Tag Archives: Washington County Daily News

Sen.Tammy Baldwin to face a tough re-election

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. Here you go:

The next big election is 14 months away, but the electoral combatants are already sallying onto the field. Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin will be seeking her second term and the liberal backbencher is facing a formidable challenge.

Baldwin’s resume is notable for its remarkable lack of achievement. Born and bred in the belly of liberal Madison, Baldwin was first elected to the Dane County Board during law school in 1986. She graduated from law school in 1989, worked as a lawyer for three years, and then became a full time politician in 1992 when she was elected to the Wisconsin Assembly. In 1998, Baldwin was sent by Madison to Washington as their representative in the House of Representatives, and was then swept into the U.S. Senate by the Obama wave in 2012.

It is difficult to serve in public office for more than 30 years, get elected to higher offices, and not have a single achievement to one’s credit, but Tammy Baldwin has accomplished that incredible feat. The secret to Baldwin’s success is that she is gay and a liberal’s liberal who reliably supports every leftist idea proffered. This attracts gobs of money from every liberal/socialist/Marxist PAC and activist group throughout the nation.

Most recently, she gave her fullthroated support to complete socialist health care in the failure of Obamacare. This is particularly ironic given that Baldwin callously ignored repeated cries for help from abuse taking place at the Tomah VA Medical Center. Why would anyone want to hand over more control of our healthcare to politicians like Tammy Baldwin?

Without Obama on the ballot next year, Baldwin is vulnerable to a credible challenge. So far, two formidable and well-funded Republicans are vying for the opportunity to be the senator that Wisconsin deserves. There is still time for more candidates to enter the fray, but the window is closing.

Kevin Nicholson is a Marine combat veteran who now works in the private sector. Nicholson defines himself as a social and fiscal conservative who is pro-life, pro-Second Amendment, pro-strong national security, etc. Running for office for the first time, Nicholson relishes his status as an outsider who can attack the liberal redoubts in Washington.

Nicholson does, however, have a nagging problem in his resume. He used to be a vocal, activist Democrat. When he was in college, Nicholson served as the chairman of the College Democrats and was eventually the national president for the College Democrats of America. At that time, he was pro-choice and spoke at the 2000 Democratic National Convention.

Of course, Nicholson would not be the first person to convert from liberalism to conservatism with the advancement of age, life experience and wisdom. Some of the best-known, thoughtful, and stalwart conservatives in the nation used to be liberals.

The other Republican seeking to challenge Tammy Baldwin has no such history to overcome. Wisconsin State Senator Leah Vukmir has been a proven, reliable, accomplished conservative Republican for more than a decade. Vukmir is a registered nurse who worked as a nurse for more than 20 years before running for the Wisconsin Assembly in 2002 to replace Scott Walker. Vukmir was then elected to the State Senate in 2010.

Vukmir has been one of the driving forces in the Wisconsin conservative movement for her entire tenure in office. She has been instrumental in advancing school choice, tax reform, education reform, healthcare reform and every other pillar of the conservative agenda. It is difficult to name a conservative issue in which Vukmir was not a staunch defender and advocate. All the while, Vukmir has maintained her career as a registered nurse.

While I don’t doubt the sincerity of Nicholson’s conservative conversion, there is no need to put it to its first political test in the crucible of Washington when there is already a proven conservative candidate in Leah Vukmir. She has been a granite conservative throughout all of the tempests in Madison and would serve Wisconsin well in the U.S. Senate.

Wisconsin’s conservative reformation draws to a close

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. Here you go:

After weeks of delay and intra-party wrangling, the Wisconsin legislature’s Joint Finance Committee has passed the state’s biennial budget. It now heads to the Assembly, and then to the Senate, for final debate and passage. Assuming that it passes largely as currently written, which is expected, this budget is the muffled whimper that marks the end of Wisconsin’s conservative reformation.

When Wisconsinites elected Scott Walker as governor in 2010, they ushered in a new era in Wisconsin governance. Walker brought to Madison a governing philosophy steeped in the modern conservative movement. 2011 marked the beginning of a Wisconsin conservative reformation that was unprecedented in the state’s history.

In 2011, Walker and the legislative Republicans were aggressive and ambitious in advancing a conservative agenda. They touched the third rails of state politics and slew dragons. In a short span, Walker and the Republicans enacted transformational changes in Wisconsin including welfare reform, massive regulatory reform — especially in the DNR, expanding Second Amendment rights, expanding educational choice, freezing tuition at the University of Wisconsin and, of course, enacting Act 10. The hundreds of reforms made since 2011 have truly made Wisconsin better for citizens and businesses.

Voters have rewarded Republicans with electoral success. The voters defended Walker’s conservative agenda by reelecting him during the recall election and again in 2014. Republicans have maintained their majorities in both houses of the legislature for most of this decade as the conservative wing of both caucuses has grown. Even the Wisconsin Supreme Court has moved to be more conservative. Wisconsinites have shown their support for the conservative reformation time and time again at the ballot box.

But along the way, Wisconsin could not escape from its tradition of big, expensive government. While Republicans have been making tremendous progress in many areas, they have continued to spend more every budget. The current 2017-2019 proposed budget that the JFC just passed spends $76.02 billion. That is a 4.8 percent increase in spending over the previous budged.

The proposed 2017-2019 budget spends a full 23 percent more than the last budget signed by Gov. Jim Doyle. On a per capita basis, Doyle’s last budget spent about $10,868 per Wisconsinite while the new budget spends $13,131 per person — a 21 percent increase in per capita spending by state government in seven years. All of the Democrats’rhetoric about “austerity” and “cuts” are pure myth. The truth is that Wisconsin’s Republicans have increasedspending every single budget. To be fair, Doyle increased state spending 28 percent during his tenure. The Republicans did not increase spending as much as Democrats, but they were certainly not shy about increasing spending.

There are a few items in the new budget that conservatives will like. For example, UW tuition will continue to be frozen, but the budget spends more on UW to offset that. The state property tax will be eliminated. This saves taxpayers about $90 million per year. Able-bodies childless adults will be required to work or train and be subject to drug tests in order to receive Badgercare benefits. The prevailing wage law will be rescinded for state projects. The alternative minimum tax will be rescinded.

