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The Government Watchdog
Updated: 36 min 52 sec ago

Haupt: Let freedom ring this Independence Day

Mon, 07/03/2017 - 18:43

“This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing, ‘My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing: Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.”

– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,  “I Have A Dream” speech, August 1963

Everyone in America enjoys the 4th of July. Much like all holidays of significance, the true meaning of the 4th of July has mutated into another annual tradition. It has become a day of frolicking in the first days of fair weather and plentiful sun. It’s marked with outdoor activities such as BBQs, pick-up sports games and picnicking. Copious amounts of food, beer, soda and snacks are consumed until the sun begins to fade into the welcome twilight of the evening shadows of night. That is when many Americans begin celebrating the close of a blissful day of visiting with cousins they’ve never met and playing lawn games with friends and relatives. Before the first twinkling star has a chance to breach the horizon, the sky is populated with an assortment of Chinese sky rockets, horsetails, and Roman candles. The sounds of merriment echo from sea to shining sea.

“We play our favorite American guessing game every 4th of July. Are we hearing gunshots or fireworks?”

– Arthur Oman

For as long as Americans can remember, the nation has celebrated the 4th of July with fireworks shows in public squares and lighting displays at home. But the reality is that no fireworks went off on that day, nor was there any signing ceremony. That was a month later. But the events of the 4th of that very day changed the course of history. During the sweltering heat of a tortuous summer in Pennsylvania, at the second Continental Congress, delegates from 13 colonies debated whether to adopt the Declaration or not. As the heat continued to rise, the temperatures in the room became so sweltering, it’s been said they broke every thermometer in the hall. Jefferson noted that by the evening the Declaration of Independence was approved, it concluded a battle more fiercely fought than the Revolution itself.

“The United States is the only country with a known birthday.”

– James G. Blaine

Most Americans are clueless why we shoot off fireworks on the 4th of July, and fewer remember its true significance. The answer is considered folklore. But weeks before the Declaration was signed, John Adams envisioned fireworks as a part of the festivities. In a letter he wrote to Abigail on July 3, 1776, he postulated this occasion should be celebrated “with Pomp and Parade, Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one end of this Continent to the other.”

The first recorded Independence Day fireworks were ignited in Philadelphia on July 4, 1777. That night, the skies were cloaked with ringing of bells and a grand exhibition of fireworks that included 13 sky rockets cascading across the skies above the Commons. Today,

“The 4th is when children running around with fire sticks burning at 400 degrees are supervised by intoxicated adults.”

– Milo Vance

Although founder John Adams is responsible for this monumental day being morphed into a display of fireworks, clannish carousing, mischief and merriment, much of what he wrote wife Abigail was never retold. After declaring independence, he wrote, “This marked the most memorable epoch in the history of America.” He had hoped the day would be “Celebrated by succeeding Generations, as the greatest anniversary Festival.” It should be commemorated, “as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty.” Although it was two days later Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, Adams was right about the celebrations through much of our history. For us July Fourth remains a salient holiday, it no longer has the solemnity and the significance that Adams hoped it would maintain. Much of the meaning of these festivities has been shadowed by commercial enterprise and self indulgence with little thought for our true patriotism.

“Capitalists must never forget what made them Capitalists; that was American patriotism.”

– Chadwick Black

July Fourth is not only the most important day in American history, but in the world’s history also. It created the most powerful nation the world has ever known. This one Declaration legally formed a more perfect union. It announced to an “insolent world” we were assuming the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God entitle to us as free men. Additionally it cautioned governments everywhere, they derived “their just powers solely from the consent of the people.” And when any governments became destructive of the people’s rights and liberties, the people had the authority to alter or abolish a government and institute a new one.

“Democracy is the government of the people, by the people, for the people.”

