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The Government Watchdog
Updated: 55 min 52 sec ago

Wisconsin in focus: Wisconsin ban on Irish butter sales fail the smell test? Judge lets courts sort it out

Fri, 08/18/2017 - 06:41

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin ban on Irish butter sales fail the smell test? Judge lets courts sort it out

 Consumers know what they like, and they don’t need the state deciding what butter they can buy based on a bureaucrat’s subjective standards about flavor, texture and smell, a lawyer argued Tuesday.

At issue is the constitutionality of a Wisconsin law that bans the sale of butter that hasn’t been graded by the state or federal government.  That means Kerrygold, a popular Irish brand, can’t be sold here — though it is available in other states.

Some butter eaters and a Grafton food shop — a former seller of Kerrygold — sued in March, claiming the law violates the state constitution’s protections of due process, equal protection and even free speech.

They are represented by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, or WILL, a conservative nonprofit law firm. Its director, Rick Esenberg, argued Tuesday against the state’s effort to have the case thrown out.

Reuters: Wisconsin bill giving $3 billion incentives to Foxconn advances

Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled state Assembly voted 59-30 on Thursday to approve a bill that paves the way for a $3 billion incentives package for a proposed liquid-crystal display plant by Taiwan’s Foxconn.

The plan still needs to be approved by the joint finance committee, which has members from both the Assembly and the state Senate, as well as the Senate before it can go to the governor. The finance committee and Senate are also controlled by Republicans.

Foxconn, an electronics manufacturer formally known as Hon Hai Precision Industry Co Ltd (2317.TW), hopes to open a $10 billion plant in 2020 at a 1,000-acre site in southeastern Wisconsin.

Foxconn is a major supplier to Apple Inc (AAPL.O) for its iPhones.

“We are ready to take advantage of this historic opportunity … and build a long-lasting relationship with Foxconn,” Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, a Republican who helped negotiate the deal, said in a statement.

Wisconsin State Journal: GOP lawmakers introduce bill opening Wisconsin to mining

Two Wisconsin lawmakers on Thursday introduced a controversial proposal to repeal state law requiring mining companies to demonstrate that they have operated without polluting before they are permitted to extract metals here.

“People want to make things in America again,” said Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst. “Our neighbors, Minnesota and Michigan, have placed their shovels in the dirt of America’s future. It is Wisconsin’s turn to do the same.”

Tiffany, who was instrumental in a 2013 law relaxing state iron mining regulations, has been talking for months about lifting the so-called “moratorium” on mining for sulfide metals such as copper and gold.

In April, the Sierra Club and Wisconsin Resources Protection Council urged the Legislature to reject Tiffany’s plan. They said 50 other state, regional and national groups also opposed repeal of the 1998 mining law, which was signed by then-Gov. Tommy Thompson, a Republican, after receiving bipartisan legislative support.

Wisconsin in focus: Wisconsin Assembly set to approve $3 billion for Foxconn

Thu, 08/17/2017 - 06:57

ABC News: Wisconsin Assembly set to approve $3 billion for Foxconn

The Wisconsin Assembly planned to approve a $3 billion tax break Thursday for Taiwan-based Foxconn Technology Group to build a massive display panel factory in the state, a project President Donald Trump touted as a transformational win for the U.S. economy.

Democratic critics in Wisconsin, who don’t have the votes to stop the incentive package or the project, have questioned whether it’s worth the cost. The tax breaks up for a vote Thursday would be the largest in state history and the biggest to a foreign company in the U.S.

If built, the plant would be the first outside of Asia for liquid crystal display panels used in television, computers, medicine and other fields.

Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who led negotiations on the deal won by Wisconsin over competition from several other nearby states, has called it a once-in-a-generation opportunity.

The Post-Crescent: Major annexation effectively eliminates Town of Harrison

The town of Harrison is no more, with the exception of one uninhabited parcel.

The petition to annex the remainder of the town into the village of Harrison was approved July 25 by the Village Board.

“It’ll help us lighten our load a little bit,” said Travis Parish, village administrator. “We won’t have to do double-duty with budgets, taxes. It should make things a little easier on our staff.”

Previously, Parish and other village staff members had dual roles serving the village and town.

Before annexation, the town of Harrison encompassed about 420 acres, or 0.67 square miles, and had about 475 residents. By comparison, the village encompasses about 33 square miles and has about 11,900 residents.

Wisconsin State Journal: State starts investigation into corruption allegations against ex-Sauk County Highway Commissioner

A Wisconsin Department of Justice spokesman confirmed Tuesday that the agency has begun its own investigation into allegations against former Sauk County Highway Commissioner Steve Muchow.

In a June 16 letter to Sauk County Administrative Coordinator Alene Kleczek Bolin, Sauk County Sheriff Chip Meister stated the department had determined a criminal investigation into allegations against the former highway czar was not warranted. The News Republic reported the decision Aug. 7 and disclosed that Meister met monthly with the former county official for breakfast as part of a social group. The following day, Meister asked the DOJ to independently review the case.

DOJ Director of Communications Johnny Koremenos stated in an email to the News Republic the department had begun an investigation into the matter.

In April, county administrative officials opened a personnel investigation into allegations against Muchow.

Highway department staff alleged he misrepresented financial information, manipulated bids, used county resources for personal reasons, misused county business relationships, falsified timecards and mistreated employees.

Wisconsin in focus: Schools gear up for new year without state funding set

Wed, 08/16/2017 - 06:46

Wisconsin State Journal: Schools gear up for new year without state funding set

Schools across Wisconsin are starting a new year without knowing exactly what’s coming from the state as lawmakers continue to put off passing a new two-year state budget.

For many school officials, the delay isn’t worrying them much at this point. But for some, spending on staff, new course materials and training is on hold. And if a new budget isn’t in place soon, payments to schools in rural areas could be delayed and school officials there may turn to borrowing to fill the gap.

“With the state budget not being settled, there’s a lot of uncertainty across all superintendents and people managing the finances of school districts across the state of Wisconsin,” said Brad Saron, superintendent of the Sun Prairie School District. “And what that means is, really, everything is on hold.”

Most schools in Milwaukee and in the state’s voucher programs have already started their 2017-18 school year, and schools in the rest of the state will have their first day on Sept. 5.

WKOW 27: Sen. Johnson: Should Wisconsin bear full Foxconn cost?

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson is questioning whether Wisconsin should bear the full $3 billion in financial incentives being considered to lure electronics giant Foxconn Technology Group to the state.

Johnson raised the question since Illinois workers would also benefit from the plant, which is expected to be built in southeast Wisconsin near the border.

Johnson made the remarks Tuesday to the Rotary Club of Milwaukee, saying the incentives package state lawmakers are weighing is “a risk worth taking.”

Wisconsin Public Radio: State’s Attempt To Dismiss Part Of Butter Lawsuit Fails

A judge has refused to throw out part of a lawsuit challenging a state law on butter sales.

A Grafton food store and four Wisconsin consumers sued the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection in March.

They’re taking aim at a law making it illegal to sell at retail any butter not marked with a Wisconsin grade or its federal equivalent, including Kerrygold Irish butter.

DATCP asked an Ozaukee County judge to dismiss most of the case. But on Tuesday, the state’s motion was denied.