Those are very small potatoes in a stew full of massive hunks of new spending meat and bitter debt increases. The Republicans have seemingly lost the nerve to make the big, necessary reforms that Wisconsin still needs. The Republicans still control the entire law-making apparatus of government, but are about to pass a budget that is reminiscent of something from 2005. It spends more and tinkers around the edges, but is primarily designed to not offend anyone before the next election.

Where are the big ideas? Where is the cut or elimination of the state income tax? Where is the reformation of how Wisconsin builds and maintains its transportation infrastructure? Where is the fundamental reform of education? Where is an actual reduction in the size and scope of state government? Even the marginally more aggressive items that Walker suggested in his budget, like a “backto- school” sales tax holiday or a broad cut in income taxes, were rejected by legislative Republicans. Many of them went to Madison with a passion for Conservative reform, but now only have passion for getting reelected.

Rep. Bob Gannon (R-West Bend), who has said that he will not vote for this budget, was correct when he commented, “this budget is much better than a democrat governor or legislature would have proposed, but it is also not a conservative piece of work. Your government is in a growth mode.”

Indeed. And that growth is smothering the conservative reformation in its sleep.

Stepp leaves a proud legacy

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. Here you go:

Cathy Stepp, the now former Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, has resigned to take a job at the Environmental Protection Agency. In doing so, Wisconsin is losing a truly transformational leader who has left Wisconsin better than she found it.

Wisconsin’s DNR is a massive agency with a huge mandate. Its two primary roles are to manage the state’s natural resources (forestry, hunting, fishing, etc.) and enforce environmental regulations (building permits, enforcement actions, etc.). In order to appreciate the impact Stepp had on the DNR, we must turn back the clock to what it was like before she took the helm.

The DNR will always be a controversial agency because its role is often to find balance between two vital, but occasionally competing, goals. This creates an inevitable friction. The first goal is that Wisconsinites want a clean and sustainable environment for generations to come. The second goal is that those same Wisconsinites want to use that environment for recreational and commercial purposes.

For many years under both Republican and Democrat leadership, the DNR had come to heavily focus on environmental protection to the detriment of the economic and personal interests of the citizens of the state. The environmental enforcement arm of the DNR had been weaponized to take an adversarial posture against Wisconsinites and their businesses. DNR officials viewed their role as to impede any activity that had any negative impact on the environment. It seemed that many of them would rather have had a line of unemployed Wisconsinites look at a pristine prairie from a distance than allow a business to build a factory for them to work in.

When Gov. Scott Walker appointed Stepp to run the DNR in 2011, the environmentalist activists who held sway in the DNR derided her qualifications. After all, they said, she was a business owner and former politician who did not even have a degree in natural resources. It turns out that is exactly what the DNR needed.

Upon taking office, Stepp implemented business principles and methodologies to improve the workflow of the organization. She implemented a Lean Six Sigma concept that helps organizations refine and streamline processesto better outcomes. The public has seen the benefit of these progressive reforms in the form of a faster, easier, more transparent permitting process; the ability for citizens to get many hunting and fishing permits online and register their harvest via a smartphone; and easier access to public lands.

More important than the changes to policies and procedures within the DNR, Stepp guided the agency through a shift in culture and mindset. She has repeatedly said that she DNR should be a “permitting agency, not a prohibiting agency.” This change in philosophy did not permeate the agency without yelps from entrenched interests and bureaucrats who liked to wield the regulatory bludgeon, but it did seep into the language and attitude of the DNR.

The DNR now does a much better job of acting as a partner with businesses and people to properly manage the use of our cherished natural resources while mitigating any negative impact on the environment. As partial evidence of this, fines to businesses are much less frequent since Stepp took office because the agency is proactively working with polluting businesses on mitigation and abatement techniques instead of just hammering the business with a fine for violating. More carrots and fewer sticks have proven to be healthier for the environment and the economy.

Wisconsin’s next DNR secretary would do well to continue and accelerate the reformation of the DNR. Top on his or her list should be to advocate to split the agency into two — a natural resource management agency and a regulatory enforcement agency. This is a reform that Stepp opposed, but would be the next, natural step in modernizing the agency(ies) to be more nimble and effective.

Stepp will be missed, but Wisconsin will continue to benefit from her tenure at the DNR for years to come.

 

Sleaze and corruption on the West Bend School Board

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. Here you go:

Several weeks ago, I raised serious concerns regarding the capricious, unethical and arguably illegal process by which the West Bend School Board created, and then appointed, two high school principals. After receiving 444 pages of public documents from the school district, those concerns have been confirmed and heightened.

As a brief background, West Bend had two high schools with one principal. The district was working on hiring that principal when, in a matter of days and with virtually no public input, the school board split the administration into two principals — one for each high school. Then the school board appointed two existing district employees to those positions without posting the jobs, accepting applications, conducting interviews or engaging in anything that resembles a typical hiring process. The entire fiasco was government at its worst.

Now we get a look at the new principals the school board appointed, and there are some alarming red flags. Ralph Schlass was appointed principal for West High School. Schlass has been an administrator in the district since 1999 and has served in various roles — most recently as an assistant principal for West. His tenure and performance evaluations indicate that until recently, Schlass was a relatively pedestrian employee going about his job. Then, in 2015, his performance began to deteriorate.

In December 2015, Schlass was accused of threatening and intimidating teachers regarding a petition being circulated. He was accused of telling a group of teachers something akin to, “I am the person who does your performance evaluations. If I find your name on that petition, I won’t be happy. … I am telling you, don’t sign it.”

Schlass denied making that statement, but a statement to that effect was corroborated by several staff members. Schlass was suspended three days without pay in January 2016 and told to refrain from actions that “engages staff in a threatening or intimidating manner.”

In July 2016, Schlass was put on a one year Performance Improvement Plan (PIP). A PIP is a plan given to an employee who is underperforming. It is usually meant as a “shape up or ship out” employee performance tool. The PIP indicated that, among other things, Schlass, “has inconsistently demonstrate(ed) leadership for student learning,” “failed to consistently support staff development” and “failed to follow policies, rules, regulations and routines.”

