Good Night for Wisconsin

In the NFL… Aaron Rodgers wins MVP and JJ Watt wins Defensive Player of the Year.

Congrats!

Measles Outbreak in California

There are some interesting things to note about this story.

The California Department of Public Health sent out the latest numbers Friday of confirmed cases since December and while the total is still small, the jump was a startling 54% in just more than a week.

It’s still less than 100 people, so it’s not the end of the world. But measles is a highly contagious disease that can be deadly. It was eradicated in the US.

Measles was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000, which means it is no longer native to the United States but continues to be brought in by international travelers.

It looks like measles cases are on the rise.

Last year, the United States had its most number of measles cases — at 644 — since 2000, the CDC says on its website.

And while most people are vaccinated, not all are:

The two measles patients are siblings, both of whom are unvaccinated. Their cases are related to the outbreak at Disneyland.

 So let’s put some pieces together… We have a highly communicable disease that was eliminated from the US, but cases are brought in from outside of the country – particularly from people who are not vaccinated. Is it a coincidence that this outbreak is occurring in a part of the country with a large population of illegal aliens? While we are talking about the measles here, what other diseases are being let in by our open borders policies?

Our border policies have consequences. One of those consequences is the importation of diseases heretofore eliminated from our country.

Walker Proposes More Borrowing for Transportation

The governor appears to be doing everything he can to keep up transportation spending.

Madison — Gov. Scott Walker isn’t backing an increase in the gas tax and instead wants to rely on $1.3 billion in borrowing to fund transportation projects over the next two years.

Under the Republican governor’s plan, bonding for transportation would rise by about 30%, but the state’s overall borrowing would drop. That’s because Walker is recommending that the state delay construction of buildings that haven’t already gotten initial approval, including for the University of Wisconsin System.

I tend to agree with Speaker Vos.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) greeted the plan with deep skepticism.

“To continue to just borrow and spend isn’t fiscally responsible,” he said in a statement. “We will certainly be pushing for a permanent fix instead of just more bonding.”

The problem is that there is a substantial and structural difference between the amount of money being spent on transportation and the money being generated by transportation taxes for that purpose. Borrowing to fill the gap does not fix the problem. It merely maintains the status quo for a future legislature and governor to handle. This looks again like Walker looking to push hard and controversial decisions until after a potential presidential bid.

The only real solutions to transportation needs in this state are as simple as they are difficult. The state needs to either cut spending to match the current level of available funds, or find another revenue source to make the level of funding available match the level of spending being requested – or some combination thereof.

I, for one, advocate the former. The people who get to spend and receive the money, like the DOT and the road builders lobby, want the latter. Walker is trying to avoid the debate altogether.

Leech Eats Worm

Because you know you wondered what this would look like…

Senate Passes Keystone XL Bill

Good. I’m glad the Senate passed this in spite of a veto threat.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate passed a bill on Thursday to approve the long-pending Keystone XL oil pipeline, despite the White House saying earlier in the day that President Barack Obama would veto the measure.

The Republican-led Senate passed the bill that would approve TransCanada Corp’s project to carry 800,000 barrels per day of heavy Canadian crude to Nebraska on the way to Gulf Coast refineries and ports.

And while the Reuters doesn’t say it, this passed with bipartisan support. It passed 62-36 with 9 Democrats voting in favor. It is not a veto-proof majority, but it is a strong one. Put it on Obama’s desk and make him veto it.

Terrorists Will Be Terrorists

No shocker here

One of the five Taliban released in exchange for Sgt. Bow Bergdahl appears to have returned to militant activity, according to CNN.

 

Walker Proposed $400 Million Cut to UW System

In exchange for more autonomy for the university system.

As part of the UW plan, Walker would turn the system into a public authority. Walker will call in his budget for another two-year freeze on tuition for undergraduates who hail from Wisconsin. After that, the system will have the authority to increase tuition on its own.

