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Updated: 5 hours 28 min ago

An Inconvenient Truth About Crumbling Roads

Fri, 04/28/2017 - 14:11

See that pothole-riddled city street in front of your house? Not the state’s problem.

More likely, those crumbling city streets – like those in this video of Milwaukee – are your local municipality’s responsibility. Those advocating for an increase in the gas tax would love if this minor, but crucial, detail is left out of the discussion.

The gas tax doesn’t pay for most city streets. Those crumbling streets will still be there, even if the gas tax was doubled – which is what it would take to assuage the gas tax crowd’s demands that all projects proceed on-time with no bonding.

As we’ve seen in La Crosse, cities, counties, and towns are failing to properly prioritize spending. Instead of ensuring local roads are kept up, local bureaucrats and boards are busy wasting taxpayer money on lavish new office buildings and exorbitant salaries. La Crosse County doubled its debt to $110 million in 2015, and scarcely a dime went to roads.

In Milwaukee, the city unearthed $60 million for a ridiculous fixed-rail trolley, but can’t seem to maintain its nearly 1,000 miles of city streets.

Over at the MacIver Institute, reporter Bill Osmulski explains.

The post An Inconvenient Truth About Crumbling Roads appeared first on Morning Martini.

Tax Freedom Day in Wisconsin…

Thu, 04/27/2017 - 18:15

The following post about Tax Freedom Day first appeared at the MacIver Institute. Note that Wisconsin is dead last among states with all-GOP control…

It’s Tax Freedom Day for the Badger State, the day when hard-working Wisconsinites have finally earned enough money to cover their total tax burden for 2017, according to the Tax Foundation’sannual Tax Freedom Day initiative. That’s right – we work the first 117 days of the year to cover our tax bill.

National Tax Freedom Day was April 23 – 113 days of work – but since Wisconsin taxpayers still bear a heavier-than-average tax burden compared with the country as a whole, we must toil away for four more days.

Tax Freedom Day in Wisconsin ranks #40 on the Tax Foundation’s Tax Freedom Day list, meaning Wisconsinites pay off their tax bill before residents of New York, California, Minnesota, and Illinois. However, taxpayers are better off in four Midwestern states: Iowa (#14), Indiana (#19), Ohio (#27), and Michigan (#32).

Wisconsin’s #40 ranking held steady from 2016 but is down from #37 in 2015. Also, in 2015 Tax Freedom Day was on April 25, two days earlier than this year. Despite efforts to reduce the tax burden in the Badger State, it seems that other states have leapfrogged Wisconsin by taking on even more dramatic tax reform.

Wisconsin is the lowest-ranked state with a Republican trifecta – where the GOP controls both houses of the legislature and the governor’s mansion.

While Wisconsin has enacted many much-needed tax reforms over the past 6 years that have saved Wisconsinites nearly $5 billion, there is clearly still more work to do to remain competitive nationally and keep our ranking going in the right direction – down.

Perhaps it’s time to talk about a major income tax overhaul, such as the MacIver Institute’s Glide Path to a 3 Percent Flat Tax

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Democrats Import Illinois Senator as Convention Keynote

Fri, 04/21/2017 - 16:00

Wisconsin Democrats are turning to a U.S. Senator from Illinois to highlight their party’s annual convention in June. From the AP:

U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, of Illinois, will be the keynote speaker at the Wisconsin Democratic Party convention in June.

The state party on Thursday announced Duckworth as the headliner for the first day of its meeting Friday, June 2. The annual gathering bringing together state office holders, party activists and others is in Middleton, just outside of Madison.

The meeting comes as the Democratic Party prepares to defend the seat of U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin next year and find a challenger for Republican Gov. Scott Walker. Numerous Democrats have said they will not take him on, while others are still mulling whether to get in the race.

The AP report mentions Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin, who would seem to be the obvious choice to serve as the keynote speaker. That, in part, is because the Democrats don’t yet have a candidate for governor to put front-and-center.

But why is Baldwin taking a lower-profile role? Is she afraid of reminding everyone that she’s the far-left Democrats’ superhero in a state that’s been consistently rejecting Democrats? Considering several of her recent initiatives, including advertising that President Trump supports her “buy America” plan, as well as a politically motivated move to de-list the Grey Wolf, that’s not an unreasonable guess.

In any case, importing a senator from a neighboring state to highlight a convention is a loud statement about how little talent the party has in-state.

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Tax Day Reminds Us How Overgrown Government Really Is

Wed, 04/19/2017 - 13:11

The following was originally posted at the MacIver Institute on April 18 – tax day.

It’s that time of year when Americans across the country break out the lawnmowers and pruning shears, ready for life to spring into the trees and flowers, and ready for the chores that come with keeping a tidy yard. It’s also tax day, a time when Americans come together to shovel their hard-earned dollars down the bottomless pit of our country’s wildly overgrown federal government.

All across the country, productive, hard working citizens line up to be shaken down, lest a single nickel of their contribution to the country’s bloated $4.27 trillion-a-year spending spree goes uncollected by the IRS.

Now that the kids have finished finding their Easter Eggs, it’s the adults’ turn to go on a hunt – for the missing chunk of their paycheck that vanishes into thin air every payday.

Some people will get money back, of course, and most of them celebrate the supposed “windfall.” In Wisconsin, the average refund is about $2,400. Nationwide, 111 million Americans got a refund in 2015 totaling more than $317 billion.

But keep in mind, that check from the IRS is money you overpaid in taxes throughout the year – you and millions of other taxpayers simply loaned it to the federal treasury for the year at a zero percent interest rate. It’s quite the deal for the feds, just don’t try pulling that scam on your fellow citizen or you might end up in the slammer.

Others are stuck cutting a check to the treasury, often because they were either too industrious or too poor. Did you make the mistake of withdrawing cash from your retirement, possibly because of a financial hardship? Expect a stiff 10 percent penalty from the IRS on top of regular income taxes.

Or, maybe you made the mistake of not being able to afford health insurance. These days, thanks to Obamacare, you’ll get nailed for that trespass to the tune of $470 on average in 2015. The penalty is designed to increase over the years. Only a DC bureaucrat would think penalizing someone for being broke is good or fair policy.

If you made the mistake of working too hard, such as by putting in overtime, you also may find yourself cashing out your emergency savings account and sending it to Washington. If your regular wage is $20 per hour, and you work an eight hour overtime shift, then on average you’d be forking out 45 percent of that hard-earned overtime pay – $114 – to Uncle Sam, according to the CATO Institute. If you earn a bonus, expect the same treatment by our friends at the IRS.

Maybe you put in extra hours on the side as an independent contractor. For your extra effort, the IRS will be only too happy to soak you for not just regular income and payroll taxes, but also the employer match, an extra 7.65 percent. Better sack away half of that check and pray your car’s transmission holds out a while longer.

Perhaps you’re the unsuspecting owner of a small business who made the mistake of hiring someone in 2016. Hopefully you paid all 7.65 percent of their earnings in withholding taxes and complied with all the other onerous burdens the IRS puts on businesses. Just don’t slip up by making too much profit or you might spend some quality time with an IRS auditor.

Then of course there’s the absurd complexity of the Internal Revenue Code. In a futile attempt to comply with the 70,000 pages of tax code and related rules and regulations, many people hire professional tax preparers, who in turn take a chunk of their refund – in effect a “tax code complexity surcharge” that goes straight to places like H&R Block.