Schlass was combative through the year and accused the process of being “discriminatory, arbitrary, and capricious.” After March, he stopped completing the documentation required by the PIP. At the end of June, the recommended outcome for Schlass after the PIP was to “remain on a Performance Improvement Plan.”

Three weeks after that recommendation, Schlass was promoted by the West Bend School Board to be the principal of West Bend West High School.

The new principal of West Bend East High School is Darci Vanadestine. Vanadestine joined the district as an assistant principal in 2014 and was promoted to director of teaching and learning a year later. Unlike Schlass, Vanadestine’s employment history is impeccable and reflects career of progressive growth and advancement.

Vanadestine is so well regarded that in June she applied to be the high school principal — when there was to be just one. After a rigorous interview process, indications were good for Vanadestine. On July 14, she was informed that the district was checking final references and the superintendent would follow up the following week. On July 20, Vanadestine found out “through a posting” that the school board was going to meet that evening to “hear public comments on the reconfiguration of the HS configuration.” Several hours later, the school board voted to have two principals instead of one and, as a consequence, eliminated Vanadestine’s job.

The next morning, July 21, Vanadestine was told by the superintendent that he recommended her for the job to be principal of both high schools on July 18. The superintendent then told Vanadestine that the board had split the position into two principals and instructed them to give her one of the jobs. On July 23, Schlass and Vanadestine were introduced as the new principals and their contracts were ratified Aug. 14.

Vanadestine writes, “This is not the job I originally applied for and knowing that my current job was eliminated due to the decision to have two principals I struggled greatly with the poor ethics and lack of process with the appointment.” Indeed. Any ethical person would.

Although it was necessary, the point of this narrative is not to dwell in the employment histories of either Schlass or Vanadestine. The point is that through their unscrupulous and erratic actions, the West Bend School Board has chosen to promote one male employee who had been suspended and flagged for poor performance and deprive a female employee of the larger job for which she was eminently qualified and had been recommended. Such actions are not only an incredible disservice to the children of the district who deserve the best possible leadership, but they erode employee morale, sow distrust with the citizens and expose the taxpayers to considerable legal liability.

School Board President Tiffany Larson did not respond to repeated requests to comment on the board’s actions.

In an effort to “show my work,” here are a few of the public documents that were mentioned in this column:

Here’s the letter where Schlass was suspended.

Whenever you do an open record’s request like this, the person involved is informed and allowed to include any commentary. Here is Schlass’ letter that he included. I would note that while he blames the former superintendent, he was suspended under the former superintendent, but put on a PIP under the current one.

Here is Sclass’ PIP conclusion.

Here is Schlass’ official reflection about his performance plan.

Just like Schlass, VanAdestine included a note with her released documents. Here is Page One and Page Two.


Finally, I want to emphasize again what I said in the column. It isn’t really about Schlass or VanAdestine. They are both just district employees doing their work to the best of their abilities, I’m sure. But diving into their employment histories was necessary to show why the school board’s actions were so egregious. This new majority on the school board that ran on a platform of “transparency” and “running the district like a business” is running it like Enron. I truly hope that the board members reassess their actions and live up to the rhetoric they used to get elected.

 

Close the Deal

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. Here you go:

After weeks of wrangling and a few modifications, the Wisconsin State Assembly passed a $3 billion incentive package for Foxconn to build a massive new plant in Wisconsin. Now it is up to the State Senate to follow the Assembly’s lead and bring Foxconn to Wisconsin.

To fiscal conservatives who desperately want a small, inexpensive, unintrusive government, the thought of massive corporate welfare to incent businesses to locate in Wisconsin is rather repugnant. Ideally, Wisconsin’s government would create an environment of low taxes, reasonable regulations, good infrastructure, etc., to make Wisconsin such an attractive place for business that taxpayer incentives would be rendered unnecessary.

But that is not the state we live in yet and the taxpayers have shown time and time again that they are willing to dole out corporate welfare if it for the overall betterment of Wisconsin. The measure has long since ceased to be, “should government do it?” It is now, simply, “is it a good deal for taxpayers?” The deal that Gov. Scott Walker and his staff negotiated with Foxconn and which was substantially passed by the State Assembly, is a good deal.

The structure of the Foxconn deal is relatively simple if the numbers are enormous. In exchange for Foxconn investing $10 billion in construction costs and eventually employing up to 13,000 people, Wisconsin taxpayers will give the company up to $2.85 billion in income and franchise tax credits and an additional $150 million in sales tax relief for construction materials. The total “cost” to taxpayers would be about $3 billion in waived taxes over 15 years.

In order to analyze any deal, you must weigh cost against benefit. In this case, the cost for taxpayers is $3 billion in waived taxes over the next 15 years. That is only really a cost in the eyes of a politician. Remember that if Foxconn does not build in Wisconsin, it will never buy the construction materials for which the state would have received $150 million in sales taxes. And if Foxconn does not build in Wisconsin, it will never generate the net income that would generate the $2.85 billion in income taxes. If Foxconn does not build in Wisconsin, the $3 billion in waived taxes will never exist. The only way that anyone can claim waived taxes to be a “cost” is if they presume that it was the government’s money in the first place.

The one caveat to that is that the bill passed by the Assembly does permit the state to grant tax credits to Foxconn in the form of a refund even if Foxconn does not have a tax liability. In this way, the incentives wouldfunction much like the Earned Income Tax Credit.

If this happens, it would indeed be a cash outlay from the taxpayers to Foxconn. We must demand vigilance from the state administrators of this deal to watch Foxconn closely to ensure that they are meeting their obligations to receive tax credits.

On the other side of the ledger, what benefit does Wisconsin get for its $3 billion in waived taxes? Foxconn is committing to spend $10 billion in construction costs to build a massive new facility. Most of that money will be spent in Wisconsin and employ thousands of Wisconsinites. After the facility is built, Foxconn will continue to spend hundreds of millions every year in Wisconsin to maintain and run the facility.

