Green Bay Press-Gazette, June 15
Obama's 2nd term stumbles out of gate
The Affordable Care Act could make or break President Barack Obama's second term and ultimately put a stamp on his legacy.
Beset by a Congress that cannot agree on anything and a dizzying supply of scandals and controversies, the success or failure of the so-called Obamacare could sink his presidency within the first year of his second term.
Second terms are always difficult, but for Obama, "even absent scandals he has a real tough hill to climb," said Charley Jacobs, associate professor of political science at St. Norbert College.
Since Jan. 3, when Obama signed a bill that averted the "fiscal cliff" and its extensive tax increases and spending cuts, the Obama administration has not been able to get anything substantial through Congress.
Immigration reform might break that streak, but that's only because it's politically expedient to both Republicans and Democrats.
Instead, the Obama administration has been hampered by one controversy after another. They've led to hearings and investigations that have directed attention away from the more dire needs, like the economy and jobs. For example:
. Benghazi. Fresh revelations about who knew what and when and how brought this issue back to light.
. Syria. Perception is key here. The public probably has no interest getting involved in another Middle East conflict, but inaction might lead some to speculate, or confirm their view, that Obama is a weak world leader.
. Department of Justice. News that the DOJ secretly scoured journalists' phone records eroded the president's earlier claims of an open and transparent administration. It was payback against journalists and their sources. Any DOJ transgression leads to talk about previous ones, such as the so-called Fast and Furious program.
. Boston Marathon bombing. The fact that there was a terrorist attack on American soil cannot help any president's standing, even if it's shown there's nothing he could have done to prevent it.
. The IRS. The revelation that tax returns of conservative groups were targeted by the IRS may be the most serious of the real and perceived misdeeds. It reeks of vindictiveness and pettiness, and it goes against our democratic principles of not being persecuted for having an opinion. Whether Obama had a role in authorizing those actions, his administration bears responsibility and he'll ultimately be tied to it by the public.
. NSA revelations. The fact that the National Security Agency is combing through phone records shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention. If you remember the authorization of the Patriot Act — which was opposed by only one senator, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin — then you should know this type of snooping in the name of security was covered in that. Plus, Patriot Act backers surely can't be surprised or upset by these revelations.
Whether you call each a scandal or whether you think it's much ado about nothing, these issues have distracted many from what the president has been trying to accomplish.
Spread out over a four-year term, these issues might not seem like much, but with all of them revealed in the first six months of the year, they have hurt Obama. St. Norbert's Jacobs called it, "death by a thousand cuts" because, over time, the public might view Obama "as weak, ineffectual and sort of a prevaricator."
Indeed, broken campaign promises and shifting policies are nothing new for Obama, or any other president.
What does seem new here is the way Obama has been hamstrung by his political opponents and his administration's own missteps and how so quickly into his second term these issues have rained down on the president.
The next big issue will be the roll out of more of the Affordable Care Act. On Oct. 1, the health insurance marketplaces are supposed to go online for the uninsured, and Medicaid expansion goes into effect Jan. 1.
It faces a huge misperception battle. According to a USA TODAY story, four in 10 Americans believe it has been overturned by the Supreme Court or has been repealed by Congress.
Plus, any major policy overhaul takes time to get a foothold. The same is expected of Obamacare. It might be a year or two of stories about the inability to get, as well as the cost of, health care coverage before the plan runs smoothly.
If people perceive it as an unmitigated disaster, it will be hard for the president to get much else accomplished in his remaining years. The time it takes for the ACA to work out the kinks or make adjustments might be too late for Obama.
In the meantime, the public watches and waits, much like the Obama administration is doing. "The perception I have is Obama to a certain extent is hoping the Republicans mortally wound themselves with the strategy they're using," Jacobs said. "Absent that kind of failure, there's nothing Obama can do."
That's sad but true. Yet biding one's time while waiting out obstructionists does not help the American public. Obama needs to keep moving the country forward, and those who seek to block the president's every move need to realize the more noble thing is to work with their opponents than to secure re-election by voting against every proposal of their rivals.
