Wisconsin State Journal. February 7, 2021.

Editorial: Act 10 was dark time with mixed results

Nobody came out of the Act 10 battle a decade ago looking good.

Not Scott Walker, the former Republican governor who rammed his union restrictions through the Legislature with only GOP votes, triggering massive protests in Madison and division across the state.

Not Democratic senators, who fled to Illinois in a failed and weak bid to stop passage.

Not public sector unions, who tried and failed to recall Walker from office, fueling his national profile and short-lived bid for the presidency.

And certainly not Wisconsin. The images of fierce partisanship, the flouting of good-government rules by GOP leaders, the threats of violence against elected officials of both political parties — all of that tarnished our state's reputation as a friendly and respectful place with civic pride. Instead of moving "Forward," which is Wisconsin's motto, our state seemed to stagger and scowl.

Act 10 forced most public employee unions to pay for their generous benefits to help fix a deep state budget deficit following the Great Recession. The higher payments were justified as part of a budget repair bill. Wisconsin needed to find savings, and voters had just swept Republicans into power, with Walker pledging not to raise taxes. Walker had battled unions and a pension scandal as the conservative county executive of liberal-leaning Milwaukee County. So voters knew the kind of leader they were getting.

But the Republican governor had more in mind than state finances. He all but eliminated collective bargaining for the public sector unions that had favored his Democratic opponents in election campaigns. Walker punished those unions he disliked (leaving police and firefighters alone) by making it harder for them to collect dues and recertify. Under Act 10, for example, earning a majority of votes was no longer good enough to keep a union going. Instead, unions seeking to recertify needed majority support from more than half of all eligible members. That meant if some workers didn't participate in the vote, they would be counted as opposing the union.

Act 10 dramatically cut labor union membership, income and power.

Republicans have enjoyed political advantages ever since. That's why Walker — who survived the recall and won a second term before losing to Gov. Tony Evers in 2018 — remains a hero to many conservatives, and a villain to many liberals.

To the rest of us, Act 10 isn't so simple. The early years of Walker's first term were a dark time for civic life in Wisconsin. Just about everybody knew a public worker, so it was personal. People chose sides and scorned those who disagreed, even neighbors, friends and family.

Act 10 helped Walker balance his budget, and state finances improved. But it also cut take-home pay for public employees. It hurt morale and steered some promising young people into other careers. When it comes to recruiting talented teachers, that's not good for our children. Benefits fell sharply for teachers, while salaries lagged.

Yet Act 10 improved public education in some ways. It gave local school boards more flexibility and control. School districts in Wisconsin, for example, can now pay the best teachers more money, based on performance. That wasn't just a Republican priority. Former Democratic President Barack Obama strongly supported merit pay.

Act 10 gave school principals more freedom to hire the best teachers for open jobs, rather than following seniority rules that give preference to the longest-serving workers. Even in Madison, which has staunchly resisted Act 10's changes, school leaders have had more leverage to set budgets, change school schedules and diversify staff.

Yet many of the benefits of public service have eroded. And over time, that risks diluting job applicants and lowering the quality of public services many people rely on.

One decade after being introduced, Act 10 is still a mixed bag for Wisconsin. Some of its changes were needed. Some went overboard.

Walker's biggest mistake was failing to seek broader public support or give any ground. The former governor and his partisan pals pushed too much, too fast in a state that was used to some compromise.

The worst part was the division that infected people's daily lives. May Wisconsin never experience such a nasty political battle again.


Kenosha News. February 5, 2021.

Editorial: Curse words and science

Mom always told us swearing was vulgar and a sign of a weak vocabulary, low intelligence and lack of education. And she enforced that view by washing our mouths out with soap — apparently to clean out those dirty words. Any repeat offense was sometimes greeted by a dose of hot pepper flakes: "Stick out your tongue!"

Turns out, mom was full of ... um ... equine detritus. Science says so.

Swearing has many advantages according to scientific studies. Well-educated people are better at coming up with curse words than those who were less verbally fluent, according to a recent CNN report.

The report cited a 2015 study in which participants were asked to list as many words as they could that started with F, A or S in one minute. Another minute asked them to come up with curse words that started with those letters. The results showed those who came up with the most regular words also produced the most swear words.

That's a sign of intelligence "to the degree that language is correlated with intelligence," Timothy Jay, professor emeritus of psychology at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, told CNN. "People that are good at language are good at generating a swearing vocabulary."

Jay, who has studied cursing for more than 40 years, said, "The advantages of swearing are many."

Science has also found a positive link between profanity and honesty in another set of studies in 2017. Those studies found people who cursed lied less on an interpersonal level, and had higher levels of honesty overall, the CNN report said.

"When you're honestly expressing your emotions with powerful words, then you're going to come across as more honest," Jay said.

And other recent studies in England have found cussing helps people deal with pain — and there is an analgesic response which makes the pain more bearable. Those studies at Keele University in Staffordshire, found that cussing produces a stress response that gives a rush of adrenaline that increases heart rate and breathing, prepping muscles for fight or flight. It also induces a physiological reaction called an analgesic response which makes the body more impervious to pain, the CNN report said.

The tests in England showed people who swore as they plunged their hands into icy water felt less pain and were able to keep their hands in the water longer than those who said a neutral word.

Other studies have also found people on resistance bikes who cursed while pedaling against resistance had more power and strength than people who used "neutral words".

"The headline message is that swearing helps you cope with pain," said Richard Stevens, a senior lecturer at Keele University.

Prof. Jay postulated that swearing provides a remote form of aggression — that it "allows us to express our emotions symbolically without doing it tooth and nail."

"In other words, I can give somebody the finger or say (curse) you across the street. I don't have to get up into your face." That can reduce the chance of repercussions.

As with all things, of course, there are limits. The pain studies found that curse words lose their power over pain if they are used too much.

And you have to be aware of your surroundings and that requires social intelligence. "Having the strategies to know where and when it's appropriate to swear, and when it's not is a social cognitive skill like picking the right clothes for the right occasion. That's a pretty sophisticated social tool," Prof. Jay said.

Got it. A few choice words might be appropriate when you drop the lasagna pan on the dining room floor, whack your thumb with an errant blow of the hammer or when a wind gust catches your perfectly struck five iron and sends your golf ball into a greenside pond.

That's not going to fly around most workplaces, at a parent-teacher conference or in the church pew on Sunday.

And before you let loose with a flurry of ill-chosen curses, you might want to glance over your shoulder. Mom's shadow might be standing there with a tin of hot pepper flakes in her hand. She won't be dissuaded by the argument that you were just following the science.