New website for all things “Badger Democracy”

Thanks to everyone who has followed my blog “Badger Democracy” for the past 4 years!

All things evolve. As I continue to provide resources and consultation for a new type of political communications in Wisconsin and beyond, consider this a personal invitation to keep following the evolution at my new website:

You will find a host of resources, including a blog, framing in the news, information on consulting services, and a “Progressive Messaging Subscription Service” providing new and exciting services to forward progressive change everywhere.

Check it out, share, and see you there,

Scott Wittkopf


Conservatives and “Right to Work” – It’s a trap!

(This article also appears at

Conservatives have set a linguistic trap for progressives – and they are taking the bait. The trap is the metaphor “right to work,” which even progressives are using again and again. As we know from cognitive science research, even negating the “right to work” metaphor will reinforce the conservative message and entire frame, thereby strenghtening it in public discourse. Here’s an example from Michigan that unconsciously reinforces the conservative frame:

When we use the term “right to work” or “job creator,” it activates the conservative frame physically present in your brain, without you even knowing it. The critical moral principle in this frame is that of personal success through pursuit of self-interest and profit gained from being disciplined. Anyone who is not successful deserves their punishment (poverty or unemployment) as a result of being undisciplined, and is therefore immoral. The “Market” itself is considered a moral actor, the ultimate decider, where the wealthy and successful are the most moral. The Market punishes those who are undiscliplined, and unions and The Public are immoral in that they interfere with the pursuit of one’s own self interest (profit). One can see how “right to work” directly evokes the conservative frame of economics.

In the conservative frame, corporations (and the wealthy) have the moral right (liberty) to employ, pay, and fire whomever they see fit, with no regard for anything but their own pursuit and maximization of profit. A profitable, successful business is moral in the conservative frame. Labor unions and The Public (government) are immoral, as they inhibit the pursuit of profit. “Right to work” is about the “rights” of corporations, the “job creators,” to maximize their pursuit of profit – considered to be moral in the conservative frame.

Conservatives hide and ignore the truth that without The Public, our private prosperity and freedoms would not be possible. Consider everything we do through government (all of us) for each other, providing us all with greater opportunity as “We the People.” Granted, we have a long way to go…

As progressives, we must find effective language to evoke OUR frame of the economy instead of always evoking and reinforcing conservative ideas. Here’s how:

Start with a simple, fundamental truth about our economy that is systemic. “Workers are profit creators.”  No one is hired by a business or corporation who does not create profit for that business. Jobs are not created out of thin air. People are employed because businesses have the opportunity to increase profit from the work performed by employees. This is 100% true! Say it over and over again.

As profit creators, workers deserve (and corporations have a responsibility to pay) a fair, living wage portion of those profits they helped to create! Further, unions provide those workers protection from greedy corporations, and provide workers with a way to organize and negotiate for their fair portion of profit. Without a union, the individual worker is functionally a serf, having no power to negotiate – especially in a down employment economy. A corporation will always minimize the workers’ portion of profit without a union!

A more important truth about unions, is that the rights they protect and freedoms they provide apply to everyone. Consider the 40 hour week, overtime pay, fair wage standards, protection to uphold standards, etc. Our state and communities are far better off with unions who can fairly and democratically represent the profit creators, so they have a fair, living wage to pursue a prosperous and happy life. So that workers and communities are protected from corporate greed. Just as the Public is necessary for freedom and democracy, so are unions…so say it and express it effectively!

What do we call this pending legislation then, so as not to reinforce the conservative frame?

Never say “right to work” again! Call it what it is. It’s a “corporate greed and servitude bill.” It’s also a “wage theft bill,” in that it takes away the right of the profit creators to receive a fair wage portion of profit they helped to create!

Say these things in interviews, letters to the editor, to your friends and neighbors, to get it into public discourse –

Workers are profit creators!

This is a corporate greed and servitude bill!

This is a wage theft bill!

Consider how much more powerful this FRED graph is, in the context of the “workers are profit creators” frame of economics:

The above graph now demonstrates a morally intolerable situation, where the workers who are creating the huge spike in profits (red line), are denied a fair living wage portion of those profits as wages (blue line) because of greed. How can we tolerate legislation that would further encourage corporate servitude, greed, and wage theft!