UW President Ray Cross said the cuts are “substantial.” Still, he said the public authority status, similar to the relationship UW Hospital has with the state, would give the system the ability to manage on its own things like procurement and some building projects.

“These flexibilities will allow us to manage pricing in a way that reflects the market and actual costs,” Cross said. “The flexibilities also ensure our continued commitment to affordability, accessibility and quality educational experiences for our students and Wisconsin families.”

We have had this ongoing debate in Wisconsin about the relationship between the taxpayers and the university system. There is no question that the state university is a tremendous value for the state both in terms of educating the population and economic development. It is a critical piece of Wisconsin’s puzzle.

The taxpayers get frustrated when they see tuition rising sharply for their kids while they see the universities spending money on things seemingly unrelated to education. The taxpayers rightfully wonder why they are spending so much of the state’s resources on the universities if they are not using that money to fulfill a primary function of the system – to educate the kids of Wisconsin.

On the other side, the university wants more independence to make decisions without the oversight of the taxpayers. They argue that the university has many missions, including education, that they can better fulfill without state management.

Walker’s proposal seeks to meet some of both demands. It would give the university system more of the independence it wants while reducing the exposure of the taxpayers for those decisions.

One thing I don’t like about the plan is that it turns the funding for the university into a block grant that is indexed to inflation. This makes the funding more automatic to give certainty to the university officials, but it also makes the funding much more inaccessible to the legislature to change. One thing we don’t need in Wisconsin is another huge part of the state budget that is set aside to automatically increase without the active control of the legislature.

We will have to see more details of the plan as it unfolds. How much independence are we talking about? How will the cuts be spread out? We’ll have to see.

 

 

Ideas that pack some commonsense

My column for the West Bend Daily News is online. I had to turn it in before the casino decision, else it would have been about that. Here you go.

Gov. Scott Walker has begun to disclose some of the initiatives that will be included in his upcoming budget proposal. There are dozens of initiatives and ideas from big to small, but two of them are already attracting heavy criticism from Wisconsin’s liberals even though they are perhaps two of the most common sense proposals in the list.

The first of Walker’s ideas that is causing liberals to gnash their teeth is to require that welfare recipients prove that they are not abusing illegal substances by passing a drug test. Although the details are not yet settled, Walker’s proposal would be fairly lenient and offer free treatment to people who fail the drug test multiple times. Only after multiple failures and a refusal to accept help would welfare benefits be cut off. A dozen states already have some form of drug testing for welfare recipients and several more are proposing similar measures.

The opponents to drug testing argue that it stigmatizes all welfare recipients by promulgating a negative stereotype of welfare recipients as drugaddled good-for-nothings. That argument falls flat when one considers how many working people are already subjected to drug tests as a condition of employment.

If the opponents’ argument were true, then society would view many of our truck drivers, factory workers, health care professionals, professional athletes and many other groups of people as drug addicts just because they are regularly subjected to drug tests. Furthermore, a program of weeding out drug addicts from the ranks of welfare recipients will improve their image because society will know that people receiving welfare are actually less likely to be drug addicts.

More important than stereotypes or imagery, however, is the actual purpose of a drug-testing program. The reality of our economy is that many employers require drug testing as a normal condition of employment.

Employers who do not test their employees still have a zero-tolerance stance, if a worker shows up for work stoned. If the purpose of welfare is to provide a temporary hand up for people trying to reenter the workforce and become self-sufficient, then it is incumbent on the program to help people put themselves in the best position possible to obtain and retain gainful employment. That includes maintaining a drug-free lifestyle.

The proposal to require welfare recipients to undergo drug testing as a condition of receiving benefits is an idea that is good for the recipients and good for the taxpayers who do not want to fund their neighbor’s drug habit. It warrants broad bipartisan support.

The second commonsense proposal that Walker is proposing is to provide an alternate pathway for people to become teachers that considers a person’s experience and education. Under the current system, a person can only become a licensed teacher after completing a university teaching degree.