– Abraham Lincoln

The words our founders so carefully chose to scribe on that parchment in Philadelphia we now call our Declaration have served as an inspiration for the people of the world for centuries. They’ve been the battle cry of Colonial rebellions against imperial regimes around the globe as justification for chasing the flag of liberty to hang in their capitals and parliaments. Vietnam used these words in declaring independence from France in 1945. Ho Chi Minh cited our Declaration word for word. In Poland, Members of Solidarity and dissidents in Czechoslovakia invoked these words in opposition to Soviet subserviency in the 1980s. In Tiananmen Square in 1989, Chinese students quoted our founders to stand against government abuse. And some say activists in the Arab Spring chanted phrases from our Declaration of Independence in their rebellion for democratic liberty.

“It’s the love of country that has lighted and that keeps glowing the holy fire of patriotism.”

– Horace McFarland

For us Americans, the Declaration is the central ingredient of the combining of thirteen individual colonies in a unified body of free men emboldened with a sense of unity and of nationhood that has never been seen before. Because America is composed of many immigrants, races and ethnicities, we’ve cast aside the boundaries of separatism in favor of a brotherhood under the cloistered cloak of liberty for all. America became a nation of one identity comprised of many the day our colonies signed the Declaration. We agreed to agree on the most important ingredients that were necessary to comprise a free government of free people. We empowered the people to remain as free men in free states to control the central government and to never let it control us. July 4th is what birthed Americanism.

“The American Revolution was a beginning, not a consummation.”

– Woodrow Wilson

Even former President Barack Obama said, “We still believe in an America where anything’s possible.” Our founders christened us the first states to form a nation while others conquered states to form theirs. And our history has been an effort to continually define that nationality. We remain not a nation in traditional meaning but one reliant on collective individualism to sustain our republic. We take no orders from a central oligarchy to hold us in unison. The Declaration has embodied these ideals in its sacred creed. And this is the true significance of July 4, 1776. Each year after we hang our flags, fill our cars with camping gear and head for the highways; keep in mind what this day means to all of us. It is our patriotic duty to light our first firecracker in the name of liberty remembering what John Adams wrote,

“This is the Day to celebrate our Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty.”

– John Adams

The members of the Continental Congress could only “mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred Honor. There was no nation, no fatherland, nor a union; nothing but the pledge itself to honor and uphold. A man’s country is not a certain area of land, of mountains, rivers, and woods, but it is a principle; and patriotism is loyalty to that principle.”

– George W. Curtis

Krug: Trump hunt begs question: What is the media’s business?

Mon, 07/03/2017 - 14:25

Supporters said all along that President Donald Trump would be good for American business.

But many didn’t anticipate that the American media business stood to benefit from his presidency.

Currently the greatest love-hate relationship in U.S. politics, the mainstream and legacy media revels in Trump’s “fake news” claims. While they denounce his behavior publicly, reporters draw strength from Trump’s insults and use it as fuel to power their self-righteous crusade to shame the president.

They wear each hostile tweet as a badge of honor and consider it confirmation they are doing God’s work.

Trump has worked the media masterfully. He didn’t need the legacy media’s support or endorsement when he campaigned for president, and he doesn’t need them now. They are a distraction, and Trump is working them.

Historically, American media have pursued a noble mission to serve the public and keep the government in check. But that mission falls on deaf ears when the watchdogs become attack dogs. We have reached that point.

When does pursuing a story become crafting a narrative with an obvious political agenda? It starts with basic editorial decision-making. And according to the Media Research Center’s recent study, network news has decided that Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election outweighs other critical issues such as health care, tax reform, and jobs. It feels almost as if it was pulled from a season of Netflix’s “House of Cards” – only not as clever.

And then there’s CNN, the cable news network that continues to beat the Russia drum even after there is no new evidence or information to report. Their desperation to find the smoking gun resulted in the retraction of a Russia-related story and the resignation of three staffers last week.

The driver? Not truth. No, it was red meat for the left; creation of controversy. We’ll wait for the next public opinion poll, but I think it’s safe to say that the Russia investigation is not at the top of everyday Americans’ priority list.