Attorney and conservative activist Rick Esenberg is representing the plaintiffs. He’s pleased the case is going ahead.


Congressman: Repealing death tax would be ‘nirvana’

Tue, 08/15/2017 - 14:52

It was Founding Father Benjamin Franklin who said, “In this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” One Illinois congressman wants to disconnect the two by eliminating the so-called death tax.

Tax reform is one of the major issues being pushed by the administration of President Donald Trump.

U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Illinois, recently shared what’s been concerning his constituents the most.

“Less government,” Shimkus said. “Individual responsibility, lower taxes, more personal freedoms and liberties.”

While tax reform has been elusive so far in Washington, Shimkus said one issue he hopes to get right is eliminating the federal estate tax, also known as the death tax.

“We don’t want triple taxation,” Shimkus said. “We want a simple code that says, ‘You’ve got income, you’re gonna be taxed on income. You’re not going to be taxed on assets evaluations over families, over generations and force people to sell farms.’”

Tax reform is going to happen, Shimkus said, it’s just a matter of what reforms and when.

“So now it’s a matter of how you get lower rates,” Shimkus said. “To get lower rates you have to reduce what we call the loopholes, or the exemptions and all that stuff, and that’s what the fight is going to be.”

As for the estate tax, Shimkus said it doesn’t just hit family farms with triple taxation.

“It could be the automobile repair shop down the street now,” Shimkus said, “with that much assets and just a building and equipment.”

Shimkus said repealing the estate tax would “be nirvana.”

Even if Congress abolishes the federal estate tax, Illinois still levies levels the tax at the state level.

Wisconsin in focus: Walker: Foxconn analysis doesn’t tell the whole story of benefits and risks

Tue, 08/15/2017 - 06:30

The Capitol Times: Walker administration officials: Foxconn analysis doesn’t tell the whole story of benefits and risks

There’s been plenty of debate on the pros and cons of a proposal that would provide incentives for Taiwanese LCD manufacturer Foxconn to build a factory in Wisconsin. Criticism increased after a legislative analysis said the state wouldn’t financially break even on the deal until 2043.

But on two Sunday morning political talk shows, “UpFront with Mike Gousha” and “Capital City Sunday,” officials in Gov. Scott Walker’s administration said the analysis doesn’t tell the whole story of the benefits or risks of the deal. Proponents said the report doesn’t account for other positive economic effects, while others said it’s tough to predict economic conditions decades in the future.

Foxconn has pledged to invest $10 billion and create up to 13,000 jobs, initially hiring 3,000 employees. The state Legislature is currently considering an incentive package bill that would give Foxconn $3 billion in tax breaks and exempt the company from certain environmental regulations.

Last Tuesday, Wisconsin’s nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau released an analysis predicting it will take 25 years for the state to recoup its investment.

WISC 3: Wisconsin Assembly panel approves Foxconn bill

A Wisconsin state Assembly committee has approved a $3 billion tax incentive package for Taiwan-based Foxconn Technology Group.

The Republican-controlled Assembly jobs and economy committee voted 8-5 Monday along party lines to send the bill to the full Assembly. The proposal was tweaked to address some concerns raised by critics that the state is giving away too much to land the plant that could employ thousands of people.

But key provisions tying the tax breaks to Foxconn’s promise to invest $10 billion and employ 13,000 people remain.

Wisconsin State Journal opinion: Foxconn has GOP embracing government-run economy

A bill moving through Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled Legislature wouldn’t only provide $3 billion in taxpayer incentives for a company planning to build an LCD screen plant in Kenosha or Racine county, it could also seek to dictate some company operations.

Government getting all up in the business of, well, business is probably par for the course for Foxconn, which does the greatest share of its production in the government-managed economy of communist China. It’s weird for the party of “free markets,” though, which often bemoans government meddling in health insurance and other private industries.

If Wisconsin’s leaders insist on a Chinese approach to economic development, the least they could do is ensure good wages for the proletariat.

Here are some of the proposals for the Foxconn deal that bring government-private sector symbiosis to a whole new level:

  • State positions created to work specifically on Foxconn issues.
  • Taxpayer-funded expansion of Interstate 94 near Foxconn.
  • Creation of a new state tax credit program for Foxconn.
  • Programs at public colleges and universities to train Foxconn workers.

Haupt: Abandoning the gold standard created legalized theft

Mon, 08/14/2017 - 19:39

“The gold standard kept us honest and forced us to control out of control spending.”

– Lane Brody 

Alan Greenspan told us, “Gold is a good place to put money, given its value as a currency outside of the policies conducted by governments.” This basic truism certifies that money has emerged by evolution from the market process. It was not invented by governments. For centuries, economic forces contributed to the evolution of world monetary systems. The security of nations has always been judged by how they manage their money. Those with stable economies have fewer social and political conflicts. Nations that don’t practice credible guardianship of their currency continually fight for survival. There is nothing more destructive to any society than a government that cannot manage their finances competently. Although we’ve been told “Money can’t buy happiness,” that wise comic Groucho Marx reminded us that, “It certainly lets you choose your own form of misery.”

Centralized banking systems have been around for centuries. Dutch merchant Johan Palmstruch formed Stockholms Banco in Sweden 1657. But this bank ended in disaster when the value of the paper currency exceeded the amount of dalers backing it. When customers learned this, there was a run on his bank and it collapsed. In France 50 years later, John Law, a Scottish womanizer and gambler once convicted of murder and exiled by England, talked the French into helping him open a central bank, the Banque Générale backed by government IOUs. His inept blundering caused the bank and the economy to collapse. Law was banned from France forever. Palmstruch and Law both forgot:

“Rule No.1: Never lose money. Rule No. 2: Never forget Rule No.1.”

– Warren Buffett

The first legitimate paper currency issued by European governments was distributed by colonial governments in North America. The shipment of goods between Europe and the colonies took so long, the colonists often ran out of cash. To pay for luxury items, due to a shortage of currency, the colonial governments used IOUs. This practice of “trading paper for goods” started in Canada, a French colony, in 1685. Military personnel were issued denominated playing cards signed by the governor to pay for goods instead of French coinage. Although primitive, this system of bartering worked well for their colonies: As Plato told us in 390 BC: “Necessity is the mother of invention.”

By the mid 1800s, most countries adopted the gold standard. This guaranteed paper money could be redeemed for its value in gold. This also facilitated trade since it no longer had to be done with heavy gold bullion. It increased trust in world currencies since paper currency had value tied to a precious commodity, gold. And in 1913, America created the Federal Reserve to stabilize gold and currency values. Since printing money not backed by gold created hyperinflation, their goal was to keep inflation low and guarantee the health of the dollar. But that did not last. We soon would learn that:

“Governments lie; bankers lie; even auditors sometimes lie: gold tells the truth.”

– Lord Mogg

In 1900, The Gold Standard Act officially placed the U.S. on the gold standard. America remained on the gold standard until President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his Congress passed the Gold Reserve Act in 1933. It required all gold and gold certificates held by the Federal Reserve to be surrendered to the U.S. Treasury. All contracts and currency that required redemption in gold were declared null and void. He justified this claiming we wanted to stop the run on banks. But contrary to his populist propaganda, his real motive was simply to gain control of our money supply. He was planning massive, expensive socio-economic programs that required capital. Controlling the gold supply would give him money to do this. He knew:

“He who controls the money supply of a nation controls the nation.”

