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Haupt: No confidence in the political class

Tue, 08/01/2017 - 06:34

“There is no act of treachery, infidelity, or avarice of which a politician is not capable; for in politics it’s every man for himself to remain in the graces of the political party.”

– Marty Blunt

The Articles of Confederation was a noble attempt at creating a central government in the colonies. But it was both a blessing and a curse. It was a blessing that is established order but it was a curse since it did not provide provisions for the government to govern with authority. It was a determent that crippled governing during the Revolutionary War. Since the Articles were designed to recognize a division of powers similar to the British, it was flawed from the beginning. There was no king in the colonies nor was there a parliament. Although it served as a war-time confederation to help direct the colonies, it lacked central leadership. As the war moved on it was obvious this divisive chaos had to end for our nation to survive. And we needed “change we could believe in” to make it better before it got worse.

“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.”

– Winston Churchill

Once the Convention commenced, it was clear this would not be a walk in the park. The only thing they agreed on was the necessity to create a government that was not subject to the vagaries of regional influence or majority dictatorship. This opened the doors of republicanism. Considering the political mobocracy that took place with each changing of the guard in past republics, they sought to avoid entrapment by creating buffers between the government and the people. With a House elected by the populous, a Senate by state legislatures, and a president by a convocation of elders, they figured they had enough detours to insure no political force or roguish group could usurp the people’s will.

“Sometimes, simple things turn out to be the most complex of all.”

– Harold Butler

The core idea of the Constitution was to restrain ambition and force competing powers to make legitimate attempts at compromise and keep the integrity of the republic in check. The delegates felt the brand of federalism they created was bullet proof during those patriotic times. But they were to find out during the 1st Congress their failure to make constitutional provisions to hold politicians accountable to one another or us was a serious omission. They were forgivingly naive, putting such amatory faith in politics. They never envisioned two antipodal opposing political parties hijacking the people’s government. One that would control it and citizen influence would be subservient to their parties.  A lesson learned the hard way.

“Hindsight is always 20/20.”

– Billy Wilder

Our founders set fourth to develop a perfect government. Since most came from across The Pond, they were gun-shy about mimicking the King’s government in our constitution. Therefore, there was no provision made to hold politicians within the legislature accountable if they proved incapable to govern. Unlike England, where all government ministers, and the Prime Minister, are accountable to all branches of the legislature with de facto power vested in the House of Commons. Motions of no confidence are key components in the Westminster government that requires an executive to retain the impudence of the House of Commons. It is a fundamental principle that their government must retain the confidence of the legislature to operate effectively with majority support of the legislature.

“Reporters who brandish parliament would have a field day if they covered Congress.”

– Litton Sidle

Since the 1st Congress when Jefferson and Hamilton reignited the fuse of vexation, politicians have scurried to parties. Unfortunately, our Constitution makes no provisions for a political structure of political accountability. So Congress formed a way to control government with seniority rewarding through the committee system. We continued to develop an awkward self-policing system within the system to make a legitimate effort to legitimize the party system. By 1830, the party system had festered like a bad splinter. Politics was run by well-oiled machines. They seemed harmless since they helped to maintain order between competing factions and greased the wheels to control in-party turmoil. They vetted candidates while picking the pockets of donors to fill their political war chests. They formed voter groups to bring others to the party and forged policy to promote party propaganda. This sustained the illusion that they were doing what was best for the populous.

“In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way.”

– Franklin D. Roosevelt

Hierarchical political bosses like Boss Tweed, Huey Long, Jefferson Randolph, Soapy Smith, E. H. Crump, Richard J. Daley, Frank Hague, Hinky Dink and Bathhouse John around the nation took control of local and national politics. They held the keys to the doors of government. They hand-picked political hacks whose feet they held to the fire through incentives, promotions, financial contributions, pet-project spending and other perks. The “outsiders” were banished into the Land of Oz with the Tin Man. And this became the DNA of American politics.

“One of the key problems today is that politics is such a disgrace, good people don’t go into government.”

– Donald Trump

For decades our branches of government have worked against each other and against us. It is a fundamental principle in parliament that government must retain confidence to function or they can be replaced with a no confidence vote. Unlike Westminster that requires legislative confidence to operate effectively, we’ve mastered the art of ineffectiveness. We have no authority like parliament to cast a no confidence vote. The only confidence we have is tremendous confidence nothing will get done each session in our congressional houses. British politicians are always looking over their shoulder for ways to appease each other to insure public and legislative confidence. On this side of the pond, our politicians are looking over their shoulders to make sure their party bosses are happy. In America:

‘We hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office.”

– Aesop

In America, the only way we can rid ourselves from non-achieving politicians is by impeachment. And charges against them must be substantial. It’s a complex and complicated process purposely devised to insure it was not abused. But what happens when a whole Congress is deadlocked in incompetence?  By law, the British can put an entire body of government or individual on notice, shaming them from office with a no confidence vote. When Congress continues to demonstrate no power to govern, voters publicly denounce them and the media chastises them, expressing that they have no confidence in them. But this falls on deaf ears except at election time and everyone sings ‘Kumbaya’. Then they have little or no recourse except to vote for another hand-picked party hack.

“Politics is the art of choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable.”

– John Galbraith

Thomas Sowel wrote, “There are no solutions. There are only trade-offs” in American politics. Our political system was an afterthought, invented as it went along without planning or conviction. Our founders had great faith in their fellow Americans and the future generations to follow. They were obviously blinded by the greatness of their patriotism and belief. Giving us a government of free men controlled by free men, it would be self-policing with no need to protect us from artless party politics. Although we have no law that grants us or other branches of government to issue “a no confidence vote,” we have that opportunity each Election Day. If we don’t judge a candidate by his character instead of his party, we have not used our “no confidence vote” wisely. Little confidence is as bad as no confidence.

“No matter what name we give it or how we judge it, a candidate’s character is central to political reporting because it is central to a citizen’s decision in voting.”

– Roger Mudd

 

 

 

Wisconsin in focus: Reining In Wisconsin’s Regulatory State

Mon, 07/31/2017 - 13:27

Reining In Wisconsin’s Regulatory State

Gov. Scott Walker and Wisconsin are once again showing conservative reformers nationwide how to get the job done. This month, lawmakers sent Walker the first state version of the REINS Act to be passed by a legislature, and Walker, who has championed the reform, is expected to sign the bill soon.

The REINS Act, introduced by state Sen. Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) and state Rep. Adam Neylon (R-Pewaukee), restores much-needed transparency to the rule making process by requiring that the costliest of regulations receive approval from the full legislature before taking effect. The need for this reform is clear.

State Fair Park hosts 125 years of Wisconsin cows, carnies and cream puffs

The 166th State Fair opens Thursday for its 11-day run, marking an annual summer rite at a site that over the years has become Wisconsin’s crossroads.

The State Fair made its debut in 1851 and over the decades bounced between Janesville, Milwaukee, Watertown, Fond du Lac and Madison. It needed a permanent home.

The perfect spot turned out to be a 120-acre farm owned by the Stevens family and purchased for $850 an acre by the Agricultural Society.

Coolest Thing Made in Wisconsin contest will start August 1

Johnson Financial Group and Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC) will partner to hold the second annual Coolest Thing Made in Wisconsin contest, the two organizations announced today.

The month-long, online nomination period opens tomorrow for anyone to nominate a Wisconsin-made product. A popular vote will then determine the top 16 products to compete in the new Manufacturing Madness, a bracket-style tournament with three rounds of product match-ups, to decide the overall winner.  

“This contest is a great way to show off all the cool things that are made in Wisconsin, but it is also an opportunity to highlight the rewarding careers available in manufacturing,” Kurt R. Bauer, president and CEO of WMC said. “We want to see products both big and small, from every corner of the state. Simply put, we want to find the Coolest Thing Made in Wisconsin.”

This Wisconsin ‘Chip Party’ Doesn’t Come With Cheese Dip

Some employees of 32M have volunteered to have microchips implanted in them. NPR’s Noel King and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee professor of information studies Michael Zimmer, explore the risks.

Wisconsin in focus: Foxconn subsidies could mean heavy borrowing for local municipalities

Fri, 07/28/2017 - 06:37

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: Foxconn subsidies could mean heavy borrowing for local municipalities

The written agreement to bring a Taiwanese electronics giant to Wisconsin calls for changes to the main subsidy program used by local governments – a key item for taxpayers to watch.

