Dairy farmers feel slap of the Invisible Hand

My column for the West Bend Daily News is online. In this age of populism and protectionism, it is bound to be unpopular. Here it is:

Dozens of Wisconsin dairy farmers with thousands of cows received a letter a few weeks ago that spoiled their year. Grassland, the company that had been buying their milk, told the farmers that they could no longer buy the farmers’ milk because of a new Canadian policy that has dried up the demand for American milk. The calls for government action throw kindling on the friction between Americans who believe in free trade and those who support protectionist policies.

The price of milk for Canadian dairy processors is set by the Canadian Dairy Commission. The way they set prices was based on a complicated process, but the end result is that the price that Canadian dairy farmers received for milk was substantially higher than in the rest of the world. By comparison, a Canadian dairy farmer received almost 50 percent more for his or her milk than an American farmer.

This artificial pricing sounds great for Canadian dairy farmers, but economies are dynamic and protectionist policies rarely have the desired effect. Canada’s participation in NAFTA and trade agreements with the European Union and other entities give other countries fairly free access to Canadian markets to sell their goods — including milk. While the high price of milk for Canadian dairy farmers sounds good on paper, the actual result is that Canadian dairy processors were buying most of their milk from American dairy farmers because it was cheaper. In other words, Wisconsin dairy farmers were directly benefiting from what was supposed to be a protectionist policy by Canada to prop up prices for their own dairy farmers.

The new pricing policy from the Canadian Dairy Commission would allow Canadian dairy producers to buy milk at whatever the global price is. The new policy is arguably promoting freer trade by dropping an artificial price of milk and allowing it to fluctuate with global supply and demand. Canadian dairy farmers will no longer get the higher prices for their milk, but they will be able to sell more of it. Canadian dairy processors and consumers will benefit from saving the cost of transporting milk from distant places. Wisconsin dairy farmers are being hurt by the policy because the artificial demand for their product that was created by the old Canadian policies has now dried up. While the new policy is arguably freer than the old policy, there is no question that it favors Canadian dairy farmers over foreign ones.

With so many Wisconsin families hurting, one question is what, if anything, should our government do in response? In an increasingly rare bout of bipartisanship, both of Wisconsin’s U.S. senators are calling upon the Trump administration to do something about the new Canadian

policy. Sen. Tammy Baldwin has called the policy an “unfair trade scheme” and Sen. Ron Johnson said Wisconsin dairy farmers should not be “victims of a trade dispute they didn’t start.”

What should the American government do? Should the Trump administration demand that Canada reinstate artificially high milk process for their own dairy producers? Should America enact retaliatory protectionist policies on other goods?

The free trade of goods and services in a market economy has proven to be the most efficient and economical way to align supply with demand. The United States has been a perfect example of this. Our large, diverse national land mass means that our nation has a diverse and robust internal economy that allows for specialization. Instead of Wisconsin having to try to provide our own milk, beef, oranges, wheat, iron, copper, etc., the lack of trade barriers with other states allows Wisconsin to focus on developing the natural abundances within our state and buy the natural abundances of other states. As Adam Smith said, “never attempt to make at home what it will cost him more to make than to buy.”

The same is true in a global economy. Free trade is the most efficient, economical and fair way to allocate scarce resources to the greatest benefit of the most people.

But getting to that greatest benefit means that some folks will feel the sting when they are slapped by the invisible hand. Problems arise when we react to that inevitable sting by trying to protect that which the market no longer needs.

Wisconsin’s dairy farmers have benefited for years by an ill-conceived Canadian milk pricing policy and are feeling the sting of that policy being changed.

Our reaction should not be to enact further barriers to trade and further distort the market. Instead, our reaction should be to help our dairy farmers find a new market for their milk, or help them reallocate their resources to produce something for which there is market demand.

Injured Marine Completes Boston Marthon

Stud.

For Staff Sgt. Jose Luis Sanchez, what it means to serve and represent his country is something he knows all too well. According to NBC, Sanchez is a retired Marine who lost the lower part of his left leg by stepping on an IED in Afghanistan in 2011. However, the former military man would not be deterred because of his injury when it came time to run in the 2017 Boston Marathon.

Rather, he showed his pride and honor for his country on Patriots’ Day on an entirely different level.

Sgt. Sanchez wore a Semper Fi Fund shirt and ran on his prosthetic leg while carrying a large American flag for the entire 26.2-mile race, finishing in 5:46:13.