– James Garfield

Before 1934, the government was allowed to print $20.67 in paper money for each ounce of gold.

After FDR did his damage, it increased to $35; a difference of $14.33. By doing this, the value of the gold held by the government increased by over $3 billion! This enabled FDR to create $3 billion in new money out of nothing. He then used it to fund his expansion of government. In doing so, FDR flooded the market with currency, which initially helped the economy. However, this cost us dearly. FDR devalued U.S. paper money by 41 percent to finance his “Bad Deal.” This brought more uncertainty to industry and discouraged investment. Like our former president, he was totally unpredictable? As author Ivan Panin commented, “Of the future, man knows least; yet, about this, he worries most.”

Reaction by the rest of the world to FDR’s actions was immediate. When they heard the U.S. pulled off of the gold standard, it stunned world leaders and seriously damaged world monetary markets. It also locked in pestiferous worldwide economic nationalism. Skyrocketing tariffs, trade subsidies, manipulated fiat currencies became universal and global leaders lost faith in the U.S. economy.

Sweden, Holland, and France shortly abandoned the gold standard. This fiasco left international financial markets demoralized. FDR’s idea of a one size fits all economy failed the international litmus test. Author Dean Koonts reminded us that, “One man’s idea of perfect order is another man’s chaos.”

Removing us from the gold standard caused irrevocable damage. And the passage of FDR’s next Bad Deal made matters worse. He spent like a junkie on a money fix. When the Treasury tightened its grip on currency, this economic uncertainly prolonged the Depression until WWII. FDR went too far. His credibility suffered ineluctable damage and the spell he cast over his Congress vanished quicker than Genie can go back into her bottle. Most of his legislation to expand government was rejected en masses by Congress. They knew we were headed to the “eve of destruction.” As Milton Freeman said, “The great achievements of civilization have not come from government bureaus.”

Four decades later, in 1971, the remaining U.S. ties to the gold standard were severed by President Richard Nixon. Desperately in need of money to pay for the Vietnam War he dubiously inherited from former President Lyndon B. Johnson, he unilaterally canceled the direct convertibility of the U.S. dollar to gold.  And we have had wafting free floating fiat currencies since. Later, he told critics: “Well, I screwed it up real good, didn’t I?”

Since we’ve been divorced from the gold standard, we have suffered three atrocious recessions. Unemployment has been as high as 11 percent. These are horrendous numbers compared to the post WWII era, from 1947 to 1970, when we averaged less than 5 percent. Since government has the power to manipulate the quantity and value of our money, it controls the economy but not our free markets. U.S. Keynesianism has usurped the role of free enterprise and it has created a new era of austerity at the expense of prosperity.

“We pay dearly each day for the cost of free money.”

– Chadwell Black

It’s impossible to return to the gold standard now. But we can resurrect the “classical school” of economics. The health of our economy is dependent upon its valued-real money supply and our free markets must adapt to the changes in equilibrium necessary for “laissez faire” government to work. This is the only responsible way for us to remain independent and maintain individual liberty. Every country that has taken control of their economies also found it necessary to restrain freedom and re-engineer society.

“A major source of objection to a free economy is precisely that it gives people what they want instead of what a particular group thinks they ought to want. Underlying most arguments against the free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself.”

– Milton Friedman

Wisconsin in focus: Candidates divided on place of politics in Supreme Court elections

Mon, 08/14/2017 - 05:09

Wisconsin State Journal: Candidates divided on place of politics in Supreme Court elections

The two candidates for the state’s highest court who are backed by liberals on Friday showed deep divisions on whether politics has a place in judicial elections.

Madison attorney Tim Burns and Milwaukee County Judge Rebecca Dallet, during their first candidate forum in Madison hosted by the liberal-leaning American Constitution Society for Law and Policy, mostly focused on whether Burns’ approach of running an unabashedly liberal Supreme Court campaign was appropriate for judicial candidates.

Since he announced his intention to seek a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, Burns has said repeatedly that he holds progressive values and would uphold them if he were elected to the court.

“My voice may shake, but I will be an unshakable champion for progressive values on the Wisconsin Supreme Court,” Burns said, referring to being born with imperfect vocal cords. “I am not going to apologize for my progressive views.”

The Capitol Times: National conservative group honors UW-Madison chapter for role in campus free speech battle

Young America’s Foundation, a national conservative youth program that has played a key role in the college campus controversy over freedom of speech, has named University of Wisconsin-Madison as its affiliate chapter of the year.

The foundation is influential in conservative circles, boasting such alumni as Trump adviser Stephen Miller and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Vice President Mike Pence spoke at the foundation’s annual student conference in Washington D.C. earlier this month, where he praised YAF as “a bulwark of American greatness,” and noted his 15-year involvement with the organization.

The foundation honored the UW-Madison chapter of Young Americans for Freedom for its hosting of conservative commentator Ben Shapiro last November, where protests erupted that became a flash point for debate about free speech on campus.

The protest colored debate over a state legislative bill requiring the expulsion of students who interrupt guest speakers on UW campuses. In response, the UW System Board of Regents adopted a policy promising to cultivate an “environment where civil discussions can occur.”

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Gov. Scott Walker challenger Rep. Dana Wachs to vote against Foxconn deal

State Rep. Dana Wachs (D-Eau Claire) is pledging to vote against a multibillion-dollar jobs deal with electronics maker Foxconn Technology Group, making him the latest and sharpest critic of the proposal among Democratic candidates for governor.

In exchange for environmental exemptions and up to $2.85 billion in cash from state taxpayers, Foxconn has said it would build a $10 billion plant that would employ 3,000 initially and as many as 13,000 in the coming years. GOP Gov. Scott Walker, who signed the deal, is touting it as a win for Wisconsin and a key reason to back his re-election in 2018.

Wachs said he believes the deal is being voted on too quickly with too few protections for taxpayers and the environment.


Wisconsin in focus: Senate leader says Foxconn should get deadlines for job creation

Fri, 08/11/2017 - 07:06

Wisconsin State Journal: Senate leader says Foxconn should get deadlines for job creation

Taiwanese manufacturing company Foxconn should have a deadline to create the 13,000 jobs it has promised to bring to Wisconsin in exchange for a $3 billion incentive package funded by state taxpayers, the Senate’s leader said Thursday.

“Let’s say we go through all these hoops, and the locals do as well … but then the jobs don’t show up,” Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, told conservative talk radio show host Jerry Bader Thursday morning. “There’s no timeline necessarily for job creation, and I think that’s got a lot of people nervous.”

Later Thursday, after Senate Republicans met with members of Gov. Scott Walker’s administration who are negotiating with Foxconn, Fitzgerald said he was assured such deadlines could be worked into the contract being drafted. Lawmakers do not have a final say on that contract, however.

Fitzgerald also said he still hasn’t sought to find out whether he has enough votes in his caucus to pass legislation authored by Walker that provides $2.9 billion in refundable tax credits to Foxconn over 15 years, exempts the company from another $150 million in sales taxes on construction materials and equipment, and waives environmental regulations.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel opinion: Walker: Foxconn is a transformational, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Wisconsin

The addition of 13,000 high-tech jobs and an investment of $10 billion will indeed be a transformational, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Wisconsin.