The issue arises when a person who is a professional in a particular field wants to share his or her knowledge with students. For example, under the current system a seasoned mechanical engineer who has worked for 30 years in his profession is not allowed to teach high school shop class without first spending thousands of dollars and years of time obtaining a teaching degree. Walker’s proposal would allow school boards and administrators to consider that engineer’s experience, even if he does not have the teaching degree.

Opponents of this proposal argue that while people may have become experts in their subject matter throughout their careers, the purpose of the teaching degree is to ensure that the person can teach that subject matter to students. It is a fair point, but incomplete.

We have all experienced teachers with a shiny teaching degree who couldn’t teach a dog to lick himself. And we have all experienced brilliant professionals who have a natural gift for teaching.

A teaching degree is no guarantee of teaching skill. Conversely, having subject knowledge is no guarantee of teaching ability.

There are still many details to work out, but giving local schools the flexibility to consider the totality of a person’s experience, education, and teaching skill when making a hiring decision is a very positive step. The lack of a specific teaching degree should not be an immediate disqualifier that keeps qualified people who are passionate about their subject from teaching.

Both of these proposals will be rightfully refined through the legislative process. Both of them are sensible reforms that should pass with wide support from rational people.

(Owen Robinson is a West Bend resident. His column runs Tuesdays in the Daily News.)

“Large Countries Don’t Bully Smaller Countries”

History is littered with examples to the contrary.

New Delhi (CNN)The military option is out, President Barack Obama said Sunday, but the U.S. will be looking at all other options to “ratchet up the pressure on Russia” on the issue of Ukraine.

“We have no interest in seeing Russia weakened or its economy in shambles. We have a profound interest, as I believe every country does, in promoting a core principle, which is: Large countries don’t bully smaller countries,” Obama told reporters.

Walker Denies Kenosha Casino

Put me firmly in the camp that is angry at Walker for this decision.

KENOSHA — Gov. Scott Walker’s rejection of the proposed Kenosha casino Friday prompted anger from Racine- and Kenosha-area officials.

In rejecting the casino, Walker cited the project’s potential hit to the state budget, which he has said is due to compacts former Gov. Jim Doyle negotiated with the Forest County Potawatomi. The compacts called for the tribe to be reimbursed for losses incurred because of a new casino.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, blamed Doyle for creating a “no-win situation.”

But Vos, who is close with the governor, also said Walker made the wrong decision.

On the merits, Walker got it wrong. While there remained a risk that the state would have been held liable for the Potawatomi’s losses per their compact, the BIA has already ruled that provision unenforceable. It is likely that the courts would rule in the BIA’s favor. And even so, the Menomonee had already agreed to make the state taxpayers whole in this eventuality. The risk to the taxpayers was more than acceptable given the opportunity to create thousands of jobs and billions of dollars of economic development for the state.

Walker blew the chance to bring jobs and economic development to Wisconsin. The question is “why?” and none of the possible answers look good for Walker.

The reason for the decision given by Walker is that the risk of losing money from the Potawatomi was too great. First, as I said above, the risk was more than acceptable given the potential reward. Second, it shows that Walker prioritized state tax revenue over jobs and economic development in the private sector. That’s not a conservative position. Even if it came to pass that the state did lose $100 million from the Potawatomi – offset by whatever revenues are generated by the new casino – it represents a tiny fraction of a $30 billion budget. And with the stated goal of reducing the size of government, Walker should have no problem dealing with a decline in revenue from the Potawatomi – assuming he’s sincere about his pledge to shrink state government.

If the stated reason for Walker’s decision is the real one, then it was just a stupid decision. But more troubling are some of the other possible reasons. Both Iowa social conservatives and allegedly Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino magnate who has opposed the Seminole casinos in the past, have urged Walker to kill the Kenosha casino. With Walker wanting to run for president, it sure appears that he let his personal political aspirations influence his decision to the detriment of the welfare of Wisconsin.