The videos released by conservative journalist James O’Keefe, known for undercover sting operations, show CNN producers admitting that the Trump-Russia investigation is overhyped for enhanced ratings. They need something they can own to differentiate themselves from other cable-news channels. And so the love-hate cycle continues.

Although this epic rivalry can be comical at times, it’s sad to look behind the curtain and realize that Big Media has its interests too – and it doesn’t always include the American public.

For media to be credible – truly credible – it must report independently verified facts. It must seek the truth, and report with integrity. It must distill facts and straight news from opinions and insights gleaned from perceptions of original reporting.

The criteria for whether a story is good to air or publish should be somewhat higher than a corporate lawyer’s opinion on the likelihood that it opens up the organization to a lawsuit.

The lone criteria should be truth and public interest. Often, it’s not.

Television news, in particular that which appears on 24-hour cable cycle, is rife with opinion. Understandably so: There simply are not enough resources on any network or cable channel to fulfill a mission of 365-day news content that would be interesting enough to hold an audience’s attention. Without commentary, every network would resort to the C-SPAN model of airing raw footage of endless committee meetings.

Opinion is less expensive than actual reporting, and is in endless supply. It is far more economical to bring in a person from a studio in Washington, D.C., than it would be to send a correspondent and crew to Moscow. That’s a business decision that saves media brands money and costs taxpayers in reliable information.

So what is passed off as straight news often is a new take of an opinion. And with each passing “hot take,” the message is pushed further and further away from the truth.

Why does it matter? Can’t people have an opinion on the news?

Certainly. This is America, and our speech is protected constitutionally. But it matters that the continuous news cycle rarely differentiates between straight news and opinion. The content is often indistinguishable. Context is rarely offered. Oftentimes, the crawl beneath the commentary is in clear conflict. The opinion often overwhelms the core of the story.

The result is that the news itself – the facts, the verification, the story, and the truth – has been discarded in favor of a take on the news.

A controversial or salacious quote often makes a better headline than the old journalism standby of who, what, where, when, and why. Just look at the mainstream media’s obsession with President Trump’s recent tweet about Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, or the video he posted of an old WWE appearance where Trump punches out a man with a CNN logo superimposed on his face. The exaggerated response gives President Trump an even greater villain to demonize and justification for controversial actions such as banning cameras from the White House press briefings. Veering from the facts lowers the public perception and credibility of media as a whole. It threatens our democracy.

So much so that it must be next to impossible for Americans to understand the media’s job, or what business we’re in anymore.

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

Wisconsin in focus: Wisconsin election commission to Trump panel: You want voter data? Pay for it.

Mon, 07/03/2017 - 06:18

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin election commission to Trump panel: You want voter data? Pay for it.

Wisconsin’s elections agency said Friday it can’t legally share all of the detailed voter data being sought by President Donald Trump’s Election Integrity Commission.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the vice chairman of the president’s commission, is seeking information about voters and the record of their election participation going back to 2006. The data include their names, birthdays and the last four digits of their Social Security numbers.

But in a statement, Michael Haas, administrator of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, said that state laws prohibit his agency from releasing a voter’s date of birth, driver’s license number or Social Security number.

“State statutes permit the WEC to share confidential information in limited circumstances with law enforcement agencies or agencies of other states,” Haas said. “The presidential commission does not appear to qualify under either of these categories.”

Haas said that the president’s commission could buy more limited data on the full voter rolls from the state for $12,500 in the same way that many political campaigns do.

Wisconsin State Journal: Exact Sciences riding high after rebounding from rough patch

Exact Sciences Corp.’s fortunes are on the upswing.

Sales of its Cologuard test for colorectal cancer are on the rise, its stock is hitting record highs, and the company has padded its coffers with the sale of even more stock.

Its new research and development center is fully occupied, and Exact is looking for more space to grow.

“Exact Sciences remains confident in the growth of Cologuard and our ability to continue having a positive impact on the community,” said Kevin Conroy, president, CEO and chairman.

It wasn’t that long ago, though — in the fall of 2015 — that Exact Sciences was in a pickle.