Foxconn, the global electronics manufacturing giant, will make an initial investment of $10 billion to build a 20 million square-foot high-tech manufacturing campus in Wisconsin. To put the massive size of this operation into perspective, you could fit 11 Lambeau Fields inside Foxconn’s planned campus. Now that’s big.

It will be the largest economic development project in state history and one of the biggest in the history of our country. In fact, it represents the largest greenfield investment made by a foreign-based company in U.S. history.

WMTV 15: Wisconsin cranberry growers projected to continue leading US

Wisconsin cranberry growers are expected to continue leading the nation in cranberry production this fall.

Projections released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Thursday say Wisconsin is expected to harvest an estimated 5.6 million barrels of cranberries. That projection is part of the approximately 9 million barrels of cranberries expected nationwide.

The cranberry industry has been facing a surplus for the past several years.

Wisconsin in focus: Wisconsin Senate, Assembly Republicans still divided over timeline for Foxconn deal

Thu, 08/10/2017 - 06:47

The Cap Times: Wisconsin Senate, Assembly Republicans still divided over timeline for Foxconn deal

The state Legislature’s Republican majority remains fractured as the clock ticks on the state budget and a deal to bring Foxconn to Wisconsin.

Assembly Republican leaders said Wednesday they expect to vote next week to approve a $3 billion incentive package for Foxconn, which plans to open a massive manufacturing facility in southeastern Wisconsin. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, told reporters it is “absolutely” his plan to delay action on the Foxconn bill until work on the state budget is complete. The two-year spending plan is now more than a month overdue.

“I’m not doing it just to do it,” Fitzgerald said. “I think it’s a necessity to try and get the state budget in a good place.”

Assembly GOP leaders said they are tentatively planning a committee vote on Tuesday, followed by a floor session on Thursday.

Wisconsin State Journal: DNR hires manager to speed environmental permitting for Foxconn

The Department of Natural Resources has already brought on a project manager to oversee the expected streamlined environmental permitting for a proposed Foxconn manufacturing plant, Secretary Cathy Stepp said Wednesday.

Stepp told Natural Resources Board members about the move while defending the department’s ability to quickly and effectively write permits setting limits for the factory’s air and water pollution and disposal of hazardous waste.

The Legislature is considering Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to offer the Taiwan-based manufacturer an incentive package that includes $3 billion and streamlined pollution permitting.

Walker and many of his fellow Republicans are pushing for quick action. Democrats and conservationist groups say the deal needs much more scrutiny.

WKOW 27: Foxconn shopping for land in southeast Wisconsin

Some farmers in southeast Wisconsin say they’ve been offered $50,000 an acre for their land. They believe it could be because Foxconn wants to build there.

Engineering crews tested soil stability in southern Racine County on Wednesday. Property owners say it’s a sign Foxconn is interested in the area.

Some say they’re not sure they want to sell.

Wisconsin in focus: Foxconn package would cost $150 million in lost sales taxes

Wed, 08/09/2017 - 07:02

NBC 15: Foxconn package would cost $150 million in lost sales taxes

Fiscal estimates show Gov. Scott Walker’s incentives package for Taiwanese electronics giant Foxconn would cost the state and local governments nearly $150 million in lost sales taxes.

Walker has introduced a bill that would give Foxconn up to $3 billion in incentives to build a plant in southeastern Wisconsin. According to state agencies’ fiscal estimates, provisions blocking sales taxes on construction materials and equipment would cost the state about $139 million. Local governments would lose about $10.7 million.

Payroll and capital expenditure tax credits would cost the state about $2.85 billion.

The bill also calls for borrowing $252.4 million to rebuild Interstate 94. The interest on that borrowing from 2019 through 2042 would total $408.3 million.

Foxconn has said the $10 billion Wisconsin plant could bring up to 13,000 jobs.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: We Energies customers could face balloon payment after two-year rate freeze

The two-year rate freeze proposed by We Energies’ parent company comes with a catch: At the end of that period, electric customers would face the utility equivalent of a balloon payment on a mortgage.

The payment is projected to total $487.3 million by the end of this year and $850.8 million by the end of 2019.

It represents “the largest single driver of any future electric rate increase” for We Energies’ customers, WEC Energy Group, the parent company, has acknowledged.

The payment stems from deferred costs — some going back as far as 2002 — that are primarily related to the utility’s transmission system and a power plant in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Wisconsin State Journal editorial: What the Wisconsin Supreme Court doesn’t want you to see

For two decades, Wisconsin was a shining example of what an open court system could be. The state Supreme Court was one of the few in the nation that conducted deliberations in public.

Now that experiment in good government is over.

In June, justices voted to close the doors. No longer will residents get to watch them argue about arcane judicial policies and codes of ethics. They will make those decisions in secret, and the people can just live with whatever they decide, no questions answered.

It was the end of an era in which transparency built trust and allowed voters to make informed decisions when a justice came up for re-election every 10 years. Since the 1990s, Wisconsinites have been able to watch the state’s legal luminaries thoughtfully consider both complex and mundane issues.

Granted, often wisdom and restraint were absent. Justices were sometimes no better than churlish children in a schoolyard. They insulted and berated each other. There was even a physical altercation.

They weren’t building trust. They were undermining it. Transparency caused embarrassment.

New health care plan would make smaller, bipartisan reforms

Wed, 08/09/2017 - 06:19

A number of Congressional members have begun working on a new alternative health-care plan after the last effort to replace Obamacare stalled. But a healthcare expert says it’s likely too late.

The Problem Solvers’ Caucus, consisting of a bipartisan group of 43 House members, introduced a plan to try and combat the coming spike in health-care costs. Companies have until Aug. 16 to lock in their rates and decide whether they’ll participate in a county’s marketplace.

Reps. Dan Lipinski, a Democrat, and Adam Kinzinger, a Republican, both from Illinois, are members of the 43-member Problem Solvers Caucus. The caucus unveiled a health-care plan last week that wouldn’t be as far-reaching as Obamacare or the American Healthcare Act, which stalled last month in the Senate.

The new plan would make small reforms that have been largely agreed to by both parties. Republicans persuaded Democrats to go along with raising the small business exemption from 50 employees to 500. Democrats pushed to maintain levels of Medicaid expansion.

The centerpiece is funding for the cost-sharing reduction program designed to keep premiums low. Without that, insurance companies have indicated that rates would skyrocket for high-risk or low income patients. President Donald Trump has hinted that he may pull that funding, but the bipartisan plan would appropriate it.

The plan also includes coverage for chronic and pre-existing conditions, repealing the medical device tax, and giving states the ability to do business with companies across state lines.

Kinzinger said there are still ways to improve health care for people over what’s out there now.

“Unless the Senate can somehow pull a rabbit out of a hat this month, there is going to be a failing of the health-care system,” he said. “Let’s explore areas of common ground between Republicans and Democrats to try to help give people a better health-care system.”

In a release, Lipinski said their plan will likely see detractors looking to blame the other side of the aisle for a collapse of the health-care industry.

“Some partisans in both parties may even believe that if the ACA fails, the other side will get blamed in the next election,” Lipinski said. “Others will oppose it because they want the ACA to collapse.”