On the campaign trail, Bernie Sanders and other liberal politicians say there’s no reason someone who works full-time should have to live paycheck to paycheck. They then peddle big government schemes as the solution to everything from student loan debt to rising electric bills.

Maybe if government didn’t take so much in taxes in the first place, only to waste it on crony giveaways and bloated bureaucracies, those working people Sanders and friends claim to champion would be able to afford their student loans and utility bills.

But hey, there’s always welfare. Just be careful not to qualify as “rich” by left-wing politicians – not that they’ve ever defined what amount of income they think makes you “rich.” Slapped with the depressing reality of their tax bill, middle class Americans would be right to suspect that the left secretly considers them to be “rich” using their enigmatic standards.

When the income tax was enacted in 1913, the entire tax code was 27 pages long. The income tax at first only applied to one percent of the income of the top one percent of income earners. Nowadays, even lower middle class people must work the equivalent of three or four months of every year before the fruits of their labor are really their own.

Like your lawn, the natural direction of government is to grow bigger and more tangled, sucking up more and more resources. This tax day, let’s demand politicians chop government down to size so hard work and success actually pay off.

The post Tax Day Reminds Us How Overgrown Government Really Is appeared first on Morning Martini.

Parisi Takes A Pass

Wed, 04/19/2017 - 12:13

Is it possible that no viable candidate will step up to challenge Scott Walker for the governor’s mansion in 2018? Well, after what passes for the Democrat Party bench in Wisconsin ran for the hills en masse, one more high profile name declared his intent to sit this one out – Dane County Executive Joe Parisi.

From our friends at Media Trackers:

The Democratic Party of Wisconsin bristles at the notion that it is in disarray. But that denial comes at roughly the same time as news that one of their highest profile potential candidates to challenge Republican Governor Scott Walker in 2018 is taking a pass. Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said Tuesday he will not be running for governor in 2018. Most political observers, both left and right, felt Parisi was a lock to seek the Democratic nomination to challenge Walker. Instead, Parisi joins a growing list of names who will skip the 2018 governor’s race.

Parisi’s announcement comes after Rep. Ron Kind, state Sen. Jennifer Shilling, former state Sen. Tim Cullen, and Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele all bowed out, leaving the party with no candidate with even a modicum of untarnished statewide name ID. Susan Happ, Jefferson County DA who ran a failed bid for Attorney General, hasn’t bowed out yet.

Bader also raises an interesting question. If the Dems can’t shake another business person out of the bush (a la Mary Burke – we saw how that turned out) or cajole someone like state Rep. Dana Wachs into launching himself into a highly unlikely campaign, then they just might be stuck with Bob Harlow, the 25-year-old who ran a failed bid for Congress in 2016…in California.

The Journal Sentinel is also reporting that a Milwaukee businessman, Andy Gronik, 59, also personally funded a poll that compared him to Sen. Kathleen Vinehout and Parisi. In an inauspicious turn, the out-of-state polling firm referred to Wisconsinites as “Wisconsinians,” the JS’s Dan Bice reported. Bice wrote, “Think of him as Mary Burke 2.0, but with a skinnier wallet and and less public service experience.”

The poll didn’t ask about Wachs or Happ.

Vinehout, who is up for re-election in 2018 in an increasingly Republican district (her Senate district contains the only seat where a Republican ousted a Democratic incumbent in the Assembly, and she squeaked out a win over Mel Pittman in 2012), is still in the running.

Will Vinehout eschew a potentially tough re-election bid and run for governor instead?

 

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Candidates, Wisconsin Statewide and Federal Elections

Fri, 04/14/2017 - 09:51

Here’s a list of announced candidates for statewide and federal elections in Wisconsin in 2018. While formal announcements by incumbents from governor to Congress are so far few and far between, it’s generally expected that all incumbents will run for re-election. We will update this list as formal announcements start rolling in.

Governor

  • Bob Harlow (D) – 25-year-old Stanford graduate who last ran for Congress in California in 2016
  • *Governor Scott Walker has not yet formally announced he’ll run for re-election
  • Former state Sen. Tim Cullen, Rep. Ron Kind, and state Sen. Jennifer Shilling have all declined to run.

Lt. Governor

  • No formal announcements yet.
  • *Lt Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch has not yet formally announced he’ll run for re-election.

Attorney General

  • Josh Kaul (D) – A 36-year-old Madison lawyer and son of former Wisconsin AG Peg Lautenschlager, who recently resigned as head of the state Ethics Commission.
  • *AG Brad Schimel has not formally announced he’ll seek re-election yet.

U.S. Senate

  • No formal announcements yet.
  • *Sen. Tammy Baldwin has not formally announced she’ll seek re-election yet.
  • Rep. Sean Duffy declined to run.

Congress, 1st District

  • *Rep. Paul Ryan (R) has not formally announced he’ll seek re-election yet.

Congress, 2nd District

  • *Rep. Mark Pocan (D) has not formally announced he’ll seek re-election yet.

Congress, 3rd District

  • *Rep. Ron Kind (D) has not formally announced he’ll seek re-election yet.

Congress, 4th District

  • *Rep. Gwen Moore (D) has not formally announced she’ll seek re-election yet.

Congress, 5th District

  • *Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R) has not formally announced he’ll seek re-election yet.

Congress, 6th District

  • *Rep. Glenn Grothmann (R) has not formally announced he’ll seek re-election yet.

Congress, 7th District

  • *Rep. Sean Duffy (R) has not formally announced he’ll seek re-election yet, but declined to run for U.S. Senate.

Congress, 8th District

  • *Rep. Mike Gallagher (R) has not formally announced he’ll seek re-election yet.

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Dems Raise Money off, Mock Opioid and Homelessness Bills

Wed, 04/12/2017 - 22:50

Wisconsin Democrats are showing how desperate they are to raise money and find a rhetorical way to bend over backwards to oppose commonsense GOP legislation fighting scourges recognized on both sides of the aisle.

In a debate over bipartisan legislation to combat the opioid epidemic championed by Rep. John Nygren, Democrats used the opportunity to launch fundraising efforts advocating expanding Medicaid as the silver bullet to the problem, ostensibly portraying the GOP measures as half-asked efforts.

Forget that Medicaid produces worse outcomes for patients, saddles taxpayers with an increasing burden, and traps people in the quiet desperation of government dependency. Also, just ignore the tangible benefits of Nygren’s legislation that no serious person would deny.

The very fact that there’s a debate over Nygren’s admirable and necessary HOPE legislation serves as a measurement of the depth of the morass of absurdity that Wisconsin’s Democrats have descended into. When Rep. Ron Kind and other liberal activist groups joined them in using the opportunity to demand Medicaid expansion, the sad stratagem became clear.

At the height of its severity, the crack cocaine epidemic killed 1.5 people per 100,000. By contrast, the opioid and heroin epidemic – the worst drug scourge in American history – kills between 10 and 30 people per 100,000. And the Democrats are using the issue to push a partisan political agenda and raise money.

It’s sickening, and it demonstrates the bottomless capacity for Democrats to exploit an opportunity, morality be damned. It also reveals the depth of desperation that their party is mired in. Their bench is thinner than Japanese Mulberry paper and, evidently, they need to lay in the filthy ditch to collect whatever dollar bills might float by on the way to the sewer.

It doesn’t stop there. Amid debate over a similar roundly heralded effort to combat homelessness, Democrats called the measures a “cosmetic solution.” I didn’t see in the LRB analysis that the GOP wanted to deliver makeup and lipstick to the needy. Again, the Democrats are trying to transmogrify a bipartisan plan into political hay.