In a ceremony Thursday, Gov. Scott Walker signed a written commitment that the state would provide up to $3 billion in tax credits and other incentives if Foxconn Technology Group builds out and operates a $10 billion flat-screen plant employing up to 13,000 workers in Wisconsin.

But local governments will almost certainly have to put up huge undisclosed subsidies of their own through a financing program known as tax incremental financing. Changes to that program will have to be made to ensure that local governments can finance the sewer lines, streets and other infrastructure to be built in what are now undeveloped fields, according to the memo of understanding with the state.

ABC News: Rust Belt Wisconsin looks to fill high-skill jobs at Foxconn

A Rust Belt state that built a manufacturing legacy through assembly-line jobs will have to quickly transition to a more highly skilled workforce now that Foxconn has selected Wisconsin as the site of its coveted U.S. electronics plant.

“This will not be your grandfather’s factory,” said Tom Still, president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. “This will be a high-tech facility that will attract workers of various skill levels to produce products that will really define where the economy is going to go for years to come.”

Foxconn is best known for making iPhones and other Apple products in China. It entered into a memorandum of understanding Thursday to build its first U.S. manufacturing plant in Wisconsin — a decision cheered for its potential to transform the state’s economy. But many questions remain, including the type of jobs the Taiwan-based electronics giant will offer and whether it will follow through on its plans.

The deal calls for finalizing terms of the agreement — which will require a special legislative session to approve a $3 billion incentive package — no later than Sept. 30. Gov. Scott Walker and Foxconn CEO Terry Gou signed the memorandum inside Milwaukee’s art museum, a white, winged-shaped structure by Santiago Calatrava that sits on Lake Michigan. The project to bring Foxconn to Wisconsin was called “Flying Eagle,” they said.

Washington Post: Foxconn deal to build massive factory in Wisconsin could cost the state $230,700 per worker

Foxconn, the technology giant that supplies gadgets to Apple, Google and Amazon, has shown willingness to make a huge investment in Wisconsin — in exchange for a similarly hefty commitment from the state.

The Taiwanese company has agreed to build a factory that will stretch 20 million square feet, the size of 11 football fields, and Gov. Scott Walker has offered a set of financial rewards to seal the deal.

On the table is up to $3 billion in state tax breaks. The state legislature could approve the economic incentive package as early as August.

These payouts, Wisconsin officials said, come with lofty expectations. As long as Foxconn keeps hiring  U.S. workers at the new flat-screen manufacturing facility, Wisconsin would cut the company $200 million to $250 million a year for up to 15 years.

That works out to a rough cost to the state of about $230,700 per worker, assuming the factory goes on to generate 13,000 jobs.

Wisconsin leaders see $10 billion Foxconn deal as ‘transformational’

Thu, 07/27/2017 - 18:33

Foxconn’s decision to build a $10 billion high-tech manufacturing plant in Wisconsin set off a wave of optimism among business leaders in the state, even with a taxpayer price tag that could reach $3 billion.

“We are calling this development ‘Wiscon Valley,’ because we believe this will have a transformational effect on Wisconsin, just as Silicon Valley transformed the San Francisco Bay Area,” Gov. Scott Walker said in a prepared statement.

The Taiwan company’s campus, which the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. (WEDC) says will occupy 1,000 acres on a site in southeast Wisconsin, is projected to create 13,000 new jobs with an average annual salary of nearly $54,000. A total of 22,000 indirect jobs, including positions in supplier networks, will also open up as the factory begins churning out liquid crystal display screens for consumer electronics, according to the WEDC.

Kurt Bauer, the president and CEO of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, compared the Foxconn project to the economic riches that resulted from oil shale development in North Dakota’s Bakken formation.  

“Foxconn is to Wisconsin what the Bakken is to North Dakota,” Bauer told Watchdog.org.

In manufacturing, for every factory job that’s created, another 2.5 support jobs will come into existence, he said, and that will bolster the economy throughout the state.

“In 10 years, this area is not going to resemble what it looks like today,” Bauer said.

And the effects of the project – it will be the only LCD manufacturing facility in North America – go beyond economic growth, he said.

“This is not just an economic gain for Wisconsin,” Bauer said, adding that it would help Wisconsin shake its rust belt image. “This is an image and reputation gain.”

The tax incentives Foxconn will be eligible for are projected to reach between $200 million and $250 million annually, according to the WEDC. Over the next 15 years, the company could gain a maximum of $1.5 billion in state income tax credits as a result of its employee hiring; $1.35 billion in income tax benefits from land, building and equipment investments; and $150 million in sales tax exemptions.

Despite those costs, Bauer described the overall costs as very reasonable, especially since other states were ready to put additional economic incentives on the table to attract Foxconn.

“I ultimately think it’s going to be a bargain for the state’s economy,” he said.

Tom Still, president of the Wisconsin Technology Council, agreed that the scale of the likely economic incentives fits the Foxconn package and its long-term impact on the state.

“They are in line with other state incentive packages for similar projects, although the Foxconn plant in Wisconsin will eventually be much larger than those projects, which have taken place in states such as South Carolina, Nevada and New York,” Still told Watchdog.org in an email.

The incentive package will require the company to make capital investments and create jobs as a condition of receiving the tax credits, according to Still.

“It’s a ‘pay-as-you-grow’ approach that should lend accountability to the process,” he said.

Asked if Wisconsin would be able to supply the thousands of skilled workers needed to get the factory up and running by 2018, Still replied, “Yes, with help from our friends and neighbors, such as Illinois.”

As a result of Foxconn’s investments, more of the 75,000 people who graduate each year from the state’s higher education system will stay in Wisconsin rather than searching for positions elsewhere, he said. In addition, the 300,000 Badger state natives now living elsewhere may look to return if the right opportunities present themselves, according to Still

“There is a skilled labor pool close by in northern Illinois, some of whom may welcome an opportunity to work just a few miles over the border,” he said.

The Foxconn project will also better allow the state to show off the varied expertise that now exists in Wisconsin, including the ability to produce electrical equipment and medical devices and a workforce skilled in technical areas such as software, virtual reality, robotics and artificial intelligence, Still said.

“Wisconsin, like much of the Upper Midwest, has technology sector strengths that are often overlooked by those who believe such expertise and talent is clustered only on the coasts,” he said.

How the state legislature will go about putting in place the incentives remains to be seen. Although lawmakers will be in session until the passage of a state budget, a special session might be scheduled to pass the needed legislation, according to Myranda Tanck, spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau.

Fitzgerald has not been directly involved in the negotiation process with Foxconn, Tanck said.

“Negotiations with the company have largely been with the Governor’s Office,” she said.

One of the colleges in southeast Wisconsin that will be involved in responding to workforce needs such as the Foxconn deal is Waukesha County Technical College, where the dean of the School of Applied Technologies, Michael Shiels, looks forward to the challenge of working with Wisconsin’s newest manufacturer.

“It’s a great opportunity for the technical college system to work with the new employer and help them with their needs,” Shiels told Watchdog.org. Currently, he said about 3,400 full-time students are enrolled in tech programs at the college.

Based on the size of the Foxconn operation, a large variety of skilled workers will be needed in the years ahead, including those trained in information technology, manufacturing, human resources and engineering, he said. And even though the jobless rate is low in the state – about 3.1 percent – the company will draw future employees from a large area, probably within a 60-mile radius of the corporate campus, according to Shiels.

The college’s programs in robotics and automation as well as electrical engineering and electronics technology should parallel many of the company’s future needs, he said, adding that the development will provide challenges and opportunities for technical colleges in the region.

“I’ve lived in Wisconsin my entire life, and I can’t think of a bigger deal than this announcement,” Shiels said.

Wisconsin in focus: What they’re saying about Foxconn announcement

Thu, 07/27/2017 - 07:27

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: Foxconn says it will create thousands of jobs at surprisingly good wages

The thousands of jobs that Foxconn says it will create when it opens a massive manufacturing plant in southeast Wisconsin are projected to have an average annual salary of $53,875 plus benefits — lucrative enough to attract workers from across the state and nation.

It’s an impressive figure from a company once derided as operating virtual sweatshops in China, but not unexpected as manufacturing wages have risen with the demand for more-advanced technical skills, said Patrick O’Brien, executive director of the economic development organization Milwaukee 7.