Foxconn also plans to directly employ 13,000 people at the facility at an average wage of $53,900. A facility of this size would also generate an estimated 22,000 supporting jobs. That is a tremendous number of Wisconsinites earning a family supporting wage. That is an enormous number of people buying homes, buying cars, buying groceries, going to entertainment events and spending money to live their lives in Wisconsin. The return on investment should not be measured in cash paid to the tax collectors, but in the cash put in the pockets of tens of thousands of Wisconsinites.

Beyond the direct investment by Foxconn, this deal would facilitate the transformational introduction of an entire industry to Wisconsin. Wisconsinites can reasonably expect that other manufacturers and supporting industries will follow in Foxconn’s wake to locate in Wisconsin. Wisconsin is standing at the precipice of a generational economic boon if we only have the courage to jump.

Is the Foxconn deal a risk? Of course it is. Any commercial enterprise is a risk. Wisconsin’s government must be vigilant in holding Foxconn to their commitments, and the deal is structured to cease taxpayer support if Foxconn reneges. But the cost of doing nothing is far greater for the future of Wisconsin than the cost of this deal.

The State Senate must step forward with their colleagues in the Assembly and close this deal. Wisconsin is waiting.

Wisconsin continues to REIN in government

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. Here you go:

With all of the news emanating from Madison about the wrangling over the state budget and the Foxconn incentive package, one could be excused for missing the fact that the legislature passed, and Governor Walker signed into law, one of the most significant government reforms since ACT 10. The Wisconsin REINS (Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny) Act is a significant reform for preventing the inexorable bloating of government.

When we all learned about government in Civics 101 — or from Schoolhouse Rock — the process seems fairly simple. The legislature passes a bill and then the executive signs it into law. But that is only part of the process. Laws, as written, are usually written rather broadly. It is then up to the bureaucracy in the Executive branch to take that law and put it into action. They do this by interpreting the law and creating all of the detailed rules and regulations to promulgate and enforce it. It is the necessary and proper role of the bureaucracy.

Throughout the decades, however, as the size and scope of government has grown, so has the bureaucracy and its power. Too many unelected bureaucrats deep in the bowels of state government have taken it upon themselves to use their regulatory latitude to advance their own agendas. Protected as civil servants and relaxed in the knowledge that elected officials come and go as the bureaucracy remains, these bureaucrats passed massive and costly regulations with barely a hint of legal authority to do so.

When the Republicans and Gov. Scott Walker swept into power in 2010, one of the first reforms they made was to restrict the power of the bureaucracy with 2011’s Act 21. This law narrowed the rule making authority of state agencies and injected some more oversight by the governor and the Legislature into the rule-making process. It also importantly allowed state rules to be challenged in any of Wisconsin’s 72 counties — not just liberal Dane County.

The REINS Act is the next advance in moving power away from the bureaucracy and into the hands of elected officials. The REINS Act accomplishes three major reforms.

First, the REINS Act increases public input into any proposed rule. The law now requires that an agency get affirmative approval from the governor of a scope statement describing the statutory authority for the rule and the impact of the proposed rule on people. After approval, either chair of the legislature’s Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules (JCRAR) may require that the agency open a comment period and hold a public hearing. All public input must then be included in the published rule analysis.

Second, the REINS Act puts up an additional barrier if a proposed rule will cost more than $10 million for people to comply with it. Under the new law, if a proposed rule is projected to cost businesses, local governments, and individuals more than $10 million during a two-year period in compliance costs, then the agency must halt all work on the rule. The only ways for the new rule to then proceed is for the legislature to enact a bill specifically authorizing the rule or for the rule to be rewritten to bring the compliance costs below $10 million.

Third, the REINS Act authorizes the JCRAR to permanently suspend a proposed rule by majority vote if the committee objects to it for a statutory reason. For example, if the committee decides that the agency lacks statutory authority to create the rule, then the committee can stop them from doing so. Of course, the committee can always be overridden by the full legislature.

The growth of government happens in many ways. Some of it happens through big laws debated and passed by the legislature. But much of it happens deep below the sightline of the public and hidden from scrutiny in the greasy gears of the bureaucracy. The REINS Act goes a long way toward injecting light and accountability into our state government. Congratulations to Gov. Walker and the Legislature for passing this important reform.

West Bend School Board earns detention

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. Here you go:

You can see the signs all around. The Wisconsin State Fair is in full swing. The first Packers preseason game is this week. You can’t drive three blocks without finding the stand full of delicious sweet corn for sale. The signs are undeniable. Summer is coming to an end, and that means that school will be back in session in a few short weeks. But while the kids have been enjoying their summer, the West Bend School Board has been very busy running roughshod over any semblance of good governance.

In less than a week, the West Bend School Board abandoned the search for a new principal for the West Bend High Schools, restructured the administration into two high school principals and appointed two people to be those principals. Let’s look at the timeline.

Sometime late in the day on July 19, the School Board gave notice of a special meeting to happen the next day at 5 p.m. Special meetings are rare and usually only called for emergencies, but the opaque agenda referenced “review and consideration of high school administrative assignments.”

At the meeting on the 20th, two board members were absent and the attendance was sparse. Board President Tiffany Larson read a lengthy prepared statement saying that they wanted to create two high school principal positions out of the one. After a short 35 minutes and only board member Monte Schmeige asking any serious questions, the majority rammed through the decision. West Bend now has two high school principals. Several things are untoward about this.

First, this was the first time the issue had been addressed at a public meeting and the school board was already acting on the move. There had been no public outcry for the change and the issue of two principals was not even mentioned in the superintendent’s list of concerns identified after canvassing the community, teachers, parents and students. The School Board acted on a significant change to the district’s structure in a special session with no notice and without inviting any public discussion.

Second, Larson and Schmeige both referenced that the board did discuss the issue of two principals in a closed session earlier in the week. Closed sessions are only allowed to discuss very specific things like personnel issues and legal matters. Also, the agenda for that closed session did not reference a change to the organizational structure. Such a discussion in closed session would appear to run afoul of Wisconsin’s Open Meetings Law. One of the principles of good governance is for our elected representatives to conduct their business in public view.

