Don’t Laugh — Millennial Leader Serious About Easing Political Polarization

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You didn’t need to go further than the opening moments of the “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program in the Lubar Center at Eckstein Hall on Tuesday to grasp the challenge his guest for the day has taken on.

Gousha was introducing Steven Olikara, founder and president of the Millennial Action Project. “They’re hoping, sort of, to re-establish political cooperation,” Gousha said. That brought an audible snicker from a member of the audience, which brought a larger laugh from the group. “This is a cynical, cynical group,” Gousha said, with a laugh. Olikara responded, “That’s OK, my parents laughed, too.”

But Olikara is serious about it and he exuded confidence that improvement in the tone of American politics will come.  Continue reading “Don’t Laugh — Millennial Leader Serious About Easing Political Polarization”

Voter Identification Laws Set Off Alarm Bells for “On the Issues” Speakers

Posted on Categories Lubar Center, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public, Speakers at MarquetteLeave a comment» on Voter Identification Laws Set Off Alarm Bells for “On the Issues” Speakers

A cycle in which expansion of the right to vote is followed by efforts to suppress voting can be traced back to the 18th and 19th centuries, according to Professor Atiba Ellis. And the cycle continues now in ways that are keeping many people from voting and making voting much harder for others. 

“We seem to be repeating the same pattern over and over again,” Ellis said at an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program Thursday in the Lubar Center of Marquette Law School. Ellis, the Boden Visiting Professor at Marquette Law School this fall, is a professor at the West Virginia University College of Law who has made study of voting rights a focus of his scholarship. 

Joining Ellis in the program was Molly McGrath of the American Civil Liberties Union Voting Rights Project, who called the current surge of laws requiring such things as presentation of photo identification in order to vote “incredibly alarming.”   Continue reading “Voter Identification Laws Set Off Alarm Bells for “On the Issues” Speakers”

Political Flux in Southwestern Wisconsin Offers Surprises, Journalist Finds

Posted on Categories Lubar Center, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public, Speakers at MarquetteLeave a comment» on Political Flux in Southwestern Wisconsin Offers Surprises, Journalist Finds

Don’t make assumptions. Every journalist knows that assumptions can lead you astray.

So if you’re talking with five guys in Richland County in southwestern Wisconsin about their guns and chain saws, you might guess they voted for Donald Trump for president a year ago. Wrong for all five of them, Craig Gilbert, the Washington bureau chief of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, found during a recent reporting trip.

Gilbert found that a lot of assumptions some might make about the political views and voting patterns of people in the largely rural, largely white, and not wealthy part of Wisconsin were wrong. Many communities in southwestern Wisconsin voted for Barack Obama for president in 2008 and 2012 and then voted for Trump in 2016. The views of people Gilbert interviewed in recent weeks remain in flux about Trump, amid a lot of continuing dissatisfaction with the way the political system operates (or doesn’t operate) in Washington. Continue reading “Political Flux in Southwestern Wisconsin Offers Surprises, Journalist Finds”

Charlie Sykes: “One of Those Moments Where You Have to Stand Up”

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Charlie Sykes a turncoat and opportunist?

At an ”On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program at Marquette Law School on Tuesday, Sykes said he’s not surprised some people say that. The long time conservative radio talk show host from Milwaukee is a prominent critic of President Trump, a Republican backed (at least in some fashions) by most conservatives. And Sykes is appearing frequently these days on MSNBC, which has a reputation as a liberal-oriented network, on NPR (likewise), and in the pages of the New York Times (likewise).

Sykes sees it differently, to say the least. “I was a Never Trump guy from the moment he came down that golden escalator” in Trump Tower in 2015 to announce his candidacy. “I’ve been saying (in recent times) the same thing I’ve been saying for two years. . . .

“The notion that it’s somehow opportunistic – show me what I’ve changed my position on. I just happen to say it on a larger, different platform.” Continue reading “Charlie Sykes: “One of Those Moments Where You Have to Stand Up””

Jiang Tianyong, Subversion, and the Seductive Rule of Law

Posted on Categories Human Rights, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public, UncategorizedLeave a comment» on Jiang Tianyong, Subversion, and the Seductive Rule of Law

Chinese lawyer Jiang Tianyong sits in front of a microphone during his trial.As the Chinese lawyer Jiang Tianyong painfully realized, a belief in the rule of law is commendable in one context but deplorable in another.  While a belief in the rule of law has traditionally been honored in the dominant American ideology, the same belief is suspect given the dominant Chinese ideology.