“It’s good for the region,” O’Brien said.

In announcing Wednesday that it would be building a $10 billion flat-panel display factory in southeastern Wisconsin, Taiwan-based Foxconn said it would hire 3,000 people when the plant starts up initially, and 13,000 when it is fully operational.

Fox News: Trump announces $10 billion Foxconn plant in Wisconsin

President Donald Trump said Wednesday that Electronics giant Foxconn will build a $10 billion factory in Wisconsin that’s expected to create 3,000 jobs.

The announcement comes at a critical juncture for a Trump administration that pledged to generate manufacturing jobs but has struggled to deliver results as quickly as the president promised.

Trump’s plans for health care and tax cuts face an uncertain future in Congress, while his administration is bogged down by an investigation into Russia’s possible ties with his presidential campaign.

The factory will produce liquid-crystal display panels that are used in televisions and computer screens, according to a senior White House official who insisted on anonymity to discuss the announcement. Foxconn will locate its plant in the congressional district of U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, although the official declined to provide a specific location.

Sacramento Bee: Foxconn hands Walker ‘grand slam home run’

Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker just got what may be the biggest political boost of his career, and it couldn’t have come at a much better time.

President Donald Trump’s announcement Wednesday that Wisconsin had won the high-stakes fight to be home to Foxconn’s first U.S. manufacturing plant — a $10 billion investment that could mean 3,000 jobs or more for the state — comes as Walker is preparing to run for a third term.

It not only gives Walker’s job-creation credentials a jolt but also allows him to further distance himself from his biggest failure — not fulfilling his 2010 campaign promise to create 250,000 jobs in four years.

Read more here:

Foxconn chooses Wisconsin for manufacturing plant, says 13,000 jobs will be created

Wed, 07/26/2017 - 11:49

Foxconn, the maker of iPhone chips, flat screen TV panels and other electronics items, has picked southeastern Wisconsin over other U.S. states to build a new manufacturing plant.

At a Wednesday evening news conference at the White House, company CEO Terry Gou Foxconn will invest $10 billion in the new plant and create 13,000 jobs once construction is completed by 2020.

Gou was joined by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, U.S House Speaker Paul Ruan of Wisconsin and President Donald Trump.

The plant will be located in U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan’s district, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Several other U.S. states were under consideration for the facility, including Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio and Illinois.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Wednesday that the deal will include between $1 billion and $3 billion in local, state and federal tax incentives.

Foxconn is based in Taiwan. It employs more than 1 million people in Europe, Asia, South America and the U.S., with pants in Indiana and Virginia.

The company has been accused in the past of poor working conditions, particularly at its plants in China.

 

Wisconsin in focus: Wisconsin Foxconn deal could include $1 billion to $3 billion in taxpayer-backed incentives

Wed, 07/26/2017 - 06:36

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin Foxconn deal could include $1 billion to $3 billion in taxpayer-backed incentives

A plan to bring a massive Foxconn Technology Group plant to Wisconsin could cost $1 billion to $3 billion in local, state and federal incentives over coming years — a stunning sum for a project that backers say could transform the state’s economy.

Foxconn’s plans are to be announced Wednesday at the White House, with a follow-up event Thursday at the Milwaukee Art Museum, according to one source. Tuesday night, the White House listed a 5 p.m. Wednesday “jobs announcement” in the East Room on President Donald Trump’s schedule.

An incentive package that reaches into the billionswould be unlike anything Wisconsin has offered in the past and would require approval from state lawmakers. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) has said he hoped to get bipartisan support for the package.

Wisconsin State Journal: Acquisitions resume as GOP splits over truthfulness of ‘land grab’ claim

A divided Wisconsin public lands board on Tuesday approved a purchase of new property for the first time in more than two years as Republicans clashed over conservative principles and accusations of dishonesty.

The Board of Commissioners of Public Lands voted 2-1 to buy nearly 1,000 acres, with GOP Attorney General Brad Schimel joining the board’s lone Democratic member against fellow Republican state Treasurer Matt Adamczyk.

Schimel said the land in Oneida County connects smaller, isolated parcels already owned by the board to create a larger bloc that will be more accessible and attractive to loggers, resulting in increased revenue from timber sales to BCPL funds that support libraries and colleges.

But Adamczyk insisted government land acquisition was contrary to conservative principles and that some among the Republicans who control the Legislature were planning to authorize more profitable investment options.

USA Today: After investors build $1 million dam, Wisconsin says it owns the lake

Beth Martineau might be rolling in her grave, the one at nearby Oak Knoll Cemetery marked with a stone reading, “I fought the DNR and I won.”

In the late 1960s, Martineau lived and worked as an artist on Upper Spring Lake, an idyllic spot created by a 19th-century dam. She defended her privacy with fences, signs, trespass complaints and even gunshots.

In 1970 after the state tried to add the property to the Kettle Moraine State Forest, she ultimately got the Wisconsin Supreme Court to declare that the Conservation Commission —  the predecessor to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources — had no power to condemn the lake.

Now the fate of Upper Spring Lake, about 35 miles southwest of Milwaukee, is back in court. The current owners say they relied on the legal conclusions of Martineau’s victories when they bought the property out of bankruptcy in 2008 and spent about $1 million rebuilding the dam that creates the lake and protects downstream areas of Scuppernong River.

Wisconsin in focus: Foxconn nearing decision to invest in Wisconsin

Tue, 07/25/2017 - 06:25

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Foxconn nearing decision to invest in Wisconsin

Foxconn Technology Group will make a midweek announcement in Milwaukee that Wisconsin is the company’s choice, or at least its leading choice, for a huge new electronics factory, a source told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Monday.

The announcement probably will not name a specific site for the Wisconsin operation, the source said. Sites in Racine County and Kenosha County have been thought to be under consideration.

A second source separately told the Journal Sentinel that Foxconn would announce its plans for Wisconsin this week, but didn’t know where the announcement would be made.

At least two other reports Monday indicated that Wisconsin was close to being named a winner in the multistate competition for the plant, which could employ thousands of workers.

Wisconsin Journal Sentinel: Here’s how Wisconsin can supply the 10,000 workers Foxconn may need

As speculation swirls around whether Foxconn Technology Group will plant a flag in Wisconsin, a recurring question is: Can the state produce the 10,000 workers the company will need over time?

The answer is a qualified “yes,” even at a time when Wisconsin is dealing with a predicted shortage of workers.

The first reason for workforce optimism is the size and scope of the state’s higher education system, which produces about 75,200 graduates and certificate holders per year. That total includes about 36,000 University of Wisconsin System graduates, 25,400 Wisconsin Technical College System graduates or certificate holders and 13,800 graduates of Wisconsin’s two-dozen private colleges and universities.

While other employers statewide are competing for that young talent and more, a significant number of graduates don’t always find the jobs they want and wind up looking outside Wisconsin’s borders. The prospect of well-compensated jobs at home may entice many more to stay put upon graduation.

Post-Crescent: Latest state budget plan increases money for schools, but local taxpayers share costs

State funding for Wisconsin’s schools would increase by about $740 million over the next two years under the Senate Republican proposal announced last week in an effort to break the stalemate over Gov. Scott Walker’s 2017-’19 budget.

The plan includes Walker’s proposed boost in per-pupil funding, from the current $250 to $654 over the biennium, and additional dollars for low-spending districts and private schools that take part in one of the state’s four voucher programs.

But rural schools would lose almost all of the $20 million in so-called sparsity aid proposed by Walker. And GOP lawmakers continue to negotiate key points of contention involving measures aimed at boosting enrollment in two of the state’s four voucher programs.

Dan Rossmiller, lobbyist for the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, called it “a good budget for public schools, largely because the governor’s proposed increase in per-pupil categorical aid appears to have survived intact.”

Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin score well in manufacturing report; Illinois not so much

Tue, 07/25/2017 - 05:44

The Midwest as a whole received relatively high grades in an annual rating of states’ manufacturing industries, but Illinois’ manufacturing sector is still struggling due to an unpredictable economic climate and unfunded public liabilities.

The 2017 Manufacturing & Logistics Report Card gave Illinois a “C+” for the overall health of its manufacturing industries, but the state earned a “D” in the “Tax Climate” category and an “F” in “Expected Fiscal Liability Gap.” That latter estimates the state’s ability – or inability – to fund bond obligations and pension costs.