“I want to recognize veterans and everyone who thinks they can’t do something,” Sanchez told Runner’s World. He completed the race as a charity member for the Semper Fi Fund, which supports wounded veterans, Runner’s World reports.

Walker Signs Project Labor Agreement Neutrality Law

Great!

De Pere – Governor Scott Walker signed Senate Bill 3 into law today at Amerilux International, LLC in De Pere. The bill promotes neutrality in the bidding process for public works projects as well as healthy competition between contractors.

“Accountable government means ensuring our taxpayers receive quality service,” Governor Walker said. “By forbidding state and local governments from requiring contractors to enter into agreements with labor organizations, we’re promoting healthy competition between contractors. At the end of the day, this means the contractor ultimately chosen for the project is the one that has demonstrated excellent service and will work at good value for Wisconsin taxpayers.”

Tax Reform in Danger

It’s a good thing that Congress is taking a couple of weeks off to rest and relax.

(Reuters) – U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the Trump administration’s timetable for tax reform is set to falter following setbacks in negotiations with Congress over healthcare, the Financial Times reported on Monday.

Mnuchin told the Financial Times in an interview that the target to get tax reforms through Congress and on President Donald Trump’s desk before August was “highly aggressive to not realistic at this point”.

“It is fair to say it is probably delayed a bit because of the healthcare,” Mnuchin told the newspaper. (http://on.ft.com/2oPJlTX)

Vegan Butcher Shop

Wait… what?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A first-in-the-nation business officially opened in Minneapolis Saturday, giving non-meat eaters a reason to go into a butcher shop.

Siblings Kale and Aubry Walch are the brains behind The Herbivorous Butcher in northeast Minneapolis, which has customers lining up around the block on its opening day.

They sell things like vegan Italian sausage, kielbasa, porterhouse steak and many different vegan cheeses.

I’ve always been a bit flummoxed by the need of some vegetarians and vegans to create dishes to approximate meat. Why? If you don’t want to eat meat or animal products, then don’t. I don’t try to make my steak taste and feel like a salad.

Turkey Descends Into Dictatorship

Totalitarianism is advancing as democracy retreats.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s push for an executive presidency succeeded with 51.4% voting for it.

The win was met with both celebrations and protests across Turkey.

[…]

What’s in the new constitution?

  • The president will have a five-year tenure, for a maximum of two terms
  • The president will be able to directly appoint top public officials, including ministers and one or several vice-presidents
  • The job of prime minister will be scrapped
  • The president will have power to intervene in the judiciary, which Mr Erdogan has accused of being influenced by Fethullah Gulen, the Pennsylvania-based preacher he blames for the failed coup in July
  • The president will decide whether or not impose a state of emergency
Grey line

Mr Erdogan says the changes are needed to address Turkey’s security challenges after last July’s attempted coup, and to avoid the fragile coalition governments of the past.

The new system, he argues, will resemble those in France and the US and will bring calm in a time of turmoil marked by a Kurdish insurgency, Islamist militancy and conflict in neighbouring Syria, which has led to a huge refugee influx.

Critics of the changes fear the move will make the president’s position too powerful, arguing that it amounts to one-man rule, without the checks and balances of other presidential systems such as those in France and the US.

Protests Erupt Over Trump’s Tax Returns

Uh huh… this doesn’t look like astroturf at all. 

Protesters in cities across the country came out Saturday to call on President Trump to release his tax returns.
Demonstrators came out in large numbers in about 200 other cities, including a few outside the U.S., according to organizers.

Images of tax protesters in cities including Washington, Philadelphia, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles and New York flooded social media.

Trump has said that Americans “don’t care at all” about his tax returns, but polls show 74% of Americans say he should release them.

I’d like to see his tax returns too, but I’m far more interested in his policies and how he executing his office. I think the American people made it pretty clear that they don’t care too much about this when they elected him. But the lefty power brokers sure love to rile up their base over this.

Government Safety Net

Literally.

(CNN)The Golden Gate Bridge has a problem: horrifyingly high suicide rates. The community has a solution: a net covering the perimeter of the bridge.