Jiang had been a prominent human rights lawyer in Beijing and represented a large number of Chinese dissidents, often with surprising success.  His most famous client was perhaps Chen Guangcheng, an activist who fled house arrest and received asylum in the American Embassy.  Most recently, Jiang represented a group of other human rights lawyers, who were being prosecuted for criticizing the government.

In late August, 2017, Jiang himself was convicted of inciting subversion and attempting to undermine the Chinese Communist Party.  His trial as broadcast live on Weibo, a popular Chinese social media network, and highlights of the trial appeared daily on Chinese network television.

Jiang’s conviction was hardly surprising since, late in the trial, Jiang confessed.  In his confession, Jiang apologized for the harm he had done and, indeed, admitted he was part of a conspiracy to topple the Chinese Communist Party.  His confession ended with an emotional plea for mercy and for “a chance to become a new person.”

What’s surprising, at least for an American, is that Jiang said he had stumbled into subversion because of a misguided belief in the rule of law.  Jiang pointed at “the bourgeois Western constitutional system” and claimed that it had a “subliminal influence on him.”  Because of his belief in the rule of law, Jiang said, he rejected China’s political system and worked to replace it with the type of system that reigns in the United States. Continue reading “Jiang Tianyong, Subversion, and the Seductive Rule of Law”

On Overstating the Case for Confederate Monuments

Posted on Categories Civil Rights, First Amendment, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public, Race & Law, UncategorizedLeave a comment» on On Overstating the Case for Confederate Monuments
Statue of Confederate Army General Robert E. Lee sitting astride a horse.
The Robert Edward Lee statue in Emancipation Park

It is that values question we should really be asking. As far as I can tell, those who object to the removal of the statutes seem to be saying that those Confederate generals who defended slavery, secession, and white supremacy represent the values of a twenty-first century America that is becoming more egalitarian and diverse.

It is overstatement to say that by removing monuments to Confederate generals one is erasing all history. Commentators have wondered aloud whether this will become a long-term movement towards total eradication of history of the South. The president even suggested this by asking when this will stop. He called the removal of Confederate monuments the destruction of culture. These claims incorrectly conflate crafting historical memory with the fact that honorific statuary in public places signals the values of the modern-day community.Memory of the Civil War and its aftermath will not suddenly be completely erased forever because statues are torn down, street names changed, buildings renamed, and the like. Culture will not be destroyed. (And as an aside, one should ask, “Who’s culture is being protected by protecting these monuments?”) The consequences of the Civil War, for good and ill, linger. Moreover, history’s memory is a lot longer than the beginning and ending of a statue, and history will continue to be useful as long as scholars, schools, and society have open and honest conversations about the past.

History is dynamic. Honorary statues are not. Communities change and values evolve and those who are honored yesterday may be disfavored tomorrow. Think about it this way–when the American Revolution concluded, as my friend and Marquette colleague Edward Fallone points out, no one objected that the history of British rule over the colonies would be erased forever when the statues of George III were torn down. Two hundred forty one years later, we literally still sing songs to sold-out audiences about the American Revolution. And Hamilton the Musical! still gets the facts right.

The communal choice of determining who is and who is not to be honored in the present day is a completely different conversation than one about the state of history. We shouldn’t confuse the two. Continue reading “On Overstating the Case for Confederate Monuments”

New Poll Gives Vivid Look into Polarized Political Perceptions

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Once again, a lesson in the two worlds of Wisconsin. That’s one way to describe the new round of results from the Marquette Law School Poll released on Wednesday (June 28, 2017).

In one world, Donald Trump is doing well as president. In another, he is not. In one, he is keeping his promises. In another he is not. Opinions on Governor Scott Walker or Senators Ron Johnson and Tammy Baldwin or House Speaker Paul Ryan? Split evenly. In all of these instances, Republicans are firmly on one side, Democrats firmly on the other. And the divisions  generally show little change since March, the time of the most recent prior Law School Poll.