But even if Walker did make his decision based on politics, it was a stupid political decision too. Walker’s claim to fame is that he is a tough conservative who is not afraid to take on the tough fights. Well, he buckled on this decision. “Unintimidated?” hardly.

Also, Walker stakes his political reputation on being a champion of private sector job creation. With this decision, he has given up that plank. He has little ground to stand on criticizing opponents of the iron mine, Keystone pipeline, or other major projects when he single-handedly turned away thousands of private Wisconsin jobs. And every time Walker complains about job creation, his opponents can rightly point to this decision as hypocritical.

Finally, Walker used the excuse that it was former governor Jim Doyle’s horrible compact with the Potawatomi that forced this decision. While it is true that Doyle signed a sweetheart deal that put the taxpayers at risk and made this decision somewhat challenging, it’s a weak excuse. Walker has been governor for 4 years. He is well past the point of being able to blame his predecessor. He was elected to make changes and move Wisconsin forward – not make excuses and whine about the decisions of previous governors.

This further undermines Walker’s argument for being president. If he should win the White House, he will be succeeding perhaps the most destructive president we have had in a very long time. There will be huge messes left for him to figure out. How is he going to deal with Obamacare? ISIS? Immigration? Massive deficit? Etc. Is he going to just blame Obama and say he can’t do anything about those messes? If he can’t handle a bad compact with a tiny tribe in Wisconsin, how is he going to handle Putin? Again, Walker’s claim is that he is “unintimidated,” but he has severely undermined that image.

Whether you look at it based on the merits or the politics, Walker got this very wrong and the state of Wisconsin has missed out on a rare opportunity for a massive infusion of economic development.

Unfortunately, he can’t be reached for comment this weekend because he’s campaigning for president in Iowa. By such actions he is showing us his priorities.

Sign in Appleton Causes Stir

Stories like this drive me nuts.

The sign, located on the south side of a building at 200 N. Richmond, flashed a series of statements sandwiched between pictures of President Barack Obama and civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. The statements appearing after Obama and before King said, “I conduct phony protests,” “I burned the city,” and “I aid the enemy.”

The statement appearing after King and before Obama said, “I have a dream.”

Monday was Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

OK, simple enough. On MLK day, somebody was making a statement comparing the lofty ideals expressed by MLK with his or her opinion of the results of Obama’s actions. It is a fairly clear political statement about how Obama is not living up to MLK’s legacy. Agree or not… it’s pretty straightforward.

But then people go off on this…

The meaning behind the message, whether political or otherwise, is unclear, but people who complained to Post-Crescent Media and the city viewed it as racially motivated and inflammatory.

“I find it extremely disturbing,” said Mary DeBraal of Appleton. “What are people who visit our city going to think about this? What do the people of color think?”

C’mon! Really? Racist? Are people not allowed to make any critical comments about our president without people thinking it is racially motivated? I guess not. Frankly, I think people who think a clear political statement like that is racist are racist themselves because they apparently can’t get their heads past the race of the individuals involved to understand the actual content.

Wisconsin Ice Captures Crooks

Revenge of the ice.

Ryan VanPuymbrouck, 20, and Tyler Hale, 24, both of Solon Springs, Wisconsin, are accused of taking a television, liquor, an auger used for cutting holes through the ice and other items on Monday from shacks set up on the frozen Upper St. Croix Lake, the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department said in a statement.

The men were driving along the lake when the car, a 2014 Ford Focus compact car owned by Hale’s girlfriend, broke through the ice. The pair got out safely and flagged down a fisherman who called police, according to the sheriff’s department.

Wisconsin Government Employment Down

Some good news

The number of government employees in Wisconsin compared to population has been dropping over time and is now at its lowest point since at least 1993, the earliest point for which U.S. Census Bureau makes figures available.

Wisconsin had 47.8 state and local government full-time equivalent employees (FTEs) per 1,000 state residents in 2013. That’s down 10.3% from a high of 53.3 employees in 2001. If Wisconsin government employment levels had stayed at the 2001 peak levels, Wisconsin would have nearly 32,000 additional government employees over the current levels.