It sounds like a simple response to a complex problem, but the barrier is a big task. In May, crews will begin to erect fencing along the approaches and tower legs, but that deterrent is only temporary. From there, workers will take careful measurements to begin installing a net that extends 20 feet out along both sides of the 1.7 mile long bridge.
The installation will begin in 2018 and the Golden Gate Bridge, Transportation and Highway District expects construction to be completed in 2021.
And this isn’t your average net. It will be constructed from stainless steel — light enough to be inconspicuous, but strong enough to save lives.
[…]
Costing $211 million to design, plan, and construct, the project is a group effort. The funds are coming from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, Caltrans, the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District, state mental health provisions and private donations.
Isn’t it interesting that a city that prides itself on free expression and individual liberty (as long as it’s liberal) would deny people the ability to kill themselves? Who are they to interrupt someone exercising an alternative deathstyle?
Also, if someone jumps off of the bridge and lands in the net, couldn’t they just crawl over to the edge of the net and jump again? It’s not as if the slightly reduced distance is any less deadly.
$211 million and three years to put up a 3.4 mile net… only in government.

Around the Bend by Judy Steffes

Game changer for Pizza Ranch as land in WB is sold

A bit of a game changer for the location that was going to be home to a future Pizza Ranch in West Bend. On Monday, April 10, MG Development, LLC sold the site at 2001-2005 W. Washington Street, in West Bend to West Bend Enterprises, LLC, which is a partnership that owns the neighboring Sendik’s lot.

That 1.7-acre parcel will be cleaned up and soon available as a build-to-suit outlot to Sendik’s.

Adam Williquette from Anderson Commercial Group and Dave Hazenfield represented the seller in the transaction.

That parcel, just west of 18th Avenue, had been a hot topic as Matt and Stacy Gehring had their eye on it for a future Pizza Ranch. The couple had gone before the Plan Commission several times as they worked through revised site plans and easements.

One of the business partners in the Pizza Ranch development, Bob Rehm, said Monday afternoon that a “Pizza Ranch in West Bend is inevitable.”

A new location is being explored and more details will be released when they become available.

Side note: If you’ve been following the Pizza Ranch story from the start you’ll recall this isn’t the first time the location has been changed.

In March 2016, WashingtonCountyInsider.com was the first to report on a Pizza Ranch possibly coming to the community. Two short months after that, speculation was confirmed as site development plans were on the table.

The first location was on W. Washington Street just to the west of Westbury Bank.

On August 15, 2016 PRWB Real Estate LLC closed on the purchase of 1.7 acres on W. Washington Street for $300,000.

Then, within a couple weeks, PRWB Real Estate LLC flipped the property and sold the parcel for $500,000 to Steve Kearns.

The Gehrings and PRWB regrouped and announced a new location in October at 2001-2005 W. Washington Street, just to the west of 18th Avenue.

There were several more trips before the Plan Commission with easements and whatnot.

And that brings us to today – when the 1.7 acre lot on W. Washington Street was sold to West Bend Enterprises, LLC.

Rue21 in West Bend is closing

Rue21 is closing its store in West Bend. The retailer, 1331 W. Paradise Drive, is the third corporate store in the strip mall east of Wal-Mart to announce its closing. In February, WashingtonCountyInsider.com was first to report MC Sports was closing and at the end of December 2016 the Insider first announced Pier 1 was closing on Paradise Drive.

Rue21 first opened in West Bend in June 2014. It specializes in clothes for teens and young adults. There are currently sales, 20% to 40% off the entire store. Store management did not have any insight on why the store was closing. A record search shows the corporation may have some financial concerns and could be restructuring. Rue21 is based in Pennsylvania and has more than 1,000 stores in 48 states. Early word, the store closing in West Bend should take about 8 weeks.

ION Sport Pub to open April 24

ION Sports Pub, 1102 E. Paradise Drive, in West Bend will be opening in a couple weeks. The restaurant is a partnership between Oscar Steinbauer Jr. and Nora Sanchez. The pair have been working with their families to revamp the former Bender’s Sports Bar. There’s decorative strip lighting above and below the bar, new carpet, and the addition of 17 big-screen TVs. New signage will be put in place on April 21 and the restaurant will officially open Monday, April 24.

New facility for Double J Transport

Double J Transport LLC is building a new facility in the Town of Polk.

“We’ve come a long way since my dad and grandpa started the business out of a farmhouse on Highway 60,” said company vice president Keith Fechter.

For the young Fechter the olden days include memories of a transport company that ran out of Fechter’s Hwy 60 You Pick ‘Em strawberry farm. The business office later graduated from the farmhouse to a remodeled machine shed.

