moving the needle a little bit, day by day.

As I head into 2016, I will continue to fight for the priorities important to Wisconsinites, including raising the incomes of working Americans, responsible investments in research and infrastructure, affordable and accessible education, a solid foundation for retirement security and a constitutionally guaranteed right to vote. As always, I am committed to making sure your voice is heard in Washington and I want you to know my door is open.

I hope you enjoy the upcoming holidays with family and friends, and I wish you a safe and happy New Year. 

To All Candidates Running for President: Reject Bigotry

Since the tragic attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, the world has watched some American politicians react with hatred, bigotry and vile untruths. They have exploited the politics of nativism and fear, using the atrocities committed by a few individuals to cast blanket suspicion on whole nations and all Muslims.

America must be better than this.

We are a nation of immigrants founded on the principles of justice, equality, and democracy. Our commitment to these ideals has not always been perfect, and it is horrifying to hear politicians use past examples of national shame, such as the internment of Japanese Americans, to justify discrimination today.  Our nation and political leaders should instead set an example for people around the world with resilience and hope. Equality and religious freedom are principles enshrined in our founding documents and reflected in our laws. They are not mere concepts to be discarded in difficult times.

Calls to ban Muslims from entering the United States and prohibit the resettlement of refugees fleeing the Islamic State in Syria undermine core American principles by fomenting hate, division, and discrimination. Such hateful rhetoric has given rise to a tide of racism, hatred, and violence against law-abiding American Muslims. It is deeply distressing that hate crimes against American Muslims — and those who appear to be Muslim — are up when all kinds of hate crimes are down. This terrible fact cannot be divorced from the dangerous rhetoric that has seeped into the mainstream in recent weeks.

American Muslims are our neighbors, friends, and colleagues. They are us.

Our political leaders not only set the tone for our nation. They also are the primary messengers to the rest of the world.  When they call for compassion, dignity, and equality, the world listens. When they call for exclusion and defend bigotry, the world also listens. In a time of global uncertainty, American leaders must do the right thing by projecting the America we have always aspired to be.

We challenge every candidate for the presidency of the United States to stand up against bigotry and division, to oppose the exclusion of individuals from the United States on the basis of religion or nationality, and to affirm a commitment to equality for Americans of all races and of all faiths.

The future of America — and the world — is in your hands. Do the right thing. The whole world is watching.

Needed: Conscience and courage

As the fall chill takes hold, we can mope about the prospect of another long, dreary winter or make plans to shake up our lives and make good use of our time.

What’s true for our personal lives is equally true for our political climate.

Many liberals are discouraged by the endless stream of inanities from right-wing media, Congressional committees and Republican presidential candidates. Corporate shills vigorously deny global warming despite growing evidence of rising temperatures, deforestation, ocean acidification and species extinction.

Closer to home, Gov. Scott Walker and his GOP majorities in our Legislature continue to destroy multi-party, transparent government. Their methods are legion: gerrymandering legislative districts; prohibiting prosecutors from conducting John Doe investigations into corrupt practices; increasing the amount of allowable political campaign contributions while enabling donor anonymity; eliminating civil service rules that prevent cronyism; trying to trash our open records law; dismantling the nonpartisan board that oversees ethics and accountability; depressing voter participation through restrictive, confusing voter ID laws; restricting local ballot initiatives.

With Wisconsin in the grip of incipient fascism, it’s not the time for us to hibernate. There are many opportunities to get involved and help to turn our state back to a progressive path.

Contact the League of Women Voters (608-256-0827) or the Democratic Party in your region of the state to participate in voter education and registration drives. The GOP is counting on chaos and low voter turnout in next year’s elections. You can take an active role in seeing their plans crushed. At a minimum, make sure that you and everyone you know has the proper ID and knows when and where to vote.