How sharp is the divide? A few results:

Overall, 41 percent of the 800 Wisconsin registered voters who were interviewed approved of the way Trump is doing his job, while 51 percent disapproved. But among those identifying themselves as Republican or leaning Republican, Trump’s work was approved by 85 percent, with 8 percent disapproving. Among Democrats, 3 percent approved of how Trump was doing as president while 95 percent disapproved. Continue reading “New Poll Gives Vivid Look into Polarized Political Perceptions”

Woman Interrupted: The Pernicious Problem That’s Not Just in Our Heads

Posted on Categories Federal Law & Legal System, Feminism, Judges & Judicial Process, Legal Profession, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public2 Comments on Woman Interrupted: The Pernicious Problem That’s Not Just in Our Heads

On Tuesday, the Senate Intelligence Committee questioned Attorney General Jeff Sessions about his contacts with Russian officials in Washington D.C. and his conversations with the President about the Russia investigation or about former F.B.I. Director James B. Comey.

The hearing has been called “at times fiery” and Sessions’ testimony “highly contentious.” Indeed, several Democratic senators engaged in some testy back-and-forth with Sessions, with Oregon Senator Ron Wyden saying that Sessions’ answers did not “pass the smell test” and New Mexico Senator Martin Heinrich declaring that Sessions “[is] obstructing.”

But the grilling of Sessions that has probably received the most attention is that of California Senator Kamala Harris, a junior senator and former California attorney general. Senator Harris was questioning Sessions about his many non-answer answers at the hearing. Sessions claimed he was not answering due to long-standing Justice Department policy. Senator Harris pushed Sessions on this policy.

The New York Times described Senator Harris’ questioning style as “a rapid-fire . . . pace more commonly seen in courtrooms—a style that at times has her interrupting witnesses.” During her questioning, she was interrupted by both Arizona Senator John McCain and by North Carolina Senator Richard M. Burr, the chairperson of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Both men suggested that Sessions be allowed to answer. This was the second time in two weeks that Senator Harris has been interrupted by Senators Burr and McCain. Last week, she was interrupted by them while questioning Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. (Following the Sessions testimony, Jason Miller, a panelist on CNN, referred to Senator Harris as “hysterical,” most certainly a gendered analysis. CNN political analyst Kirsten Powers called out Miller’s gendered statement and pointed out how Miller believed neither Senators Harris (a woman of color) nor Wyden (a man) were “trying to get to the bottom of answers,” yet Miller called only Senator Harris “hysterical.”)

Earlier this year, during a Senate debate about Sessions’ confirmation as Attorney General, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren was interrupted and then formally rebuked by Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for reading a 1986 letter from Coretta Scott King about then-U.S. attorney Jeff Sessions, who had been nominated at that time for a federal judgeship. The letter had criticized Sessions for using “the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens in the district he now seeks to serve as a federal judge.” (The Senate rejected Sessions’ nomination for that federal judgeship.) Later, three male senators read the same letter on the Senate floor, and none were rebuked.

Maybe Harris’ and Warren’s treatment is all about rules of decorum in the Senate. Decorum may be part of it; more than that, though, it appears to be the ages-old pernicious pattern of men interrupting women. It happens to most women, much of the time, in both personal and professional settings.

Continue reading “Woman Interrupted: The Pernicious Problem That’s Not Just in Our Heads”

Israel Reflections 2017–Race and Diversity

Posted on Categories Human Rights, Marquette Law School, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public, Race & LawLeave a comment» on Israel Reflections 2017–Race and Diversity

Close up photo of Ethiopian member of the Israel Defense Forces kissing the Western Wall in Israel.Another new meeting this year was with Oshra Friedman of Tebeka legal services, an organization that provides specialized legal services for the Ethiopian immigrants to Israel.  As we learned on our last trip, Israel has welcomed thousands of immigrants from Ethiopia of Jewish heritage and assimilation into the modern society of Israel can be very challenging.   As we also saw last time, these challenges can remind us and cause us to reflect on the challenges of race here in Milwaukee.  From Student Sheila Thobani:

Before we even discussed paper topics prior to departing for Israel, thoughts about the conflict were already flooding my mind. Not the cliché thoughts of the obvious conflict, the talked about every day in the media conflict, but one that I had a more personal association with: identity. I believe that is why Oshra Friedman’s narrative engaged my curiosity.