These values-based principles and ideas are critical to get into public discourse now! It will take a concerted effort from anyone active on this (and every) issue, as they are all connected.

Supreme Court Denies Van Hollen petition on Voter ID

In considering Wisconsin State Attorney General JB Van Hollen’s November 7, 2012 petition to bypass the Court of Appeals and consolidate the two Voter ID cases (League of Women Voters of Wisconsin Education Network, Inc, et al. v. Scott Walker, et al.,and Milwaukee Branch of the NAACP, et al. v. Scott Walker, et al.), the state’s high court denied the petition on both counts.

In the decision published this afternoon, the Court again refused to take up Voter ID, pending the Court of Appeals hearing, and also refused to consolidate the two cases.

This represents the second refusal of the State Supreme Court to take up Voter ID ahead of the Court of Appeals. On September 27, 2012, the Court denied another similar Van Hollen request, citing the motion as being “premature.”

Van Hollen has made enactment of Voter ID a centerpiece of his term as Attorney General, in spite of the staggeringly low occurrence of voter fraud in previous elections.

Why is Paul Ryan still considered a “serious” person…when he suffers from DCFS?

After a brief hiatus, Badger Democracy is back. We’ll get to Paul Ryan and deficit hawks in a moment, but first, some announcements.

Thanks to all followers of Badger Democracy for your comments and participation in 2012. 2013 will be a critical policy year in Wisconsin, so continue to stay informed and engaged in the democratic process. To that end, Badger Democracy will focus on media coverage of political events in Wisconsin, and look to fill the void, offering media criticism when and where appropriate.

Next, Congratulations and welcome back to Sly! There will again be a little balance on political talk radio in the state. Sly is taking over afternoon drive time with a three state on-air reach (Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa), and worldwide on the web. Starting February 4th, Sly will be heard from 3 – 6:30pm, Monday – Friday on 93.7 WEKZ-FM. Updates and archived segments will be available on the revamped “Sly’s Office.” Watch out Rahm and Pat Quinn, Sly can now be heard in Illinois…

Now, for Mr. Ryan. Congressman Ryan rejoined the ranks of “serious people” on Sunday, joining Greg Neumann on Capitol City Sunday. The Congressman from the 1st District of Wisconsin continued his litany of deficit reduction being of greatest importance to the fiscal health of the nation. Unfortunately for Mr. Ryan, he is suffering from DCFS – Deficit Crisis Fear Syndrome.

The President got his tax increase.  That pays for about five percent of the deficit, (and) spending is the ultimate part of the problem here that we have to deal with.  The President has been trying to hide, or stay away from a conversation about spending.  We gotta deal with spending.

I want to do this in a responsible way, but I do not want to let an opportunity slip by to get a control on spending, which we so desperately need if we’re going to prevent a debt crisis.

Classic DCFS (Deficit Crisis Fear Syndrome). If using serious language is the new standard for being taken seriously, our nation is in serious trouble. The media in Wisconsin needs to read the memo from real economists, and see through the talking points. The deficit is not our biggest problem. Chronic, long term unemployment is our biggest problem. What the new breed of conservatives refuse to acknowledge is that by creating real, family-supporting jobs and an increase in revenue, our deficit problem will be solved.

Brad DeLong illustrates the point rather nicely today.

…policies to reduce the deficit in the short run–before 2016, say–are highly, highly likely to actually increase the long-run burden of the national debt. Even making the unlikely assumption that deficit reduction in the near future would reduce rather than increase the long-run burden of the debt, the fact is that the debt-to-GDP (Gross Domestic Product) ratio is now stable until at least 2020. A lower debt-to-GDP ratio would be a good thing in the long run, but there is absolutely no urgency. And there is enormous urgency in getting the economy moving again. (emphasis added)

“Moving again…”- as in investment to create those illusive, family-supporting jobs that pay more than $15/hour. The truth about the deficit is, that with the current growth of the economy (as slow as it is) and recent revenue measures, the debt-to-GDP ratio is already beginning to stabilize. Paul Krugman posted the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities graph last Thursday:



The vertical line represents the projected debt as a percentage of GDP. Each colored line projection represents a different scenario affecting the deficit. Krugman breaks down the analysis:

The blue line at the top represents the projected path of that ratio as of early 2011 — that is, before recent agreements on spending cuts and tax increases. This projection showed a rising path for debt as far as the eye could see.

