“too long; didn’t read” is our quick summary of today’s top stories with commentary. Click “Newsletter” in our banner to subscribe and get updates each weekday.
March 25, 2022
Please forgive the language, but bullies don’t respond well to niceties—so let’s tell it to them directly: We have had it up to here with assholery in our school board meetings, political debates, air travel, even hospitals and clinics.
The angry shouting, the interference with official duties, the threats of violence or even death—this needs to stop, and it is way past time for judges to make examples of those whose conduct goes against everything we were taught at home, in church, and by the rest of what’s left of a civilized world.
Just this week, UpNorthNews told the story of a school board meeting in Eau Claire earlier this month that required a police presence for the second time in six months because grown adults were behaving like spoiled children. Sadly, just hours after our story was published, the school board required police to be on hand again because of a death threat emailed to the board president.
(What was the angry mob protesting? That’s the point. When behavior turns disruptive or violent, it no longer matters what the core issue was.)
Some pushback is finally coming. Gov. Tony Evers this week signed a bill increasing the criminal penalty for threatening a healthcare worker or interfering with their efforts to save lives. The politicization of a deadly virus has made this era one of the darkest chapters of American history, and we eagerly await the first instance of someone facing newly-upgraded felony charges for dangerous conduct toward a doctor, nurse, or others working so hard to keep us healthy.
Airlines are long overdue to put violent passengers on a permanent no-fly list across all carriers. And even at the most basic level, our social media comment sections have become cesspools of behavior that could only be described in terms frequently used about a cesspool’s contents. We’re proud to have a quick trigger finger on deleting posts that go well beyond stating opinions and move into insults or misinformation.
Critics will call all of this cancel culture. That term means nothing. Call it what it is: overdue accountability. Legitimate peaceful protest has its place in our national conversation. But from rioting in the streets to threatening harm to the essential workers of this country, the people showing America at its worse deserve harsher penalties and whatever deterrents we can muster before they bully or harm again.
Tuesday, March 15, 2022
Earmarks are back. Let’s do ’em right this time.
Individual spending items in a budget are not new. When President George Washington signed the first congressional appropriations bill, it included earmarks for lighthouses to make the Atlantic coast safer.
Done right, they put power back in the hands of the people voters sent to Congress (or a state’s legislature).
Left unchecked, they can leave a budget bloated.
Removed entirely, they put all decision making in the hands of bureaucrats and the majority party’s leadership—which can always find ways to get around spending limits. (We’re looking at you, Wisconsin fiscal conservatives who’ve given a blank check to a phony election investigation.)
The move to remove earmarks a decade ago was less about smarter budgeting and more about slashing for the sake of slashing. The result has been a drastic reduction in services, as intended by those who want to fill the gap with for-profit opportunities.
The right thing to do would be a public, predetermined limit on earmarks and—more importantly—full transparency so that we know who’s asking for a bridge to nowhere, who’s doing next to nothing for their constituents, and who’s making wise use of our budget (our taxes) to be effective and efficient.
A full list of projects funded can be found here, but these are some of the other priorities Johnson voted against:
- $7 million for a new fire station in Platteville
- $5 million for public transit in Racine
- $4 million for a new hospital in Lafayette County
- $2 million to deliver safe drinking water to Sheboygan, Sheboygan Falls and Kohler
- $1.6 million to protect against PFAS in water in the city of Rhinelander
- $500,000 for terminal expansion at Appleton International Airport
There is no similar list from Sen. Ron Johnson who voted no on the bill that also increases federal funding for schools and child care program, reauthorizes the Violence Against Women Act—a law that provides resources to victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence, and provides nearly $14 billion in assistance to Ukraine.
Transparency like this allows people to look it over and decide for themselves if it deserves the catch-all term “pork.” More likely, folks will see she’s the one bringing home the bacon for Wisconsin.
Monday, March 14, 2022
This week marks a kind of Happy Anniversary/Sad Anniversary related to the COVID-19 pandemic. By St. Patrick’s Day of 2020, we already knew the spread of the (then) new coronavirus was picking up speed. But it truly hit home on the afternoon of Mar. 17, when the expected but dreaded shutdown order came for bars—and restaurants were limited to carry-out orders. We will have stories this week looking back at the early moments of a plague that has killed more than 12,000 Wisconsinites so far.
Even now, after about a million COVID deaths in America, too many people are living in denial or using the pandemic to play politics. Thankfully, we can still see the caring and compassion of so many others. It was about one year ago that President Biden and a Democratic-led Congress took real action and approved the American Rescue Plan—saving lives, saving jobs, saving the economy.
Denial isn’t limited to the pandemic. CBS News’ 60 Minutes program last night was a primer for a national audience on the sad state of Wisconsin Republicans, who long ago eclipsed Georgia and Arizona as the leading state where democracy is under attack from people making false claims about the 2020 presidential election. Viewers heard directly from one of the very few voices of dissent in the Wisconsin GOP, state Sen. Kathy Bernier of Chippewa Falls, who said it plainly, “There is no evidence of voter fraud. It’s time to move on.”
