Wisconsin State Journal, Madison, Jan. 13

Time to get youngest students back to school

A survey of students, parents and staff shows considerable support for reopening Madison’s schools with safety precautions to keep COVID-19 at bay.

Yet Madison school officials announced Friday they won’t reopen for any grades Jan. 25 when third quarter begins. Even the youngest students -- those in elementary school who need in-person instruction the most, and who spread the disease the least -- will have to stick with online-only learning. That’s disappointing and will cause more children to fall behind.

The Madison survey, conducted last month and released this week, shows many students are eager to return, which isn’t surprising. They’ve been gone for 10 months from Madison school buildings, while other districts in the state and increasingly in Dane County have resumed at least some in-person classes, with relatively few outbreaks of the virus.

Black students in Madison are the most enthusiastic about returning to class. According to the district survey, 58% of Black students who responded said they want in-person instruction. That’s nearly three times as many as the 21% of Black students who want to stay virtual. Their opinions deserve extra weight and attention, given the district’s yawning achievement gaps along racial and economic lines. White and wealthier students are more likely to have the resources to help them succeed at online school, such as better technology or parents who can work from home.

Overall, 42% of the Madison students surveyed in grades 3-12 want in-person classes to resume, while 30% aren’t sure and 28% want to stay virtual. (About a third of all students -- 6,279 -- responded to the survey.)

What about parents?

They’re split. Yet any parent who wants to keep a child at home during the pandemic would still have that option -- even after in-person classes restarted.

The 59% of family households -- about 8,000 -- who responded to the Madison survey showed a slight preference for in-person class: 39% to 38%. The parents of elementary students were the most enthusiastic.

What about staff? Nearly two-thirds -- 64% of 2,700 teachers and other district employees who responded -- said they were able to return, though many “expressed serious concerns” about safety, according to the district. That’s understandable. We don’t blame teachers for being cautious about their health.

Yet other school districts in Wisconsin that have reopened school buildings have offered accommodations for teachers at higher risk to the disease. And those who do teach in person are protected by masks, dividers, testing for the disease, and extra cleaning. (The Madison teachers union said its survey of teachers showed overwhelming support for keeping classes online, but it refused to release details.)

The science favors getting kids back to school sooner than later. Virtual learning is hurting math scores the most, according to education researchers. Pediatricians warn about social isolation, abuse, depression and hunger.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, has stressed for months that in-person learning should be “the default position.”

“The children in school seem to be doing better, when it comes to the level of infection, than whatever is going on in the community,” he said Dec. 30.

“If you really want to get society back to some form of normality,” Fauci stressed, “one of the first things we have to do is to get the children back in school.”

Critics of reopening Madison’s schools point to Fauci’s call in late November to “close the bars and open the schools.” But the bars have been closed in Dane County for months, unless you want to drink outside in the cold next to a snowbank, or go to a restaurant with strictly limited seating capacity.

A state committee wisely voted Tuesday to prioritize teachers for vaccines. They should start with the oldest teachers, and include other school employees, too. That will make reopening safer for everyone. Yet getting most people who work in school buildings vaccinated will take months. Our children can’t wait indefinitely for the in-person support and hands-on learning they need and have been missing since March.

Madison needs to get its elementary school students back to class now, with teenagers soon to follow.


Milwaukee State Journal, Milwaukee, Jan. 8

Trump's Wisconsin sycophants need to go

It was one of Scott Fitzgerald’s first votes in Congress — and he voted to give aid and comfort to an insurrection.

This is what putting Donald Trump ahead of democracy, the Constitution and the will of the citizens has wrought.

Fitzgerald was joined by fellow Wisconsin Congressman Tom Tiffany in voting with those who wanted to reject Electoral College votes in Arizona and Pennsylvania, just hours after a band of rioters roused by Trump stormed the Capitol.

They would have voted to reject the will of voters in Wisconsin as well, they said later, but they weren’t given the chance.

Members of Congress who supported this effort have been dubbed the Sedition Caucus for their role in inciting violence against our government in order to overturn the results of the presidential election that Joe Biden won by more than 7 million votes.

Fitzgerald and Tiffany were the only members of the House of Representatives from Wisconsin who joined in an insurrection built upon a foundation of ignorance and lies.