Illinois also received an average grade – “C+” – in “Human Capital,” which measures the education level of the state’s workforce in an effort to gauge how well it is serving manufacturers.

The study gave Michigan an “A” for the health of its manufacturing sector, while Ohio and Wisconsin both received “B” grades.

Mark Denzler, vice president and chief operating officer of the Illinois Manufacturers Association, echoed some of the points made in the Ball University study.

“Manufacturing is alive in Illinois,” Denzler told Illinois News Network, noting that manufacturers in the state employ about 570,000 people. “However, it is struggling.”

The state’s strengths include good colleges and universities and a great transit system, according to Denzler.

“Seventy-five percent of the nation’s freight comes through Illinois,” he said.

But an out-migration of jobs to other states and workers compensation costs that are the highest in the Midwest and eighth highest in the country continue to add to the state’s economic uncertainties, Denzler said.

Although Denzler said today’s manufacturing workforce in Illinois is second to none, the employers continue to deal with a skills gap as they try to hire new workers. Manufacturers need to hire 20,000 to 25,000 production workers and 5,000 engineers every year just to remain at a constant level, he said.

“The governor has put a focus on vocational education and trying to provide workers with the skills needed,” Denzler said, but lately there has been no money for job-training programs.

Manufacturers have some advantages in the near future, including a growing advanced-manufacturing industry around the Chicago area, he said. But the state needs major structural reforms and begin to live within its means, according to Denzler.

“Quite frankly, Illinois needs to change its focus moving forward,” he said.

Illinois did end it’s more than two-year-long budget stalemate last week, but it came at a high cost to both businesses and workers, who will both see tax increases.

“[Last week’s] action by the Illinois legislature will speed up the loss of manufacturing jobs and will further decimate our economy,” Greg Baise, president and CEO of the Illinois Manufacturers Association, said shortly after the state House voted to override Gov. Bruce Rauner’s vetoes of the tax hikes and budget bills.

Those knowledgeable about the manufacturing industries in other Midwest states questioned some of the conclusions in the Ball State University study. Kurt Bauer, president and CEO of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, took issue with the state’s “C-” grade in the “Tax Climate” category.

“I don’t think the Ball State report recognizes that Wisconsin’s Manufacturers and Agricultural Production Tax Credit reduces the corporate tax liability for qualifying companies from 7.9 percent to 0.4 percent,” Bauer said in an email to Illinois News Network. “Combine that with our right-to-work status and our recent regulatory and litigation reforms, and Wisconsin is clearly one of the most attractive states for manufacturing in the U.S.”

All of Illinois’ neighbors are right-to-work states – meaning employees can opt out of joining a union if they choose – which is another competitive disadvantage.

Professor Edward Hill, a faculty member at the Ohio Manufacturing Institute, took issue with some of the variables the study used to give Ohio a “C-” in “Human Capital.” The six states receiving “A” grades in this category were Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota and Washington.

“There are good manufacturers in many of these states, but none, with the exception of Washington and possibly Minnesota, can be claimed as centers of exceptionally skilled pools of manufacturing workers,” Hill said.

Still, Ohio is not doing particularly well in providing the type of skilled workers manufacturers need, he said, but all states likely have this problem.

“Manufacturers themselves are just waking up and taking ownership of the problem … and reinventing secondary and community college manufacturing training programs,” Hill said.

In Ohio, major employers such as Honda, Minster Machine, Lincoln Electric and Yaskawa Motoman are working hand-in-hand with educators to turn out a more skilled workforce, he said.

“We will see progress over the coming year,” Hill said.

Though Michigan was rated a top performer in manufacturing, it received “D” grades in both “Human Capital” and “Sector Diversification” in the Ball State study.

“It’s all tuned to just transportation,” Devaraj said, adding that the lack of diversification in Michigan’s manufacturing economy means that if any shocks hit that industry, the impact for the state as a whole will be major.

Recently released economic forecasts for Michigan have been positive. A University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, study said that the state recorded 28 straight quarters of payroll growth through the first quarter of 2017. But job growth should moderate through 2018, the report said.

“Manufacturing employment declines modestly over the forecast, reflecting the slowdown in the light vehicle sector,” the University of Michigan forecast said.

Devaraj stressed that manufacturing remains a key player in the U.S. economy, even as productivity gains have held down employment growth. Increased skill attainment by workers will help lower the risk of them being replaced by automation, he said.

“In reality, things are going really well in terms of manufacturing,” Devaraj said.

Back in Illinois, the state earned an “A” for the health of its logistics industries. That was due to a number of Illinois’ assets, including its central location, the value of shipped goods in the state and an efficient transportation system.

“Chicago is leading the pack in terms of the commodities flows,” Devaraj told Illinois News Network.

Haupt: America needs group of Tom Paines to take government back from elites

Mon, 07/24/2017 - 17:25

“Of more worth is one honest man to society and in the sight of God, than all the crowned ruffians that ever lived.”

– Thomas Paine, Common Sense, January 10, 1776

The year was 1776 and the time had come for Americans to assert their independence from the British. This was the topic of contentious debate throughout the colonies in the summer of 1776. Though locked in a bloody struggle with British troops, the talk was not about battles won or lost. People gathered, in townships, villages, taverns and churches, to talk about one thing: Common Sense. This was the title of a scholarly pamphlet on the rights of man which captivated a country caught between war and peace. Its powerful arguments against empirical rule were both revered and questioned, which provoked oracular thought throughout the anxious colonies between loyalists and patriots.

“The supposed quietude of a good man allures the ruffian; while on the other hand, arms, like laws, discourage and keep the invader and the plunderer in awe.”

– Paine

At the time, few knew who the author of this work was. Yet this enlightenment text was dramatically changing the attitude of many Americans toward their conflict with the English. At one time or the other, one of the political or intellectual elites was credited with the prodigious work of Paine since he never stepped forward to claim it. Paine knew a true leader remains anonymous so the people will believe they were the ones responsible for this new breed of insurgent thinking. He was keenly aware after watching revolutionaries across Europe; nobody can plan revolutionary change. It is a spontaneous combustion that is ignited by thought-provoking idealism. And Paine was so gifted to plant those seedlings that could be cultivated in the minds, hearts and souls of many others.

“One encourages intercourse, and promotes our happiness by uniting our affections.”

–Paine

Despite his humble beginning, Paine was admired and respected by founders such as George Washington, Ben Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson. Yet, his workingman’s perspective threatened the elites who wanted to design a government primarily to benefit aristocrats. To some, Tom Paine was the most hated man in America, and others, a light in the wilderness for those who sought direction, courage and leadership. Those who loved him for his benefaction of guidance saw Paine as the patriot that he was. And those who hated him thought of him as a trouble maker stroking his eccentric ego for indulgent narcissistic causes. And much of the legacy of that apprehensive animosity lives on by activist groups for one who thinks sovereign from them. They chasten those like Tom Paine who fail to court their compatriots.

“Character is much easier kept than recovered.”

– Paine

Paine had an unselfish ability to keep fellow patriots aligned for the common cause. Many feel his greatest contribution to our liberty was Common Sense, which demeaned the authority of the British and the royal monarchy. It was that pamphlet that brought the breath of freedom to the embers of independence. But few comprehend the significance of Paine’s The American Crisis. Paine wrote these articles during the Revolutionary War. His unrelenting inspiration for American patriots during this inexorable crisis kept the blood of liberty flowing freely in their veins. George Washington was so moved he recited The Crisis word for word to his sullen troops at Valley Forge.

“Reputation is what men and women think of us; character is what God and angels know of us.”

– Paine

Paine rallied troops at The Battle of Saratoga, which is considered the turning point for America in the War. They stopped the southern advance of the British, which brought them French support.  Although this was a cardinal victory, their problems remained incessant. By 1781, the Continental Congress was bankrupt. Citizen support was dwindling faster than the English could enact a new tax. Army desertions were common place. The army was indigent and no longer united because the generals blamed others for this chaos. And once again Paine stepped forward and galvanized the troops. In 1781 at Yorktown, Paine motivated them to fight their best fight and they answered with their greatest victory. The colonies beheaded the great British Goliath to end the war.

“The strength and power of despotism consists wholly in the fear of resistance.”