Conservatives are framing the discussion as if that dark blue line represents the current fiscal reality, because it re-enforces DCFS (Deficit Crisis Fear Syndrome)…but that is not the truth of the situation. Krugman continues:

The orange line shows the effects of those spending cuts and tax hikes (Budget Control Act 2011, American Taxpayer Relief Act 2013): As long as the economy recovers, which is an assumption built into all these projections, the debt ratio will more or less stabilize soon.

“The debt ratio will stabilize soon.” The CBPP advocates for an additional $1.4 trillion in combined revenue and spending cuts, represented by the red line. As a frame of reference, in 2010, debt-to-GDP exceeded 100% and has been on the decline – dropping to about 72% in 2012:

Based on the factual data, not Paul Ryan’s DCFS talking points, the deficit situation, even without any additional revenue or cuts, is stabilizing. It has been stabilizing since early 2011, a fact that is consistently ignored as the media continues allowing Ryan and company to get away with promoting their DCFS talking points.

The runaway debt crisis talking point is something that should be relegated to the 2012 election dustbin. The focus should really be jobs that get the economy moving again, and investment to make that a reality.

With all due respect to Greg Neumann, who is one of the best political reporters in the state, I would suggest referencing the final point from Krugman for his next interview with a conservative who attempts propagating Deficit Crisis Fear Syndrome (DCFS):

  …at this point reasonable projections do not, repeat do not, show anything resembling the runaway deficit crisis that is a staple of almost everything you hear, including supposedly objective news reporting.

Fear never solved anything. Paul Ryan and company need help getting over DCFS-Deficit Crisis Fear Syndrome, so we can get down to something REALLY serious – solving our long-term unemployment problem.



Help keep independent journalism alive!



The Teacher Evaluation plan in Chicago is a BIG problem…CPS, Rahm were told in March

A letter dated March 26, 2012 to CPS and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel from Chicagoland Researchers and Advocates for Transformative Education (CREATE) was signed by 88 Educational Researchers from the Chicago area – and was highly critical of the districts teacher evaluation proposal. The letter outlined specific concerns based on years of research, and concluded with specific recommendations for developing teacher evaluations. The pdf file linked has complete reference and source links.

Highlights from the letter:

The new evaluation system for teachers and principals centers on misconceptions about student
growth, with potentially negative impact on the education of Chicago’s children. We believe it
is our ethical obligation to raise awareness about how the proposed changes not only lack a
sound research basis, but in some instances, have already proven to be harmful. In this letter, we describe our concerns and relevant research as we make two recommendations for moving forward:

1. Pilot and adjust the evaluation system before implementing it on a large scale.
2. Minimize the percentage that student growth counts in teacher or principal
We also urge consulting on the above steps with the professors and researchers among us who
bring both scholarly and practical expertise on these issues.

Concern #1: CPS is not ready to implement a teacher-evaluation system that is based on significant use of “student growth.”

If CPS insists on implementing a teacher-evaluation system that incorporates student growth in
September 2012, we can expect to see a widely flawed system that overwhelms principals and
teachers and causes students to suffer.

Concern #2: Educational research and researchers strongly caution against teacher evaluation approaches that use Value-Added Models (VAMs).

Value-added models (VAMs) of teacher effectiveness do not produce stable ratings of teachers. For example, different statistical models (all based on reasonable assumptions) can yield different effectiveness scores. Researchers have found that how a teacher is rated changes from class to class, from year to year, and even from test to test.

There is no evidence that evaluation systems that incorporate student test scores produce gains in student achievement. In order to determine if there is a relationship, researchers recommend small-scale pilot testing of such systems.

Assessments designed to evaluate student learning are not necessarily valid for measuring teacher effectiveness or student learning growth. Using them to measure the latter is akin to using a meter stick to weigh a person.