And if “moving on” requires a little non-political distraction, you can start filling out your brackets and predict how far Marquette and the Badger men will go in the NCAA tournament. After all, March Madness should be limited to referencing college basketball games, not the unhinged behavior we’re seeing elsewhere around us.
Friday, March 11, 2022
There’s so much going on in the world that can make us angry, divisive, or just plain sad. We need to make time for the little victories and the small luxuries that allow us to be distracted for a time.
For your editor, that’s always been baseball. The work day is truly in the past once that first Leinie’s Summer Shandy is poured and the Brewers game comes on the TV—or when Bob Uecker’s voice is playing on a phone app while the backyard hammock swings to and fro. The prospect of not having that diversion was insult on top of the many little injuries we all endure daily. It sure is nice to know they’re going to play ball, after all.
And as you’ll read below, whether it’s someone playing politics with what should be a position of voluntary service on a state board, or people still working to undermine our elections and democracy itself, we need whatever moments of escapism we can get.
Thursday, March 10, 2022
This daily greeting—nicknamed tl;dr for “too long; didn’t read”—pulls double duty for us. Sometimes, it’s a brief summary of what’s in today’s newsletter in case it’s a literal case of tl;dr for you. Other days it serves as editorial space, like Wednesday’s point of view on the Legislature going on a paid vacation for the next 10 months. Either way, we appreciate the feedback and hope you won’t hesitate to share these points of view with your friends and group on social media.
Today, let’s summarize what’s below—as if the editor’s mom were saying, “just tell me what’s going on.” Well, Mom…
- Tom Tiffany and Glenn Grothman would rather we keep importing Russian oil as it continues to slaughter Ukrainian women and children.
- Republicans want the state Elections Commission to be more aggressive about trashing voters’ absentee ballots for minor errors.
- Congress is putting together an aid package for Ukraine. For a time it looked like it would be funded in part with money that had already been committed—but not yet sent to—states like Wisconsin as part of the American Rescue Plan. Gov. Tony Evers and other governors told Congress what they thought of that idea, and that raid is no longer happening.
- There’s rarely been a better time to serve your community, as 20 state legislators retire. It’s damn hard to run against an incumbent or to wait for an incumbent of your party to step down—so opportunity is truly knocking.
- And even if you’re busy, scroll down to see one of the Milwaukee County Zoo’s new baby otters. CUTE ALERT! BABY OTTERS!
Wednesday, March 9, 2022
In case you weren’t aware, your humble editor is a former Wisconsin legislator who served in the state Senate from 2007 to 2011. Sandwiched between two journalism careers, my stint in the Capitol gave me access I could only dream of as a reporter.
It reinforced a view on people that was similar to my newsroom experience. Some people wanted to be actual journalists while other people just wanted to play on TV. Some people are truly drawn to public service while other people just want power (and to play on TV). I quickly learned to appreciate the worker bees and avoid the drama queens and kings.
So I’m speaking from experience when I make these claims on our current Legislature. First, there’s always enough credit to go around. Responsible leaders look for win-wins. Others don’t want to govern so much as they want to rule, rejecting any input from the people who represent half the voters of your state.
Second, there’s no reason to send dozens of bills destined for vetoes. Send enough to make a point and stop wasting everyone’s time. And third, taking a 10-month taxpayer-furnished vacation is wrong. If you want a part-time legislature, slash that $50,000 salary.
Trust me, ignoring this bipartisan point of view will eventually catch up with you.
Tuesday, March 8, 2022
Honestly, we’d love to modify the current Disney hit, “We Don’t Talk About Bruno,” and change the line to, “we don’t talk about Ron Johnson.” There’s plenty of other news out there worthy of our time. But then he says or does something else that has a real impact on people’s lives.
On Monday, he said he would try to kill the Affordable Care Act if re-elected. So he’s against healthcare reform. On Tuesday, he’s meeting truck drivers protesting in Washington, DC, because they are against pandemic safeguards. In recent weeks, we’ve learned he is against helping make child care affordable. He’s against fighting for jobs to come to his hometown of Oshkosh.
We already knew he was against impeaching former President Donald Trump for blackmailing Ukraine’s president while withholding military support. He was against an independent investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on Congress. And we know he’s against independent elections in Wisconsin, having urged Republicans in the Legislature to take over for the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission.
He’s even against keeping his own promise that, if elected for a second term, he wouldn’t run for a third.
From the sublime (spreading Russian disinformation) to the ridiculous (saying Greenland was once green and only recently froze), Sen. Johnson keeps showing us how being against everything is no way to run a country with big challenges that require finding ways to say yes to solutions. This isn’t supposed to be a sideshow. It’s the United States Senate. So we’ll try again tomorrow for a day when we don’t have to start a daily news summary with some version of, “Guess what Ron Johnson said this time.”
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