State Rep. and Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke took his frustration to Facebook:

To my liberal friends: Democrats in Madison are not serving you well. Two sad instances in the last week.

Last Tuesday we were in session debating broad bipartisan bills that addressed the opioid epidemic. During the debate, the Democrats hijacked the conversation to make political points while simultaneously sending out a fundraising email using that floor debate as a tool to raise the cash.

Now this week I, along with a few colleagues, introduced a package of bills aimed at combatting homelessness in WI. This package was developed in coordination with homeless advocates who called the initiatives “a huge step forward”. The response from state democrats? They called the dollars allocated and the reforms themselves “a cosmetic solution”

This is what your dollars, your volunteer hours, and your votes are getting you my friends.

Democrats are desperate, and will use any hook to galvanize their base. That, I suppose, is what politics can devolve into. Steineke’s message to liberals will fall on the deaf ears of a hyper partisan base, but that’s the very definition of a party in the bunker. To save its heart, the Democrat Party appears willing to amputate what’s left of its atrophied limbs.

These bills are thoroughly bipartisan, a fact the base on The Left may not be aware of in the din of partisan hyperbole. They are serious efforts by a serious governing majority to address serious problems in the state of Wisconsin. Indeed, the opioid problem is as serious a problem as Wisconsin has faced. And to those in the grips of homelessness, there could be no more serious an issue than living under cellophane on a park bench.

To prove how un-serious they are, and how unfit they are to return to governing Wisconsin, Democrats have chosen these issues as a rallying cry to their most rabid supporters in the far-left bastions of the state in downtown Madison and Milwaukee. It’s really quite sad.

At this rate, the Assembly Democrat caucus will have all the appeal to mainstream voters as a screeching vulture. Like the Senate Democrat caucus, perhaps in the near future the Assembly Dems will also be able to fit into a pair of minivans and flee for Illinois for good.

But hey, they can always blame gerrymandering.

The post Dems Raise Money off, Mock Opioid and Homelessness Bills appeared first on Morning Martini.

Shilling Statement on High Cap Wells is Designed to Mislead

Sat, 04/08/2017 - 12:44

By Hubert Hoffman | Guest Contributor

On April 5, state Senator Jennifer Shilling issued a press release pertaining to Senate Bill 76 (SB-76) claiming, in big bold lettering, “Republicans vote to privatize Wisconsin water.”  The reality is the bill relates to: “replacement, reconstruction, and transfer of an approved high capacity well,” not the privatization of Wisconsin water.

First, the word “private” doesn’t appear anywhere in the bill text or the Legislative Reference Bureau analysis of the bill.  Second, the bill doesn’t undermine the Public Trust Doctrine because the bill doesn’t change current law requiring DNR oversight of the application or permitting process for a high capacity well.

What the bill does is allow those individuals and businesses that already have a high capacity well to repair or replace the well, should it become damaged, without needing to pay additional taxes and fees.  Repairing a damaged well quickly and correctly is the best way to preserve ground water quality.  Owners must notify the DNR of any work done on the well and any repair or replacement must meet all conditions of the originally permitted well.  The bill also allows property owners, who sell their property, to transfer the well permit the new property owner without additional taxes and fees.

SB-76 also adds a requirement that the DNR to do hydrology testing in parts of Adams, Green Lake, Juneau, Marquette, Portage, Waupaca, Waushara, Winnebago, and Wood counties.  Knowing how the water flows, where the water flows, and how quickly is passes through the soil is something that will help the DNR to better understand and manage Wisconsin water quality.  Yet, Senator Shilling stands in opposition to a bill that will help us all learn about our environment.

Shilling’s office put out the press release knowing that many Wisconsin residents wouldn’t have the time or ability look at what the legislation says. It is embarrassing when legislators get caught putting out statements intended to deceive or mislead as that is what truly undermines the public trust.

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Did Republicans Almost Get Scammed?

Tue, 04/04/2017 - 09:39

Just as Republicans around the state were getting all excited about Nicole Schneider, it seems they may have been taken for a ride.

Schneider, the heiress of the Schneider National trucking fortune, was supposedly considering a run for U.S. Senate against Tammy Baldwin. Her appeal was chiefly that she could self-fund an expensive campaign.

But as it seems to always do, Schneider’s social media history can’t hide. Judging by some of her past activity, she may not be all that conservative at all. From Vicki McKenna’s website:

Yesterday, Mediatrackers broke this story about a woman named Nicole Schneider running for US Senate against Tammy Baldwin. See that story HERE.OK FINE.  But IS SHE REALLY A REPUBLICAN? Or is she just a faker?  Well, you be the judge.  Here are links to her now DELETED tweets on everything from abortion and Planned Parenthood to Transphobia to like Tammy Baldwin, Hillary and Elizabeth Warren…to hating on Trump.  It’s a pile of anti-conservative stuff that for reasons only SHE knows, she doesn’t want anyone to see.Here is her now deleted post on “How to be a Social Justice Ally:  Working from and Against Privilege”.

LINK  **

Here are some deleted Tweets.  In these, she is critical of Gov Walker, Paul Ryan, Donald Trump–while seemingly praising Elizabeth Warren, Hillary Clinton and Tammy Baldwin.  Oh and she also seems to dislike SODA CONSUMPTION (!!)  (By the way, ma’am, I’m a Catholic and I voted for Trump!)

LINK **

Schneider has since deleted the tweets, but Vicki preserves them at the links above. Is Schneider a bona fide RINO? (a pejorative that gets tossed around far too often by people who can’t handle disagreement and believe everyone should agree with them…a paradox for an individualist ideology that stands opposed to homogeneity and collectivism. But I digress).

I don’t want to make any definitive conclusions about Ms. Schneider or her politics. I’ve been asked, after all, why I like this Democrat’s Facebook page or why I follow that progressive on Twitter by people who don’t really know their way around social media. People are also dynamic, and Trump a lightning rod who I’ve also criticized. However, Republican voters should use caution that Schneider might be an opportunist who doesn’t actually share many of their positions on the issues.

Now that Sean Duffy is officially out of contention, Republicans are starting to line up for the chance to take on Baldwin, who is widely seen as potentially vulnerable, especially after she locks arms with other Democrats and opposes the nomination of Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court. She’s also in hot water over her handling of the Tomah VA “Candy Land” scandal.

Wisconsinites have little patience for political grandstanding, and even less patience for politicians who leave veterans hanging out to dry – then pins the blame on a staffer and offers her hush money.

Names often bandied about as potential challengers for Baldwin are state Sen. Leah Vukmir, state Rep. Dale Kooyenga, hedge fund manager Eric Hovde, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, and Marine veteran/businessman Kevin Nicholson (who recently got the endorsement of mega-donor Dick Uihlein).

What the GOP needs to avoid at all costs, however, is a replay of the 2012 GOP primary, variously comparable to a circular firing squad, bloodbath, melee, or train wreck. Former Gov. Tommy Thompson emerged so badly injured from the primary, he had practically no money, while Baldwin had an entire summer to raise cash and plot her messaging.

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FDA Regulations Ready to Steamroll Small Vape Shops

Mon, 04/03/2017 - 10:07

The following was originally posted at the MacIver Institute.

New federal rules clamping down on the e-cigarette industry are already costing jobs and livelihoods, and will likely run scores of small vape shops in Wisconsin out of business if fully enacted this year.