Concern #3: Students will be adversely affected by the implementation of this new teacher evaluation system.

When a teacher’s livelihood is directly impacted by his or her students’ scores on an end-of-year
examination, test scores take front and center. The nurturing relationship between teacher and
student changes for the worse.

1. Pilot and adjust the evaluation system before implementing it on a large scale. Any annual evaluation system should be piloted and adjusted as necessary based on field feedback before being put in place citywide. In other words, Chicago should pilot models and then use measures of student learning to evaluate the model. Delaware spent years piloting and fine-tuning their system before putting it in place formally statewide. Conversely, Tennessee’s teacher-evaluation system made headlines when its hurried implementation led to unintended negative consequences. 

2. Minimize the percentage that student growth counts in teacher or principal
evaluation. Until student-growth measures are found to be valid and reliable sources of information on teacher or principal performance, they should not play a major role in summative ratings. Teacher-practice instruments, such as the Charlotte Danielson Framework, focus on what a teacher does and how practice can be strengthened. Students benefit when objective feedback is part of their teachers’ experience. Similar principal frameworks serve the same purpose.

The conclusion of the letter is not only a warning, but predicted the current strike issues and potential problems resulting from test-based teacher evaluations:

We, Chicago-area university professors and researchers who specialize in educational research, conclude that hurried implementation of teacher evaluation using student growth will result in inaccurate assessments of our teachers, a demoralized profession, and decreased learning among and harm to the children in our care.

It is wasteful of increasingly limited resources to implement systemwide a program that has not yet been field-tested. Our students are more than the sum of their test scores, and an overemphasis on test scores will not result in increased learning, increased well-being, and greater success. According to a nine-year study by the National Research Council, the past decade’s emphasis on testing has yielded little learning progress, especially considering the cost to our taxpayers.

Badger Democracy contacted Professor Kevin Kumashiro at the University of Illinois-Chicago this afternoon. CREATE never received a response or comment from CPS officials, Board Members, or the Mayor’s Office – since March 2012.

Clearly, this is not about what is best for children, or teachers. These scholars have no vested interest beyond school success. They were ignored. That speaks volumes about responsible governance.

Help keep independent journalism alive!


Rahm Emanuel, TIFs, Exelon, CPS and greed…it’s kids and community that suffers

The Chicago Teacher’s Union strike is in its second full day, and there is little sign the two sides are any closer to an agreement. Rahm Emanuel made more public appearances in the last 48 hours than he has in his entire first year in office. Emanuel was always seen with children the past two days, talking about how CPS and his office just wants “what is best” for the children.

Both sides claim they want what’s best for the kids. Emanuel elevated the rhetoric by calling the strike a “choice” of the union, saying it is unnecessary. What is going unreported by Chicago media is that the mayor is correct – this is a strike of choice. The choice, however, was not one made by CTU, teachers, or parents. It was made at the highest levels of corporate power that now dominate the city of Chicago. Teachers, students, taxpayers, and parents are just pawns.

The CPS School Board is appointed by the mayor, not elected by taxpayers and parents. In 2011, newly elected mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed seven people – only one with a public education background (Dr. Mahalia Hines). The board President (David Vitale) is in high finance, former President of the Chicago Board of Trade. The Vice President (Jesse Ruiz) is a corporate attorney who is an Exelon Board Member (this is important). There is another corporate attorney (Andrea Zopp), also an Exelon Board Member (again, important). The balance of the board is an economist/political scientist (Henry Bienen), real estate developer/multi-millionaire Penny Pritzker, and journalist/communications consultant Rodrigo Sierra.

The corporate dominant politics of Chicago have made it TIF (Tax Increment Financing project) central. Under Illinois state law, TIFs may only be used to prevent or remediate urban blight; or foster industrial development.  In Chicago, TIFs have become an addiction for developers and politicians looking to line their pocketbooks and garner influence. In the past decade, TIF districts have nearly doubled, from 87 in 2000 to 162 in 2010.