In 2004 the company then moved to Industrial Drive in Jackson and now 13 short years later, after experiencing 10-percent annual growth, Double J Transport is on the move again. (pun intended)

“We have 115 employees and 93 trucks here and we’re crowded,” Keith Fechter said. “Our office, shop, and the parking lot is crowded. We have to rent a lot behind our current facility to park trailers. We need a new facility to accommodate that growth.”

Family patriarch and company president Jerome Fechter said they seriously started thinking about a new facility in October 2013. “We knew we had to do something,” he said.

The new facility is going to be on the west side of County Highway P in the Town of Polk. “The freeway, Highway 45, is right there,” said office assistant Janice Fechter. “So it’s location, location and visibility.”

The new facility, contracted through American Construction Services Inc. of West Bend, will features a driver’s room with showers, Laundromat, a lounge and television and double the amount of office space. “It’s going to be similar to our current shop but a lot bigger and a lot nicer,” said Keith.

Quite a few truckers at Double J Transport are from out of state and the Fechters, who make vehicle maintenance a top priority, said they want to make the over-the-road drivers comfortable while in town as their vehicle is being serviced.

As far as the construction timetable, there are already earth movers on site and ground has been broken. The new facility should be finished by November.

DNR Spring hearings

There were 117 people that turned out Monday night in Washington County for the DNR’s Spring Fish and Wildlife Public Hearing at the Washington County Fair Park.

There were a couple hot topics on the night including whether the DNR should develop a hunting season for sandhill cranes. Bill from West Bend was short and sweet with his support.  “I’ve shot sandhills in North Dakota and they’re delicious,” he said.

A handful of other hunters voiced their support for hunting sandhill cranes; many cited the crop damaged caused by the cranes and how legislation was a bit messed up because if a farmer shoots sandhills to save his crops he can’t legally eat them.

A nature journalist named George said he was opposed to hunting sandhill cranes for a number of reasons. “Like most of you I believe in eating what I kill. I doubt people would eat it.  It might take like chicken or great horned owl,” he said.

“A biological point, the sandhill birds mate for life and if we remove one of the birds that removes the reproductive system. Most importantly, sandhills look a lot like whooping cranes and whoopers will be killed if this is approved.”

Tashina Peplinski spoke as a resident and not as a member of the DNR pane. “Sandhill crane are reaching a point where they’re becoming a nuisance population,” she said. “We need a way to find to do it safely. Other things to keep in mind is people say they look like whooping cranes, well the first thing we’re taught in hunter safety is to know your target and what’s beyond.”

Another topic that drew the most input on the evening was about reinstating back tags. In March 2016 Governor Walker signed a bill eliminating back tags worn by hunters.

A majority of those who spoke on the issue were in favor of returning the tags. Some of them mentioned how it’s easier for land owners to identify who is on their property. One man mentioned how ATVs, cars and snowmobiles have number ID’s or licenses “so why is it any different than a guy in the woods with a gun. I think it’s safer,” he said.

Pat Campbell of West bend brought up the 2004 incident in Rice Lake where six hunters were killed by Chai Soua Vang. “Vang shot a hunter who wrote his tag number on an ATV and that helped find the guy,” he said.

The tags were used as a way for law enforcement to identify hunters in the field. Dennis from Hartford spoke against the back tags and called them an inconvenience. “If it rains and I put on a jacket what do I do with my back tag,” he said.

The final hot topic dealt with a question about online voter accessibility.  “Would you support the Wisconsin Conservation Congress and the DNR working to offer an online option of the public to provide input on the questionnaire? The elections of the WCC delegates would remain in-person at each Spring Hearing location only.

Corky Meyer, 65, of Kewaskum spoke several times against it. “If they want to vote make them show up,” he said.

There were comments about having no restrictions on who takes the survey. J.R. Salinas of West Bend said, “If you don’t have the time to come down and vote then stay home.” The hearing lasted about two hours. Survey results will be available online as soon as they are compiled.

Proposal for deer pickup in winter

During this week’s annual DNR spring hearing at the Washington County Fair Park a resolution was proposed regarding dead deer pickup. The issue is becoming a rather hot topic since budget cuts have limited large animal carcass removal.

J.R. Salinas from West Bend offered a proposal at the end of the meeting where he suggested a 1-800 number to register the time a deer was killed and then people could have 20 hours within the fall and winter to salvage the animal. “There’s a lot of meat out there to be used,” said Salinas. “This would help get the carcasses off the roads.”