Some not…

The steady decline in the number of government jobs in Wisconsin may be coming to an end. A different data source, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Current Employment Statistics, shows a modest increase in the number of government jobs in Wisconsin in 2014. In Wisconsin, about 1 out of every 7 jobs are in state or local government.

Walker Begins Releasing Budget Plans

There’s a lot of good stuff in here, but this will be the lighting rod.

Helping People Move from Government Dependence to Independence:
Some employers in high-demand fields, including manufacturing, require their employees be drug-free for safety and other reasons. To assist those looking to secure these positions, the budget includes a plan to require drug testing of those who are applying for or receiving benefits from programs, which may include unemployment insurance, FoodShare, Transform Milwaukee, transitional jobs, and others.

Those who fail the drug test will be offered the opportunity to participate in a drug treatment program, free of charge, as well as job training.

Obama Gives Fundraising Speech

I received this email immediately after some speech Obama gave tonight.

Owen —

I hope you’re excited about the agenda I laid out tonight for 2015.

Now it’s time to get to work.

Chip in $10 or more, and let’s go.

If you’ve saved your payment information, your donation will go through immediately.

UW’s Tin Ear

John Torinus has an excellent column regarding the organization of the UW System. Read the whole thing.

Credit UW – Madison for also having a tin ear.

Economic development in Wisconsin is largely happening at the regional level. The regions are smart enough to know that it is engineers who are the fulcrum for business expansions, innovations and startups in their parts of the state. They know those three ingredients are the basis for new jobs, better wages and prosperity. The state could use a lot more engineers.

So why doesn’t Chancellor Blank listen to the leaders in those regions? The University was founded on the bedrock of the Wisconsin Idea, which says that the boundaries of the university (including the flagship campus) are the boundaries of the state.

We Badgers all love our world-class University of Wisconsin – Madison and what it does for the world. But it needs to be global-local. It needs do break-through research, turn out national leaders, but also tend to the needs of the state. It needs to multi-task. It should assist rather than thwart the engineering consortium, which will inevitably become a source of transfers and graduate engineering students for the high-end Madison campus.

Regents, take note: a lot of good students can’t get into Madison out of high school. A lot of them can’t afford to go UW – Madison; they need to live at home and start their college careers locally. They are place-bound for one reason or another.

Part of the erosion of the Wisconsin Idea is structural; part is cultural; part is financial.

An effort to break down traditional families

My column for the West Bend Daily News is online. It’s and expansion of a blog post from a few days ago. Here it is.

During the his first State of the Union address after his party and ideology suffered crushing electoral defeats from state legislatures to the U.S. Senate, President Barack Obama plans to continue his leftist push by pushing for $320 billion in tax increases to fuel even more spending.

Obama wants to continue his jihad against “the rich” in favor of the middle class. He does not appear to care that his policies to date have seen the rich get far richer while the middle and lower classes stagnate, thus making the gap wider than it has been in decades. Obama is not one to be concerned with the results of his policies when he is seeking to advance his leftist ideology.

The president will propose increasing the capital gains tax to 28 percent. It was 15 percent when he took office in 2009. He also wants to impose a massive fee on certain financial institutions and closing a so-called “trust-fund loophole,” which would actually just be a huge inheritance tax that would particularly hurt people like farmers who pass on their land to their children.

The good news is that since the Republicans control Congress, most of those proposals will not go anywhere and Obama knows it. In his typical cynical way, Obama is proposing them for purely political reasons to build the political narrative for the 2016 election that the Republicans are the “party of ‘no.’” It is a crass and condescending form of politics, but it is the kind that Obama is comfortable with having come from the notorious Chicago political machine.

One of his proposals, however, is particularly troubling not only because of what it is, but because it is something that appears innocuous enough that the Republicans might actually pass it as part of a political quid pro quo. Obama is proposing a $500 tax credit for families in which both parents work.

