Category: Wisconsin politics

How COVID should have been (and should be) handled

James Taranto:

The Omicron surge has triggered a mutation in the conventional wisdom about Covid-19. The virus “is here to stay,” oncologist Ezekiel Emanuel and two other experts who advised the Biden transition proclaimed in a Jan. 6 article for the Journal of the American Medical Association, “A National Strategy for the ‘New Normal’ of Life With Covid.” That means no more “perpetual state of emergency”: “The goal for the ‘new normal’ . . . does not include eradication or elimination.”

Joseph Ladapo reached the same conclusion almost two years earlier. “Please don’t believe politicians who say we can control this with a few weeks of shutdown,” Dr. Ladapo, then a professor at UCLA’s medical school and a clinician on Covid’s frontline, wrote in USA Today on March 24, 2020. “To contain a virus with shutdowns, you must either go big, which is what China did, or you don’t go at all. . . . Here is my prescription for local and state leaders: Keep shutdowns short, keep the economy going, keep schools in session, keep jobs intact, and focus single-mindedly on building the capacity we need to survive this into our health care system.”

“That was before it became political,” Dr. Ladapo, 43, says in an interview conducted in person, indoors and unmasked. An orthodoxy soon hardened in the medical establishment and most of the media. He says his UCLA faculty colleagues’ reactions to his commentaries went from “Thanks, Joe, for providing us another perspective” to “How can we make Joe stop writing?” He believes USA Today “would never have published anything along that vein later in the pandemic.” But the Journal would: Since April 2020, I have accepted a dozen of Dr. Ladapo’s articles for these pages. One of them, in September 2020, was headlined “How to Live With Covid, Not for It.”

As policy makers’ views began to converge with Dr. Ladapo’s, he became a policy maker. His writings caught the attention of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who in September 2021 appointed him surgeon general, the state’s top health official. “It’s fun that I’m sitting here because of you,” Dr. Ladapo tells me—though he’s also sitting here because Mr. DeSantis had been quicker than most politicians to see the folly of lockdowns and the necessity of living with Covid.

The governor declared a state of emergency in early March 2020, followed in April by the first in a series of executive orders reopening the state. Restaurants, bars, gyms and movie theaters were back in business by June 2020, and public schools were in session that fall. In May 2021 Mr. DeSantis suspended all local Covid-19 restrictions, including mask mandates, and signed legislation ending them permanently. Last summer’s Delta wave hit Florida hard, but the Sunshine State imposed no new restrictions. The state became a punching bag for journalists and other enthusiasts for harsh Covid policies. The hashtag #DeathSantis periodically trended on Twitter.

In Florida as elsewhere, Omicron has brought an unprecedented explosion in reported cases but a considerably smaller increase in severe ones. “It’s been really a blessing that the Omicron variant is less virulent,” Dr. Ladapo says, though he cautions: “We don’t know what’s around the corner, because these case counts are still very high.” Florida recorded an average of 65,551 cases a day for the week ending Jan. 12, up 165% from the Delta wave’s August peak. But hospitalizations of Covid-positive patients, at 10,526, were 41% lower than the August high.

One way to bring the case count down is by testing fewer people. “Historically in public health, for respiratory viruses in the general population, we consider ‘cases’ to be people who have symptoms, not a PCR test,” Dr. Ladapo says. “But during the pandemic, you can have a positive PCR and be completely healthy but be considered a case and be required to behave like a case, which is to isolate and those types of things.”

On Jan. 6 Dr. Ladapo issued guidance that only people who have Covid symptoms and a risk factor (old age, certain diseases, or current or recent pregnancy) “should” get tested. Those with symptoms but no risk factors are advised to “consider” a test. For the asymptomatic, the guidance discourages testing, saying it “is unlikely to have any clinical benefits.”

“A test is most valuable when it’s most likely to lead to a change in a decision, a change in management,” he says. “I mean, that’s so basic.” To keep hospitalizations down, he adds, the state has made clear “that we expect clinicians to treat patients with risk factors” using therapies including monoclonal antibodies, new antivirals from Pfizer and Merck, and fluvoxamine and inhaled budesonide, two medications that have shown promise in off-label use against Covid-19.

He describes the asymptomatic as “a very special group, because this group—you can’t feel any better than not having symptoms. So this group can only be harmed from treatment”—not to mention the “personal downside to them” of being expected to isolate.

Grow a pair, or buy a gun

Jason Rezalan writes ni the Washington Post:

The year 2022 is not looking particularly promising for press freedom. In fact, the United States is one place where journalists could start seeing an increase in the types of threats that many of our colleagues in many illiberal societies already face.