Local DNR warden Tom Isaac said considering logistics this may be difficult to work out. “The whole car-deer pickup system involves so many different agencies and townships and I don’t know if they’re looking for more work,” he said. “But if there’s any way to use the deer more that would be a good thing.”

The DNR will have to officially register the resolution but in the meantime do you think this is a viable process? Would you pick up a deer from a vehicle hit at the side of the road within a certain time frame and then process the meat?

St. Peter Dedication

St. Peter Catholic Parish in Slinger, will celebrate a Mass of Dedication and Blessing with Archbishop Jerome Listecki at 5 p.m. on April 22 in the newly renovated and expanded church.

The dedication and blessing will consecrate the new newly renovated building as a permanent worship space. Archbishop Listecki will be blessing not only the physical church building and altar, but other items and areas of the church as well. There will be a reception to follow in St. Peter Church Hall. Please note the usual 8 p.m. Mass will be cancelled Saturday, April 22, 2017.

Updates & tidbits

Jacob Loehr and Hailey Herriges are the latest recipients of the J.O. Reigle Scholarships awarded annually by Regal Ware. The $18,000 award recognizes the outstanding scholastic achievements and is designed to assist with a college education.  

Interfaith Caregivers is in desperate need of volunteer drivers, especially those who would be willing to take an elderly veteran down to the VA, drive an Interfaith van for a wheelchair-bound client, or take a lady or two to the grocery store. Volunteers can call Interfaith at 262-365-0902.

– On Monday the Main Stage headliners will be announced for the Washington County Fair which runs July 25 – 30.

-The Coffee Syndicate, 1229 S. Main Street in West Bend, is giving away a free Kindle Fire 8GB. Customers must enter to win at the location.

– Saturday, April 22, from 8 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. West Bend Police will sell its spring 2017 inventory of 60 abandoned/recovered bicycles. The sale will be at the West Bend Police Department, 350 Vine St. All bicycles are $15 which includes a City of West Bend Bicycle License which is required for all sales.

-Tim Wiedmeyer is the new owner of the “Fill-N-Chill” in Slinger.

– April 22 is the Money Smart Women’s Conference at UW- Washington County.

– The DIVA Spring Bling is Thursday, April 27 in downtown West Bend. Proceeds from umbrella and specialty ring sales benefit Chix 4 a Cause.

-Record Store Day at The Exclusive Company, 144 N. Main St., in West Bend is April 22. The day includes sales, free food and live music. Store open for 12 hours of sales from 8 a.m. – 8 p.m.

Fond memories of Easter dresses

One of my favorite stories to write is memories of Easter finery. The frilly ensembles hearken to the day when people wore their Sunday best to give to the glory of God.

The history photo, courtesy Jeanne Goeden of Kewaskum, features a 1954 picture of Goeden’s grandma Esther Eggert. “Grandma made our pinafores,” said Goeden pictured above with her sister Sandra Berres Ohmann. The photo was taken in Kewaskum in 1946.

Goeden’s story of homemade dresses sparked memories from others who also reflected on the extra effort families made to dress in bows and lace with a special outfit for Easter Sunday.

Carol Johnson Cler grew up on a farm in the mid-1950s in the Norwegian Valleys of Black River Falls. “My mother made all my dresses out of flour sacks we got at the A&P; the flour sacks were pretty in those days,” said Cler.

“Sometimes, when I was lucky she’d buy material. My cousin, my best friend and I all had the same dresses because our mothers shared the pattern and they were all blue and white dotted swiss.”

Accessorizing for Easter included costume jewelry borrowed from different aunts. Tights were not in the budget so Cler combined cotton socks with a pair of Buster Brown shoes. “I loved saddle shoes. We’d get one pair in the fall when we started school and they had to last all year,” she said.

Dolores Koenig was a volunteer at the recent Holy Trinity Women’s Social in Kewaskum. “I was in seventh grade and I got a new green, three-quarter length coat,” Koenig said.

Wide-brim Easter hats were an annual fashion staple for Koenig as were white gloves. “My mom did a lot of shopping at Schuster’s Department Store in Milwaukee,” she said. “I remember one dress from high school was purple. It was 1948 and I really, really liked that dress.”

Joan Albers has lived in Kewaskum 45 years. “Easter was always a time for new spring clothes; nice hats, cutesy purses and ruffles and lace.”