Third, the decision appears to have been made with no research, thought or planning. Nobody on the board asked the superintendent for his input during the meeting. The board did not share any cost estimates (yes, it will cost more), reporting structure, job descriptions, ideal candidate qualifications, etc. Either the board acted rashly in utter ignorance of the impact of their decision, which would be an abominable act of incompetence, or they had vetted these issues in private, which would have been a violation of the principle of open government.

Two business days after the special session in which the School Board created the two principal positions, the board appointed two district assistant principals, Ralph Schlass and Darci VanAdestine, to be those principals. Once again, the board has acted in complete opposition to any sense of good governance, transparency or propriety. And in this case, they have likely exposed the district and the taxpayers to significant legal liability.

Normally an employer like the school district would initiate a defined and legal hiring process whereby they post the positions, solicit applications, filter down to final candidates, conduct interviews and then make a selection. The purpose of such a process is to ensure that the employer finds the best possible person for the position and to make sure the process is fair, thus insulating the employer from accusations of discrimination. By scrapping a real hiring process in favor of a snap appointment, and by completely bypassing the superintendent and human resource processes in place, the School Board has made itself the hiring manager and is engaging in exceedingly risky behavior.

Why were Schlass and VanAdestine selected? Is the board clairvoyant that they know these two people to be the best possible people to lead the high schools? Do any of the board members have a personal relationship with either of them? Were minorities given a fair shot at the jobs? What process was used to decide on these two? Who was involved in that process? Given that the board members did not discuss who to appoint in open session and these two were presented as a fait accompli, when did they decide on these two? Why were other district employees not considered? Did either of these appointees have any disciplinary issues in their current roles?

Incidentally, I have asked the School Board president for insight and filed several open records requests to answer some of these questions. So far, nobody has seen fit to illuminate the process. The school board seems intent on obfuscation and obstruction despite duplicitous protestations to the contrary.

It is entirely possible that having two high school principals is better than one and that Schlass and VanAdestine are the best people to lead our high schools. But the citizens of the West Bend School District will never know. The School Board’s insistence on abandoning any normal, deliberative, competent, open process has robbed the public of ever knowing for sure and has disavowed any expectation of good governance.

The final act in this bad school play is that the School Board is planning to ratify the contracts for Schlass and VanAdestine at the regular meeting on Monday. They still have the opportunity to correct course and allow for an open, fair, and legal hiring process to commence. They should seize that opportunity.

 

Wisconn Valley is open for business

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. Here you go.

It is almost impossible to overstate how important the recently announced Foxconn deal is for Wisconsin. Economically, culturally, and politically, it is the biggest deal for Wisconsin in a generation.

The economics of the deal are astounding. Foxconn is a Taiwanese company that manufactures thousands of products all over the world. Its revenues exceed $136 billion per year and it employs well more than a million people all over the globe. The plant planned for Wisconsin to build advanced screens will be huge, but it will not even be Foxconn’s largest.

At 20 million square feet, the planned Foxconn facility in Wisconsin will be one of the largest in the world. It is estimated that Foxconn will spend $10 billion to build and equip the new facility and they have committed that $5.7 billion of that will be spent in Wisconsin. The construction alone will support 10,000 construction jobs for four years and 6,000 additional indirect jobs.

That’s just to build it. The ongoing economic impact is even more massive.

Foxconn estimates that the facility will eventually directly employ 13,000 people and indirectly employ an additional 22,000 people at an average wage of $53,875 plus benefits per year. They plan to spend $4.26 billion per year to supply the facility with about a third of those purchases happening in Wisconsin. All told, the facility is estimated to have at least a $7 billion annual impact on Wisconsin and generate an estimated $181 million in annual tax revenues. All of these estimates were done by Ernst & Young.

Economically, this single facility will have a generational impact on Wisconsin on the scale of some of the other major manufacturers of Wisconsin’s storied past. Culturally, it will have a similar impact.

Wisconsin has a proud legacy in making things. Manufacturing has been a pillar of the state’s economy for over a century. Due to many trends outside of the state’s control like automation, globalization, trade policies, etc., the state’s manufacturing sector has been eroding for years. Since 2006, Wisconsin shed 45,598 manufacturing jobs as other sectors grew. The state boasts some terrific manufacturing businesses, but as a sector, it has been in decline in the state.

The drain of manufacturing out of the state has not only drained jobs, it has drained neighborhoods, towns, and communities of their vitality. The Foxconn plant plugs that drain and pumps new manufacturing jobs, money, and investment into the state. It is also almost certainly the beginning of a flow of companies investing in Wisconsin. Wisconsin has made its mark again as a global center for high-tech manufacturing. Other companies will undoubtedly follow Foxconn’s lead.

The political impact of Foxconn is also substantial. There is no dispute that Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican leaders deserve a tremendous amount of credit for brokering the deal to bring Foxconn to Wisconsin. As the legislature goes into a special session this week to finalize and pass the incentive package, it appears that the state is getting a bargain. In a perfect world, taxpayers would not have to compete to lure businesses with tax incentives and corporate welfare, but that is not the world we live in.

Taxpayers are offering Foxconn about $3 billion in mostly income tax credits over 15 years and a $150 million sales tax exemption. Bearing in mind that this is mostly exemption from taxes that would not have been collected anyway without Foxconn locating in Wisconsin, it is a good deal and the taxpayers will reap a substantial return on their investment. Furthermore, the credits are tied to Foxconn’s actual performance in creating jobs and making capital investments in Wisconsin. If Foxconn fails to live up to its commitments, the taxpayers are not obligated to extend the incentives.

It must be acknowledged, however, that the Foxconn deal would not be happening had it not been for Walker and the Republican transformation in Wisconsin over the last seven years. Decisions like Foxconn’s consider hundreds of factors that are outside of the realm of politics. Conservatives often remind that government do not create jobs, but they create an environment in which business can flourish and create jobs. Walker and the Republicans have created just such an environment. Things like a balanced budget, regulatory reform and right to work combine with a general business friendly attitude to create an environment in which businesses can succeed. The Foxconn decision is not just the result of an agreement on an incentive package. It is the culmination of years of decisions making Wisconsin a better place to do business.