Naomi Lopez Bauman, director of Healthcare Policy for the Goldwater Institute, thinks the failure to repeal Obamacare has killed momentum on more health-care votes in D.C. She thinks that any more action this year will be to simply subsidize providers to keep them offering plans.

“Anything that they’re going to do this late in the game is going to basically involve throwing money at the exchanges,” she said. “After the debacle that was repeal and replace, there’s just not much appetite for the heavy lifting on major health-care reform this year.”

She says that Trump could force the issue of reform by making lawmakers subject to the Obamacare exchanges.

Insurance companies must submit whether they will participate in a county’s exchange by Aug. 16.


Wisconsin in focus: Schools rush to raise taxes for energy projects

Tue, 08/08/2017 - 06:25

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin schools raised $217M above tax caps for green projects

Under a law that Republicans might eliminate in the next budget, Wisconsin school districts raised more than $217 million in new taxes for energy-related projects since 2009 — all of it outside revenue caps and without going to referendum.

The new taxes require just a school board majority vote, and they’ve been a lifeline for districts laboring under tight spending limits and decreased revenue. Many have long put off new lights and HVAC systems in favor of salaries and curriculum.

“We didn’t have the savings to borrow for what these projects would have cost,” said Sue Sorenson, board president of the Green Lake School District. The district has exceeded its revenue limit by more than $5 million for projects such as a new boiler, chiller, lighting and roof repairs — but also on a kitchen remodel and new computers, according to board documents.

Republican Gov. Scott Walker and GOP senators have proposed eliminating the law in the next budget. Critics say it violates the spirit of fiscal restraint and accountability and that districts shouldn’t be able to raise so much money without a referendum.

Wisconsin State Journal: Senator: UW should cut programs with ‘little demand’ to produce more engineers for Foxconn

University of Wisconsin System campuses should beef up their engineering programs to train workers at a planned Foxconn facility in southeastern Wisconsin by cutting funding for less popular programs — not by asking the state for more money — a Republican senator said Monday.

Sen. Duey Stroebel, R-Cedarburg, criticized UW System President Ray Cross’ request at a hearing last week for lawmakers to provide additional higher education funding so campuses can hire new faculty members and produce more engineers for Foxconn.

Stroebel said UW should use the state funding it already has to expand engineering programs.

“The University of Wisconsin System needs to prioritize ‘needs and wants,’ ” Stroebel said. “UW needs to start investing current resources into increasing faculty and staff for engineering, supply chain and computer science degrees.

WKOW 27: PDQ laying off 300-plus workers throughout Wisconsin

PDQ Food Stores Incorporated plans to lay off 313 employees come October 9th of this year after the Middleton based company announced it would be selling the company to La Crosse based Kwik Trip Inc. last month.

The notice does state Kwik Trip may hire some of the affected employees, and PDQ employees can reapply for a position with Kwik Trip after the sale is complete, however nothing has been guaranteed.

In a press release the Department of Workforce Development it says they will be working with those affected using their Dislocated Worker Program to provide transition assistance to workers, and other companies, such as suppliers and distributors.



Haupt: America and the Roman Empire’s political downfall

Mon, 08/07/2017 - 18:14

“At the height of its mastery, Rome was the pulsing heart of the earth. The day the empire fell the world learned even the most stalwart empires can fail if avarice replaces prudence.”

– Solon Greco

There is not a continent on this planet where one cannot unearth the fallen ruins and silent stories of forgotten great civilizations. Tales of their broken past lay buried deep within the earth under the canopy of the bustling industry, imposing skyscrapers and apartment duplexes of a modern world. These fallen empires that once stood mighty among the most prodigious and influential societies of their respective era, all met their eventual demise for various reasons. There is a salient consensus on one collective attribution for failure; delusive management of finances and excessive taxation.

“The heaviest penalty for declining to rule is to be ruled by someone inferior to yourself.”

– Plato

The overarching criterion for determining the collapse of these governments lays in their inability to deliver political goods and services coerced by their citizens. When supply doesn’t meet demand, it is impossible to sustain security and preserve law to regulate and supply blood to the arteries of its legislative body. This strangles their ability to officiate, and severely limits their functional capacity. It eventually cuts off their oxygen and they self-suffocate. There’s no timeline for failure. Some self-implode, with a total collapse of all institutions. Others fall without a whimper. There are no violent revolutions, or catastrophic natural disasters. Instead, they quietly fall victim to collapse unable to manage the central population. This is a consequence of man.

“In a society governed passively by free markets and free elections, organized greed defeats disorganized democracy.”

– Matt Taibbi

The Roman Empire reached its zenith in the 2nd century. At that time, there was unprecedented stability and prosperity. This powerful kingdom was an example of good stewardship. The Empire was ruled with authority and obedient restraint. Rome was a pillar of strength no man challenged. As their economy blossomed they became the world leader in the arts, education, and commerce. Their institutions and culture had a lasting influence on language, religion, architecture, and law. The value this brought to expansionism throughout the modern world was more significant than anyone will ever fathom.

“Rome was great in arms, in government, and in law.”

– Goldwin Smith

But the decline of Rome became inevitable due to its immoderate and unmanageable greatness. Once all foe had been conquered, prosperity ended. Its aftermath was moral decay. Rudimentary principles of governing the lives of citizens became irrelevant. Incompetent leaders led to political necrosis, corruption and instability. The Senate and the Emperors were sullied with power, and thought themselves as cardinal gods. Inordinate spending led to economic decline, skyrocketing debt, oppressive taxation, inflation, and a devalued currency. Class warfare and cuts in the military further burdened the republic. Increasing dependence on municipal gratuities stifled incentive in favor of support from the treasury.

“Rome was great as long as she had enemies who forced her to a vision of unity and heroism. When she had overcome them, she then began to die.”

– Webb Dante

Rome’s fall from grace as the epitome of world powers was less unpredictable than the weather in Tennessee. Who would ever think the mightiest of all mighty empires in the history of man would stumble into oblivious demise, without taking up arms to maintain its dignity? Although their future was clearly written on the Coliseum walls, they refused to remove the blinders that sheltered them from indulgent sins of omission. The magistrates frolicked in fruition, while intellectual mediocrity, over-population of the urban areas, disease ridden streets, prostitution, homosexuality, alcohol and drug abuse all led to social and legal putrefaction. This ultimately caused Rome’s collapse. This is what ended Classical Antiquity along with the fall of the great Roman Empire.

“Today, Rome has not seen a modern building in more than half a century. It is a city frozen in time.”

– Richard Meier

The history of this once great republic was omnipresent in the minds of America’s founders as they created our republic centuries later. As a consequence of their deliberations and obvious reliance on divine providence, our founders shaped the United States, fashioned as the modern equivalent of the Roman Republic. And the similarities are illusory and uncanny. The Roman Republic was established in 509 BC by the overthrow of Roman King Lucius Tarquinius Superbus and expulsion of the Etruscan theocrats by the Latin Italic tribes from the south. And America is a prime example that history repeats itself. The Republic of the United States was birthed in a bloody revolution against the British King George over 2,000 years later.

“If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must Man be of learning from experience?”