If we don’t take corrective measures quickly to increase media literacy and slow the spread of disinformation, journalists working in the United States will become bigger targets for those who disagree with the information and perspectives we disseminate.

It’s already happening.

Last month, a judge in New York sentenced a man to three years in prison for threatening dozens of people, including journalists and members of Congress, for accurately reporting the results of the U.S. presidential election. The man, Robert Lemke, 36, sent text messages and voice mails, including pictures of the gravesite of CNN reporter Brian Stelter’s father and a message that described his mother’s house, implying Lemke was there.

Lemke believed the “big lie” and was prepared to threaten others for disagreeing with his demonstrably false views.

Traditionally journalists have wanted to stay away from the center of the stories they cover. Most of us would like nothing more than to do our jobs of chronicling and analyzing events with some measure of privacy. But that’s becoming impossible.

The pressure is on to make our work stand out, as success is increasingly linked to web traffic. And as journalists’ profile and perceived influence rise online, leaders with authoritarian mindsets, and their followers, see the reach and independence as a threat to their power.

Many journalists have endured years of online harassment and abuse in silence. The industry has become desensitized to these attacks, accepting them as an occupational hazard. We see the opportunity to inform a wide audience as a privilege that comes with responsibility — and you have to have thick skin, we tell ourselves.

The stakes, though, keep getting higher as our society becomes more polarized. Of course, this was most evident on Jan. 6, when Trump supporters attempted a coup at the U.S. Capitol.

Acknowledging the gravity of the moment, Post publisher Fred Ryan honored 38of our colleagues who covered the Jan. 6 insurrection with The Post’s annual Ben Bradlee Award for Courage in Journalism.

The award honored their commitment to carrying out the job in a volatile and dangerous environment, and also acknowledged the tremendous personal risk they took. These journalists need recognition, but they also need care and support. We tend to forget that as an industry.

We don’t talk enough about the trauma many journalists endure — in large part because we are not supposed to know about it: Journalists never want to eclipse the subjects and broader themes at the heart of our stories.

As journalists covered the insurrection, documenting the most direct threat to our democracy since the Civil War, people hurled threats and insults in their direction. “Murder the media” was scratched into a door of the Capitol. Some in the mob chanted “CNN sucks” as they destroyed equipment owned by the Associated Press.

“I’ve covered conflict abroad and it wasn’t until reporting on social unrest throughout 2020 that I had to consistently go out with a military-grade gas mask, a bulletproof vest and eye protection,” Maranie Staab, an independent journalist who has been covering protest movements that erupted in different U.S. cities, including Pittsburgh, Portland and Syracuse, told me.

Staab says she witnessed “countless instances where the press was targeted, attacked and obstructed by law enforcement as well as groups on the far right and factions of the far left.”

Without proper accountability, we are bound to face more and better organized assaults on our democratic institutions. And that includes the free press.

I have written about the decline in press protections in Mexico, Iran and many other countries. The dehumanizing treatment of critical journalists by the nationalist Indian government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has led to India becoming one of the deadliest places in the world to report. In 2021, four journalists were murdered and no one has been held accountable for those crimes.

We monitor press freedom to shine a light on those who want to obstruct the free flow of information in different societies. And that knowledge offers important tools for press freedom defenders across the world.

The United States, which prides itself of having a constitutionally enshrined right to freedom of the press, is seeing the tactics of dehumanization and intimidation long deployed by nondemocratic states.

Discrediting the press isn’t new, but this country is entering a new and darker chapter. President Donald Trump didn’t write it, but his brand of hateful showmanship was uniquely successful at fanning the fire. Putting it out will be difficult and, frankly, less “catchy” — headlines about disinformation and attacks on public figures don’t get a lot of sympathy, or clicks. But that’s precisely why it has to be a priority. Because if press freedom crumbles in the United States, if journalists feel threatened and vulnerable for speaking truth to power, then the outlook for democracy — here and abroad — will become bleaker than it already is.

In other countries, journalists get killed, beaten and imprisoned. That is not generally the case in this country, which makes journalist fears for their skin rather over the top. (I write that as someone whose skin actually has been threatened, in contrast to most in my line of work, and as someone who has had to stand up to authority in person, in contrast to most in my line of work.)

My suggestion is that journalists learn self-defense, including buying and learning how to shoot a gun if necessary. That, and figuring out that more than one-third of voters are not the enemy, in contrast to what this writer believess.