WISC TV 3: State Supreme Court: Wal-Mart worker can’t get reimbursed for surgery

The state Supreme Court says a Chippewa Falls Wal-Mart worker isn’t entitled to compensation for surgery she thought would alleviate a work injury.

Tracie Flug had surgery after straining her back at work in 2013. The operation left her partially disabled but she eventually returned to work and filed a compensation claim for her expenses.

A doctor who examined Flug at Wal-Mart’s request found she had a pre-existing back condition and the work strain had healed before the surgery.

Wisconsin in focus: Assembly Speaker Robin Vos says truck fee could bridge budget deal

Fri, 06/30/2017 - 07:49

Wisconsin State Journal: Assembly Speaker Robin Vos says truck fee could bridge budget deal

Assembly Republicans are supportive of a new fee on heavy trucks to help pay for roads and appear to be aligned with Gov. Scott Walker on a budget deal, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said Thursday.

The new truck fee holds potential as a breakthrough to solve the budget impasse after Walker, Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald discussed the per-mile truck fee idea on Wednesday.

The Wisconsin State Journal reported Wednesday that Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said the truck fee was emerging as a key issue in budget talks, but that senators needed to explore it in further detail. He had earlier this week dismissed the idea.

Vos, R-Rochester, said Thursday that Assembly Republicans were “generally supportive” of the idea. Fitzgerald remained open to it, after initially calling it a “nonstarter,” but said some senators would oppose it.

WISC TV 3: Illinois lottery troubles could boost Wisconsin sales

Illinois residents are placing their bets on Wisconsin for a chance to win the lottery. That’s because, even if they win in Illinois, chances are they might have to wait a while before being able to get their money.

If you win the lottery in Illinois, you  might have to be patient before you will be able to get your money.

The state of Illinois  is dealing with a number of financial problems and does not have the money to pay jackpots more than $25,000.

State lottery officials announced Tuesday that if Illinois doesn’t reach a budget deal by the end of the month, before the start of the fiscal year, the state plans to halt the sale of Powerball and Mega-Million tickets.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin Supreme Court delivers open meetings ruling

The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Thursday ruled the state’s open meetings law applied to an Appleton school committee that repeatedly met behind closed doors to review material for a freshman reading class.

The decision by Justice Michael Gableman concluded the high court could not consider claims by school officials that such a finding would make it harder for schools around Wisconsin to function.

“Our task is to apply the open meetings law as it is written. … We are not at liberty to exempt (the school committee) from the definition of ‘governmental body’ simply because government officials would find it convenient,” Gableman wrote.

All seven justices agreed with finding that the open meetings law applied to the committee, but the court’s two liberals wrote separately because they disagreed with the reasoning of the majority opinion.

Congressional bill would fix income tax confusion for businesses who send employees across state lines

Fri, 06/30/2017 - 05:55

A bill fresh out of the U.S. House of Representatives would fix a long-standing problem in states’ tax code that has likely resulted in businesses and employees overpaying the state for decades.

Companies that send a worker to another state have to make sure their complying with that state’s tax code. The problem in Illinois and possibly other states is that their laws are all different and complicated. The Mobile Workforce State Income Tax Simplification Act that currently is awaiting a Senate committee vote would make all states adopt the same 30-day threshold before someone can be taxed.

Based on their answers in April, Senator Dick Durbin’s office, the Illinois Department of Revenue, and a number of accounting firms weren’t on the same page about Illinois’ current threshold.

“It’s a compliance nightmare,” said Maureen Riehl, Executive Director of the Mobile Workforce Coalition. She said the confusion around Illinois’ laws are a perfect example of the need for uniformity. “Organizations are sending money to Illinois that, last I was told, those checks aren’t being returned.”

Riehl says the new proposal would require an employee based on one state to work at least a month in another state before needing to pay income taxes there.

A 2015 Bloomberg study on multi-state tax compliance showed that less than half of the companies they surveyed keep up with the regulations of every state where their employees travel.