– George Bernard Shaw

Despite the efforts of our founders to set a different course than that experienced by our Roman predecessors, an analysis of these two great republics is inevitable. There are stark congruencies between them. Both societies were the pre-eminent entities in military might and economic power. They were leaders in culture, commerce, technology and ideas. Today, the world turns to America for guidance and leadership. In the heyday of the empire, Publius Cornelius Tacitus claimed even “things atrocious and shameless flock from all parts to Rome.” Thus today, as Romans claimed “all roads lead to Rome,” America projects the same image: All roads lead to the U.S.

“America, just as Rome envisioned, considers the U.S. unequaled in national character and strength.”

– Tibius Culens

Roman politicians had difficulty disjoining public and private liabilities. As a consequence, public services declined while pet projects of the public officials and their patrician sponsors grew at the expense of their citizens. Multitudinous failed reforms were resisted by the patricians that parrot the partisan battles in America today. Middle class Romans were cowed by slave labor much as rising technological change and the transfer of entry level jobs overseas threaten our middle class. The inability of the opposing political parties of the Republic, the Optimates and Populares focused on political gain rather than tasking the people’s work. America too faces a political system transfixed in political party idealism; too shamelessly egomaniacal to govern.

“To run an effective political party you need a degree of tribalism, it’s the glue that holds everyone together.”

– Charles Kennedy

Roman Senator Tacitus said, “Great empires are not maintained by timidity.” The Roman Republic survived 500 years and the American Republic has weathered around 250 years. America lingers on facing major challenges that could negatively affect its future. We lack the ability to satisfy the economic demands of too many at the expense of a few. Our social divisions over priorities and growing unrest caused by a negative political environment heighten the likelihood we could parallel the final stages of Rome. Let’s hope we heed this atrophy before we garner the fate of Rome. The power to do this lies in our hands, not in the politicians. A republican government belongs to we the people, not politicians. We can only hope we have the courage to stop history from repeating itself.

Thomas Sowell said, “Much of the social history of the Western world, over the past three decades, has been a history of replacing what worked with what sounded good.” If we lose sight of culpable governing, future civilizations will be walking on our memories.

“Our Republic has chartered a path similar to Rome. If we don’t change course, America will end, as a replay of Rome.”

– Tiberius King

Wisconsin in focus: The next Foxconn and Illinois: Here’s why Wisconsin will be the state growing more taxpayers

Mon, 08/07/2017 - 06:38

Chicago Tribune opinion: The next Foxconn and Illinois: Here’s why Wisconsin will be the state growing more taxpayers

Illinois recently got a humiliating rejection notice from Foxconn, the Taiwanese tech giant. Foxconn picked Wisconsin over struggling Illinois and other states for the proposed site of a $10 billion LCD panel factory that will employ up to 13,000 people. These mega-projects don’t happen every day, so Foxconn’s decision hurts because job growth is the only way to solve Illinois’ fiscal crisis: More jobs means more tax revenue.

What really stings, though, is how the winning site is just across the state line in southeast Wisconsin. It’s as if Foxconn settled on the Midwest as a location and then decided: We want to be as near as possible to Illinois without actually being there.

Foxconn Chairman Terry Gou gave an interview to Steve Jagler, the business editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Gou gave Jagler eight reasons why Foxconn chose Wisconsin. Two of them were – literally – proximity to Illinois: First, Wisconsin is conveniently located in the central U.S., “close to Chicago, a global hub,” the Journal Sentinel reported. Second, Wisconsin has the transportation and logistics to accommodate Foxconn’s growth, and is … near O’Hare International Airport. Feel free to smack your forehead.

CNBC: In Weary Wisconsin Town, a Billionaire-Fueled Revival

When Diane Hendricks sees something she doesn’t like here, she buys it.

A bankrupt country club. A half-empty mall. Abandoned buildings. The rusting foundry down by the river.

Beloit used to be a town that made papermaking machines and diesel engines. Ms. Hendricks thinks it can be a place where start-ups create the next billion-dollar idea, and she is remaking the town to fit her vision. She can do so because she is the second-richest woman in the United States, behind only Marian Ilitch of Little Caesars Pizza.

“I see old buildings, and I see an opportunity for putting things in them,” says Ms. Hendricks, 70, who got her start fixing up houses here as a single mother and made her billions selling roofing felt, copper gutters and cement with her late husband, Ken.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: UW System office seeks charter school proposals; Milwaukee market may be tapped out

More than two years after it was created as part of the state’s 2015-’17 budget, the University of Wisconsin System’s Office of Educational Opportunity is taking steps to authorize its first charter schools.

The office issued two requests for proposals this week, one for a pilot for an addiction recovery school, which could be located anywhere in the state; and another for potential charter schools in Madison and Milwaukee.

Gary Bennett, the former chief of staff for Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) who was tapped last year to lead the office, said some municipalities and Cooperative Educational Service Agency, or CESA, networks have voiced interest in the recovery school.

As for the traditional charters, if there is interest at all, he said, it’s more likely to be in Madison than Milwaukee.

Wisconsin in focus: More details needed before north side neighbors support Foxconn move to area

Fri, 08/04/2017 - 06:44

WKOW 27: More details needed before north side neighbors support Foxconn move to area

Driving by the vacant former Oscar Mayer plant on the city’s north side, one could see it as an eyesore. But many living in the area see it at an opportunity for businesses. But nobody put much thought into Foxconn moving into the vacant property, except for Mayor Paul Soglin.

At a press conference Thursday, Mayor Soglin said he was contacted by Foxconn about a potential facility in Madison. During the 10-minute conversation with a mediator, Soglin said he suggested three sites. One of them was the old Oscar Mayer plant.

“When you’ve got an industrial site within a stones throw of an airport near a rail-line, an interstate highway,” Soglin said in support of the idea.

The mayor’s suggestion quickly sparked discussion in north and east side neighborhoods. But it seems a lot more details are needed for the idea to gain public support.

“There’s not a whole lot of details out there yet,” said Renee Walk, a resident who lives walking distance from the plant. She is also the co-chair of the OSCAR Group, an organization that tries to keep the everyone on the same page with future plans regarding the plant.

Post-Crescent: Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue tours Wisconsin, talks about immigration, NAFTA

As farmers wrestle with issues as wide-ranging as immigration, foreign trade and distressingly low prices for their products, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue kicked off a multi-state tour in Wisconsin on Thursday so he could hear their concerns firsthand.

Perdue’s visit included a stop at the Hunger Task Force Farm in Franklin, where he picked sweet corn. His RV tour also will include visits to Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois and Indiana.

Named agriculture secretary in April, Perdue is the son of a Georgia farmer and has owned several agricultural businesses. He is not associated with the food company Perdue or the poultry producer Perdue Farms.

One of his main tasks this year is working with Congress on the next five-year farm bill, which will set the direction for agricultural policies and food programs.

WKOW 27: Bill calls for firearms training in Wisconsin schools

A bill that would allow firearms training in Wisconsin public schools brought out some strong emotions at the Wisconsin State Capitol Thursday.

The legislation would task the State Department of Public Instruction to develop a firearms training curriculum, so students could learn about the history of firearms, the physics behind them, how they’re manufactured and shooting with them.

Rep. Gary Hebl of Sun Prairie says, “To encourage the use of guns on school grounds is something that I abhor and oppose, as do my constituents to a person at this point.”