The Foxconn deal may have guaranteed Walker’s third term, should he choose to run for reelection, but more importantly, it has affirmed the correctness and importance of the conservative policies he has advanced. Now we must continue and accelerate those policies to capitalize on the momentum.

Protecting the right to Pokemon Go

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. Here you go:

The summer of 2016 will be remembered for many things. It was the summer when America came to grips with the fact that Donald Trump was the Republican candidate. It was the summer when terrorism swept across the world from Nice to Dhaka to the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. It was the summer of Brexit when Britain voted to leave the European Union.

It is also the summer of watching hordes of people stumble through public places staring at their smartphones as they tried to capture animated creatures in the augmented reality of Pokemon Go. While the Pokemon Go craze has come and gone, it has left some interesting legal ramifications in its wake.

During the Pokemon Go phenomenon, the leaders of Milwaukee County became frustrated that so many people were wandering through public parks playing the game. The huge influx of people enjoying the public parks damaged landscaping, left trash, and sometimes disrupted other visitors. Rather than just enforce the existing rules against such damaging and disruptive behavior, Milwaukee officials decided to go after the businesses that make games like Pokemon Go. In January, the Milwaukee County Board passed an ordinance that required the companies who created virtual and location-based augmented reality games to get a permit and post a $1 million certificate of insurance in order for people to play their games in the park.

On its face, the ordinance was ridiculous and unenforceable. The fact that the users of a game might damage flowers in a county park hardly makes the producers of that game responsible, nor should a county be able to arbitrarily restrict access to public property for people engaging in legal activities. But the Milwaukee Common Council is not known for its logical dexterity. In response to the ordinance, a company called Candy Lab Inc., which makes a different augmented reality game, sued the county.

Last week, U.S. District Court Judge J.P. Stadtmueller issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting Milwaukee County from enforcing its ordinance saying that it likely violates the First Amendment. This might be the first time in the nation’s jurisprudence that First Amendment protections have been expressly extended to augmented reality games.

In his ruling, Stadtmueller systematically dismantles Milwaukee County’s ordinance and all of its flaws. He says in part, “the Ordinance thus dooms itself in its failure to provide ‘narrowly drawn, reasonable, and definite standards’ to guide the County officials who must apply it,” and that the game in question, “contains the least minimum quantum of expression needed to constitute protectable speech.” In a final slap at Milwaukee County officials, the judge states, “the Ordinance is revealed for its strangeness and lack of sophistication.”

This ruling is a good reminder that while technologies change, constitutionally protected rights do not. In his ruling, Stadtmueller correctly cites and earlier case, Brown v. Entm’t Merchs. Ass’n, in which the Supreme Court clearly stated that, “whatever the challenges of applying the Constitution to everadvancing technology, ‘the basic principles of freedom of speech and the press, like the First Amendment’s command, do not vary’ when a new and different medium for communication appears.”

That statement is a recognition of the fact that rights are endowed upon individuals. Our right to free speech is inherently individual and deserving of protection irrespective of the medium of transmission. The men who wrote our Constitution likely never envisioned telephones, the internet, or Pokemon Go, but they did not need to in order for the protections they wrote to apply. The right is to be protected. The technology is irrelevant.

This same principle applies to other rights as well. We also have a right to keep and bear arms (which is actually a more specific declaration of our broader right to property). And while our founders never envisioned the complexity or sophistication of modern firearms, they did not need to. The right is to be protected. The technology is irrelevant.

Our Constitution is not, nor was it ever intended to be, a living document. It does not need to be. Its brilliance rests in the understanding that human rights live in the bosom of each and every person. We must protect those rights whether they are being exercised with a quill, pen, keyboard, smartphone, musket or AR-15.

Ceding the grand debate

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. I should note that while I lament the fact that we Americans have by and large ceded this debate, I do want the Congress to pass a healthcare reform bill that mitigates the damage as much as possible. I’d rather take a partial win than no win at all. Here it is:

As the U.S. Senate appears to be in the final throes of a bill to significantly change some of the worst aspects of Obamacare, it is appropriate to return to some fundamental truths that have been lost in the debate.

Health care is not a right. One of the philosophical underpinnings of Obamacare is the Marxist assertion that health care is a right, and as a right, should be protected and managed by the central government. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The greatest single definition of rights can be found in our own nation’s Declaration of Independence which states in part, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights … .” Rights are universal, unalienable, inviolable, equal and are the sole birthright of each individual. Since rights rest in the soul of each individual, every right can be exercised by every individual even if they were the last person on earth.

For example, everyone has a natural right to speak their conscience. The exercise of that right requires neither license from a government nor assistance from another person. The right to keep and bear arms is also a right. It is also a right inherent in the individual that can be exercised without any outside interference or assistance.

Health care is not a right. One certainly has the right to practice health care on oneself, as that right rests in the right to own one’s own body, but at the point that one’s health care requires the assistance of another individual, it ceases to be a right. No right can impose an obligation or duty on another individual.

One has a right to speak one’s conscience, but that does not obligate anyone to listen. One has a right to keep andbear arms, but that does not impose a duty on others to manufacture and supply one a gun. One has a right to control one’s own body, but that does not entitle one to the time, knowledge and skills of a doctor. An individual can always exercise a right, but at the point that such exercise imposes upon another person, it ceases to be a right and instead slips into the realms of commerce or coercion.

It is an important distinction because if we extend the definition of rights to include obligations on others, we are sanctioning slavery. When someone says that they are entitled to free universal health care, what they are really saying is that they want our government to use the threat of violence and imprisonment to force another person to surrender the fruits of their education, training, knowledge, time, materials and skills. The assertion that health care is a right is an inherently violent call to enslave others for the service of the collective.

Until the recent past, Americans had accepted that that the delivery of health care was a matter of commerce where free people would engage in an exchange of goods and services to obtain health care services. As a people, we had confidence in the capitalist economic principles that had led to the most efficient and productive allocation of scarce resources in all areas of commerce — including health care. It is upon these principles that America has been built and has become the most prosperous people in the history of human existence.

