As I See It

As I See It (349)

Wisconsin's longest running daily commentary, a daily tradition since 1971.

Fixing the problems at Wisconsin's youth prison may prove to be an expensive undertaking. Especially now that a class-action lawsuit has been filed on behalf of current and former inmates at the Lincoln Hill School for Boys. That could cost taxpayers dearly. It didn't have to be this way. But the fact is, legislators and the administration have largely ignored the many warning signs about the abuses happening inside Wisconsin's youth prison. It seems little has changed in the past several years when we first started hearing stories about how these juveniles are being treated. Sexual assaults, solitary confinement, pepper spray. In one case, an inmate had to have toes amputated after having his foot slammed in a cell door by a guard. The lawsuit contains more disturbing allegations, like the 14 year old who over 8 months was kept in solitary confinement for all but two weeks. The lawsuit also alleges guards pepper sprayed the young inmates nearly 200 times over a 10 month period. In some instances, the pepper spray was the heavy duty stuff usually reserved for bear attacks. This has been allowed to happen due to lax management, staff shortages, and confusion over policies. Regardless of how this lawsuit comes out, our lawmakers should make it a priority to fix the problems at Lincoln Hills in this legislative session and stop treating our youngest lawbreakers like they are Hannibal Lecter.

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Tuesday - January 24, 2017 8:57 am

No more alternative facts

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President Trump is ready for war. With the media. Trump has long been a media basher, but stepped up his criticism over the weekend with his declaration that journalists are among the lowest life forms and that he has a running war with the media. His Press Secretary's very first order of business was to gather journalists to bash them over reports that Trump's inauguration crowd was not as large as that of Barack Obama. Trump counsel Kellyanne Conway defended the Press Secretary, arguing he presented “alternative facts.” But there are no such things as alternative facts, except in a George Orwell novel. But this is reality. Facts are facts. Trying to call something an alternative fact is really just a lie. Even the dictionary Marriam Webster trolled Conway, pointing out the definition of fact is a piece of information presented as having objective reality. Perhaps this is a political tactic, rallying his supporters around the supposed media bias. Many people believe that to be true, even if it is an alternative fact. It seems that in today's reality, the new administration may claim it is at war with unfair journalists, but in truth, the real war seems to be against the facts. But as former Senator Patrick Moynihan once told us, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but no one is entitled to their own facts.

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Monday - January 23, 2017 10:14 am

Tax windfall should pay for roads

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Now is the time to fix our roads. And it couldn't be easier to do. Wisconsin lawmakers have put off for years an agreement on how to pay for roads. As a result, Wisconsin's roads are now some of the worst in the nation. The roads we have built have been paid for with a credit card. But most road projects are simply being put off as lawmakers argue over how to pay for them. Well, it seems Christmas came early. The state budget office says Wisconsin will have about $450 million more than expected through 2019. That money could be used to finally get our roads fixed. But the politicians seem to prefer a shell game, unveiling a plan to spend more on roads, in exchange for some type of offsetting tax cut. That's because Governor Walker has said he will not support a higher gas tax, or vehicle registration fees, without a corresponding tax reduction. This plan does exactly what the Governor wants. So, lawmakers should unwrap this early Christmas present, and get a deal done. That would be progress. But such a plan still fails to do much more than patch the pothole that is Wisconsin's transportation budget deficit.

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Friday - January 20, 2017 9:10 am

When enough evidence of global warming?

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It has been hard to know what to think about global warming. Since Al Gore first warned of a changing climate, we have seen scores of research that suggests indeed the planet is getting warmer, and other research suggesting recent changes are anomalies. We shouldn't have to wonder any more. According to both NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, 2016 was the warmest year ever in North America. The previous warmest years were in 2015 and 2014. That makes three years in a row scientists have documented the warming of our planet. The top five hottest years have all come this century. Much of the warming is attributed to greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide which trap heat in the atmosphere, although an El Nino also contributed to the warmer temperatures. Despite the mounting evidence of a warming planet, some refuse to believe our climate is changing, much less who or what is to blame. How much more evidence do we need? Three straight years of global warming apparently isn't enough for some. Do we need to see four straight years? Five? Should we wait 10 more years before we make up our mind and finally decide to do something about it? By then, it may be too late.

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Thursday - January 19, 2017 9:35 am

Wisconsin should legalize marijuana oil

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If your child was sick, and the medicine that could help that child was illegal, wouldn't you want them to have it anyway? Dozens of parents in Wisconsin do, and continue to push lawmakers to legalize a controversial drug they say could help their sick children. These are children who suffer from seizures whose symptoms can be helped with the use of cannibid oil. But cannibid oil is a derivative of marijuana, and some lawmakers remain opposed to its use as a result. Senator Van Wanggaard is again introducing legislation which would make it legal to possess the oil with a doctor's permission. That is long overdue, especially to families whose children continue to battle seizures which could be calmed simply by a few drops of this oil. They have waited for years for Wisconsin to approve the use of this drug, waiting as their children continue to unnecessarily suffer. The wait may be nearly over. Some Madison lawmakers who opposed the oil, apparently fearing it would lead to the legalization of marijuana, are no longer in the legislature. And the new crop of lawmakers are more willing to consider the idea. 28 states have already approved the use of this drug. It is time for Wisconsin to do the same.