Billboard of the year

Newsweek writes about this billboard outside of Richland Center:

Abillboard of Vice President Kamala Harris and President Joe Biden with the film title Dumb and Dumber underneath has begun to go viral.

The 1994 comedy film, starring Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels, has often been referenced in politics and attributed to elected leaders.

The billboard is believed to be in Richland County in Wisconsin and has been met with a mixed response.

To be precise, outside of Richland Center.

The picture was shared on Twitter by JonCover2 to his over 6,000 followers and has since been liked 14,000 times and retweeted over 3,000 times. Newsweek has reached out to the original poster and Wisconsin officials for comment.

Many critics of the current administration responded enthusiastically to the billboard and replied with their own pictures of anti-Biden signs across the U.S.

One user wrote: “I drive by this regularly in southern Wisconsin. Makes me smile.”

Another added: “This billboard is needed everywhere from East to West coast.”

While another wrote: “I disagree – clearly Biden is the dumb and Kamala is the dumber.”

And another added: “Cool, I like to call them Sh**s and Giggles, but this works.”

However one person in the comments argued against the mocking of Biden and Harris. They wrote: “Talk about disrespect. These are your elected leaders. Reaching a new low… if that is possible.”

That’s rich coming from people who ripped to shreds Reagan, Bush, Thompson, Walker and Trump voters at every opportunity.

The billboard picture was also shared on liberal Twitter page PatriotTakes which has over 430,000 followers.

Comments on this page steered more towards confusion and condemnation.

One social media user wrote: “They have no personality outside of worshiping their cult idol.”

“Seriously, they would have no problem with this administration if they didn’t dethrone their king.”

That’s quite a statement from supporters of the party that worships the Kennedys, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, etc., etc., etc.

And another wrote: “This is someone’s vanity project. It doesn’t serve any purpose except they enjoy it when they drive by.”

President Biden’s approval rating since taking office has fallen significantly and the President has faced constant criticism from former President Donald Trump and his supporters.

It remains fascinating that more than a year after the presidential election there are so many Trump signs outside urban areas. It’s as if Trump voters knew what would happen if Biden won.

 

More dangerous to kids: COVID or Milwaukee?

Dan O’Donnell asks that question posed in the headline:

On the whole, human beings aren’t especially great at risk assessment.  Far-fetched, exotic terrors fill us with dread, but we all but ignore the dangerous yet mundane.  We fret, for instance, about an upcoming flight but drive to the airport with one eye on our phone and one hand on a burrito.

The COVID-19 pandemic has drawn this phenomenon into sharp relief, especially as it pertains to the disease’s impact on children.  We closed schools almost instantly, cancelled play dates and extra-curricular activities by the millions, and forced children to wear masks nearly everywhere they went.

Even now, we panic because younger children aren’t eligible for the COVID vaccine and obsess over the rising rate of pediatric hospitalizations to the point that we have blinded ourselves to the truth: COVID-19 is far less dangerous to children in Wisconsin than the streets of Milwaukee.

COVID-19 has yet to kill a single child younger than 10 in this state.  10 children under 10 have been murdered in Milwaukee since the start of 2020.  Among children older than 10, three have died with or from COVID, while 35 have been the victims of homicide over the past 21 months.

Put another way, a child has died of COVID in Wisconsin every 208 days, but a child has been murdered in Milwaukee once every two weeks.  An additional 149 children have been injured in nonfatal shootings, meaning that a child is 65 times more likely to be shot or killed in Milwaukee than to die of COVID.

Guess which issue Wisconsin’s media and policymakers have focused on and which they have largely ignored.  Their obsession with school closures and mask mandates may have succeeded in convincing a percentage of parents that COVID is a grave danger to their children, but the statistics simply don’t support the fearmongering.

As of this writing, a total of 120,247 children have been infected with COVID-19.  Three have died.  That’s a death rate of 0.025 percent.  A child in Wisconsin has a 1-in-40,082 chance of dying from COVID-19, but a 1-in-15,000 chance of being struck by lightning at some point in his or her life.

Not only is COVID almost universally survivable for Wisconsin’s children, it has also not hospitalized them in overwhelming numbers.  Just 1,376 children have been hospitalized with COVID out of the more than 120,000 who have been infected—a hospitalization rate of 1.1 percent.

What’s more, new research suggests that the real percentage might be far lower.  A Harvard University study published this week indicates that that “roughly half of all the hospitalized patients showing up on COVID-data dashboards in 2021 may have been admitted for another reason entirely or had only a mild presentation of disease.”

pair of earlier studies of pediatric patients published in the journal Hospital Pediatrics “found that pediatric hospitalizations for COVID-19 were overcounted by at least 40 percent.”