Now, more than ever, we need to make "doing the right thing" the political currency needed for re-election and political success, for the Obama administration as well as those who oppose him.
Wisconsin State Journal, June 17
Mark Bugher hit all the right notes
They don't seem to make 'em like Mark Bugher anymore. And that's really too bad.
Bugher, the longtime director of UW-Madison's successful University Research Park, has announced plans to retire in October.
Good for Bugher and his family. Tough loss for Madison, Dane County and all of Wisconsin.
When Bugher took the top job at the research park in 1999, the park included 72 companies and 2,100 employees spread over 170 acres. Today, it's 260 acres, 126 companies and 3,600 employees. And growing.
That is what you call moving an organization in the right direction.
Bugher got his start in public service by serving five years on the Eau Claire County Board in the early 1980s. He went on to lead the Department of Revenue, then the Department of Administration for Gov. Tommy Thompson in the late 1980s and through most of the '90s.
Bugher is the rare bird who spent many years in a partisan atmosphere but was able to rise above politics and earn respect across the board.
One might say Bugher, 64, did it the old-fashioned way: He earned respect by giving respect.
"I think taking a deep breath and remembering why we're here (as public servants) is incredibly important," he said. "And with elected officials, you're really respecting all those people who that person is representing."
Tom Still, president of the Wisconsin Technology Council, which is chaired by Bugher, said in addition to ramping up activity and jobs at the research park, Bugher "has done a million different things for the university over time.
"In the park, the first 10-15 years were good but not going gangbusters," Still said. "Now it's a major economic force."
Bugher said among his highlights at the research park have been the development of a new, larger park on Madison's Far West Side that is on the brink of launching, and his work in helping to establish UW's office in Shanghai, China, in June 2012.
Bugher plans to stay active on several local and regional boards.
Will we ever again see Bugher's name on an election ballot? "My wife would quickly remove my name from the ballot if I tried to put it there," he said with a laugh.
Fair enough. And cheers to a happy retirement for one of Wisconsin's key players for three decades.
Wausau Daily Herald, June 14
Change to year-round school
We've honored the graduates. All the final grades are in. Another wonderful, challenging, learning-rich school year is finished; congratulations to all the students and educators who made it to summer.
Now, isn't it about time everyone got back to class?
OK, that is an exaggeration. Everybody deserves a vacation — teachers and students, too. For students, though, the problem is that when a vacation comes all at once in the form of summer months off, all that knowledge they've spent time and effort to learn can evaporate like so much summer dew. In fact, there is mounting evidence that having summers off from school is bad for learning. The Wausau School District and central Wisconsin as a whole would be better off with true year-round school.
In fact, we're already seeing a movement in this direction. Local school districts have had steady increases in summer learning programs, and educators in the Wausau and D.C. Everest Area school districts are consciously promoting student involvement in the programs. About half the students in both districts now participate.
Why is this important? Ask any teacher: The first several weeks of the new school year are spent reviewing the stuff students learned the first time the previous year. The research shows that the things students are most likely to forget during the summer are math, spelling and other concrete tasks, as opposed to more conceptual lessons. But memorization of stuff like multiplication tables or grammar rules are part of what students need to learn. If they don't use them, they lose them.
The research shows something else, too. Summer vacation causes losses for all students, but they are especially pronounced for poor students. That's the at-risk group the system naturally should focus the most on helping; it's also the group that is more likely to have poor scores on high-stakes standardized tests.
It's also worth noting that most of the places that have instituted year-round school have maintained virtually the same amount of time off. That's important. Academic learning is vital, but so is time spent with family. So is travel. For older youths, so is working a part-time job, or doing community volunteering, or recreation plain and simple — all things summer break is good for.
In fact, some year-round school plans still include a longish summer break, for instance offering a 30-day break instead of a 60-day break.
The point is that we shouldn't think of year-round schooling as schooling with no breaks whatsoever. It is school with vacations reasonably and efficiently allocated.
Summer vacation came about in agrarian times when the break was needed so children could tend the farm. Those days are gone. Most working parents don't have three months off to spend with their kids, and we don't need summer vacation anymore — it's not worth the costs to student learning.