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Danziger: Swamp Critters

Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons and one novel. Visit him at

6 Things To Know About Scott Walker

Republican fans may see GOP presidential candidate and Wisconsin governor Scott Walker as a crowd-pleasing, union-busting leader. And while he’s certainly popular with a certain segment of Wisconsinites (namely, those in affluent suburbs of Milwaukee), he’s demonstrably less admired by many of his constituents. According to an April poll by Marquette University Law School, 53 percent of registered Wisconsin voters believe the state is heading in the wrong direction, and only 41 percent approve of the governor’s performance. Many of his policies, from cutting aid to schools (including the University of Wisconsin system) to his controversial decision to make the state less hospitable to unions, are deeply unpopular.

Yet despite all the highly visible damage he’s done to the Badger State, he’s got still more skeletons in his closet. And we’re not even talking about his ridiculous devotion to Ronald Reagan.

1. He’s currently the subject of the equivalent of a grand jury probe for conduct during his 2012 recall election.

Called a “John Doe investigation” in Wisconsin, it’s actually the second investigation of this type into potential wrongdoing by Walker and his affiliates. They first looked into whether his staff did campaign work when they weren’t supposed to — like devoting hours to posting pro-Walker comments on news sites while on the county payroll. That probe led to the conviction of six staffers.

The current investigation, which has been going on since 2012, is to determine whether Walker’s anti-recall campaign unlawfully conspired with outside groups. To wit: whether campaign funds were funneled illegally “to a network of 12 supposedly independent conservative groups” while Walker’s campaign actually “directed their spending to fight the recall,” as Andy Kroll at Mother Jones put it.

2. His career in political shenanigans started early. 

In his sophomore year at Marquette University, Walker ran for student government president in a contentious election that reached epic proportions, culminating in a scandal with his team being accused of stealing the campus newspaper,The Marquette Tribune, from racks in highly trafficked school buildings after the paper endorsed his rival, John Quigley.

Taking offense the following day, the Tribune  wrote another editorial decrying Walker’s tactics. Despite endorsing Quigley, the student paper had previously also given support to Walker — but after the scandal, it quickly rescinded that support.

Walker lost the election big: 1,245 to 927. He stayed out of campus politics from then on, even though there has been no proof that he was part of the scheme to steal the newspapers.

3. It’s not the fact that he didn’t graduate from college that’s an issue. It’s the fact that he left under murky circumstances — and lied.

In speeches, Walker likes to claim that he’s just one semester short of graduation, and dropped out to take a full-time position at a local Red Cross chapter. He always planned to return to school, he says, but “family obligations” got in the way.

In reality, according to Marquette records unearthed in an investigation by PolitiFact, he was 34 credits short of the minimum needed to graduate with a single major. But he told his college’s 1990 yearbook that he had a triple major instead — political science, philosophy, and economics — which would have necessitated a heavier course load and far greater time commitment to school.

As for those “family obligations”? He dropped out in February 1990 — but didn’t get married until three years later. And his son wasn’t born until 1994.

4. Surrounded by yes men, he can’t tell the real from the fake.

The billionaire Koch brothers have been Scott Walker supporters for years, donating big sums to his campaigns. They’ve all but announced that they’ll back him in 2016. But in 2011, inspired by a Huffington Post article describing how difficult it was to get Walker on the telephone, blogger Ian Murphy decided to test this out — by pretending to be David Koch himself. When the governor rushed to pick up the call, Murphy turned on his tape recorder.

Having used YouTube videos to tweak his speech, Murphy then spent 20 minutes chatting on the phone with Walker, focusing on the governor’s plans to deal with people protesting his decision to eliminate collective bargaining for public workers. Opponents picked out Walker’s most damning statement: that he considered planting provocateurs among the protesters to make them appear violent. His explanation for rejecting the idea? “My only fear would be if there’s a ruckus caused is that would scare the public into thinking maybe the governor has to settle to avoid all these problems,” said Walker to “Koch.”

5. He’s chummy with right-wing radio.

As detailed in a series of articles in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel last year, the city of Milwaukee is dramatically divided from its surrounding counties on nearly every demographic and political measure. Walker’s standing in suburban counties of metropolitan Milwaukee is at astronomical levels — 91 percent approval rating among Republicans, according to a Marquette University poll — while Milwaukee County itself is solidly blue and anti-Walker.

Starting as a state assemblyman in the 1990s, Walker frequently guested on Charlie Sykes and Mark Belling’s respective shows on radio station WISN. So close did he become with Belling that Walker had his own emergency access line to the studio, off limits to station employees, according to the New Republic.