In one study, researchers concluded that 45 percent of hospitalizations “were unlikely to be caused by SARS-CoV-2” and were actually due to “surgeries, cancer treatment, a psychiatric episode, urologic issues, and various infections such as cellulitis, among other diagnoses.”

In the second study, “the authors classified 40 percent of patients as having ‘incidental’ diagnosis, meaning there was no documentation of COVID-19 symptoms prior to hospitalization.”  The obvious conclusion is that the patients were not hospitalized for COVID-19, but rather tested positive once they visited the hospital for treatment of some other malady.

Extrapolating these studies to Wisconsin’s pediatric hospitalizations would suggest that only about 550 children were actually hospitalized with severe cases of COVID-19, not the 1,376 that the Department of Health Services has logged.  It would also mean that the actual child hospitalization rate in Wisconsin is closer to 0.046 percent.

This is not to suggest that COVID-19 cannot be a serious disease for children, but it is not at all likely to be.  Only a small percentage of those who contract it had to be hospitalized for it and three died either with or of it.

With the emotional school board battles over masks in the classrooms accompanied by a constant drumbeat of media doomsaying, one can be forgiven for thinking COVID is a far greater threat to children than it is.

The data, though, is conclusive: COVID-19 is nowhere near as dangerous to children as we have been led to believe it is.

Who’s in charge here?

Politico:

Robin Vos isn’t the governor of Wisconsin. But he certainly acts like he is.

For nearly three years, the state Assembly speaker has used his Republican majority — and the support of the Republicans who control the state Senate — to block, thwart or resist almost every significant move made by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers.

Before Evers even took office in 2019, Vos led the charge to strip power from the incoming governor. When the pandemic hit, Vos helped curb Evers’ authority to declare public health emergencies. This spring, Vos tried to commandeer federal rescue money that the governor had the authority to dole out.

The next senator for the right half of Wisconsin

Julia Manchester:

Wisconsin Republicans are waiting anxiously for Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) to make a decision on whether he will run for reelection and are quietly considering backup plans in case he doesn’t run.

Johnson made national headlines last week when he told conservative commentator Lisa Boothe that he did not think he was the best candidate for 2022, leading many to ask whether this was foreshadowing a retirement.

“I believe that he, in his heart I’m not so sure he wants to run, but at the end of the day he doesn’t want to turn everything over to [Senate Majority Leader] Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.),” Wisconsin state Assembly Leader Robin Vos (R ) told The Hill. “He’s probably the strongest candidate that we have.”

Other Wisconsin Republicans point to Johnson’s popularity among the conservative base in the state and recent fundraising efforts as signs he is leaning toward running.

“I would recommend to everybody to not underestimate Ron Johnson,” Wisconsin-based GOP strategist Brandon Scholz told The Hill. “He is very much in tune with what he wants to do and when he wants to do it.”

Johnson raised $1.2 million in the second quarter of this year, outraising the growing group of Democratic Senate hopefuls in Wisconsin. Johnson had a cash-on-hand total of $1.7 million going into July after the latest Federal Election Commission filing.

Others remain skeptical that Johnson is leaning toward running, pointing to a lean staff. The Republican only has a finance director on the political side right now. Six years ago at this point, Johnson had a full staff, including a campaign manager and a communications team.

“If he’s genuinely thinking about pulling the trigger on the campaign, I’d expect him to start staffing up sooner than later,” said one Wisconsin-based Republican strategist.

Democrats are salivating over the chance to run against Johnson, who has given Democrats plenty of fodder for political attacks.

Wisconsin Rep. Gwen Moore (D) endorsed progressive candidate and Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes (D) for the Senate race on Tuesday, calling Barnes “the best candidate to beat Ron Johnson.”

Johnson has come under scrutiny for a number of comments this year including saying the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol was “peaceful,” for dismissing climate change as bullshit at a GOP luncheon, and for organizing an event highlighting adverse reactions to the COVID-19 vaccine.

The senator more recently came under scrutiny for questioning the effectiveness of masks in stopping the spread of coronavirus amid new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Wisconsin Republicans have publicly brushed off the controversies.

“When somebody in office is getting beat up a lot, it’s probably because they’re doing something worthwhile because they’re getting a reaction from the other side,” said Stephanie Soucek, the chairwoman of the Door County Republican Party

But behind the scenes, Republicans worry that Johnson’s controversies could hurt him in the swing state.

“We all know how purple it has become at this point. That might help you in the primary,” said the GOP strategist. “You kind of have to almost tone down those culture war issues so that you’re positioned for that general election here.”