Sen. Ron Johnson decided to vote against both baseless challenges to certified votes only after our nation’s Capitol was sacked as Congress gathered to perform its simple constitutional duty to recognize the Electoral College vote.

But Johnson had been shilling for Trump and this moment for days, adding kindling to the megalomaniac’s fire, so his last-minute switch does nothing to absolve his role in stoking this shameful day in American history. l

Johnson is a leading member of the Senate’s Sedition Caucus, which is shepherded by the odious Josh Hawley of Missouri. This group threatened to challenge the counting of Electoral College votes even though there was no evidence of fraud, even though dozens of lawsuits to overturn the election had failed for lack of evidence in both state and federal courts, and even though all votes had been certified by the states, some after recounts.

Hawley even had the audacity to send out a fundraising appeal Wednesday — as criminals were breaking through windows at the Capitol and streaming in.

After seeing the damage that their deceitful alliance with Trump has caused, Fitzgerald, Tiffany, Johnson and the rest of the plotters should resign their offices immediately.

All three deserve to be expelled when the new Congress is fully seated, just as 10 senators were expelled in 1861 for refusing to accept the will of the voters who elected Abraham Lincoln as our nation’s first Republican president.

What these legislators did, along with their would-be king, is as dangerous to American democracy as the actions of secessionist lawmakers 160 years ago.

Expel them now — every one of them. We would call for the same action if it was Democrats who were denying the results of a fair election and inciting supporters to violent revolt. People of good will in both political parties need to stand up and say enough is enough because government of the people, by the people and for the people is once more in peril.

Trump’s own former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis correctly identified the character of these “objectors” in Congress, including Johnson, Fitzgerald and Tiffany. He called them “pseudo political leaders whose names will live in infamy as profiles in cowardice.”

Johnson, Fitzgerald and Tiffany are cowardly, and they represent a virulent strain of politics that is an existential threat to democracy. In its early days, it was sometimes carried in the bloodstream of the Tea Party movement. But it found its truest expression in the rise and fall of Donald Trump.

Johnson had the delusional obstinance to claim he and Trump bore no responsibility for the mob attack on the Capitol and Congress, which was spurred by their repeated lies and false claims about the election.

They stoked an insurrection against our government and its free and fair elections with the goal of keeping Trump in power by illegitimate means. They violated their solemn oaths to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. They incited an act of domestic terrorism.

The symbolism of the Confederate flag being carried into the Capitol building by seditionists should be lost on no one. An armed mob attacking the Capitol to stop Congress from enacting the decision of voters is our generation’s Fort Sumter.

It is the sort of thing that happens in fragile democracies around the world. We didn’t think it could happen in the United States, but now it has, and citizens must recognize this for what it is: A direct attack on our freedom by a leader who believes he should hold the power, not the people.

Underlying all of this is a tribal fury against people targeted as scapegoats — those easy to blame for what’s wrong in the world, who have darker skin, wear different clothes, speak with an accent, celebrate different holidays — the unknown, the other, the them against us.

Trump, an amoral bully, understands this base instinct well. He has stoked this rage time and again to his advantage. He has baited his followers throughout his presidency with naked appeals to their worst racist tendencies.

From talking about the “very fine people” behind white supremacist violence in Charlottesville in 2017 to his call for the Proud Boys, a neo-Nazi group, to “stand back and stand by” during a debate with President-elect Joe Biden, Trump has emboldened an ugly vein of hate that has always lived just beneath the surface in American politics.

As conservative columnist David Brooks wrote, “There are dark specters running through our nation — beasts with shaggy manes and feral teeth. They have the stench of Know-Nothingism, the hot blood of the lynchers, and they ride the winds of nihilistic fury.″

“The rampage reminded us,” Brooks continued, “that if Black people had done this, the hallways would be red with their blood.″

Instead, we saw mostly Black workers sweeping, mopping and repairing the damage in the Capitol after the mob was finally removed — cleaning up the mess left by Trump’s white rioters, many of whom wore shirts or carried flags and signs blaring their racism, anti-Semitism and misogyny.

Johnson, Fitzgerald, Tiffany and the rest have been Trump’s eager accomplices in this most shameful form of politics.