With the constant comments in public about my physical characteristics, one-second longer than comfortable gazes, and second-guess pseudo interrogations by people of authority—I was waiting at the edge of my chair to see how someone who looked different than every other person on the streets of Israel dealt with her diversity. An immigrant from Ethiopia, whose parents refused to assimilate, who jumped forward too far because her community was too backwards, who didn’t succumb to gender norms, who married an Ashkenazi Israeli- this was a story I was all too familiar with; a familiarity not by exposure but by experience.

Whereas, over the border and across the sea, America has heard Friedman’s story of diversity for generations, Israel is still becoming familiar with this narrative. By no means do I mean to convey that because in America the story is heard that it is accepted and internalized- I only mean that it is there that there is the exposure and familiarity. As Friedman spoke about her mixed race children handling the innocence of childhood and the ignorance of adults, and agave accounts of situations they faced, I relived my own childhood memories of confusion colored by pride. Continue reading “Israel Reflections 2017–Race and Diversity”

What President Trump’s “Budget Blueprint” Could Mean For The Great Lakes

Posted on Categories Environmental Law, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public, Water LawLeave a comment» on What President Trump’s “Budget Blueprint” Could Mean For The Great Lakes

At a recent Law School event, several panelists (including me) discussed the potential for the Trump administration to make important changes to the law in our respective areas of concentration. I said at the time that environmental law has proven quite resistant to previous efforts that would have weakened or erased it. Part of this resiliency is due A photo of a wetlandto the lengthy time horizon typically involved in repealing and replacing statutes and rules; another major factor is longstanding public opposition to such changes. With that said, major attempts are underway that, if implemented, would seriously undermine bulwarks of environmental law such as the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Antiquities Act. The Trump EPA has also recently begun the long process of repealing and replacing the Clean Water Rule, under direction from President Trump to rewrite it in a manner consistent with one of Justice Scalia’s previous opinions.

Whether or not those efforts succeed, the executive branch has a major impact on the day-to-day operation of environmental law even in the absence of major statutory or regulatory reforms. The most direct avenues for this are through budgeting decisions and enforcement discretion. With debates over spending engulfing Washington, it’s worth examining the potential impact of President Trump’s recent “America First – Budget Blueprint” on the Great Lakes region. Several features of the proposal have generated controversy and may be especially significant in the Great Lakes region: Continue reading “What President Trump’s “Budget Blueprint” Could Mean For The Great Lakes”

Author Bemoans “Worship of Ignorance” and Urges New Vitality in US Civic Life

Posted on Categories Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public, Speakers at Marquette1 Comment on Author Bemoans “Worship of Ignorance” and Urges New Vitality in US Civic Life

Tom Nichols thinks we’re in a pretty big mess in America. We’re narcissistic in a big way, we are ”obsessed with worship of ignorance,” we’re thin-skinned, we’re unwilling to have serious conversations on serious issues, we wear the fact that we don’t know much as a badge of honor, and we’re deeply divided.

His deep concerns didn’t arise from the 2016 political tumult and the rise of Donald Trump to the presidency. Nichols has been studying and writing about his concerns for several years.

The result is his new book, The Death of Expertise: The Campaign against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters. And the book led to an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program Tuesday at Marquette Law School. Continue reading “Author Bemoans “Worship of Ignorance” and Urges New Vitality in US Civic Life”

Abele Offers Big Ideas in Law School Session — Like Making Milwaukee the State Capital

Posted on Categories Milwaukee, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public, Speakers at Marquette1 Comment on Abele Offers Big Ideas in Law School Session — Like Making Milwaukee the State Capital

Chris Abele likes to think big. How big? Try this on:

“Move the capital.”

What? Move the state capital from Madison to Milwaukee? The idea was greeted with laughter when Abele, the Milwaukee County executive, floated it during an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program at Marquette Law School on Wednesday.

It’s hard to picture the odds of that coming to pass as anything other than flat zero. But Abele was serious – sort of. He knew it was not going to happen, but, he said, “you can’t talk me out of thinking about it.” There is “plenty of research” that shows the advantages in terms of economic impact and government efficiency of the state capital and the state’s largest population center being the same. Think of Boston, Denver, and Minnesota’s Twin Cities.  Continue reading “Abele Offers Big Ideas in Law School Session — Like Making Milwaukee the State Capital”