Other Republicans have brushed this off, arguing that any Senate race in Wisconsin will be a nail-biter for both sides.

“If somebody wants to say ‘oh well, Johnson’s in trouble, it’s going to be close,’ any statewide candidate in Wisconsin is going to be close and if close means trouble, then they’re all in trouble,” Scholz said.

Biden narrowly defeated Trump last year in Wisconsin by less than a percentage point. In 2016, Trump had become the first Republican presidential candidate to flip the state in decades. He also won by less than a percentage point.

In the 2018 midterm elections, Gov. Tony Evers (D) narrowly defeated then-Gov. Scott Walker (R ), also by less than a percentage point.

“We’re really at a point where our statewide races are going to be one-, two-point races,” Scholz added.Democrats increasingly see the state as a prime pick-up opportunity, and eight Democrats including Barnes have jumped into the race. Johnson would be the only incumbent Republican running in a state won by President Biden in 2020, and the nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates the race as a “toss-up.”Other Republican names have been floated as possible replacements, including Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), Marine veteran and former Senate candidate Kevin Nicholson, former Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) and former Senate candidate Eric Hovde.

Gallagher raised nearly $625,000 in the second quarter, fueling speculation that he was exploring a potential bid if Johnson does not run. Johnson is said to believe that Gallagher is the best candidate to replace him in such a scenario. But some Wisconsin Republicans have questioned Gallagher’s statewide appeal.

“He has limited appeal outside of his district and he doesn’t have a statewide network,” said a second Wisconsin GOP strategist.

Gallagher has become known for his interest in foreign policy, with a particular focus on China. He notably criticized Trump after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, writing in an op-ed that the former president “bears responsibility” for the attack and called the efforts to overturn Biden’s Electoral College victory “unconstitutional and dangerous.”

The congressman did not vote to impeach Trump, but his comments have led some Republicans to question what role the former president would play in Gallagher’s future campaigns.

“In this new primary world with Trump trying to weigh in and pick his people, the most difficult thing for a Gallagher is going to be what is Trump going to do?” said the same strategist. “The stuff that Gallagher came out with is going to put him in a hard spot.”

Johnson has become the de facto leader of the Wisconsin Republican delegation given the departures of Walker, former Speaker Paul Ryan and Reince Priebus, the former Republican National Committee chairman and chief of staff to Trump.

As a result, his departure would raise questions about the future of the GOP in Wisconsin.

For now, the party is anxiously awaiting Johnson’s decision.

“The only person who knows what Ron is going to do is Ron himself. If he does,” the first GOP strategist said.

 

The opposite of collective bargaining

Rick Esenberg and Will Flanders:

It’s been 10 years since Wisconsin passed Act 10, which limited the rights of public employee unions to demand collective bargaining, and Wisconsin is still reaping the benefits: better educational outcomes, more teacher freedom, less ability on the part of unions to influence politics and cost-savings to school districts — just to name a few.

However, the left is still working to say otherwise, so two prevalent myths deserve to be dispelled. The passage of Act 10 and “right-to-work” legislation — which gave employees in Wisconsin the same freedom to choose whether to be in the union as is enjoyed in 26 other states — did not increase income inequality or harm education in Wisconsin. In fact, close to the opposite is true.

Let’s consider income inequality first by looking at a common measure of the gap between the rich and the poor — the Gini coefficient. It attempts to represent, with a single number, the difference between the poorest and wealthiest individuals in a particular area. State-level Gini coefficient data collected by a Sam Houston State Economics professor shows that Wisconsin’s hasn’t changed much in terms of income inequality before or after Act 10. Indeed, the state has remained more equal than the average across the United States. In other words, the claim that labor union reforms have increased inequality is patently absurd based on the data.

Contrary to popular understanding, Act 10 did not restrict the rights of unions to advocate for their members. It did, however, restrict their ability to insist upon collective bargaining — a system in which the government is obliged to negotiate with its employees. While this may sound innocuous, in practice it allows unions to influence government decision-making in a way that citizens with competing interests — say, taxpayers — may not. Under collective bargaining, public employee unions exercise outsized power on public decision making. For example, while parents across the country became more interested in opening schools following the growing consensus that it was safe to do so, teacher unions fought to prevent it. Research from our organization and others found that COVID-19 played little role in school reopening decisions — what mattered was whether there was a strong union in the area.