– Paine

Throughout the decades, America has faced insurmountable crisis. But in those darkest of hours, a Thomas Paine stepped up to find a way to reignite the founding flames of republicanism. Many felt The Civil War would forever dis-unify our country once the last cannons fired at Palmito Ranch in 1865. Yet the day word reached the south that Lincoln had been assassinated, one southern telegraph operator saw this as a signal to begin the healing. And the entire south joined him. As word spread from the plains of Texas to the farms of Virginia that Lincoln had died, church bells rang for their fallen enemy.

“An army of principles can penetrate where an army of soldiers cannot.”

– Paine

Again, America is in crisis. It’s a crisis planted in American polity with the election of Barack Obama and his socialization of the republic. When voters rebelled and elected Donald Trump, the left cried he was unfit for the presidency; just as the right had claimed about Obama. Each party can make a case but that isn’t the crisis, only a symptom of it. This won’t be resolved until the elitists are removed from party politics. Leftist elitists supported Obama whose agenda few ever wanted. And cynical voters then choose a man who ran against party elites. That signals to both parties, elites are the real problem.

“It’s the duty of every patriot to protect his country from its government.”

– Paine

The elitists have always moved policy, yet the average voter doesn’t realize this. In the past, party elites imposed their authority to benefit their pocketbooks. In a capitalist society, as long as voters benefit from the profits of industry they go along to get along. But party elites went too far under Obama. Leftist elites crossed over the path and those on the right counter-reacted. When far left elites endorsed social engineering to romance the progressives, party politics replaced the will of the people in government. With each invented crisis to gain support from his flock, Obama drove a wedge between the two parties and true republicanism that even Tom Paine would find difficult to close.

“Society is produced by our wants and government by our wickedness.”

– Paine

After Obama’s reign, the two parties took sides and refused to back down. There’s a learning curve for every president and its far steeper without political experience. Obama had political experience, so one would think he could learn the job competently. But that never happened. From the day he took office, he acted like the bully in the school yard who cries “it’s my ball so we play my game or you can go home.” On the other hand, Trump had no political experience and is learning the art of governing the hard way; yet from day one the left has been bashing his inexperience inexorably. Elitists in his party excoriate him the worst.

“He who dares not offend cannot be honest.”

– Paine

The elitists have painted us into a corner. To them, the only way to end this one crisis is to remove Trump from office with no constitutional justification or collective voter consent to appease the left. To subject the right to this punishment will not only acerbate the crisis in American polarity, it will prove that our democratic republic has lost all legitimacy. We need a group of Tom Paines to step forward and take back our government from the elites to end this crisis forever.

“A body of men holding themselves accountable to nobody ought not to be trusted by anybody.”

– Paine

Wisconsin in focus: Assembly Republicans embrace new Gov. Scott Walker roads plan as Foxconn enters budget talks

Mon, 07/24/2017 - 06:41

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Assembly Republicans embrace new Gov. Scott Walker roads plan as Foxconn enters budget talks

Republicans in charge of the state Assembly on Thursday embraced a plan by Gov. Scott Walker to drop a proposed income tax cut to free up $200 million for highways.

But the GOP leader of the state Senate said his members weren’t ready to sign onto the plan, which means the budget stalemate will continue for now.

Walker’s plan emerged as efforts to lure a Taiwanese manufacturer to Wisconsin began to be incorporated into budget talks. One senator said Walker’s administration is working on a memorandum of understanding with Foxconn Technology Group and another said landing the company could cost hundreds of millions of dollars in incentives.

Swapping a tax cut for transportation funding is aimed at ending a budget standoff that has lingered because of differences among Republicans who control the Legislature on how to fund highways.

UPI: Wisconsin company hopes to offer microchip implants to employees

A Wisconsin company wants to offer surgically implanted microchips for employees to make it easier to buy snacks in the break room.

“It’s the next thing that’s inevitably going to happen, and we want to be a part of it,” said Todd Westby, the CEO of River Falls, Wisc.-based Three Square Market, a company that supplies technology for micro markets and company break rooms, according to KSTP.

Westby said the implanted microchip makes it easier for people to pay for items at work. Instead of looking for coins, cash or a credit card, they would only need to place their hand in front of a scanner and electronically pay for their item.

The microchip would have other uses, as well, like serving as an electronic key to open doors and identify the user to login at a computer.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Washington County asks neighbors to consolidate services or merge

County governments in Wisconsin are financially unsustainable and must reinvent themselves to survive, even if that means erasing borders and merging with the county next door, Washington County leaders say in a letter to four of their neighbors.

The County Board’s Executive Committee and County Administrator Joshua Schoemann have invited their counterparts in Ozaukee, Fond du Lac, Dodge and Waukesha counties to discuss everything from sharing services, consolidating departments and even redrawing maps to unite as one.

Any talks would build on existing partnerships. Washington and Ozaukee counties merged their health departments last year and already saved taxpayers $300,000. Waukesha County shares its medical examiner with Washington County.

State law allows consolidation of two or more counties and Washington County’s leaders are willing to consider going down that road in order to resolve fiscal problems caused by declining revenue and increasing expenses, Schoemann said.

It was only 164 years ago that Washington County was split in two to create Ozaukee County, and perhaps it’s time to glue the two pieces back together again, he said.

Wisconsin in focus: Tiny town, big bucks: Official earns $142,000 to run village of 4,000

Fri, 07/21/2017 - 07:30

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Tiny town, big bucks: Official earns $142,000 to run village of 4,000

Meet Andy Pederson, who has one of the cushiest government jobs in the Milwaukee area.

Pederson is the village administrator for the tiny suburb of Bayside, a community not much larger than a subdivision. Its 2010 population: 4,389.

In his position, Pederson oversees seven village staffers, including the police chief, and the North Shore dispatch center for fire and police calls. On a typical day, Bayside’s quiet and well-groomed village hall has many more parking spaces than cars.

Pederson is paid a base salary of $142,009 a year.

In many years, he also gets a bonus and a car allowance. For example, all together — including a sick leave payout — Pederson received $155,279 in taxable income in 2014.

Wisconsin State Journal: Scott Walker makes offer to break budget impasse, but no deal yet

Gov. Scott Walker offered a change to his budget plan this week to Republican leaders feuding over how to pay for road projects in an effort to break a 20-day impasse, but it’s unclear if it’s enough to get both houses back to the negotiating table.

“There’s no deal yet. That’s for sure,” Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said Thursday after he relayed to his members the governor’s offer to use $200 million slated for tax cuts for road projects instead, drawing down bonding levels.

But Walker’s offer did win support from Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Assembly Republicans, who in letters to Walker and Senate Republicans on Thursday said they accepted the governor’s proposal and want to resume work on the 2017-19 state budget as early as next week.

“The proposal that you outlined yesterday is a positive step forward in our desire to find a long-term solution and we believe the leadership that you have displayed has bridged the gap between our two houses,” Assembly Republicans wrote Thursday.

Channel 3000: Wisconsin unemployment unchanged at 3.1 percent

Wisconsin’s unemployment rate is unchanged for the month of June.

The state Department of Workforce Development reported Thursday that unemployment in June was 3.1 percent. That is the same as it was in May, when it hit its lowest mark since 1999.

The national unemployment rate for June was 4.4 percent.

Wisconsin added 3,600 private-sector jobs between May and June.

Wisconsin State Journal: Rolling series of $26 million referendums could fund Madison School District maintenance needs

Madison School District officials are floating a plan to start paying for needed building maintenance and renovation that would be funded in part by a rolling series of $26 million referendums held every 4 years, with each pot of resulting debt paid off before the next is issued.

The referendums, if approved by voters starting in 2020, would yield $6.5 million per year that the district would match with $3.5 million from operating budget dollars — about double what the district normally allocates from operations, budget director Mike Barry said — for a total of $10 million annually, or $40 million per four-year cycle.

With a portfolio of 52 district buildings with an average age of 53 years, including 50 schools, the district must find a systematic way to start chipping away at an estimated backlog of $220 million in work, he said.

Wisconsin in focus: Charter, virtual schools could expand statewide under Senate GOP budget

Thu, 07/20/2017 - 07:09

Wisconsin State Journal: Charter, virtual schools could expand statewide under Senate GOP budget

The number of independent charter and private virtual schools in Wisconsin could expand under the new state budget proposal put forward by Senate Republicans this week.

The proposed spending plan authorizes a state charter school office to create charter schools statewide without the approval of local school boards. Currently the office is limited to creating the schools in Madison and Milwaukee.