Albers grew up in Port Washington in the 1950s when the city had two stores with clothes. “We shopped at the Smart Shop on Main Street. They didn’t have ‘chubette’ size and I used to take chubby sizes because I have always been chubby,” said Albers. “They would try and squeeze me into little sizes and therefore my feet were always hurting or dresses were too tight – which was not too flattering but we made it,” she said.

Merriann Rose-Cudewicz, 72, of Kewaskum grew up in Milwaukee. “I was a citified country girl and a graduate of St. Agnes High School in 1961,” she said.

Spoiled by an aunt from San Francisco, Rose-Cudewicz said little girls always got new clothes for Easter. Her mother worked for people like Pabst and Schlitz Uihleins. “She didn’t have a lot of money but she knew how to dress,” she said recalling shopping at stores like Chapman’s and Boston Store in Milwaukee “My aunt sent me an organdy white dress with blue trim for Easter. Dresses made me feel elegant and I was only six years old and felt really fancy,” she said.

 

Judy Steffes, Editor

Washington County Insider

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Roggensack Reelected Chief Justice of WI Supreme Court

Great!

State Supreme Court Chief Justice Patience Roggensack will continue to serve in that role for another two years.

Justices on the court have voted to keep Roggensack in the position, which she has held since a state constitutional amendment was passed in 2015 that changed the process for naming the chief justice. Prior to the amendment’s passage, the position was held by the most senior member of the state Supreme Court – which is currently Justice Shirley Abrahamson.

This story reminded me of how things used to be when Abrahamson ran the court. Remember how dysfunctional and controversial the court had become? There were stories of bitter fights, open hatred, and it all spilled into the public resulting in vicious campaigns and partisan warfare.

Now? Not so much. The court appears to be running pretty well and people are generally happy with its functioning – as evidenced by the fact that Justice Ziegler just ran for reelection unopposed. What a difference a change in leadership makes.

Found Nigerian Money

I understand that if you wire $1,000 in processing fees to the Nigerian prince in charge of this, they will ship you the cash.

Lagos (CNN)The Nigerian anti-corruption unit discovered more than $43 million in US dollars at an upscale apartment in Lagos.

The anti-graft agency said in a statement it raided the apartment Tuesday after a tipoff about a “haggard” woman in “dirty clothes” taking bags in and out of the apartment.
The agency said it also found 23.2 million naira (Nigerian currency worth $75,000) and £27,800 (UK currency, worth $35,000 US) “neatly arranged” inside cabinets hidden behind wooden panels of a bedroom wardrobe.

Engaged to a Robot

The next frontier in civil rights?

A young woman named Lilly greeted me when I arrived. She was glowing as she set the table with cheese, crackers and French pastries. We were surrounded by picture frames of her and the token of her affection. She poured champagne, and together we toasted her engagement … to a robot.

She calls the robot inMoovator, and in a story reminiscent of the Greek myth of Pygmalion, Lilly built inMoovator herself, 3D printing dozens of parts in a lab nearby. She plans to eventually add artificial intelligence. The first words she wants to program: “I love you.”

Lilly says she was 19 when she realized she didn’t like people.

“It was a slap in the face. I wondered what was happening to me,” she said. “I wanted myself to be attracted to humans, so after my first relationship, I had a second one. But I went against my own nature. So it was all the more disastrous.”

Mother of All Bombs

You have to love the creative naming from the military.

The US military has dropped the biggest non-nuclear bomb ever used in combat on an Islamic State group tunnel complex in Afghanistan, the Pentagon says.

The GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb (MOAB), known as “the mother of all bombs”, was first tested in 2003, but had not been used before.

The Pentagon said it was dropped from a US aircraft in Nangarhar province.

Trump Indulges in Waffles

Actually, “waffle” isn’t the right word… these are complete flip flops.

US President Donald Trump has said Nato is “no longer obsolete”, reversing a stance that had alarmed allies.

Hosting Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the White House, Mr Trump said the threat of terrorism had underlined the alliance’s importance.

He called on Nato to do more to help Iraqi and Afghan “partners”.

Mr Trump has repeatedly questioned Nato’s purpose, while complaining that the US pays an unfair share of membership.

The Nato U-turn wasn’t Mr Trump’s only change of heart on Wednesday.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, he said he would not label China a currency manipulator, despite having repeatedly pledged to do so on his first day in office.

He was right the first time on both counts. China is a currency manipulator. And NATO is obsolete in its current form. It was designed to counter a single threat that no longer exists.