A recent survey of Wisconsin vape shop owners conducted by the Electronic Vaping Coalition of America (EVCA) reveals the frustrations of respondents, who fear the steep costs the new rules will impose on their industry. Survey respondents estimated the FDA’s impending “deeming” regulations will cost them anywhere from a few thousand dollars to $3 million or more, mostly depending on how many products they offer.

Others said they simply don’t know the cost – also known as “hell” for a small business owner who counts on a thin profit margin to put food on their table and provide for their employees.

The majority of vape shop owners said they’d already reduced or eliminated inventory and would be forced to lay off employees as a result of the new regulations.

What exactly is a vape shop? Many are simply retailers of e-cigarettes and related products like refill cartridges. Others also manufacture their own e-liquid, the nicotine-containing fluid vaporized in e-cigs. All will likely be crushed by the FDA’s deeming regulations.

Senator Ron Johnson has been a leader in the push to stop the FDA deeming regulations before it’s too late for the vaping industry. “The FDA threatens to crush the emerging e-cigarette industry, leading to negative unintended consequences for public health by making it harder for consumers to buy products that serve as an alternative to smoking,” he said in a statement when the rules went into effect.

Vape shop owners share Sen. Johnson’s frustration, but aren’t sure who to blame. Many pointed the finger at the power of a reckless big government. The ultimate enemy of the free market is an all-powerful bureaucracy with the power to destroy an entire industry at the whim of massive special interests fearful of competition and innovation.

Newer vape shops won’t be the only small businesses to feel the pinch, however. One survey respondent said his company has been in business since 1939 blending pipe tobacco. Under the new rules, that business would be classified as a tobacco product manufacturer subject to the new regulatory regime. The FDA is essentially giving this long-established business a choice between death by murder or death by suicide.

Like the tobacco blender, vape shops responding to EVCA’s survey tend to be smaller businesses – those responding to EVCA’s survey employ anywhere from one to 72 people at between one and twenty locations. Almost all survey respondents opened shop within the past eight years, and many pointed out that their livelihood depends on their business. One, a 24-year-old who said he has just a high school education, worried he and his seven employees would be relegated to poverty level jobs were it not for their successful vape shop. Starting a business and growing it to create a more prosperous life for yourself and others sounds like the American dream, doesn’t it?

But then again, ruined livelihoods and crushed dreams are just a little collateral damage to the powerful bureaucrats at the FDA. After all, the government can just raise the minimum wage – small comfort to a ruined small business owner who made the mistake of working in an industry the government doesn’t like.

What exactly makes the FDA’s deeming regulations so dangerous to the young vaping industry? As with anything bureaucratic, it gets complicated and makes almost no sense.

The FDA regulations set February 15, 2007 as the “predicate date” for new, tougher rules for any items the agency deems to be tobacco products. Any new such products that entered the market after that date will be subject to a stringent, byzantine new approval process with a massive cost that increases with each individual product a business sells.

If you’re a successful vape business with a wide variety of product lines, you’d better get the accountants and lawyers on the phone post haste – both of which add additional costs that most small businesses simply can’t afford.

The e-vapor market was still in its infancy on the February 2007 predicate date, so nearly all e-vapor products will be subjected to the burdensome approval regime. Because of that arbitrary date, the vast majority of companies in the e-vapor business will likely be out of business within three years.

One curious fact about the regulations gives credence to vape shop owners’ suspicions that the new regulations might be motivated by more than just concerned bureaucrats trying to protect public health – traditional cigarette companies conveniently won’t have to comply.

That’s because most traditional combustible cigarettes were already on the market on February 15, 2007. That essentially lets manufacturers of traditional cigarettes (also known as Big Tobacco) off the hook, protected from the new rules. The rules will protect traditional cigarettes while snuffing out the e-vapor industry, which many of the vape shop owners credit for helping hundreds of their customers to quit smoking.

Any American who hasn’t been living under a rock for the past half-century is well aware of the nanny government’s incessant finger-wagging about cigarette smoking. The feds have spent untold taxpayer fortunes warning kids and adults alike about the dangers of smoking. But putting aside arguments over whether government should be lording over individual decision making, the evidence that traditional cigarette smoking is a killer is the closest thing to a “settled science” as can be found.

Yet, true to form, the very government that spent years looking down its nose at anyone who lights up is now actively trying to destroy an effective new way for smokers to put away their caustic cancer sticks for good.

Evidence is mounting that e-cigarettes are considerably less harmful than traditional cigarettes. An August 2015 study by Public Health England, an agency of England’s Department of Health, found e-cigarettes are 95 percent less harmful than combustible cigarettes.

The study also found that most of the chemicals that cause smoking-related diseases are absent from e-vapor and that e-cigarettes release negligible levels of nicotine into ambient air.

The studies back up a commonsense understanding of smoking versus vaping. After all, smoking involves lighting tobacco on fire and inhaling the smoke. Vapers instead inhale vaporized water containing nicotine and flavor – and practically none of the thousands of carcinogens found in cigarette smoke.

Simply put, the new FDA deeming regulations are a glaring example of either government ineptitude or, less charitably, corruption. That choice seems to be a common theme when it comes to government and bureaucracy. Whichever it is, the regulations will have a profound impact if enacted.

“If you want to see how regulations can destroy an entire industry, this is it,” said Christian Berkey, owner of Johnson Creek Vapor Company, in an earlier interview with the MacIver Institute. Berkey’s company is one of the first and largest producers of e-liquid in the world. The regulations would cost his company, which employs 47 people full-time in southeast Wisconsin, more than $200 million.

However, Berkey is optimistic about the chances that the Trump administration will eliminate the new regulations or modify them to save his industry.

If Trump really wants to “drain the swamp” and fight for hard working, tax paying Americans frustrated with the federal government meddling in their lives, his administration will turn the tables on the FDA and crush these new rules before they crush the vaping industry.

Read the original column here.

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Yes, Obamacare is Still a Disaster

Mon, 03/27/2017 - 07:00

The following commentary was originally posted at the MacIver Institute.

So, the House GOP’s attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare was unsuccessful. After months of political theater and seven years of opposition to the disastrous healthcare law, their American Health Care Act (AHCA) failed to garner enough votes from the far right and moderate wings of the Republican party to pass with the needed 216 votes.

Lost in all the drama and theatrics, however, is the big picture: Americans are suffering under Obamacare and will continue to suffer “for the foreseeable future,” as Speaker Paul Ryan lamented in a press conference after it became clear AHCA did not have enough votes to get through the House.

Congressional Republicans, President Trump, the House Freedom Caucus – all will come away with political wounds. But the tarnished image and lost political capital that the failure to pass AHCA will inflict on Washington politicians pales in comparison to the actual harm that Obamacare will continue to inflict on average Americans just trying to stay afloat.

One thing is certain: Obamacare is still an unmitigated disaster. Premiums are still spiraling out of control. Sky-high deductibles still make Obamacare insurance plans practically useless. And competition and choice are still on the decline.

In 2017, the average premium increase on the individual market in Wisconsin was 16 percent. In fact, one plan in western Wisconsin costs $51,000 per year in premiums for a couple unfortunate enough to be in their 50s with three children.

Sure, Obamacare subsidizes premiums for those at the lower end of the income scale. But if you happen to occupy the vast swath of America known as the middle class, you’re likely on the hook for the full bill – plus deductibles.

In a report last year that scoured the federal database of 2017 premiums in Wisconsin, the MacIver Institute found that an average family of four would fork over an average monthly premium of $1,609.11 for a platinum plan – $19,309.32 per year – while a mid-level silver plan would cost them $1,297.02 in average monthly premiums, or $15,564.24 per year.