Why does this matter? These two hosts’ influence cannot be overstated. In Milwaukee the game is not about changing voters’ minds, it’s about increasing turnout — because the suburbs are filled with Republican whites and the city has the Democrats.

In fact, Walker’s vote totals aligned closely with the listening range of the stations, according to Sykes.

6. He wants to destroy unions.

Walker became a GOP golden boy during his first month in office when he decided to eliminate collective bargaining rights for public workers, along with requiring additional contributions to their benefits and reducing their overall take-home pay. Although initially targeting government employees like police officers and teachers, he has expanded his anti-union crusade by signing “right to work” legislation, which bans unions from requiring employees to pay dues. All this he did under the pretense of balancing the budget.

Walker’s policies have damaged the prospects for Wisconsin workers. Unionized workers set the pay scale for many kinds of jobs, of course, which affects compensation for non-unionized workers as well. And unions also set health and safety standards, offer training, and certify workers.  According to the New York Times, which compared the salaries of ironworkers in Wisconsin to Texas and Iowa, which have had right-to-work laws since 1947, the Wisconsin ironworkers get paid twice as much as those in the other two states.

Walker’s critics say that when union membership is high, union wages become the standard and lift the pay of non-union workers, whereas the opposite is true of places that have right-to-work in place. And further research suggests that workers in right-to-work states are killed more often on the job than those in other states.

Although Walker credits his collective bargaining law for a decrease in the state’s unemployment, it’s actually driving people out of the state altogether. And instead of fixing budget shortfalls, it has actually increased them: In 2013, Wisconsin boasted a budget surplus; this year, after giving $2 billion in tax cuts to the rich, Walker had to defer $100 million in debt payments to balance the 2015 budget (a gimmick that will only end up costing the state millions more in later years).  But as a cosmetic measure, the debt deferment made him look better when he signed the budget — just before announcing his entry into the Republican presidential race.

Image: Scott Walker has been under investigation twice for suspected shady campaign activity. DonkeyHotey via Flickr

Bush Follows Bush On Campaign Trail

By David Lightman, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)

MANCHESTER, N.H. — The shadow of his brother and father followed Jeb Bush on the campaign trail Friday, leaving him torn whether to follow them or inch away.

He was peppered with questions from reporters in New Hampshire about how he differed with President George W. Bush’s foreign policy. Not relevant, Jeb Bush insisted. The previous night, a voter asked him to explain why another president should come from the Bush family.

At the same time, the Bush name, and more important, its financial and political network, provide a huge advantage in the early going.

Bush is well aware he can’t escape. When he spoke at a breakfast Friday, staring right at him from the opposite wall was a big picture of his brother. Photos of his father were also plastered on the wall of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics, where Bush appeared. “Brings back really fond memories,” he laughed.

The family name adds a new layer of skepticism to the lengthy, detailed decision process voters endure in the nation’s first primary state. When Bush spoke at the Concord Snowshoe Club Thursday night to Republican activists, retiree Bill Doherty got up and put the question about family ties squarely to Bush.

“Why should only two families produce the leaders in this country?” he asked politely. A Bush or Clinton has been president for 20 of the last 27 years, and now both Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton are among those seeking the White House.

Bush first tried humor and humility. “I have enough self-awareness to know that that is an oddity,” he said. He joked how he wanted to “break the tie” with the Adams family. John Adams was the nation’s second president and his son, John Quincy Adams, was the sixth. “One way to get people to deal with this is to get people to laugh,” Bush said.

While Jeb Bush does not look like his brother, he has the same way of gesturing with his hands, and the same use of quick laugh lines to deflect tension.

“You have brothers and sisters so you may appreciate this, we’re not all alike. We make our own mistakes in life, we’re on our own life’s journey,” he told the breakfast group.

At a news conference later, he said he’d differ because he’d stress his record as governor of Florida from 1999 to 2007. And, Bush insisted, “I’ll actually propose ideas for the future.”

One of his biggest challenges is defending, or deflecting, his brother’s national security policies. George W. Bush left office in 2009 deeply unpopular, largely because of American involvement in the Iraq War.

Asked if he would detail how his foreign policy might be different, Jeb Bush said, “No.”

Bush said earlier this year that intelligence about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, which his brother used to justify the invasion of Iraq, proved “not to be accurate.”

Asked Friday about other disagreements with his brother’s foreign policy, Jeb Bush said: “That’s not particularly relevant in a world of deep insecurity. Focusing on the past is not really relevant.”

What’s relevant, he said, is “the role of America going forward. And in that world what I see is insecurities creating dramatic insecurity for our own country.”