Pokemon Go Players are Blissfully Happy

Here’s some critical research going on at Wisconsin’s premier research institution.

Pokemon Go people are happy people.

That’s the finding of media researchers from the University of Wisconsin–Madison who leapt to study the wildly popular mobile game shortly after its release in July 2016. Their work, newly published in the journal Media Psychology, shows that Pokemon Go users were more likely to be positive, friendly and physically active.

James Alex Bonus, a UW–Madison graduate student studying educational media, says he joined the throng playing the game when it was new, but was surprised by the mix of reactions in news coverage.

Middle Class Hit Hard by Wisconsin’s Income Tax

From the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance.

MADISON—With tax season fresh in mind, many residents know that Wisconsin’s individual income tax ranks relatively high among the states, 12th highest according to available federal figures. What is not well known is that rank varies depending on taxpayer income from as high as 10th to as low as 32nd. A new analysis from the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance (WISTAX) shows that middle-income filers with taxable incomes between $50,000 and $150,000 are particularly affected.

For a hypothetical married couple in that range, income taxes rise surprisingly quickly as income increases. Drawing in part on calculations from the Minnesota Center for Fiscal Excellence, WISTAX found that:

– At $20,000, a typical couple owes -$591; that is, no tax is owed and a refund of $591 is received. That is 51% below the national average (-$391), and places the state 32nd among the 41 states with income taxes. At $35,000, the Wisconsin burden (+$125) is 65% below the US average (+$353) and ranks 25th.

– At $50,000, the typical Badger State bill is $1,383, 19th highest and on par with the US norm ($1,358).

– Over the next $100,000 of taxable income, however, state income taxes here jump quickly compared to the average. At $75,000, a Wisconsin bill averages $2,811, 13th highest and 16.4% above the US mean ($2,415). At $100,000 of income—appropriate for spouses each with $50,000 of taxable income—the state burden is again 16.4% above average ($4,297 vs. $3,693) and ranks even higher (10th). Finally, at the $150,000 level, the average Wisconsin tax ($7,069) ranks 13th, 13.7% above average ($6,217). At higher income levels, burdens were 7.8% to 15.4% above average, with ranks in the 13th to 18th range.

Why are income taxes relatively high on middle-income filers? One reason is that they are the state’s main revenue source : “With only 10% to 15% of income either under $40,000 or above $500,000, the state turns to those between $40,000 and $150,000—where over half of income to tax is found,” notes WISTAX President Todd A. Berry.

Cuban Government Cracks Down on Opponents

But I thought that normalizing relations with Cuba was going to usher in a new era of freedom and prosperity for the Cuban people? Did I get that wrong?

Havana (AFP) – Cuban dissidents planning to run in the communist country’s local elections in November have been arrested, threatened and otherwise harassed by the authorities, one of their leaders said Tuesday.

At least five would-be candidates have been charged with crimes such as robbery, had their property seized, or been threatened with losing their jobs, said Manuel Cuesta Morua, spokesman for the opposition Unity Roundtable for Democratic Action (MUAD).

“They (the authorities) are taking preventive measures so that no independent citizen who doesn’t fit their agenda can run,” he told AFP.

The local elections in November kick off an electoral cycle that will ultimately decide the successor to President Raul Castro.

Prevailing Wage Repeal Reintroduced

Good.

Sen. Leah Vukmir, R–Brookfield, and Rep. Rob Hutton, R–Brookfield, Tuesday reintroduced a bill that would repeal Wisconsin’s prevailing wage law for state projects following the announcement the initiative was removed from the budget last week.

“As lawmakers we have a responsibility to manage the transportation budget efficiently,” Vukmir said in a news release. “It’s unrealistic to do so without the accessibility of all tools. Repealing this burdensome red tape will ensure the use of taxpayer dollars are maximized.”

“Two years ago we passed prevailing wage reform for local governments,” Hutton said in the release. “It is now time to finish what we started and pass full prevailing wage repeal. As we look at the transportation budget this spring, we must ensure taxpayers are receiving the best value for their tax dollars.”

In the 2015-17 budget, the prevailing wage requirement was repealed for local governments, including towns, cities, counties and school districts beginning on Jan. 1, 2017. Now local governments can receive competitive bids for projects that don’t include unreasonably high prevailing wage costs, the lawmakers said

Spicer Cites Hitler

As a general rule, politicians and their staffs should avoid ever talking about Hitler in any context. Because… this…

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer has apologised after declaring that Adolf Hitler did not use chemical weapons during World War Two.