Yet in a pique of frustration and stupidity, we have abandoned those proven economic principles and embraced an ideology of serfdom by allowing our federal government to dictate the terms of our health care system. The debate occurring in Congress right now is simply over the details and costs of those terms. As a people, we have ceded the grand debate and are now fighting over the scraps of a squandered American legacy.

Recalling Barrett

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. Here you go:

It is easy for most people in Wisconsin to look upon the troubles in Milwaukee from a distance, lament the immense waste of money and opportunity, pity the victims of crime, cluck our tongues in disapproval and hope their troubles remain confined by the city’s borders. Yet while Wisconsin’s direction is increasingly divergent from Milwaukee’s trajectory with the blossoming of other communities, Milwaukee remains Wisconsin’s largest city. Its gravity still tugs the rest of the state.

Milwaukee’s problems are not new. Like many other Rust Belt cities, the shifting economy coupled with dreadful local leadership has drained the city of much of its vitality. Since 2004, Milwaukee has been led my Mayor Tom Barrett, and under Barrett’s leadership, Milwaukee has suffered.

It is gloomy to recount the statistics, but recount them we must. Between 2004, when Barrett was sworn in, and 2014, the last year for which the FBI has tabulated statistics, the overall violent crime rate in Milwaukee has increased almost 90 percent. The aggravated assault rate is up 263 percent. Robberies are up; burglaries are up; motor vehicle thefts are up.

While Milwaukee has benefitted from a resurgence in downtown development, the majority of the city is languishing under an economic malaise that rivals that of Detroit. This is especially true for Milwaukee’s black citizens. In 2015, the most recent year for which the Bureau of Labor Statistics has data, the unemployment rate for black Milwaukeeans was 17.3 percent compared to 4.3 percent for white Milwaukeeans. The income gap is one of the largest in the nation with the median household income for black families being $25,600 compared to $62,600 for white families. Milwaukee is considered one of the worst cities in America for black people for good reason.

While Barrett has been referred to as a “caretaker” mayor due to his lack of robust leadership, his caretaking certainly seems inadequate given Milwaukee’s decline. And yet, the people of Milwaukee have elected and reelected Barrett four times. In the most recent election in 2016, he was reelected with 70 percent of the vote. Despite the fact that Barrett has been desperately trying to get out of the city by running for governor three times, Milwaukeeans seem satisfied with his governance. One can forgive those of us who live outside of Milwaukee for having difficulty mustering compassion for Milwaukee’s wellbeing when Milwaukee’s voters appear to have so little regard for it.

However there is a growing, diverse, and energetic group of Milwaukeeans who have had enough. A group calling themselves “Save Our City. Milwaukeeans Can’t Wait” — a descriptive if unwieldly moniker — has announced plans to launch a recall effort against Barrett. The group is headed by Allen Jansen, a resident of the city’s south side who has supported the mayoral campaigns of Joe Davis and Bob Donovan. The group’s treasurer is Darryl Farmer, a member of the Black Panthers Party and controversial resident of the city’s north side.

Although newly announced, the group is already garnering wide support from a varied range of Milwaukeeans who are dissatisfied with Barrett for everything from lead pipes to crime. The groups lists four reasons for their effort to recall Barrett.

First, they allege that Barrett’s misplaced priorities of using tax dollars for the construction of a downtown trolley instead of focusing on health, public safety, education, etc. constitutes malfeasance in public office.

Second, they allege official misconduct on the part of Barrett in that he pursued an agenda that personally benefitted his campaign donors.

Third, they allege dereliction of duty because Barrett failed to fulfill his obligation to sufficiently protect Milwaukeeans from crime.

Fourth, they allege that Barrett endangered public health by not acting to replace Milwaukee’s lead lateral pipes.

Of course, none of these allegations are new. Milwaukeeans knew of these failures before they reelected Barrett last year by an overwhelming margin. Yet perhaps the fact that such a coalition of Milwaukeeans has coalesced for change is a ray of hope for a city desperately in need of competent leadership.

Barrett has responded to the recall effort by saying that he welcomes a conversation about Milwaukee’s future. Well, then. Let us have that conversation.

Taxing with the Lights On

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. Here you go:

There are very few things less exciting to write or read about than property tax assessments. It is a subject as dull and boring as the dry dusty parking lot of an abandoned Circuit City. Yet, we must walk through that parking lot because there is a movement going on across the country that seeks to push even more of the property tax burden onto Wisconsin’s homeowners.

At issue is the ominous-sounding “dark store” theory of property tax assessment. It is by this theory that many big box retailers are prevailing on the courts to cut their property tax bills by as much as 70 percent. The dark store theory is, in and of itself, not evil or ominous at all. It is simply an alternative theory of how to place a value on property, and in the abstract, it is quite rational.

There are always two variables in the calculation of a property tax bill. The first variable is the tax rate, which is set by each of the myriad of taxing authorities. The second variable is the value of the property. It is in this second variable where this controversy rests. In a pure economic sense, the fair market value of any property is whatever price a willing buyer is willing to give a willing seller for the property. Unless a property had just been sold, however, the true value of a property is subject to debate. While municipalities employ trained assessors to estimate the value of properties for the purpose of taxation with complicated formulations combining square footage, improvements, comparisons to comparable properties, etc., even the most reasonable assessment is, at best, an informed opinion that is subject to debate.

Recently, some very large retailers like Walgreens,WalMart, Shopko, Menards and others, have beenchallenging their property assessments in court, and winning, under the dark store theory. The retailers are arguing that their properties should not be valued basedon how they are being used today, but by how much they would be worth if they were empty and dark. We have all seen empty big box stores sit vacant and unsold for years because there are very few buyers for properties that were purpose-built for a specific retailer.