While COVID-19 no doubt hurt education, Act 10 did not. Specifically, Act 10 is not the reason for a declining number of people becoming teachers, which is one of the left’s arguments regarding Act 10 hurting education. The teacher shortage is a national problem, covering states across the political spectrum. According to data from the Department of Education tabulated by the Center for American Progress, almost all states have experienced significant declines in the number of students entering teacher preparation programs.  States such as Illinois and New York, where little union reform is possible, have seen larger declines than Wisconsin.

The most divisive championship of all time!

On Tuesday the Milwaukee Bucks ended a 50-year NBA championship drought.

It shouldn’t be surprising given our fractious times that this was not met with universal praise throughout the home state of the Bucks. Some people fail to grant others the same rights of opinion as they grant themselves when opinions disagree. (This is a bigger thing with liberals than conservatives, but too few conservatives grant others the right to be wrong.)

There is also the dynamic of Milwaukee vs. the rest of Wisconsin. Some of that comes through this rather defensive piece from On Milwaukee:

Hello, big market sports punditry. I see you over there on the coast, scoffing about Milwaukee’s historic victory in the NBA Finals.

You’ve probably never been to Milwaukee, so let me try to explain this to you.

What’s happening in Milwaukee this week is about so much more than an NBA title. It’s about so much more than some sports talk blowhard who called us a “terrible city.”

It’s about humility. It’s about passion. It’s about showing up and being yourself when everyone else says you should be embarrassed of who that is, and grinning like Bobby Portis and not giving a f*ck.

Did you catch that, Stephen A? We know you didn’t want to come to Milwaukee. We don’t care, we were having a great time regardless. We think it’s hilarious that you had to come anyway. We hope you hated how much fun you had.

Because being a champion is easy when everyone else sees a champion. Being a champion when everyone sees a nobody – when the world sees “Flyover Country” – that takes guts.

That’s why Giannis Antetokounmpo is such a perfect avatar for this place. That’s why his statue will stand taller than the “Bronze Fonz” (but probably in its general vicinity).

Because nobody outside of Wisconsin saw a champion when Giannis stepped onto an NBA court as a gangly, quiet 18-year-old who barely spoke any English.

He doesn’t fit the mold of an NBA champion. Even today, there is a sizable segment of the national sports punditry that (not-so-secretly) resents him for that.

He doesn’t brag. He doesn’t make drama. He’s not flashy.

He shows up, and he does the work. He stays humble and grateful. He doesn’t just remember his roots, he never left them.

There’s no pretension there, just an authentic human being who is awkward and doofy and full of passion.

NBA fans no longer get to count the seconds as Giannis prepares for his free throws.

No, from here on out, they have to spell:

A-N-T-E-T-O-K-O-U-N-M-P-O

After the game, Giannis described himself as “a people pleaser.”

Believe me, the people of Milwaukee are pleased. We identify with this dude.

If he stays in Milwaukee Antetokounmpo will be as loved as Henry Aaron was. And those who are ignoring the Bucks because of (they believe) incorrect political views are missing out on one of the greatest sports figures (not just for athletic reasons) in our lifetimes.

And we needed this W bad.

Because you don’t GET nice things when you’re from Milwaukee. This city’s entire history is about getting knocked on its butt just when it’s on the precipice of having something nice.

Kevin Smith’s movie classic “Dogma” sums it up succinctly. When Linda Fiorentino asks if Matt Damon and Ben Affleck were sent to hell, Alan Rickman infamously deadpans, “Worse. Wisconsin.”

Nobody quotes that line more than we do here in Milwaukee, and we laugh it off with our customary Midwestern good grace. But there is real pain under that laughter.

People forget that Milwaukee was poised to be a global super-city at the turn of the 20th century. Milwaukee City Hall was the tallest secular building in the world, and the city had growth and population density that rivaled New York, London and Paris.

Maybe we forgot because no one reading this was alive at the time. But I digress.

It didn’t pan out – seems like it never does for Milwaukee. People forgot about the city that “Feeds and Supplies the World.” Factories closed. Racial discrimination reared its ugly head. The rust belt decay took hold. Affluent folks fled to the suburbs and took their wealth with them, and Milwaukee became a scapegoat for the rest of the state to look down upon.

Even when we learned Milwaukee would play host to the Democratic National Convention in 2020 and soak up some warm political press, somehow we knew it wouldn’t work out. We’d never heard of COVID at that point, but we knew that Milwaukee can’t have nice things.

So some thing or another was bound to screw it up.

It’s OK. We’re still here. We’re still doing the work. And let me tell you what I saw Tuesday night in Milwaukee.

I saw 100,000 deliriously giddy people packed into a “Deer District” that sits on top of a scar.