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Wednesday - January 18, 2017 9:06 am

Wisconisn examines new police tactics

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Too many communities have been torn apart by a series of police shootings. It was a big issue across the nation in 2016, and in Wisconsin. Is there something police can do to prevent such incidents? A forum this week in Wisconsin seeks to provide answers to that question. The meeting in Janesville brought together a small group of law enforcement leaders from across the country. The Janesville police department has worked hard to reduce officer involved shootings, particularly those in which a mentally ill person is gunned down. Their officers recently completed training which offers a new outlook for policing in order to save lives. Part of the new tactics involve having police back off rather than rushing in when someone who is distraught seems intent on getting killed by police. Typically, that person is a danger primarily to themselves. A growing number of police departments are implemented their new training designed to lead to fewer lives lost. U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan of Janesville is to be complimented for his role in putting this meeting together, and signaling that one of Washington's most powerful politicians sees this as a priority. This is a worthwhile effort, which has the potential to lead to fewer losses of life, and that is something we can all support.

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Friday - January 13, 2017 9:19 am

New tax for La Crosse roads a longshot at best

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Many Wisconsin communities are growing tired of waiting for the state to act. They are frustrated with the inaction in Madison when it comes to fixing our crumbling roads. So they are taking matters into their own hands, approving things like local wheel taxes to raise money to pay for their road needs. La Crosse County is considering a more unique option, but one which seems to have little likelihood of success. County Supervisors are considering what is called a Premier Resort Area Tax. It would potentially allow La Crosse County to institute a new tax on tourism related businesses. Supervisors are considering gauging support by putting a referendum on the April ballot. But in order for this to work, La Crosse county would first have to get approval from the state to institute the new tax. Given that no other counties have adopted this tax, and that La Crosse currently doesn't qualify for the tax, that is far from a sure thing. It could be inserted in the budget bill, but that could take two years. And it may require yet another, this time binding referendum on the topic. And of course, that referendum would have to meet voter approval. That is a lot of hoops to jump through, with seemingly little chance of success. All of this shows just how desperate communities like La Crosse are waiting for the state to do its job and provide the money needed to fix our roads.

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Wednesday - January 11, 2017 8:57 am

Wisconsin's AG and his kick-ass medals

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Who knew we had such an ass-kicker as Wisconsin's top cop? State Attorney General Brad Schimel is Wisconsin's top law enforcement agent. And he likes to kick ass. In fact, it is his motto. K.A.E.D. It is Schimel's pet phrase for how he does his job. It stands for kicking ass every day. Not just sometimes, or once in a while. Every day. And he wants everyone to know it. A bit crude, but hey, that is how he signs his emails and other communication to Justice Department staff. But sharing the motto in emails, presumably to motivate his staff, isn't enough apparently. Schimel has ordered 2000 gold-plated coins bearing his name, the state seal, and his motto. K.A.E.D. How cute. He hands them out to people he wants to impress. You and I won't see one, other than in a picture. But we paid for the coins. Schimel's office billed Wisconsin taxpayers for the $10,000 cost of the ass-kicking coins. That should be a crime. Why should you and I pay for his fake coins with his name and a crude motto? The answer of course is that we shouldn't. Yep, Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel is a real kick in the pants. But it seems Wisconsin taxpayers are the ones who are taking the boot on this one.

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Tuesday - January 10, 2017 10:06 am

Dems shouldn't block presidential nominations either

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Democrats on Capitol Hill threw a fit when their Republican colleagues refused to even schedule a nomination hearing for President Obama's nominee to fill the vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court. Congress successfully delayed nomination hearings for nominee Merrick Garland, arguing any hearings should wait until the outcome of the election. Now, President-elect Trump will be making the nomination for the Supreme Court seat, and Washington Democrats are threatening to try to prevent Trump's nominee to gain congressional approval, or even refuse to hold confirmation hearings. That was a bad idea when Republicans did it, and it is a bad idea of Democrats do it. We need a fully functional Supreme Court, with all nine seats filled. With an even number on the high court, there is greater risk of gridlock, and there is some evidence that courts not fully staffed refuse to even hear some cases because they are not confident there will be any consensus. Just as was the case with Obama's pick, Presidents have the right to make appointments to the Supreme Court. Trump won the election, and now gets to nominate justices. Members of Congress need to quit being obstructionist and get on with the business of governing.

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The description of the course offering would seem to be without controversy. The optional course being offered at the University of Wisconsin is called The Men's Project. According to the description, the goal of the course is “to prevent future violence by teaching participants to recognize warning signs of unhealthy interactions.” The program also provides insights about perceptions of masculinity, including gender-based violence. Basically the course teaches it is not ok to hit women, and that men have a responsibilty to ensure that is not the case. But state lawmaker Steven Nass has a problem with this course offering. He argues that it “declares war on men.” And he is threatening to withhold state funding for the University System if they don't cancel the course and fire the teacher. Nass also has a problem with another UW course examing the problem of whiteness, encouraging white people to see the world from the perspective of a person of color. It appears Rep. Nass would rather live in a world where it is ok to hit women, or at least not talk about it, and where white people shouldn't have to consider the experiences of others. Such a viewpoint shows just why these courses are needed. Rather than criticize the courses, perhaps Nass should enroll in them. It seems he has plenty to learn.

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