I am far to the left of the Democratic Party, but I’m also a pragmatist. Democrats are the most viable alternative to the GOP right now. The GOP has a 63–36 majority in the state Assembly and a 19–14 majority in the Senate. It will be difficult to turn that around, but it’s not impossible. It wasn’t long ago that we had a Democratic governor and Democratic majority in the Senate.

I urge you to contact the Democratic Party and get active in campaigns, canvassing, issues research, social media and other forms of organizing. Participation of this kind has many benefits, including new skills, friendships and adventures. You can change your life while you change our state.

The Wisconsin Legislature is in session through Dec. 31. GOP leaders are promoting more legislation that will restrict public oversight and women’s reproductive freedom. 

Your voice matters. When issues concern you, call, write or email your representatives. Sign up for Twitter and email alerts from your favorite advocacy organizations. Planned Parenthood Advocates kept me informed daily during its federal funding crisis and allows me to send messages to my elected officials with just one keystroke. 

Spread the word and activate your family, friends and workmates. It is only through individual initiative that we will rescue democratic governance in our state.

“In a democracy,” wrote Marilynne Robinson, “abdications of conscience are never trivial. A successful autocracy rests on the universal failure of individual courage.”

In Wisconsin, it’s time we put conscience and courage into high gear.

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.

If I ruled the world

Fifty years ago, Tony Bennett scored a hit record with the altruistic “If I Ruled the World.” In 1995, Nas and Lauryn Hill struck gold with a much racier hip-hop song of the same title.

If it’s good enough for Tony and Nas and Lauryn, it’s good enough for me. In a world increasingly out of control, why shouldn’t I fantasize a better one?

If I ruled the world, all the Republican candidates for president would get it into their little pea brains that the most intrusive regulations U.S. women suffer from are not taxes and gun control but laws controlling our uteruses and sex lives.

If I ruled the world, every gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender person who hasn’t done so would come out to someone on National Coming Out Day, which is on Oct. 11. Debates in legislatures and courts about marriage and other rights continue. We can each play a part in swaying public opinion by being honest about who we are with family, friends and colleagues at work.

If I ruled the world, congressional hearings would only be held on issues we really need information about. Those testifying would actually get a chance to speak and be listened to and committee members turning such hearings into Stalinist show trials would be hauled off with the old show biz hook.

For her dignity, intelligence and strength of character, Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile Richards, daughter of legendary Texas Gov. Ann Richards, would follow her mother into elected office and become president of the United States in 2016.

If I ruled the world, women, who are still paid less than men 52 years after the Equal Pay Act, would pay only 79 cents on the dollar for all retail purchases, rent, hotel stays, transportation costs, etc.

If I ruled the world, all global warming deniers would face a fate appropriate to their offense: Pinocchio-sized noses followed by heat exhaustion, drowning, famine, lung disease. AM talk radio jocks would receive the type of hatred and merciless judgments they inflict on others, preferably from their own children.

If I ruled the world, the next mass killing by a young male loner who can’t make it with girls would take place in a location that might actually make a difference — like maybe the board room of a major gun manufacturer.

If I ruled the world, HBO’s Game of Thrones would end with its three righteous heroines — Daenerys Targaryen, Brienne of Tarth and Arya Stark — ruling an Amazon Empire far away from the Seven Kingdoms after having defeated the rapists and zombie hordes of the North.

In a similar vein, if I ruled the world, Charlize Theron and Emily Blunt would continue to star in action movies and ONLY action movies.

If I ruled the world, Justice Antonin Scalia would choke on spaghetti noodles while writing one of his vitriolic dissents, opening the way for another Supreme Court appointment by President Barack Obama. This is something the president does really well and we’re way overdue for our first African-American woman justice.

If I ruled the world, I would put the “fun” back into fundamentalism by organizing an international Whoopee Cushion Day. Guerilla bands of fun lovers everywhere would plant whoopee cushions on the chairs of bloviating preachers of all faiths. Videos of the Fundamentalist Fart Fest would be posted online, causing the world to laugh religious zealotry into insignificance.