While proponents of Obamacare like to point to premium subsidies for the poor, they leave out a key concern that Americans grapple with: sky-high deductibles. For a top-tier platinum plan in Wisconsin the average deductible is $900 for a family and $450 for an individual.

However, for a mid-level silver plan, the average deductible is $7,015.71 for a family and $3,491.92 for an individual. The average catastrophic plan deductible will be $14,300 for a family and $7,150 for an individual.

Obamacare’s downward death spiral is also forcing insurers out of the market. One-third of counties nationwide have just one insurance provider in the individual market. Last year, two major insurers left Wisconsin altogether.

Economics 101 teaches that robust competition drives down prices. Giving consumers a choice is also a matter of basic fairness.

However, proponents of Obamacare continue their efforts to prop up the law with scare tactics aimed at vulnerable populations.

One “report” put out by Citizen Action of Wisconsin claimed the GOP proposal would cost older premium payers thousands more per year, but it’s a two dimensional analysis in a three dimensional world. The liberal group’s so-called report hinges on cocktail napkin math, simply subtracting the AHCA’s refundable tax credits from Obamacare premium subsidies.

The group also claims out-of-pocket costs would increase, but fail to mention that the AHCA would’ve expanded health savings accounts (HSAs), tax-free accounts from which health expenses can be paid. Healthcare tax credits under the AHCA would’ve gone into HSAs – which an individual would then use to pay for out-of-pocket costs like deductibles. HSAs coupled with the AHCA’s tax credits would have made insurance portable from job to job and accessible to the self-employed and independent contractors.

Obamacare actually put a cap on how much pre-tax money individuals could contribute to an HSA, compounding the problem of the law’s astronomical deductibles. What good is having insurance – even if it’s provided for free at taxpayer expense – if you can’t afford to use it? Why have insurance when the deductible alone will bankrupt you? Perhaps that’s why some Wisconsin hospitals started waiving out-of-pocket fees for lower income patients last year to stem the tide of increasing ER visits by Obamacare recipients.

Let’s also not forget that Obamacare activists like CAW have constantly pushed Wisconsin to follow in the footsteps of Minnesota, which gave Obamacare a big hug, and is now paying the price. The Minnesota Mistake was brought into focus last year when the state was forced to shovel more than $300 million – in one year alone – into a rescue plan to help middle class Minnesotans absorb a 60 percent Obamacare premium increase. Minnesota practically begged insurers to stay in their market to stave off a complete collapse of the market.

The giant folly of the healthcare debate is that prognosticators like CAW and Obama himself constantly conflate health insurance coverage with actual health care. Conservative health reform, of which the AHCA was supposed to be just the first of several phases – introduces market forces into healthcare. When there’s price transparency, someone seeking care is actually able to shop around for better prices.

A healthcare system where providers actually compete over price conscious customers would have the same effect as any other competitive marketplace – rapid innovation, increased efficiency, and reduced costs. As Speaker Ryan points out, that very phenomenon is demonstrable in the cost of elective LASIK eye surgery, the price of which has actually dropped over the past 15 or so years – as has the price of flat screen TVs, smartphones, and anything else sold in an actual free market.

The GOP’s failure to pass AHCA is a setback. But, it is not a political setback like all the talking heads want you to believe. It is a setback because the death spiral that is Obamacare continues unabated and the American people continue to suffer because President Obama lied to them. If you like your health insurance, you will be able to keep it, and the ACA will bend the cost curve. Obama’s lies live on.

But it’s important for lawmakers to keep their eye on what’s important – Obamacare is a disastrous big government boondoggle that will cost taxpayers a trillion dollars in new taxes and threatens to collapse entire individual insurance markets.

As President Trump said on Friday after the AHCA was pulled, Obamacare will inevitably “explode.” But lawmakers can’t wait around for that to happen and then try to blame the Democrats. A solution that can pass the House and Senate and be signed by the president must be found.

Read the original post at the MacIver Institute.

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Don’t Point Fingers, Do the Job.

Sat, 03/25/2017 - 11:18

The first Republican effort to repeal and replace Obamacare failed to gain enough votes in the House to pass. Ok, that’s a big setback for the party that’s promised to get rid of the disastrous healthcare law since it became law in 2010.

Some commentators and politicians have already started pointing the finger of blame. Some are pointing at the Freedom Caucus, who were intransigent in their insistence Obamacare be repealed in full.

Others are pointing at more moderate Republicans, who feared the dubious CBO score that claimed 24 million people would lose their insurance and premiums would continue to increase under the AHCA.

Many on both sides are trying to pin the blame on Speaker Ryan. Some say he didn’t let the Freedom Caucus in on the process of creating  the bill, kept it hidden from members for too long, and/or didn’t adequately communicate the big picture (the three-phase plan of which the AHCA was just the first part).

Still others blame Trump, who trusted his advisers that the AHCA was the best way forward and that healthcare should’ve been the first priority of the administration as opposed to tax reform.

While the failure of the AHCA is at least nominally a failure, going down the course of blame placing and finger pointing will turn that surface wound into a swollen pustule.

The American people are sick of Washington. They are sick of politicians making promises they can’t or don’t keep. They are sick of political spin and politicians blaming everyone but themselves when their failures become manifest.

They’re also sick of Washington meddling in their business, confiscating their money, lying to them, playing them for fools, and treating them like they’re moronic trolls who can’t run their own lives – or see through D.C. political tricks. And their impatience is increasing.

If squabbling must be done, Republicans should do it behind the scenes. Let the Democrats publicly gloat that their ruinous law is still in place.

I applaud President Trump for throwing up his hands and demanding a vote. He was elected to get things done, and another protracted few weeks of intra-GOP squabbling wouldn’t have produced a substantially different bill that could’ve both gained enough House support to pass that body and clear the Senate’s ridiculous cloture hurdle. I also applaud Speaker Ryan for avoiding placing blame and gently chiding his caucus for failing to grow into a governing party, rather than a grandstanding, statement making opposition party.

Speaker Ryan and the House GOP have compounded their challenge. They must still deal with Obamacare, or face a major revolt in 2018 from the voters. The seething mass of Americans in the populist ring who have grown increasingly agitated with Washington won’t put up with more inaction. Simultaneously, they must now deal with tax reform.

If they don’t accomplish tax reform, they will lose all credibility as a governing party and all trust that the American people have placed in them to actually get something done – to shrink a government that takes trillions of tax dollars annually but renders little to middle class taxpayers except pothole-riddled highways and nonstop cable news bickering.

If they don’t accomplish health care reform – and there’s still time – they will break one of the longest-running political promises ever made to the American people.

It’s time for the GOP to figure out the way forward and to act and produce results, or else the nationwide uprising among flyover country voters will continue and GOP incumbents will be told en masse by voters, “You’re Fired.”

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An Idea For Trump’s Salary

Thu, 03/16/2017 - 22:08

We don’t usually opine about national issues unless they have at least a tangential Wisconsin connection, so this post is an unusual one and a rare violation of our prime directive. This is an idea for President Trump re: his promise to forego taking a salary or to donate it to charity.

By law, the president is required to take a salary. Should Trump take a nominal $1 salary? I suggest something different.

Hot Air reported on Sean Spicer’s handling of the question – what is the president doing to fulfill that pledge?

My idea? The president is paid monthly. The White House should give the public a say. They can put up a poll at the start of each month with a list of potential charitable causes (with an open-ended option) and promote voting throughout the month. (the cynical strategist in me sees a nonstop source of positive media).