Another proposal would allow private schools participating in the state’s taxpayer-funded voucher programs to create virtual schools using state funds.

In addition, school boards would be able to rescind some increases in revenue from referendums previously approved by voters, and enrollment restrictions for the private school voucher program for students with disabilities would be eliminated under other proposals.

Channel 3000: Wisconsin DOJ to publish list of open record requestors

The state Department of Justice has started publishing a list of pending record requests online.

The agency announced in a news release Wednesday that it has added the list to its website and update it weekly. The list contains the name of the requestor, a description of the records being sought and when the request was made.

The release said the agency is looking into whether it’s technically feasible and appropriate to post all responses to public record requests online as well.

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: Senate Republicans in Wisconsin reverse course and break out credit card for roads

Two years ago, Republicans in the state Senate tried to prevent the state from issuing more bonds to build roads, declaring they were dead set against relying on borrowing for highways.

That attitude is in the past. Now, they’re eager to break out the state’s credit card to pay for highways as they try to end a budget stalemate.

“We’re not going to kick the can down the road,” Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) said in November 2015 when she and other Senate Republicans unsuccessfully tried to block issuing $350 million in bonds for I-39/90 and four other projects.

But on Tuesday, Darling — the co-chairwoman of the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee — joined her Senate colleagues in embracing a plan that would borrow $712 million over the next two years for roads. Nearly half of that amount would be paid back from the account that funds schools and health care programs instead of the transportation fund.

Wisconsin in focus: Assembly GOP will review Senate budget plan

Wed, 07/19/2017 - 07:27

Channel 3000: Assembly GOP will review Senate budget plan

The state Assembly’s top Republicans say they agree with most of the Senate’s new budget proposal but will have to review the plan.

Senate Republicans introduced their proposal Tuesday as a standoff with their Assembly counterparts over road funding stretches on. It calls for $712 million in additional borrowing to pay for roads, gives public schools $650 million in additional aid and repeals the personal property tax on businesses.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, Majority Leader Jim Steineke and Rep. John Nygren, co-chair of the Legislature’s budget committee, issued a statement saying they agree with the “vast majority” of the plan. They say they want to make a significant investment in schools and reduce taxes.

Wisconsin State Journal: Developers oppose big fee hike for new connections to sewerage district

Opposition to a looming 400 percent hike in sewer connection fees for new developments is prompting the Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District to consider phasing in the charges.

The sewerage district is raising fees for new connections to address a growing inequity in its rate structure caused by changing development patterns, which has left existing customers bearing the burden of paying for the infrastructure needed to serve growing areas, spokeswoman Jennifer Sereno said.

District commissioners have already decided to raise two fees that would increase one-time connection costs for a new, average-size, 11,500-square-foot residential lot by $1,102, or 129 percent, to $1,954.

A breakdown of the increase shows charges for the pipes and pumps to move wastewater rising by $138, or 23 percent, for the average lot, while treatment plant connection charges to cover increased capacity for new development are set to soar by $964, or 392 percent. The timetable for the increase has yet to be determined.

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: Gov. Scott Walker signs bills fighting opioid abuse

Gov. Scott Walker signed 11 bills Monday to combat the state’s opiate epidemic, including one that would establish a charter school for recovering addicts.

Another bill would ease the way for school employees around the state to administer a drug that halts the effects of overdoses. Others would funnel more money into fighting opioid abuse, tighten the rules for getting some drugs from pharmacies and give doctors more guidance on treating addiction.

The measures were taken up in a special legislative session the Republican governor called starting in January. They enjoyed broad bipartisan support.

“We’ve taken serious steps to combat this issue, including creating the Governor’s Task Force on Opioid Abuse, but we won’t stop until there are zero opioid overdoses in Wisconsin,” Walker said in a statement.

Proposed legislation would open up records on federal pension recipients

Wed, 07/19/2017 - 06:49

A Florida congressman and an open-government organization have launched a campaign to make key information on federal pension recipients subject to public disclosure.

The legislation, which is being sponsored by Republican Rep. Ron DeSantis, would make information about pension recipients subject to the federal Freedom of Information Act. The information subject to public review would include the retiree’s name, monthly annuity amount, the retiree’s total contribution to the annuity, total wages earned and retirement date, according to a draft of the bill.

Federal employee pensions are currently hand-calculated inside a Cold War-era facility deep inside a Pennsylvania mountain using 28,000 filing cabinets, according to Adam Andrzejewski, the chief executive officer for OpenTheBooks.com, a watchdog group that works on behalf of government transparency issues.

“This legislation has the potential to pass with huge majorities in both houses and go straight to the president’s desk,” Andrzejewski told Watchdog.org.

Similar transparency laws on state public pension systems in states such as Illinois, California, New York and Oregon have resulted in the uncovering of abuses and corruption, he said. A federal law would allow citizens to engage in a robust debate over federal retirement payouts and also shed light on the system’s liabilities, according to Andrzejewski.

It remains uncertain just how serious the effort is, however. DeSantis’ office did not respond to requests for comment about the legislation, dubbed the Taxpayer-Funded Pension Disclosure Act, and there is no mention of it on a list of legislative priorities on the congressman’s website.

DeSantis did co-author an opinion article with Andrzejewski about this issue. That article said that in states with pension transparency, waste and mismanagement have been identified, including how two union officials in Illinois taught as substitutes in public schools for a single day and then retired to collect pensions with lifetime values of $1 million.

“Pulling this data out of the government’s underground pension cave and into the light will protect taxpayers, retirees and near-retirees who have a right to ensure these taxpayer dollars are well-spent,” DeSantis and Andrzejewski said in the co-authored 0p-ed.

Many observers have pointed to the debt-ridden federal retirement system as a source of concern, including Moody’s Investors Service.

“The unfunded liabilities of the various federal employee pensions systems, covering civilian and military employee benefits, amount to about $3.5 trillion, or 20 percent of the U.S. GDP,” or gross domestic product, Moody’s said in a statement last year.

Another nonprofit group that advocates for government transparency, the Sunlight Foundation in Washington, D.C., takes a more nuanced view of making the federal pension system subject to public disclosure. While there is a presumption of openness in the Freedom of Information Act, government also has an interest in protecting people’s privacy, according to the foundation’s deputy director, Alex Howard.

“It is conceivable that you could rank individual pensioners to expose them to public incrimination,” Howard told Watchdog.org. In addition, disclosures of personal information require a thoughtful, ethical review, and certain data would always have to be redacted, such as certain medical information or personal financial identifiers, he said.

And the test of whether disclosing pension information is in the public interest might vary based on whether the retiree is a public figure or not, according to Howard.

But the proposed pension transparency legislation does call for the exclusion of medical conditions and any data that identifies the retiree’s beneficiary, according to OpenTheBooks.com.

“We’re aware of absolutely no instances where this information can possibly be used to create identity theft,” Andrzejewski said.

His group’s website has published the salaries of 15 million federal, state and local public employees and has never run into a privacy concern, according to Andrzejewski.

“Not one single time did we run across any case of stolen identities or anything else,” he said.

Andrzejewski expects the campaign to attract bipartisan support in the same way that former Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma teamed up with then-Sen. Barack Obama in 2006 to author legislation that placed federal “checkbook” payments on a public website.

Howard acknowledged that pensions can be used as vectors for corruption and that bringing more public scrutiny on how pension dollars are spent can help identify abuses of the system.

“It’s reasonable for the public to want to ask, ‘Who made those decisions and at what time?’” he said.

But Howard also stressed that government has to take care to be good stewards of such financial data and respect civil liberties of the parties involved.

“These are public records,” he said. “They are not our deepest, darkest secrets.”

Andrzejewski remains upbeat about the prospects of passing the pension transparency bill, saying that public employee unions might oppose the bill but would likely not win.

“I definitely think [President] Trump would sign it,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any question about that.”

Haupt: Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere

Tue, 07/18/2017 - 06:17

“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

– Francis Bellamy

Those that crossed the Mason-Dixon Line to work in the Civil Rights Movement were shocked to experience denial of justice and the violation of their Constitutional rights. They entered a twilight zone in a mythical Orwellian novel. They gathered from around the U.S. for an adventure few knew little about. Some wandered to the delta of the Mississippi, the red hills of Georgia, and war zones of Montgomery to Selma for conviviality. Others came to listen to Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger and Joan Baez. But by the time they navigated Highway 61 back to the North, they knew why they’d ventured south.