In Illinois, a TIF district is authorized for a period of up to twenty‐three years, with the possibility of renewal for an additional twelve. At the time of designation of a TIF district, the current Equalized Assessed Value (EAV) of all property is measured by the Cook County Assessor’s Office and
established as a baseline, which is often referred to as the “frozen” EAV.

During a TIF district’s duration, no tax revenue created from increases in property values are allocated to overlapping taxing  bodies such as Cook County, Chicago Public Schools, or the Chicago Park District. These jurisdictions are able to continue to collect taxes on the base level of EAV within TIF districts during its 23‐ year lifespan. Briefly stated – TIFs take money out of the CPS revenue stream; including loss of inflationary property value.

An academic study presented by Dr. Bruno Quesada, University of Illinois, in December 2011 quantified the CPS revenue applied to TIF districts from 1995-2010.  The fifteen year total reported in the study was over $2.2 Billion. The 2010 figure topped $260 Million. Huge numbers in a revenue challenged economy and district – CPS is facing a $700 Million+ deficit in the current budget. The study concludes that the TIF allocation presents a tremendous burden; allocated in a non-transparent process, on CPS. The study has been completely ignored by CPS and the mayor’s office.

A recent report from the Cook County Treasurer in August 2012 disclosed that $867 Million in TIF funds remained available, but unallocated for the current year. A public schools advocacy group petitioned Emanuel to use these funds to help plug the budget hole. Emanuel refused – at the same time he was pushing for a 90 minute longer school day without compensation to teachers under contract.

CPS Board Member Penny Pritzker (also a Hyatt Hotels Board  member) has drawn fire for a $5.2 Million TIF project to build a Hyatt Hotel in Hyde Park. The same area of the city was subjected to $3.3 million in school budget cuts, and 27 full-time positions cut.While the project development company received the TIF money, Hyatt will profit from franchise fees and profit share in the new hotel development.

The corporate influence on CPS is direct, and is placing private charter school development over real public school reform and improvement. To succeed, they must break the union. Leading the charge behind Emanuel are privatizing charter advocates on the CPS Board.

In the year 2000, Rahm Emanuel was an investment banker who played a key role in the formation of Exelon, along with David Axelrod. Recall, from above, that two current CPS Board Members have direct ties to Exelon as corporate attorneys and board members – Jesse Ruiz and Andrea Zopp.

The newly retired Chairman and CEO of Exelon is John Rowe. Rowe was a chief founder of the Renaissance Schools Fund (RSF) for the establishment of private charter schools in Chicago, along with Arne Duncan and Richard M. Daley. The top donors to the fund are privatization champions, and have direct connections with current CPS School Board Members:

Exelon Corporation and Exelon Foundation , Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Rowe Family Charitable Trust, The Searle Funds, The Chicago Community Trust, The Walton Family Foundation, Inc., Pritzker Foundation, Bain & Company (yes, that Bain).

RSF boasts of its accomplishments on its website:

RSF has been the catalyst for the charter school movement in Chicago, raising over $50 million to open 70 new schools which will serve over 40,000 students at capacity.  We established the due diligence process and infrastructure for the selection, evaluation, and authorization of quality new schools.

In 2011, Rowe used funding from Renaissance Fund to launch “New Schools for Chicago” – and serves as its Chair. The New Schools fund has revised its mission, and it would appear that the CPS Board is complicit in its plan to dismantle and render obsolete public schools, public school teachers, and the union that represents them:

We will ramp up the growth of the best national and local charter schools, invest in next-generation school models, and drive innovation and accountability so only schools that deliver results serve children.  Our programs also engage parents and communities to demand and obtain the best education for their children. (emphasis mine)

The CPS push for teacher evaluation directly linked to test scores makes sense, in the above context. The corporate model, private charter school advocacy is being led by the CPS Board – the group charged with improving public schools in Chicago, for all students, not the select few served by select private charters with a narrow educational mission.

That is why the strike matters. It is about access, fairness, accountability for EVERY student – be it Chicago or Madison, or anywhere else there are grave inequities in the educational system. The crony educational system in Chicago is rotten from the mayor’s office, to the Board of Education, to the privateers.

At this moment, it is only the teachers walking the picket line and their supporters who stand in their way.

Help keep independent journalism alive!