At the end of the month, the White House sets up a GoFundMe page for the winning organization or cause. President Trump would be the first donor, pitching in what’s left after taxes of his $33,000 monthly salary (that’s $400,000 per year, plus other expense accounts, et cetera). The fundraising campaign would last a month.

Sure, the potential exists for such a system to be hijacked by lefties, but that would (cynical strategist again) likely backfire.

Trump would likely be accused of opportunism and cynicism, but the check presentation photo ops would erase any blowback. Plus, it would highlight the amazing powers of non-governmental entities to fulfill roles government has appropriated for itself in recent decades, a cornerstone of conservative thought about the proper role of government.

The Donald is a billionaire elected by hoards of Americans sick of politics as usual; such a campaign by this president would be uniquely Trump.

Update: After reading the whole Hot Air post, it seems Ed Morrissey and I essentially arrive at the same suggestion, though mine is a little more specific. Credit where credit’s due:

The Trump administration is opting for one news cycle in the Christmas holiday doldrums for its charitable award, when it could have twelve news cycles throughout the year when people are paying more attention and the White House can use the distraction. This is a media-management no-brainer, especially since the media has already shown itself so invested in the story.

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La Crosse Taxpayers Shouldn’t Be Fooled By New County Tax Scheme

Tue, 03/14/2017 - 10:50

Here’s my column from the Sunday, March 12 edition of the La Crosse Tribune.

The nightly news and the morning paper are great ways to keep informed. Unfortunately, they’re also great avenues for politicians to peddle their schemes for foisting new taxes on unsuspecting taxpayers.

When I heard La Crosse County wants to become a “premiere resort area,” and that this designation would generate millions to fix roads, at first I felt like I was in Oprah’s audience that day she gave everyone a new car.

In reality, the proposal for a new “Premiere Resort Area Tax,” or PRAT, is more like when you overbid on the showcase showdown on The Price Is Right and the infamous fail horn blares just before you’re escorted from the stage.

The PRAT tax, the latest tax scheme cooked up by La Crosse County officials, is really just another half-percent sales tax that could be imposed on nearly all retail businesses in the county. As with any other sales tax, this $6.6 million new tax will inevitably be paid for by consumers like you.

“But without more money we can’t fill the potholes!” the tax-and-spend crowd keeps shouting in your ear every time you turn on the TV. What they conveniently omit are their own failures to properly prioritize county spending.

La Crosse County budgeted for $136,764,518 in revenue for 2016. It planned nearly $33 million in property tax collections and $11.6 million from the county’s 0.5 percent sales tax. Yes, the county already has a sales tax onto which the proposed PRAT tax would be stacked.

According to the state Department of Revenue, 44 categories of business are subject to this tax in any jurisdiction that enacts it — bars, restaurants, gas stations, clothing retailers, hotels — even a category called “miscellaneous retail stores,” lest any devious boutique business falls through the cracks. In short, pretty much every business that a tourist could theoretically walk into would be subject to the PRAT tax.

The PRAT was conceived for the most innocent of reasons. When the summer residents of certain areas, like the Wisconsin Dells, fled for the winter, the Dells and similar tourist reliant areas needed a consistent revenue source.

Thus the Legislature invented the PRAT, but it required at least 40 percent of assessed property values in the taxed region to be composed of tourism-related businesses in order to be enacted. Thus, only six municipalities in Wisconsin currently have a PRAT tax, according to the Department of Revenue. At 5.3 percent, La Crosse County doesn’t come close to qualifying.

While our home is a beautiful region with plenty of tourist attractions, it’s hardly a “premiere resort area” according to state law. Nobody’s going to be winning a trip to La Crosse on the Wheel of Fortune.

Fortunately for the pro-PRAT crowd, there’s an exemption. After an advisory referendum, the Legislature can pass a special measure allowing the county to proceed with the final steps required to enact the tax.

Taxpayers should keep an eye on the big picture, and I don’t mean the size of their property tax bills.

The county should make better decisions with what it does with taxpayer money, and roads should clearly be a priority. However, when the county board voted to nearly double its debt in 2015 from $59 million to $110 million in one fell swoop, filling potholes or fixing cracks was hardly a priority. Instead, the county embarked on a series of expansions of its office complex downtown.

Thankfully, we have a vast network of paved, pristine bike trails around here–nary a pothole in sight. Or I suppose these days we’re supposed to call them multi-use trails.

The county is clearly taking in significant revenue, it’s just not choosing to spend it on roads. Now, county officials want to hit up hard-working taxpayers for even more. If your neighbor said they desperately needed to borrow money from you, all the while installing an in-ground pool and building a breakfast nook off their foyer, any rational person would raise an eyebrow.

A tax by any other name is still a tax. Taxpayers beware.

Read the original column here.

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Cops “Nail” La Crosse Political Mini-Terrorist

Mon, 03/13/2017 - 12:12

Going back to the recall of state Senator Dan Kapanke, La Crosse area Republicans have become quite familiar with reports of property damage and even attempted acts of violence against supporters in the community.

Of course, damage to and theft of yard signs is pervasive and doubtlessly both sides are guilty of their share of this. However, during the Kapanke recall, swastikas were spray painted on several Kapanke yard signs. Numerous people – many times, the same ones – dropped by the GOP field office for new signs after theirs were repeatedly stolen. Clearly, the work of certain anti-Republican individuals.

King among such anecdotes is when Dan Kapanke’s wife, returning home late at night from her nursing job, stepped out of her car to find roofing nails in the Town of Campbell driveway. Well, a recent court case and admission of guilt finally put the problem at large in the black and white of news print.

The La Crosse Tribune reports:

A La Crosse man admitted throwing roofing nails into driveways of residents who supported Republican candidates after someone stole his lawn sign supporting a Democratic candidate, according to La Crosse police reports.

Martin Sellers, 59, of 2126 Hoeschler Drive, told police he “has done some stupid things” during his arrest Sunday for criminal damage to property and disorderly conduct, reports stated.

Five homeowners on Lincoln Avenue, Ward Avenue, Elm Street and Springbrook Way for three years reported nails in driveways. One homeowner reported eight incidents.

Sellers said he periodically targeted driveways of homes that displayed signs supported Republicans “out of anger for the political system,” reports stated. One homeowner stated the vandalism resumed after President Donald Trump’s inauguration.

A homeowner who installed a surveillance system caught Sellers’ vehicle on camera. One victim reported having to replace four tires on his car.

“Both sides do it…it’s just one person” someone ostensibly trying to defend the behavior might claim while simultaneously claiming to not be defending the behavior. No, both sides don’t spend their time throwing nails in their neighbors’ driveway, and no, it’s clearly not the behavior of just one guy. I can assure you that having worked in or spent considerable time in five different local GOP offices over the years.

This one just happened to have gotten caught.

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Poll: Grassroots Republicans Want Tax Overhaul…Bigly

Sat, 03/04/2017 - 09:59

The Republican grassroots expects Washington politicians to deliver on their campaign promises of a major tax code overhaul, a sentiment that’s backed up by a new poll by the American Action Network, a center-right advocacy group based in Washington – as well as Republican leaders in an area of Wisconsin where Trump emerged the surprising victor.

The poll, which surveyed Republicans, found that 77 percent of Republicans think tax reform is extremely or very important. It also found that Republican rank-and-file voters are most concerned that the current tax code is too complicated and tax rates are too high.