Rep. Joel Kleefisch of Oconomowoc says, “You describe the atmosphere in the schools you represent – and if they decide that that’s an atmosphere that they’d prefer not to have these types of classes, they have every right.”

Congressman pushes for federal tax reform to help offset state income tax hike

Fri, 08/04/2017 - 06:09

U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., is embarking on a tour to talk federal tax reform, and he’s getting an earful from constituents.

One of the participants in the roundtable discussion in Springfield Aug. 1, Merrill Lynch financial adviser Gary Seitz, told Davis to be bold, throw out the current tax code, and start from scratch.

“I’m a believer that as the government grows, the economy slows,” Seitz said. “Take less money from the individual so they can use it for themselves to buy houses, buy cars, invest, buy a pizza.”

Seitz said the economy works best when people spend or save their money as they see fit.

Davis, who hails from Taylorville, is pushing for tax reforms that will help middle-income families, who, Davis said, are too often forgotten by Washington. Materials from Davis’ office explain that the plan is to simplify the tax code so that 9 out of 10 Americans will be able to file their taxes on a simple post card. Davis also wants to lower rates for Americans across the board, preserve important middle-income deductions to help Americans buy homes, pay for college, or donate to charity, and allow more savings by cutting in half the tax rates on personal savings and investment.

Davis said simplifying the tax code and reducing rates across the board would save taxpayers a lot of money.

“The average middle-class family in Illinois,” Davis said, “would get an extra $5,200 dollars in their pocket to be able to pay for a house, to be able to send their kids to college, and to be able to save up for a rainy day.”

Davis said getting federal tax relief will help alleviate part of the newfound burden Illinois residents have with an increased state income tax.

The state income tax went up 32 percent to 4.95 percent from 3.75 percent after Democrats and some Republicans overrode Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto of the tax hike.

The state corporate income tax also went up to 7 percent from 5.25 percent.

Illinois Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Todd Maisch said federal tax reform will also help Illinois’ small and midsized businesses.

“Illinois definitely needs to get its act together and have its own policy changes,” Maisch said, “but Illinois will definitely benefit if there is federal action.”

For businesses, Davis’ office said the tax reforms discussed so far would help create more than 70,000 jobs in Illinois by no longer taxing small-business income at an individual rate, which his office said can be as high as 44.6 percent. The plan would also end the federal estate tax, also known as the “death tax,” which would allow family farms and businesses to pass property down to future generations without a large tax bill.

Davis said it’s up to constituents to help cut through the partisan divide in D.C. “It’s going to be their responsibility to talk to all policymakers to find bipartisan solutions.”

Davis said it’s unfortunate the Senate didn’t act on health care reform, which he said goes hand-in-hand with tax reform.

Wisconsin in focus: GOP lawmakers split on Foxconn bill as questions linger about impact on state budget

Thu, 08/03/2017 - 07:41

Wisconsin State Journal: GOP lawmakers split on Foxconn bill as questions linger about impact on state budget

Republican lawmakers are split over how to move forward with a plan to send $3 billion to an electronics manufacturing giant promising to create 13,000 jobs in Wisconsin as questions surfaced about how the plan would affect the next state budget that is a month overdue.

Taiwanese technology company Foxconn wants to spend $10 billion to build LCD panels on a 20-million-square-foot, 1,000-acre campus of more than a dozen buildings in southeastern Wisconsin by 2020. Gov. Scott Walker signed an agreement to have a contract in place by the end of September.

But doing so requires approval from a Republican-controlled Legislature that still hasn’t passed a 2017-19 state budget. And despite a suggestion from Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, on Tuesday that the Foxconn deal would have “almost zero” impact on the next state spending plan, questions surfaced from Democrats and Senate Republicans about whether more vetting was needed.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Foxconn considering a second Wisconsin facility — this one in Dane County

Asian electronics giant Foxconn is considering investing at a second site in Wisconsin — this one in Dane County, according to a half dozen knowledgeable sources.

The investment in Dane County could come in a separate business from the massive flat screen television plant that Foxconn Technology Group has already committed to building in southeastern Wisconsin.

No offers have yet been made by the Taiwanese company and there are no guarantees any will be.

“That’ll probably clear up in the next 45 days,” said one source familiar with the potential project. “It’s good to be in play.”

Channel 3000: Molina Healthcare to exit Wisconsin ACA exchange

Molina Healthcare says it will exit the Affordable Care Act’s insurance marketplaces in Utah and Wisconsin, citing costs that contributed to hefty losses for the health insurer in the second quarter.

The Long Beach, California-based company also said Wednesday that it expects the performance of its remaining ACA marketplaces will fall substantially short of previous expectations in the second half of the year.

The company is reviewing its participation in other state health exchanges, noting that the performance of its marketplaces in Florida and Washington have been among the most disappointing.

Molina also plans to increase 2018 premiums for its remaining ACA marketplace plans by 55 percent.

Krug: President Trump disrupting news consumption, bringing in more women

Wed, 08/02/2017 - 14:55

This just in: President Donald Trump is polarizing.

Some love him. Some hate him. Hate is a strong word, but they hate him.

There are probably some who are too busy watching “The Price Is Right” or rainbow-vomiting cat videos to care. But they still might make time to check in on Trump.

Regardless of your thoughts on his presidency, Trump’s effect on media has been fascinating to witness.

No presidential candidate more masterfully usurped the mainstream media’s system to create his own narrative. Unquestionably, this disruption – primarily through the 140-characters-or-less social feed Twitter – is a byproduct of Trump’s ability to demean the mainstream media and leverage social media to allow for direct communication with the citizenry.

The so-called Trump effect has been stunning with regard to a renewed interest in national news. What audience segment is growing the fastest?

A recent Pew Research Center study says that American women represent the largest-growing demographic of national news consumers. Trump has stimulated a wave of new interest in media and current events among women, despite his past comments about women that have drawn the ire of the left (and, frankly, some on the right).

The study suggests that 58 percent of American women say they are paying more attention to politics since Trump was elected. That same research showed that 63 percent of women who identify as Democrats have increased their interest in U.S. political news. Interest in domestic political news among women who identify themselves as Republicans is up 54 percent.

Overall, Trump’s presidency has increased U.S. interest in political news by 52 percent.

Former President Barack Obama compares in numbers, but not in impact. Obama has about 93 million Twitter followers – nearly 55 million more than Trump. Together, they are the two most followed politicians in the world, but the winner on impact is decidedly lopsided – and there is nobody in politics who’s even close to Trump.

Trump’s Twitter feed is hyperactive, rarely boring and often the root of stories that aren’t reported exactly the same elsewhere. He’s randomly on Twitter, occasionally around the clock. This began well ahead of the past election cycle, and hasn’t slowed down. Trump vowed nobody would take away his phone. Nobody has.

In a completely unscientific polling of people I know who are dialed into social media, there seems to be equal measures of left- and right-leaning followers who mind his feed. And people from all walks of life seem to speak of Trump with corresponding degrees of disgust and curiosity.

Set aside the messaging for a moment and purely consider the impact to media: He’s demonstrated that news can be a business-to-consumer proposition for politicians, following the path of entertainers Katy Perry and Justin Bieber.