Bush does command a decent following of people who remember his brother and father fondly. “The Bush dynasty is one of the most significant strengths he has,” said Beverly Bruce, a Tuftonboro software marketer. “He not only has the experience level but also a sense of history.”

Doherty, too, was sympathetic. “He answered (the question) fairly. After hearing him, I absolutely would vote for him,” he said.

Whether others would, though, is another matter.

“There is that dynasty issue,” he said. “It’s a question on everybody’s mind.”

(c)2015 McClatchy Washington Bureau, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Republican Candidates Reveal Health Care Plan: Don’t Get Sick

Watching the Republican presidential debaters and their Tea Party supporters on CNN the other night, an ordinary citizen might feel confused. Those people sound angry, but exactly what do they believe our government should (and shouldn’t) do on behalf of its citizens?

Ensuring affordable health care for everyone seemed to be on the forbidden list, even for Mitt Romney, who had tried to do exactly that as governor of Massachusetts. Every one of the candidates vehemently insisted, with predictably enthusiastic applause, that President Obama’s health care reform must go, immediately if not sooner. And just as predictably, none of them suggested how to provide affordable health care to the roughly 50 million Americans who lack coverage — a number that reached a new record last month.

Indeed, when CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer asked whether a young man lacking private health insurance should simply be allowed to die if he suddenly suffered an accident or illness, some audience members screamed “Yes!” Many of the rest cheered, while the would-be presidents stood by woodenly, without the dignity of a demurral.

It was a revealing moment that may foretell a new and meaner Republican platform: If you lose your job and your health care, don’t expect any help, except perhaps from the church. And if your innocent kids get sick, too bad for them. Forget about Medicare, Medicaid, and any American who can’t afford private insurance. This is a free country — so don’t get sick.

“That’s what freedom is all about — taking your own risks,” said Ron Paul (a medical doctor who doesn’t apply the Hippocratic oath to his Congressional service) in answering Blitzer. “This whole idea that you have to take care of everybody…” he went on disdainfully, before the audience cut him off with shrieks and applause.

Yet during the same debate, Rick Perry, the GOP’s leading contender, justified his program to inoculate young schoolgirls against cervical cancer by explaining that he was putting life first, as always — and then boasted about the millions of state dollars he has spent seeking a cure for cancer. While all the other candidates attacked the Texas governor for his Gardasil vaccination program, what bothered them more than the state funding was the alleged lack of parental consent. In principle, most of them seemed to think that state-funded protection for children against a deadly disease might even be acceptable.

Perry himself wasn’t exactly clear on this topic either, since he has denounced Medicare as unconstitutional. He took umbrage at Michele Bachmann’s suggestion that a $5,000 donation from the vaccine’s distributor had influenced his decision — but he actually took at least five times that amount, so perhaps Texas is just a place where legal bribes, like everything else, are bigger.

For anyone trying to understand what Republicans think about government’s role in health care, however, the debate displayed a puzzling level of incoherence. Is vaccinating school children a state function? Should taxpayers fund a cure for cancer? And why should government at the state or federal level assume responsibility for those needs, while ignoring millions of families and individuals without health insurance?

These are not academic questions, even for right-wing ideologues. Within hours after the debate concluded, the Gawker website revisited the sad story of Kent Snyder, the late libertarian activist behind the Ron Paul presidential industry, who died three years ago from complications of pneumonia. It was Snyder who pushed Paul into the presidential sweepstakes that have brought him millions of dollars and landed his dim son Rand Paul in the United States Senate. Snyder died without insurance — which his sister said was unaffordable to him because of a pre-existing medical condition — and left $400,000 in hospital bills for his mother. Whether the Paul family did anything to help the Snyder family isn’t clear, but other friends were driven to take up an Internet collection to help defray the costs.

Lack of insurance — and the lack of adequate insurance — present a daily concern for increasing numbers of Americans. According to the Census Bureau, the exact number has reached 49.9 million, the highest number since the advent of Medicare and Medicaid and the highest percentage of uninsured Americans since the recession of 1976. The consequences are tragic and — although financially costly to American society compared with other advanced countries — go far beyond mere money. Being uninsured means foregoing necessary care, especially preventive care, which annually causes the premature deaths of at least 50,000 people.

The Republicans up on that debate stage and the Tea Party claque don’t think this is their problem. They don’t care. They must be the only Christians in the world who would cheer wildly at the idea of someone dying from lack of health insurance. And they will nevertheless vote for the Texan who spent millions of state dollars vaccinating those little girls. Is it the fury and the bile that kills brain cells?