“As President Trump and conservatives in Congress work on tax reform, this constituency is strongly behind them and overwhelmingly supports center-right tax reform. It’s clear, now is the right time to deliver on a simple tax code with lower rates for all Americans,” said AAN Executive Director Corry Bliss in a statement.

Brian Westrate, chairman of the 3rd District Republican Party – a historically blue district Trump won handily – framed the imperative to reform the tax code as a moral one.

“Those in power in our nation’s capital have a moral duty to the people they represent to tackle the over 75,000 pages that comprise the current tax code, to deconstruct it line by line, and reform it as a simple, effective, efficient, and fair new law,” Westrate said.

Bill Feehan, chairman of the La Crosse County Republican Party, said rank-and-file Republicans are very much in tune with the conversation in Washington and expect bold tax reform, especially after Trump – who made tax reform a centerpiece of his campaign – won the presidency in November.

“Tax cuts are the fastest way to stimulate our economy. Income tax cuts put more money in people’s pockets and most of the money gets spent right away,” Feehan said.

“This gets the economy going from the bottom up. Allowing businesses to keep more of the money they earn results in pay raises for employees, new equipment purchases and investment in business expansion,” Feehan added.

AAN’s poll also went into specifics about Trump and Congressional Republicans’ job performance and asked respondents about their tax reform plan. Respondents overwhelmingly support the broad outlines of the GOP’s plan, with 85 percent approving. Respondents also said tax reform should make it easier to create jobs, raise wages, and expand opportunity. A new tax code should grow the economy and encourage job creation.

Respondents also viewed President Trump favorably – 89 percent registered their approval. As for Congressional leadership, 77 percent approve of the job GOP leaders are doing.

The high support for Trump and Congressional leaders should be a boost for fence-sitting Republicans who might be afraid of the electoral ramifications of major tax reform. “This will take courage, and fortitude, but now that the conservatives in Washington control all levers of power in Washington they must use this opportunity to serve the people,” Westrate said.

“They must kill the tax beast built by progressive socialists over the course of the last 100 years.”

Both Trump and Congressional leaders in the majority party can maintain those relatively high numbers, it seems, by advancing a bold, pro-growth tax reform plan and doing it sooner rather than later. “Republicans should move quickly on tax cuts,” Feehan said.

“With great power comes great responsibility, the American people have given conservatives the power, now it’s time to accept the responsibility,” said Westrate.

This column also appeared at the MacIver Institute.

Photo credit: The Motley Fool

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Politifact Nails Baldwin for Supreme Hypocrisy

Fri, 03/03/2017 - 18:00

It took Senator Tammy Baldwin precisely 0.64 seconds to completely reverse her position on the Senate’s duty to “advise and consent” on presidential Supreme Court appointments. That’s about how long it took for President Trump to utter the name “Judge Neil Gorsuch.”

In 2016, when a nominee of President Obama was forced to sit in the proverbial waiting room for most of the year, Baldwin joined the chorus of feigned outrage from the left. But now that a new president – one who she doesn’t like as much – has made a nomination of his own, she’s completely reversed her position by supporting a filibuster to clog up the pipeline to the high court.

A new Politifact column declares Baldwin’s new position to be a full flip-flop. When Politifact calls out a Democrat, you know the case must be airtight. They write:

When [Merrick] Garland was nominated in March 2016, Republicans moved to block his nomination, which prompted the ire of Democrats.

Baldwin declared: “It’s the constitutional duty of the president to select a Supreme Court nominee, and the Senate has a responsibility to give that nominee a fair consideration with a timely hearing and a timely vote.”

But now that Baldwin is in the minority and facing a Republican nominee, she is supporting a filibuster that creates a roadblock to reaching that final vote. Her claim to “support” a cloture vote makes no sense since that isn’t up to her party — cloture would be pushed by Republicans and is only needed if Baldwin and other Democrats pursue a filibuster.

On the day Trump announced his nomination of Gorsuch, Baldwin said she would give him a fair hearing, but apparently she immediately suffered a severe case of amnesia and declared two days later her intention to vote against Gorsuch – before ever meeting with him. The hypocrisy didn’t slip past Governor Walker:

Hypocrisy: telling others to meet with #SCOTUS nominee in 2016, but announcing your vote on nominee in 2017 before a meeting.

— Scott Walker (@ScottWalker) February 3, 2017

President Obama nominated Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court last March following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. In the spirit of Obama’s own “elections have consequences” declaration, the Republican-controlled Senate decided not to take action on the Garland nomination. They cited a longstanding precedent that a lifetime appointment to the high court shouldn’t be made in the waning months of a presidency.

As the election’s outcome made plain, the argument seems to have held true that a Supreme Court nominee in the last few months of a president’s term might not reflect the sentiment of the time, and many voters made their decision in large measure because of the grave importance of who would fill the Scalia seat.

And of course, after the election of now-President Trump and the glorious departure of Obama, Garland packed his bags. Trump selected Judge Neil Gorsuch as his nominee on January 31.

Suddenly, Democrats whose hair was ablaze at the GOP’s refusal to hold hearings and an “up or down” vote on Garland…well, their hair is still ablaze, except now they’re angry the American people elected a Republican president and dashed their hopes of regaining control of the Senate.

The halls of Congress reek with hypocrisy. Suddenly, Democrats like Baldwin who hugged the Constitution while demanding a “timely hearing and a timely vote” on Garland are now hell bent on doing everything possible to stop Gorsuch – by all measures one of most qualified candidates for the Supreme Court imaginable and as close a fit to the strict constructionist, originalist judicial philosophy for which Justice Scalia was legendary.

In fact, Gorsuch has famously said that a judge who likes all the outcomes of his or her decisions is not a good judge – judges should apply the rule of law objectively, not manipulate it to create outcomes they like. This speaks volumes about Gorsuch’s sterling character – and Democrats’ rabid opposition to him speaks volumes about theirs.

For their part, the Republicans argue that, unlike their opposition to Garland, blocking a SCOTUS nomination made literally within days of a new president’s inauguration is unprecedented. That’s not stopping Democrat Senators from flip-flopping en masse like a sinking boatload of wet waffles – even some from states Trump won, like Wisconsin.

Baldwin’s staff is trying hard to muddy the waters with as much double-speak as they can muster, but Politifact does an excellent job of cutting through the nonsense her office is putting out:

In an email, Baldwin spokesman John Kraus said the senator’s position is consistent because she supported a hearing, a committee vote and a floor vote for both nominees.

Politifact goes through the byzantine Senate rules behind the filibuster to explain why Baldwin is a hypocrite. Essentially, a filibuster is the use of Senate rules to create a debate of infinite duration, thereby blocking any final vote on the nominee (only in Washington, eh?). A filibuster can be stopped by the use of cloture, a vote that sets a limit on debate – that vote requires 60 votes, so Democrats theoretically have enough votes to stand in the way.

The Baldwin spokesman slyly told Politifact that the senator supports a vote for cloture, but since she’s in the minority, her party wouldn’t even be in a position to make such a motion. Her position on cloture is as meaningful as my position on the clothing lines at Kohl’s. Politifact explains further:

But cloture is a maneuver executed by the majority party (Republicans in this case), so Baldwin’s “support” for that is both unnecessary and irrelevant.

The filibuster/cloture tactic has only been used four times for nominees to the Supreme Court since 1968 – and this one would be in the first few months of a presidency. The obstructionism and the hypocritical double-speak to justify it is hard to fathom. Fortunately, the Republicans can and might (and should) simply change Senate rules (with a simple majority vote) to eliminate the 60-vote cloture requirement for Supreme Court nominees.