It sounds nice enough. It is supposed to. Obama’s proposal is positioned as a way to help families with working parents to afford child care since both parents are away from the home working. The problem is that we used to be a nation that advocated policies that encouraged a stable family unit where parents could afford to, and were encouraged to, raise their children. This policy incentivizes parents to do just the opposite.

While not everyone can afford it, having a twoparent family where one parent can stay home with the children is substantially better for the children and the family than other circumstances. History and studies have shown time and again that children are better off when they are raised in an in-contact family with ample parent-child nurturing time in those first few precious years. Many of our government policies, like the Family and Medical Leave Act and subsidy programs, are specifically designed to make it easier for parents to spend more time at home — especially during a child’s early years. Obama’s proposal to subsidize parents only when both are working works counter to generations of government policy.

Much like some welfare programs incentivize parents to not marry, this tax credit would incentivize both parents to work. All such policies discourage the family unit and make it more difficult for families to afford to raise their children instead of spending thousands of dollars on child care. Instead, we should be advancing government policies that make it easier for parents to afford to stay home and raise their own children. It is better for the kids and better for society.

No parent who is unemployed is going to choose to get a job for a $500 tax credit. Nor is a $500 credit going to make much of a difference in a family’s ability to afford child care. But this is another brick in building a taxpayer-funded infrastructure that encourages every adult to work and let the “professionals” raise our kids. It is another brick in the path to being a society that turns to our government overseers for our needs and wants instead of turning to each other.

It is not a path on which we should travel.

(Owen Robinson is a West Bend resident. His column runs Tuesdays in the Daily News.)

Senator Baldwin Sat on VA Report

And now she jumps in and pretends to be a champion for veterans?

A whistleblower who learned in November that Baldwin had had a copy for months and hadn’t acted, repeatedly emailed her office asking that she do something to help the veterans at the center, according to copies of the emails obtained by USA TODAY.

In them the whistleblower — former Tomah VA employee Ryan Honl — asked that Baldwin call for an investigation, that she push colleagues on the Veterans Affairs committee to take action, and that she help bring the issues in the report to public attention. The report had not been made public, but Baldwin’s office received a copy in August.

When she still had not taken public action in December, Honl sent a message to her staffer with the subject line: “Final plea for Help from Senator Baldwin.”

“All we ask is that our senator publicly support our desire to have an open forum rather than remain silent publicly, which is what the VA does in hiding reports from the public,” Honl wrote.

Honl, a Gulf War vet and West Point graduate who left the Tomah facility in October, said in an interview Monday he believes Baldwin’s inaction after receiving the report is a “travesty.”

Baldwin’s office declined to explain what she did between receiving the report in August and last week, when she called for an investigation after the Center for Investigative Reporting published details of the inspection report outlining opiate prescription amounts at the center and recounting the overdose death in August of a 35-year-old Marine Corps veteran while he was an inpatient.

China Launches New Cultural Revolution

Is the era of the squatty potty over?

By 2017, tourists can expect to do their business in modernized “three-star” bathrooms, says the tourism office.

Currently, traditional public restrooms across China are squat toilets — or put simply, holes in the ground — and BYOTP, ‘Bring Your Own Toilet Paper.’

According to the World Toilet Summit, an international event committed to improving toilet and sanitation conditions worldwide, clean restrooms are one of the keys to boosting tourism.

Fighting in Ukraine Escalates

Yeah, that thing in Ukraine is still going on.

Dozens of people have been killed or wounded as fighting escalates along the front line in eastern Ukraine and the battle for Donetsk airport continues.

Artillery fire was reported in several areas of the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions and a hospital in Donetsk city was hit, reports said.

Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian rebels both said they controlled the airport.

As Russia warned Ukraine not to make a strategic mistake, Kiev said more Russian troops had crossed the border.

Russia has repeatedly denied claims that its regular forces are in eastern Ukraine, but has admitted that a number of “volunteers” are fighting alongside the rebels.