“A nation that denies equal access to justice is a prison of malcontents.”

– William Howard

The Civil Rights Movement has taken on an air of inevitability in the popular imagination. Far too many have reduced its significance to a few heroic figures and the words “I have a dream.” The true purpose of the Civil Rights Movement has been distorted and romanced into something each individual, secular, political or religious group wished it to be for convenience or condemnation. The Civil Rights Movement had only one salient, underlying purpose: To banish the practice of denying equal justice to all Americans. Those ideals are embedded in every founding document. It remains an enigma why so many distort its historical significance, with false narratives promoted by liberal race baiters, media pundits and politicians.

“The true rule of law and justice in a judicial system is one in which the rights of some are not secured by the denial of rights to others.”

– John Seales

Three documents, known collectively as the Charters of Freedom, have secured the rights of all Americans for over two centuries and are considered instrumental to our founding and philosophy of our nation. These are The Declaration of Independence, The Constitution, and The Bill of Rights. In each founding document, they guarantee us equal rights and equal access to justice, which is the most indispensable right of all. Without access to justice, none of our rights are guaranteed or protected. Any American who does not covet their right of expedient access to justice is forsaking liberty. If we don’t protect that one right, it’s impossible to defend all others.

“The patriot volunteer, fighting for country and his rights, makes the most reliable soldier on earth.”

– Stonewall Jackson

Americans are continually at the mercy of lesser magistrates who cowardly subvert the provisions in our founding documents to deliver justice. Our right to justice is guaranteed by the Department of Justice, yet government subordinates regularly invent ways to abridge them. We hear about this on TV, see it in the fish-wrap and social media during high-profile trials, but hear little about the denial of justice by our local governments. We permit this to happen daily, yet this is a federal right and is disciplined by the DOJ!

“America was founded upon the doctrine of equal rights. Its cornerstone is the principle every man is endowed with access to equal justice to defend them.”

– Randal Hall

In hearing rooms across this nation, questionable legal practices are being reported to the DOJ to expose a miscarriage of justice in court proceedings. If a litigant cannot afford a high priced mouth-piece, they are appointed counsel. If they foresee an unfair advantage for the defense, they seek a change in venue, dispose of a capricious juror and recuse a judge. Although this is not a perfect system, most Americans have a fighting chance to improve their access to unabridged justice in our courts when they suspect malpractice. Even a green horn public defender will point out abuses of statutory protections to insure his client has access to justice.

– “Today, there are few times we are powerless to prevent injustice, but we must possess the knowledge on how to do so.”

– May Willard

The biggest offenders are not criminal or civil courts. We’ve all heard about the speed traps in our local “one-blink-of-the-eye speed limit signs” in rural townships. Although America has its fair share, they pale in comparison to the rights we thought we had and found out we didn’t have in local and state governments. These are rights denied at what are billed “informal hearings.” The only thing informal about these proceedings is how “informally” you find out they were anything but “informal.” Once a gavel is dropped, and the magistrate makes his decision, more times than not, you leave this “informal hearing” wondering if you just appeared before Judge Judy in a kangaroo court.

“One cannot bandage a mortal wound, that’s been inflicted by a miscarriage of justice.”

– Throe Bradley

This judicial deception has been going on for decades when offended citizens choose to protest any activity they have a right to in the governments they own. This is common when their property rights are violated. If their home or business is hijacked by eminent domain, the decision is etched in stone before the commission meeting. The hearing officer makes up rules as he goes along if they do not have Perry Mason there to scold him. If their rural neighborhood is rezoned to build a burger joint or county dump, notifications for these meetings are tacked on the bathroom door of the county seat or placed on page 10 in a local throwaway scandal sheet so they can call it legal.

“Those who make the law know best how to break the law without getting caught.”

– Albert Simms

States never reassess all counties at the same time. If they did this they’d have a tax revolt similar to California’s tax tsunami Prop 13 that rocked the U.S. like a New Zealand earthquake from east to west. “Prop 13 made the Gold Coast as infamous as Boston Harbor.” When a homeowner receives a tax bill for a Taj Mahal and they live in a 1,000 square foot home, they are forced to buy back their rights at dubiously “informal” tax hearings. The homeowner is guilty until proven innocent in the eyes of the taxman. The moment they arrive to face this hit squad, they are intimidated by the judge who is also the jury and only allows them to present what he wants to hear, not what they prepared. They feel like a Roller Derby skater in the “penalty box” wearing a dunce cap and wonder why! To this judge, just showing up is a capital offense!

“Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere.”

– Dr. King

Denial of justice is generic in local tribunals. Most are semi-structured to mimic a fair legal process. There is no impartial verdict, to the detriment of the accused. It is decided in advance. This violates all formal judicial process. Rules are invented by the officer obtusely, which even the best jailhouse lawyer cannot defend! If you try to quote law, you are declared out of order. Humbling intimidation is the worst injustice of all. Taxpayers are made subservient to justice that is rationed to guarantee they lose. When a taxpayer is scolded for something insignificant to put them in their place, they are defeated before they have a chance to win or lose and sheepishly give in to the tax man to end this abuse! They quickly learn how it feels to be a punching bag in a federal penitentiary gym!

“Bullies are everywhere, but the worst kind of bully is one who bullies behind the cloak of law.”

– Eely Stalls

President Ronald Reagan once said, “There are no easy answers, but there are simple answers. We must have the courage to do what we know is morally right.” The only way we can guarantee our access to justice is to know the law. If you feel violated in any way by a magistrate, you have the duty to file a formal complaint with your governmental controlling agency or the federal DOJ. You must know your rights and how to defend them!

“It takes great courage to stand alone against a judge whose best resource is to intimidate you when you and he both know you are innocent.”

– Reggie Stone

Krug: Editors and publishers fail when transparency is absent in reader ‘comments’

Mon, 07/17/2017 - 09:08

Where the media falls down so badly so often is in its approach to stories.

Slanted and misleading headlines, hyperbolic and unsubstantiated reporting that’s short on facts and long on opinion, and manufactured outrage probably are the worst of what stands for journalism today.

But that’s simply the content that lives above the comment line. What of the interactive, social aspects of today’s journalism?

Well, that can be all forms of awful, too.

According to a report released July 12 by the Pew Institute, four of 10 Americans have experienced online harassment, 18 percent have been threatened in some way for sharing their point of view, and more than 60 percent consider this form of harassment a problem.

If you operate a news media site and allow the online forums to fester with hateful comments when matters are less important, they implode when real issues arise.

Most traditional media companies are so stripped down that they don’t have the resources to monitor comments and, as a matter of creating some visibility, have turned to Facebook comments to create some transparency. Oh, sure, they’ll take the clicks, but the responsibility for the environment? Not so much.

Others, well, I am not sure what they’re doing or if they are adhering to their own criteria because the inclusions and extractions appear arbitrary and capricious. One moment, a seemingly innocuous comment is there. The next time you might visit the site to see how people responded to your comment, but what you wrote is gone. Why? Nobody knows. For readers, the absence of continuity is jarring.

More than a decade ago, a daily newspaper and digital news site in greater Chicago I oversaw became one of the first in the country to allow comments on stories. We had this functionality and interactivity before any of the U.S. metropolitan newspapers had entered into the space. At that time, there was great debate whether the voice of the reader belonged alongside the journalism that had been published.

During my tenure as executive editor there, I saw comments as a meaningful way to interact with readers, and it provided explosive online growth at what was the onramp to the internet for most newspapers seeking to grow a digital presence.

We wanted to engage with the communities that we served. We believed, correctly, that our reporting was not the final word. We were part of a discussion – a significant part, but a part nonetheless. And we wanted meaningful conversations to occur around our reporting, because that is what journalists should strive to achieve.

We opened our online comments – I believe in 2005 – without rules, without filters, without any parameters at all really. It was a new frontier, so nobody knew what to expect.

Iterations ensued that required registration with a confirmed email, a profanity filter, and comments to remain in line with the subject of the story. It was an early handle on this key element of community building, interaction and balancing the newspaper’s standards with the community’s contributions that earned the 2007 Chicago Headline Club’s Lisagor Award for best website (over the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, et. al.) and an innovator of the year award from Local Media Association (an organization that then was called Suburban Newspapers of America).