The Democrats used this “nuclear option” for lower court nominees, presumably to get judges approved and keep the courts moving effectively. Since the Supreme Court is, well, the supreme court, it stands to reason that using the nuclear option to get Gorsuch approved is of even more supreme importance and even more supremely logical.

Elections do have consequences, and unfortunately for obstructionist Democrats like Tammy Baldwin, Justice Neil Gorsuch will be one of them.

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Too Much Dough Got You Low?

Thu, 03/02/2017 - 23:53

This hilarious fake ad targets the proposed Border Adjustment Tax, or BAT tax. It’s a parody of the typical infomercial-type ads that feature goofy shots of people struggling to perform everyday activities. And then, of course, enter the charismatic spokesman with the solution!

Except in this ad, people are struggling to close their overstuffed wallets or haul handbags loaded with cash up the stairs. It’s really brilliant.

The tax is opposed by the National Retail Federation, which produced the ad and will run it during Saturday Night Live this weekend.

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Tomah VA Whistleblower Has Questions for Ron Kind

Thu, 03/02/2017 - 23:48

The following report by M.D. Kittle of Watchdog.org deserves to be re-printed in full.

Click here for the original article.

A whistleblower who helped shine light on abuses at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Tomah has some pointed questions for U.S. Representative Ron Kind.

Ryan Honl, a former employee at the scandal-plagued hospital and clinics, on Wednesday hand-delivered a letter to a Kind aide holding a listening session in Tomah.

Honl wants to know what the La Crosse Democrat or his staff said to Jason Simcakoski during a phone call to Kind’s D.C. office in November 2013, about nine months before the Marine veteran died of a “toxic cocktail” of painkillers and other drugs at the medical center.

In May, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs released a stinging report titled, “The Systematic Failures and Preventable Tragedies at the Tomah VA Medical Center.” The report described a “culture of fear” at the government-run hospital known as “Candyland” because of reported staff practices of overprescribing opioids. Dr. David Houlihan, the former head of the medical center who was commonly referred to as the “Candy Man” by patients and whistleblowers, was fired in November 2015. Last month a state agency stripped him of his medical license in Wisconsin.

Source notes from a 359-page Senate committee report show a 7-minute, 39-second call from Simcakoski’s phone to Kind’s office on Nov. 8, 2013.

At a May 31 hearing on the committee’s findings, Kind refused to answer Wisconsin Watchdog’s questions about the call.

“Contact my office,” Kind curtly said.

“But congressman, you are right here,” a Wisconsin Watchdog reporter responded.

Kind hastily left the conference room of the Cranberry Country Lodge in Tomah following the committee hearing.

A day later, the congressman told another news organization that his office would “conduct a thorough review” of its files.

“I can’t imagine that if someone, anyone called my office, gave their name and asked for help, then a case file would have been started immediately,” Kind told the La Crosse Tribune.

He released a follow-up statement asserting that his office doesn’t have a record of Simcakoski’s call. The congressman’s statement said the office has “strict protocol to handle every call in an appropriate way” and that its process “ensures that when constituents provide their name and contact information, and have concerns, those concerns are addressed.”

“If Jason had called our office to ask for help, we would have immediately opened a casework file and asked him to sign a Privacy Release Form in order to work on his case, as we have with almost 2,000 veterans’ cases since 2011,” the statement said. “If he had provided information, we would have flagged it and sent to the authorities, like we did when we sent the VA Inspector General an anonymous letter we received in 2011. Lastly, if he in any way sounded distressed we would have asked for his contact information and taken immediate action to reach out to the proper authorities.”

But the call records in the report’s source notes clearly indicate Simcakoski called Kind’s office and the call lasted 7 minutes, 39 seconds. Just as the records show the veteran, on the same morning, called the VA police in Tomah, and made an 8-minute call to the FBI field office in La Crosse. The FBI has declined to comment.

“Jason himself, according to the family and the congressional report, was basically a whistleblower,” Honl said in an interview Wednesday with Wisconsin Watchdog on the Vicki McKenna Show.  “He was calling the FBI, he was calling the VA police, he was calling lots of other places to try to get some attention to the drug diversion at the facility. And in the mix of that was an 8-minute call to Ron Kind’s Washington D.C. office.”

Kind’s office did forward an anonymous complaint about the hospital to the VA Inspector General in 2011, but the congressman did not follow up.

Kind and former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Middleton, have been accused of not acting on allegations of misconduct. An official for the union that represents many of the employees at Tomah originally said she had sent “hand-delivered” memos to Kind and Feingold in 2009, but later walked back those statements.

Kind and Feingold said their offices had no record of the memo.

The memo battle became a heated campaign issue last year in a Senate election campaign that saw U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, who chairs the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee, beat Feingold.

Honl said his personal campaign to call out Kind was rekindled recently after reading that the 10-term congressman hasn’t ruled out a run for governor in 2018. The whistleblower said that would be “an absolute travesty.”

“The governor is responsible for the National Guard in the state and I just can’t imagine that someone who turned the other way while veterans are being abused and died would be responsible to veterans and active duty,” Honl said.

Kind’s office did not return a request for comment Wednesday.

The original article can be found here at Wisconsin Watchdog.

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About That Billion-Dollar Transportation Shortfall…

Thu, 03/02/2017 - 13:57

We’ve all heard the narrative that Wisconsin is facing a transportation funding deficit of a billion dollars. As narratives go, it’s a case study in framing a public discussion. But over at the MacIver Institute, investigative reporter Bill Osmulski does what it seems nobody else has ever bothered to do – question that figure.

Below is an excerpt. Click through to see the full story and an avalanche of facts about transportation funding in Wisconsin.

A billion-dollar shortfall in the next transportation budget started the debate about raising Wisconsin’s gas tax, which was so explosive, no one seemingly had the time to confirm there is a billion-dollar shortfall. If they had, the current debate might not be centered on the gas tax, but instead on how we fund roads in the first place, because there’s only a shortfall if you change the way Wisconsin funds transportation.

The current 2015-2017 state budget spends $2.8 billion on highways, and $855 million of that comes from bonding. That means about 30 percent of everything Wisconsin spends on roads is borrowed, and there are those who believe the state should not be borrowing at all to pay for roads. That was the cover story for a peculiar request the Legislative Fiscal Bureau received last summer.

Even though the DOT was about to submit a new budget request in less than two months, Fiscal Bureau was asked to project what the DOT’s budget would look like under an unlikely set of circumstances. The request wanted the Fiscal Bureau to omit all bonding under a cost-to-continue scenario. The result was a $939 million difference between the current budget and the next.

The billion-dollar transportation deficit was born.

That number started the narrative that Wisconsin has a transportation funding crisis. It didn’t matter that two months later the DOT presented its actual budget request that included spending projections, revenue estimates, current federal funding commitments, and existing bonding. That request also indicated there would be a shortfall, but at $449 million, it was less than half of the previous projection. When Governor Walker presented his budget proposal, he included $500 million in new transportation bonding to fill that gap, which would be the lowest amount since the 2001-2003 budget. It would also mean no delays on major projects currently underway.

Still, the fabricated billion-dollar deficit dominates coverage of the transportation budget, and it continues to frame the debate over the gas tax. Framing the transportation debate this benefits those who want to raise the gas tax. However, they will still readily point to bonding as an underlying concern.

Whole thing here.

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