“I mistakenly used an inappropriate and insensitive reference about the Holocaust and there is no comparison,” he said. “For that I apologise. It was a mistake to do that.”

Critics pointed out gas was used to kill Jews and others in the Holocaust.

Mr Spicer had been criticising Russia’s support for the Syrian government.

Drifting toward Damascus, the sequel

My column for the West Bend Daily News is online. Here you go:

In 2013, I opened a column called “Drifting Toward Damascus” with this paragraph: “As I sit down to write a column about our current situation in Syria, I fail to discern any coherent foreign policy coming from my president’s administration. If you can, you are probably filling in the gaps with wishful thinking.” As I sit down to write another column about Syria, the same opening would suffice.

After Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons to murder more than 80 people, including kids, President Trump retaliated with a missile strike on a Syrian air base. The scenario was reminiscent of Assad’s previous use of WMDs during the previous administration. In 2013, Assad used Sarin gas to attack more than 1,000 Syrians. In doing so, he crossed President Obama’s infamous “red line” and the Obama Administration responded with huffy rhetoric.

Now it is 2017 with the same Assad but a different American president. When Assad used chemical weapons this time, Trump responded immediately with a punitive strike and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is signaling a new American goal of toppling the Assad regime. Yet the Trump Administration is promising to keep American forces out of Syria and Trump’s rhetorical “America first” isolationism was a major facet of his recent successful presidential campaign. Although a different president has brought us a different reaction, America still lacks a coherent Syrian policy.

The problem is that there are no good answers left for America in Syria. There was a time when direct American intervention could have yielded positive results, but that time has passed. The Syrian Civil War began with an uprising in the spring of 2011. As part of the socalled Arab Spring, secular pro-democracy protestors rose up to demand Assad’s resignation. When Assad refused to resign, as tyrants are wont to do, and launched a violent crackdown on the protestors, the protestors hardened their opposition and the fight for Syria was on.

The time for American intervention was 2011. If President Obama had used the power of the United States to support the secular pro-democracy opposition at that time, there might be a peaceful, secular, democratic Syria today. But speculation in alternate histories is the luxury of writers. The Syrian Civil War has evolved significantly since 2011 and America must deal with the present realities.

Since 2011, the Syrian Civil War has descended into a sectarian war with no good guys for America to support. In battle with each other are Assad’s tyrannical government, radical Islamist Sunni rebels, Kurdish forces, Hezbollah, and of course, the Islamic State. According to the United Nations commission of inquiry, all of them have been engaging in horrific war crimes including murder, torture, slavery, using civilians as human shields, forced starvation, and the use of WMDs.

The Syrian Civil War has also taken on significant international importance as it pulled regional and world powers into the conflict. The deluge of refugees from Syria and surrounding areas has had a destabilizing effect on several Middle Eastern and European nations, putting pressure on the international community to intervene. As the war has devolved partially into a religious war between different Muslim sects, several Muslim countries have intervened to support their sides. Shia Iran and Lenanon are supporting Assad as Sunni Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and others support rebel factions. Finally, Russia entered the war on the side of Assad as part of Vladimir Putin’s lifelong effort to reclaim Russia’s dominance on the world stage. As America retreated from the Middle East, Russia entered the chasm.

In deciding what America should do about Syria, two questions must be answered. The first question is, should America do anything? That is a broad question the answer of which depends on one’s valuation of the word “should.” There are some who believe that America should be the world’s conscience and act in the name of human rights. There are some who believe that American should only intervene if there is a direct American interest at stake. And there are some who believe that America should never do anything unless directly attacked.

In this case, there are no good guys to support, there are no direct American interests at stake and America has not been attacked. The only good reason for America to intervene in the Syrian Civil War is as a general policy to try to stabilize the region to quell the radicalization of people and the outflow of terror groups.

If one thinks America should intervene, then the second question to be answered is, what can America do? Short of a full scale invasion and occupation of Syria with all of the risks of igniting a global conflict with Russia and Iran, America’s options are very limited. And the American people have no appetite for such an earth-shattering endeavor.

America should stay out of the Syrian Civil War. There is little likelihood that American intervention could yield a positive outcome and the risk of embroiling our nation in another long, bloody, and expensive war is very high. America should do what we can to help the suffering, assist our allies, and protect American interests and American borders. No more. No less.