When I moved to Milwaukee nine years ago, that’s what it was – a scar, both metaphorical and physical.

This scar was a reminder of a time when some privileged someones decided to rip out one of the Midwest’s most vibrant African American neighborhoods so they could build a freeway, so that some white folks could get to their homes in the suburbs five minutes more quickly.

And then decades later, when they tore down that ill-conceived Park East Freeway, 24 acres of blighted gravel pit just sat there like a knife through Milwaukee’s heart. When I moved to Milwaukee, I figured that ugly scar would be with us forever.

My hat is off to the Lasry family. When they bought the team in 2014, Milwaukeeans had low expectations. Billionaires from New York don’t normally do much for us here in “Flyover Country.”

Not so with the Lasrys. They threw their talents and their wealth into healing that scar – both metaphorically and physically.

The Lasrys didn’t just build the new Fiserv Forum arena and the surrounding Deer District on top of that ugly Park East Freeway scar.

They committed to hiring unemployed or underemployed Milwaukeeans to make up 40% of their construction workforce. Contractors and detractors said it couldn’t be done, but the Lasrys invested in recruitment and upskilling programs and exceeded that goal.

Those people dancing in the Deer District last night were dancing in a monument to Midwest urban renewal that was built for Milwaukeeans, by Milwaukeeans – folks who showed up and did the work.

Those kids diving off the bridge into the Milwaukee River – they would have come out with chemical burns if they had tried that in 1971.

The scars are healing.

Now, it would be ridiculous and reductionist to say this NBA title marks a turning point for the city of Milwaukee.

This city still grapples with a legacy of racial discrimination that won’t just go away. It’s still the scapegoat of a state legislature that sees Milwaukee as its perennial punching bag. And a humming decade of businesses reinvesting in Milwaukee has suddenly been slammed into neutral amid the uncertainty of the pandemic.

Maybe if Milwaukee wasn’t the source of most of the state’s social pathologies — high (compared with the rest of the state) crime, horrible schools (that no additional amount of money could fix), playing of the race card against the rest of the non-Madison state, and failure to get rid of the politicians who are fixing nothing, to name four — and had made any attempt at all to rectify that, Milwaukee might have more sympathy outside the 414 area code. We’ll return to that “punching bag” point momentarily.

But last night, Milwaukee finally got to have something nice. And it may not be a panacea, but it reminded us why we keep showing up, and why we keep doing the work.

In Downtown Milwaukee, I saw a vibrant city firing on all cylinders and living up to its full potential. I saw white guys who wear MAGA hats hugging Black guys who wear Black Lives Matter shirts. I saw just a little bit of pride creeping out from under that Midwest veneer of humility.

No, we’re not LA or New York or Miami. We never will be. We don’t want to be.

We’re authentic and awkward and doofy and full of passion. We’re Milwaukee.

Any basketball fan will tell you it doesn’t matter what the scoreboard says at halftime.

What matters is momentum. And right now, Milwaukee has the momentum.

Jake Curtis presents an alternative view:

As Wisconsin basks in the glory, it is worth keeping in mind how the Bucks got to this point and the important role the state’s conservatives played in ensuring this moment was possible.

During Games 4 and 6, the packed Fiserv Forum literally shook, and on Tuesday night over 65,000 additional fans packed the Deer District just outside the arena. The story of the Fiserv arena offers proof that the bold reforms ushered in during Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s era included a long-term vision for economic development based on true public-private partnerships, not the phony ones that far too many taxpayers have had hoisted upon them.

Following the 2014 sale of the franchise by longtime Bucks owner (and former U.S. senator) Herb Kohl to hedge-fund managers Marc Lasry and Wes Edens, the NBA made it clear if the Bucks did not upgrade the aging Bradley Center, the team would be purchased by the NBA and sent off to Las Vegas or Seattle. Unlike other boondoggles, Kohl and the new ownership group put up $250 million while the remaining cost (the total came to around $524 million) came from state income tax revenue, a ticket surcharge, $4 million annually from Milwaukee County, $47 million from the City of Milwaukee, and $203 million in Wisconsin Center District bonding.

Would the billionaire owners have had the ability to pay for the entire construction package? Probably. In a perfect world, should Wisconsin taxpayers have been forced to shoulder the load? No. But the reality at the time was that the Wisconsin legislature, under the leadership of state Sen. Scott Fitzgerald (now a member of Congress) and longtime Speaker Robin Vos, and Gov. Walker and his team ushered through the financing plan. Without their work, which was aided by the state’s largest business lobby (the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce), NBA fans could very well have been left watching a Finals played between the Phoenix Suns and Las Vegas Bucks.