The online community on our news site was vibrant, somewhat civil, oftentimes humorous, and with balanced and interesting points of view that – on occasion – brought new information or insight to the story. Because we served to include our community, we welcomed a reasonable amount of readers who came in without bringing their flaming torches or pitchforks.

There is nothing more essential to our democracy than the protections provided by the First Amendment. But if you want to hijack a discussion and run away with it on someone else’s news site, you’re not practicing discourse. Stay with the story. Participate in the discussion germane to that story. Be civil. Be frank, but be civil.

Civility may be too much to ask, though, as a story as innocuous as a local lemonade stand could elicit tangential commentary from trolls and wing nuts. Any digital forum, in particular those that welcome comments without accountability for them, can be hijacked by people far less interested in discussion and far more interested in hit-and-run bomb-throwing.

For publishers, a hands-off approach to comments on your site isn’t good ethical practice. It’s malpractice.

If you operate a site, and welcome guests to comment, your guests should adhere to house rules. So, as a site operator, basic rules should be determined that welcome discussion. Be clear about them; and fairly apply them.

And, to evolve the thinking, any organization that would seek to control the comments on their site through deceptive means (cloaking, fire-starting provocation, et al) is equally bad practice and, frankly, unethical.

Anyone who administers a site that allows comments knows the value of comments. And the law is on the side of the site owner. A site owner incurs no more responsibility for what is written on their “wall” than the landlord of a building whose alley-facing fence would for the scrawling from a graffiti artist. It’s actually one of my favorite aspects of digital news, because light reveals truth – right there in front of God and everyone else.

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Trolls, flamer-throwers, and other cowards make some news media sites run. They drive more traffic than the content itself. Some editors say they deplore them. But they know readers like them, and visitors return again and again to see what the newest screed says.

Online comments have become the media’s click machine, powering their sites by blowing breath into what otherwise can be so-so stories that don’t advance the reader’s understanding of a subject. As mainstream journalism continues to wane, comments often are more interesting and insightful than the stories that prompted them.

But anyone who operates a news media site and allows anonymous attacks – or those created under the veil of pseudonyms – to stand is morally complicit in those comments.

I don’t care what your lawyer says. Lawsuits shouldn’t be the bar by which this is measured. Responsible news sites should aspire to higher standards.

And, when comments are anonymous and authors shielded by the public, the scrutiny of authenticity is not met. It harms the journalism.

  • Chris Krug is President of Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity. This column is original, but draws from his thoughts included in a column for ILNews.org that was published on July 7, 2017.

Wisconsin in focus: Calculating Wisconsin’s cost – and benefits – of landing Foxconn

Mon, 07/17/2017 - 06:52

Wisconsin State Journal: Calculating Wisconsin’s cost — and benefits — of landing Foxconn

What’s it worth to Wisconsin to become the U.S. hub for a global company with 1 million employees and $136 billion in annual revenue?

Answer: It depends on what the state will gain vs. the size of the public investment over time.

As Foxconn Technology Group investigates where it may build a next-generation production plant in the United States, Wisconsin is competing with a small number of states on factors such as physical location, transportation logistics, workforce skills, research and development expertise and supply chain potential.

Wisconsin must yet compete on a package of financial incentives, such as tax credits and worker training grants, that may fall between $2 billion to more than $3 billion over two decades or more.

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: Bill would repeal prevailing wage law for Wisconsin road workers 

Wisconsin road projects could be designed and built by the same firm and their workers could be paid less, under new GOP legislation aimed at lowering the costs of highway construction.

The state faces long-term shortfalls in its roads fund, and a disagreement over how to pay for bridge and highway projects has held up the state budget.

To help address that, a group of GOP lawmakers introduced legislation this month that they said would help to close the funding gap by lowering costs.

The bill would repeal the state’s “prevailing wage” law requiring certain minimum pay levels for construction workers. It would also clear the way in Wisconsin for design-build firms that both draw plans for highway projects and construct them.

Post-Crescent: Across Wisconsin, a steep increase in kids separated from addict parents

Mary Brown waited until her kids left for school, then grabbed a rope and stood in the bathroom with awful thoughts in her head.

Would her children be better off without a heroin addict for a mother? The question nagged at her mind.

But she dropped the rope and picked up the phone to call her mother, setting off a series of events that involved getting treatment and temporarily losing custody of her kids.

“I just broke down,” she said. “I needed help.”

Brown didn’t know it then, but the 36-year-old Appleton mom would become part of a statewide trend.

 The number of children separated from their parents by county authorities has climbed across Wisconsin to its highest level in nearly a decade.

Wisconsin in focus: Lawmaker: ’99 percent’ sure craft brewery changes dead

Thu, 07/13/2017 - 16:08

Wisconsin Lawmaker: ’99 percent’ sure craft brewery changes dead

A proposal that would require breweries and wineries to stop selling their products on-site and instead work through distributors is probably going nowhere, a key Republican lawmaker said Wednesday. Craft brewers and wineries were outraged last month when a mysterious memo emerged detailing a plan that would require them to work through distributors rather than sell their products directly to customers in on-site tap and tasting rooms. The brewers and wineries feared the proposal would force them to pay exorbitant fees to distributors and the Legislature’s finance committee would slip the plan into the state budget on its last night of work on the spending plan. Wisconsin Woman Charged in Health Care Fraud Take-Down Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel has charged a Hartford therapist as part of a national health care fraud takedown.

Schimel said in a news release Thursday that the state Justice Department has filed 10 felony counts of medical assistance fraud against Sharon N. Medina in Dane County Circuit Court. Schimel said Medina allegedly fabricated dates of service and submitted claims for services that weren’t delivered between 2013 and 2015 when she was a Medicaid provider.

Officers recognized for going above and beyond the call of duty

In front of New Richmond City Council members and staff Monday, July 10, Police Chief Craig Yehlik recognized three of his officers for going above and beyond the call of duty in responding to a potentially life threatening domestic disturbance June 12.

Chief Yehlik presented each officer with a letter of commendation, which read in part, “I want to commend all of you for your heroic efforts on this date to insure a mother and her children were safe. I also want to commend you for your restraint in your use of force when all other tactics had failed to gain voluntary compliance from this suspect. Even as the suspect continued to threaten you with death you were all calm and acted appropriately within the scope of State Law and Department Policy.”

Wisconsin in focus: Federal Appeals Court Upholds Wisconsin Right-To-Work Law

Wed, 07/12/2017 - 17:03

Federal Appeals Court Upholds Wisconsin Right-To-Work Law

A federal appeals court panel has upheld Wisconsin’s right-to-work law.

The law prohibits businesses and unions from reaching agreements that require all workers to pay union dues. Unions maintain the law enables nonunion members to receive free representation. The International Union of Operating Engineers filed a lawsuit last year alleging that amounts to an unconstitutional taking.

U.S. District Judge J.P. Stadtmueller upheld the law in September, citing a 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling upholding Indiana’s nearly identical right-to-work law.

Increasing competition, flat sales leads Brennan’s Market to close all of its stores

Come Sept. 30, the five Brennan’s Market stores and its New Glarus production facility will close. The move will put 150 people out of work and bring to an end a 75 year-old company that found its business model out of date in the highly competitive grocery industry that offers up many of the same products and hundreds more that a Brennan’s does not.

When the recession hit in 2008, the company, like most retailers felt the effects. But as business began to climb for other companies as the recession faded, Brennan’s sales remained flat. And now, after nearly 10 years of struggle, Tim Culhane, who purchased the company in 2014 from Skip Brennan, has made the difficult choice to close the business and sell the assets and real estate.

7,000 Remain Without Power after Morning Storms Hit Northeast Metro, Western Wisconsin

The north metro and parts of western Wisconsin woke up to downed trees and no power after rain and thunderstorms rolled through the area. Xcel Energy said in a press release about 9,000 customers are experiencing power outages as of noon after the severe weather, mostly in areas east of the Twin Cities metro. Service is expected to be restored by 8 p.m. for the rest of those customers. By 3:15 p.m., Xcel’s Outage Map showed 202 outage orders affecting just over 7,000 customers in the Twin Cities, western Wisconsin and southeastern Minnesota.  Connexus Energy said 5,000 of its customers are without power.

Connexus Energy said 5,000 of its customers are without power.

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