Biden has an enormous task before him. He spoke about that task — one we all share as Americans — during remarks from Wilmington, Del., as the Capitol was being overrun.

“The work of the moment and the work of the next four years must be the restoration of democracy — of decency, honor, respect, the rule of law, just plain, simple decency,” Biden said.

“But today’s reminder, a painful one, is democracy is fragile. And to preserve it requires people of goodwill, leaders who have the courage to stand up.”

That is exactly what we need now — people of goodwill and leaders with the courage to stand up and do the right thing even when it’s hard and politically risky.

We don’t need followers of the least informed and least responsible members of our society.

After the shock of Wednesday, Americans will hold their breath as the final days of Trump’s presidency ends in disgrace.

The terms of Johnson, Fitzgerald and Tiffany should all end with his.


Journal Times, Racine, Jan. 12

Yellen should not be considered for Treasury

In many circles, the choice of Janet Yellen to lead the Treasury Department under the administration of President-elect Joe Biden was met with praise.

After all, she certainly has the credentials. Holding Ivy League school degrees in economics (her undergrad was at Brown University, her doctorate is from Yale), Yellen has an impressive resume that includes stints as an economics professor at Harvard, serving on the Council of Economic Advisers under President Bill Clinton, serving as president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco from 2004 to 2010, and serving as chairman of the Federal Reserve under President Barack Obama from 2014 to 2018.

More recently Yellen has served as a distinguished fellow at the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy think tank. And she is a professor emerita at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley.

Yellen set numerous milestones during her career. In 1971, she was the only woman in her class at Yale. Early in her days at Harvard, she initially was the only female economics professor. She was the first woman to lead the Fed and, if confirmed by the Senate, will be the first woman to lead the Treasury Department in its 232-year history.

When she began her tenure as Fed chair, the U.S. unemployment rate was 6.7 percent. When her term ended, it was 4.1 percent.

Reporter Heather Long wrote in a Nov. 24 article in the Washington Post that “those who have known Yellen for years say that alongside her expertise, her greatest skill is her ability to build consensus.”

Why, then, are we asking Yellen to withdraw her name from consideration for Treasury secretary? Simply it stems from the work she has done since leaving her post at the Fed after President Donald Trump did not renominate her.

According to a Jan. 1 article in Politico — and widely reported in other media outlets — over the past two years, Yellen has taken in more than $7.2 million in speaking fees from Wall Street and large corporations including Citi, Goldman Sachs, Google, City National Bank, UBS, Citadel LLC, Barclays, Credit Suisse, Salesforce and more.

Not that any of this was illegal or nefarious. As a private citizen in America, Yellen has every right to make an honest living. If firms like Citi want to pay her $1 million for making nine speeches, all the power to her.

The problem is that in the job she is nominated for, Yellen could very well find herself in a position of having to make rulings and decisions involving the powerful corporations which paid her those speaking fees.

According to the Politico report, Yellen has pledged to go to Treasury’s ethics lawyers to “seek written authorization to participate personally and substantially in any particular matter” that involves any firm she received compensation from in the prior year.

We would conjecture that if she is confirmed, those lawyers better have their offices near Yellen’s because those consultations will be frequent.

As Jamie Powell wrote in a Jan. 4 article in the Financial Times, “Concerns about the undue influence of big business on government are legitimate. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent every year on expensive Washington lobbyists to make sure corporate views are heard on Capitol Hill. And we all know about the revolving door between government and big business, which undoubtedly skews the incentive for policymakers to always act in their constituents’ interests.”

Even U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., a progressive lawmaker and early backer of the presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders, weighed in on the issue. In a tweet following the release of the Politico article, she wrote: “We may not want to admit it, but policymakers’ experiences DO shape their thinking. Is it disqualifying, etc? That’s for the public to decide.”

Typically, any candidate for treasury secretary will have some ties to Wall Street, large corporations, the financial industry or insurance industry. For example, current Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin earned millions as a hedge fund manager. And Powell, in fact, noted that Yellen’s predecessor at the Fed, Ben Bernanke, faced the same criticism that Yellen now faces.

Nonetheless, Yellen’s recent connections are a little too close for comfort in our opinion and President-elect Biden and his team should look for a new choice to lead Treasury.