Despite opposition from some Milwaukee Democrats, legislators like my former boss, Sen. Duey Stroebel, who represented districts that straddled metro Milwaukee and more rural communities, were forced to take a tough vote to keep the team in Milwaukee. As a result of this bold leadership, the financing package ultimately garnered bipartisan support in both chambers.

The jury is still out on whether public financing arrangements like the one that made the Fiserv Forum possible directly benefits taxpayers. Critics of such deals raise legitimate free-market concerns. However, had Wisconsin conservatives not stepped forward to assist, Wisconsin would have lost an asset and the city’s Deer District would be nothing more than an aging basketball skeleton. Instead, as the Bucks took the court Tuesday night, a full house was present in the Fiserv Forum, 65,000 plus were cheering (and spending money in nearby bars and restaurants) outside, and viewers across the state witnessed a historic performance by Giannis and his teammates.

Everyone should be thankful that in 2015 Wisconsin conservatives did not let the team leave on their watch. Instead, they rolled up their sleeves and ensured the Bucks would remain part of the state’s amazing economic comeback. And because of their efforts, Wisconsin will be able to proudly feature a humble and hungry role model like Giannis for years to come.

About that opposition from Milwaukee Democrats: One of them, Rep. David Bowen, sent a congratulatory social media message that might make you think he had supported the Fiserv Forum package. He didn’t.

As was pointed out in the aforementioned post (when reposted on Facebook), the state funding package was more an allocation of tax revenue than a tax increase, by earmarking the so-called “jock tax” toward the package instead of just dumping it into state General Purpose Revenue. As Walker put it at the time, “I think it’s arguably the most fiscally conservative idea in the country for a professional sports team,” Walker said. “We’re having them pay their own way. It’s not coming out of revenues from anywhere else. It’s not coming from new taxes. It’s keeping the foundation we have today.”

And yet, it helped Walker in no political sense. In fact, nothing the Republican Party has done to help Milwaukee has helped the GOP politically. Did Republicans benefit by getting Miller Park built? Ask former state Sen. George Petak, who got recalled for his support of the 0.1-cent stadium tax, which then lost control of the Legislature. How about Milwaukee school choice? Democrats outside Milwaukee routinely bludgeon Republicans on the spurious claim that private school choice money takes away from public schools.

Fiserv Forum? Notice that instead of Walker as governor …

… Wisconsin has a governor who, as politicians will do, takes credit for something he had absolutely nothing to do with.

 

One-term Tony?

Empower Wisconsin:

A new poll  finds a majority of voters are ready for Gov. Tony Evers to hit the road, with 60 percent of those surveyed saying Wisconsin is on the wrong track.

The statewide survey from pollster Cygnal, conducted July 6-8, finds voters have a net-unfavorable view of the Democrat’s performance. Cygnal surveyed 640 general election voters in the Badger State, and found 52 percent oppose a second term for Evers. The governor last month announced that he is running for re-election. 

Evers runs just behind a generic GOP challenger (the poll didn’t pit Evers against possible Republican candidates) — with 47.5 percent supporting a Republican contestant, and 46.9 percent saying they would vote for Evers.

The poll finds Evers is vulnerable on some key issues — problems that he has made worse. Seventy-six percent of respondents have heard about or have experienced trouble filling jobs. Evers recently vetoed a Republican bill that would end the federal unemployment bonus payment. At $300 weekly, businesses and economic experts say the subsidy is keeping jobless Wisconsinites from looking for work during a worker shortage crisis.

More than half of voters are less likely to support Evers because of his lack of action on unemployment benefits. The Evers administration’s slow response to last year’s flood of unemployment claims has been roundly criticized.

Voters are split on whether they’d vote for him or “a Republican candidate” if the gubernatorial election was held today, according to the poll.

President Joe Biden is under water in Wisconsin, too. The poll finds the Democrat has a -6 net favorable rating and 50 percent don’t approve of the job he’s doing. Inflation is a key concern. Eighty percent of respondents say they are worried about rapidly rising prices.

Evers has been bragging about how much money he’s raised. Maybe he should be more concerned with, you know, votes. One poll does not a trend make, but maybe the Democratic Party should think about whether Evers is the candidate they want as their puppet next year.

The 2022 election won’t merely be interesting for the governor’s race. Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes is widely rumored to be running for U.S. Senate (a race with seven Democrats so far), meaning there could be a new lieutenant governor candidate. If I were one of those seven Democrats, I’d be very concerned with Biden’s negative approval rating.