Trump is cutting a new path in that regard – utilizing direct-to-market bursts of commentary to prompt behavior and create news narratives that the media is only too willing to follow. At its purest, it’s business-to-business communication.

He has, effectively, bypassed the permission of the press. He stays in the news by creating the news and discounts the media’s account of his story. Take a step back, and it’s difficult to argue that he isn’t setting the news agenda masterfully.

When you have the same tools as multi-billion-dollar media companies that could cloud your message, why bother offering the stories to them when you could skip the distributor and sell to the customer? Question Trump’s business acumen if you will, but his ability to promote and draw attention are changing the way that we think of presidential communication.

Since his election, which seemingly came against every legacy media prediction or poll, Trump has continued to be a boon to coverage of national affairs. If people didn’t care about national news in the smooth-jazz presidency of his predecessor, they care now.

And they are following.

Amid the otherwise awful news of decline of the mainstream press, New York Times CEO Mark Thompson told MSNBC in May that the company had added 308,000 digital subscribers in the first quarter (the company reports that is most in its history in a given quarter), and another 93,000 net subscribers in the second quarter. That was after the company reported that it increased by 276,000 digital readers in the fourth quarter of 2016.

Newsonomics author Ken Doctor reported in a May article for The Street that, “The Washington Post said that January generated more subscription starts than any other month, beating what had been a record-setting November, with the Post overall seeing ‘doubled digital subscription revenue in the past 12 months, with a 75 [percent] increase in new subscribers.’ “

The news will always matter.

Where you get it, how you get it, and from whom you get it, though, may matter substantially more.

Chris Krug is President of the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity.

Wisconsin in focus: Is state offering more than it will get back in taxes to land Foxconn plant?

Wed, 08/02/2017 - 07:07

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Is state offering more than it will get back in taxes to land Foxconn plant?

Questions have arisen over how much in incentives the state is offering to Foxconn in order to get the company to put a giant manufacturing plant in Wisconsin.

Says One Wisconsin Now, a liberal advocacy group:

Gov. Scott Walker “wants state taxpayers to dole out up to $250 million annually in incentives” to Foxconn “to lure a manufacturing plant to Wisconsin that he claims will generate $181 million in tax revenue.”

Sounds like a losing proposition.

WKOW: Proposal would loosen liquor laws in Wisconsin

There’s a new proposal designed to change the direction of the alcohol industry in the state.

A group of republican lawmakers wrote the bill to loosen restrictions.

Those lawmakers unveiled their legislation at Wisconsin Brewing Company in Verona on Tuesday.

Among other things, the bill would allow wineries to stay open until 2 a.m. and increase the number of liquor licenses cities have by ten percent.

USA Today: Why 40 office workers in Wisconsin let a tattoo artist put a microchip in their hand

In one of the oddest corporate ceremonies we’ve heard of, a tattoo artist inserted rice-sized microchips into the hands of employees at Three Square Market, a Wisconsin firm that makes cafeteria kiosks to replace vending machines. The point: convenience.

Chipped employees can bypass key fobs and badges and corporate log-ons to computers. And the company would like to see payments go cashless. The pain: “It stung for about an hour and a half,” company president Patrick McMullan said. The entire process took about a minute. The tattoo artist cleaned the skin, found a spot in the hand to pinch, inserted a syringe, installed the chip, then covered the spot with a bandage.

The privacy concern: The chip does not have GPS in it, so the boss can’t track your movements. Is it dangerous? Some Swedes have been chipped for years.

Wisconsin economy seeing increase in international trade activity

Wed, 08/02/2017 - 06:51

Wisconsin’s economy sustained a big jump in imports from abroad and a modest bump in exports during the first five months of the year, prompting financial observers around the state to feel bullish about the remainder of 2017.

“I obviously think that anytime you have free trade, it is positive,” Joe Jurken, the senior at The ABC Group in Milwaukee, told

Recently released export and import figures from the U.S. Census Bureau show that from January to May of this year, imports in Wisconsin shot up 24.3 percent over the same period in 2016. By comparison, the state’s total exports during the first five months of this year were up 6.5 percent over the same period in 2016, according to the Census Bureau’s seasonally unadjusted figures.

For exported manufactured goods only, Wisconsin’s numbers for January through May were up 4.9 percent over the same period last year.

Looking at the Census Bureau’s figures for May only, Wisconsin’s imports increased 30.9 percent over May 2016.

One key driver in the increase in imports is the U.S. dollar strengthening against China’s yuan in recent months. The dollar’s strength makes it favorable for foreign companies to sell goods in the United States, said Jurken, whose firm specializes in helping companies export their wares to China.

He predicted that Wisconsin imports during the remainder of the year could continue to increase, while exports should continue at the same pace or begin to soften.

“We would love to see Wisconsin companies export more,” he said, adding that it’s often a difficult task to sell in China due to trade barriers.

Even though there has been talk about the United States putting up tariffs on foreign goods entering the nation since President Donald Trump took office, that talk hasn’t affected business activity so far in 2017, Jurken said. The status quo remains a good thing for the state, as opposed to the potential of a trade war, he said.

Wisconsin’s bump in exports mirrors a national trend. Exports from companies throughout the United States during the first five months of 2017 were up 6.6 percent over the same period of the previous year, according to the Census Bureau.

Figures compiled by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. (WEDC) for the first quarter of 2017 mirror the Census Bureau numbers.

“Wisconsin businesses exported $5.32 billion in goods and services worldwide in the first three months of 2017, a 4.8 percent increase over the first quarter of 2016 – a promising start to the new year,” WEDC spokesman Mark Maley told

The export growth was pegged to a rise in shipments to Mexico, China and Saudi Arabia, according to Maley. Shipments to Saudi Arabia spiked 100 percent in the first quarter due to an increase in military vehicle sales, he said.

Exports to Canada, the state’s largest trading partner, inched up 1.7 percent to $1.6 billion during the first three months of the year, Maley said, and overall agricultural exports to foreign nations were up 5.5 percent over the same period in 2016. Among those exports were hefty increases in Wisconsin oil seeds, such as soy beans.

The state’s top export, industrial machinery, declined 4.7 percent in the first quarter, he said, following a trend that’s lasted several years as low oil prices have held down demand for such equipment in the oil and gas industry.

Even so, among all states, Wisconsin is No. 21 in terms of total exports, Maley said, adding that the state exports goods and services to 182 nations.

“Wisconsin led the nation in exports of more than two dozen different products, including outboard marine engines, firefighting vehicles, cranberries, prepared sweet corn, pickles, fur skins and ginseng roots,” he said in an email.

Other officials are hopeful that the state’s economy will continue to rev up during the rest of the year.

“We are encouraged by the first-quarter numbers and hope to see this trend continue for the remainder of 2017,” Katy Sinnott, the WEDC’s vice president of international business development, told “Wisconsin saw growth in exports to four of the state’s five largest trade destinations as well as most of our top product categories, which is a great way to start the year.”

Despite a decades-long decline in manufacturing jobs in the United States, Wisconsin has seen some employment growth in that sector over the past year. The number of manufacturing jobs in the state since January is up by nearly 4,000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Wisconsin manufacturing workforce in June stood at 472,000, 1.7 percent above where it was a year earlier, the BLS said.