The consequences are real and the money is big. West Bend Mayor Kraig Sadownikow recently shared a stark example in his testimony for the Committee on Ways and Means. West Bend’s two Walgreens stores were taxed at a combined value of $14 million. Walgreens sued under the dark store theory and had the combined valuation reduced to $4.8 million — a reduction of nearly 66 percent. This cut their property taxes by about $180,000 per year. That is $180,000 for the city, county, and schools that the rest of the taxpayers of West Bend have to cover.

While the dark store theory of taxation is not entirely irrational in that it is trying to set the property value on the possible selling price that the retailer could actually get for the property is they leave it, it is entirely irrational considering the actual value of that property to a retailer that is using the property to earn profits from local consumers. A better way to value commercial properties is to factor in the actual use of the property. Assembly Bill 386, which is supported by all of Washington County’s elected state representatives, seeks to do just that.

Wisconsin’s property taxes are far too high, but we can all agree that the burden should be shared as fairly as possible. The big retailers can be forgiven for wanting to take advantage of every means the law allows to reduce their property tax burden, but Wisconsin’s lawmakers need to end this particular means by passing AB 386.

Stores with the lights on should be taxed as such.

SCOTUS protects free speech

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. Here you go:

With the rush of news lately about Obamacare, Brexit, Trump and everything else happening in our world, one can be forgiven for missing that the Supreme Court of the United States rendered what may prove to be one of its most important decisions protecting the free speech rights of Americans. The background of the case stretches back into decades of American progressive culture.

For decades, many American liberals who preach fidelity to the 1st Amendment and free speech have been carving out more and more speech as unworthy of such protection. In the past, the answer to offensive speech was more speech. Americans were certainly free to say nasty things and express abhorrent thoughts, and other Americans would respond with contrary speech. Such debate is an underpinning of a free society.

Liberals in America have been slowly eroding that robust intellectual ethos by decreeing that some speech is so offensive that the speaker must not be allowed to say it or face severe penalties if they do. This anti-free speech attitude has manifested in our American culture in the form of safe spaces, trigger words, speech codes and the like. On many college campuses and other liberal institutions, the price for saying something that does not please the ruling regime — from Marquette University to ESPN — is ostracism, reprimand, and expulsion.

It was in this intolerant culture that Barack Obama and many his fellow travelers were incubated and they brought it with them when Obama became our president. It was just that sort of intolerance that seeped into the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

The USPTO has a very simple purpose. It to register the unique intellectual property of individual Americans. The USPTO is not responsible for enforcing trademarks or copyrights. It is merely an office that evaluates a trademark or invention to determine if it is unique, and if it is, to register it in an official government record. If a person has a trademark or copyright that they think is being violated, then that person must file a civil suit in federal or state court to have the court enforce it.

Under the Obama Administration, the USPTO tried to stretch its mission to not just register unique trademarks,but to enforce a liberal speech code on them and prohibit trademarks that they did not like. Under the auspices of a “disparagement clause,” the USPTO had taken to denying trademarks that would normally qualify, but were deemed “offensive” to some real or mythical constituency.

Such were the rubrics that a band called “The Slants” confronted when trying to register the name of their band. The USPTO denied their application for a trademark because the word “slant” is considered a derogatory term for Asians. The Slants are a group of Asian-Americans who are determined to reclaim anti-Asian stereotypes, so they filed suit against the USPTO to have their name protected. The end result was the Supreme Court ruling of last week in the case of Matal v. Tam.

In a unanimous 8-0 decision, the Supreme Court utterly repudiated the USPTOs position. In a clear, uncompromising ruling supported by the entire spectrum of judicial philosophies on the court, Justice Alito said that “Speech that demeans on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, disability, or any other similar ground is hateful; but the proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express ‘the thought that we hate.’” Indeed. There was a time when all Americans believed that.

The Supreme Court’s ruling has drawn a line across which government entities may not cross. This has implications across our nation in government offices, public universities, and every other area where our government has been firmly pushing the 1st Amendment into a small, controlled, “safe space.” Moving forward, every effort by public institutions to restrict and control speech must be measured against this ruling. Many of them will find themselves failing to meet its standard and Americans must hold them to account.

Article V convention

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. Here you go:

The Constitution of the United States has stood for more than 200 years as the most perfect political document ever crafted by the hands of men. While other nations have crumbled under tyranny or burned in revolutions, the United States has persevered thanks to the unique strength and flexibility of its foundational document. The Wisconsin legislature is advancing an effort that could replace the Constitution with a newer version.

Article V of the Constitution is the article that allows the document to be revised and updated over time. It is under Article V that the Bill of Rights was passed, slaves were freed, women were granted the right to vote, alcohol was banned and then permitted again, and the federal government was given the power to tax our incomes. All of those amendments were enacted under the part of Article V that allows the federal legislature to initiate specific Constitutional amendments by passing them with a two-thirds majority of both houses of the Congress. Then three-fourths of the states must ratify the amendments.

But Article V allows another procedure to amend the Constitution that has never been followed whereby the states initiate the amendment process. The Constitution allows for two-thirds of the states to call a full Constitutional Convention which can then draft and pass one or several amendments to the Constitution. Whatever amendments the convention passes must then be ratified by three-fourths of the states in order to take effect. It is this second amendment procedure that the Wisconsin Assembly have harkened to when they advanced a resolution calling for a Constitutional Convention. If the Senate and governor agree, Wisconsin will become the 28th state to call for a convention. Thirty-four states are required for a convention to be convened.

The push for a Constitutional Convention is born out of frustration. The federal government has accumulated a staggering national debt and shows no sign of addressing it any time soon. As the national debt approaches $20 trillion — which is greater than the annual gross domestic product of the nation — it has robbed future generations of their wealth and threatens to destabilize our nation. Such enormous debt has spurred revolutions and totalitarianism in other nations. Americans should not have such hubris to think us immune from such consequences.

For generations, politicians in the federal government have demonstrated a collective fiscal restraint that would make drunken sailors seem circumspect, so many folks in the states think it is time to call a Constitutional Convention to pass a Balanced Budget Amendment that would require that the federal government always have a balanced budget like the state of Wisconsin.

While it sounds like a good idea, forcing the federal government to have a balanced budget would be lunacy. In times of war or deep recession, deficit spending is often sound fiscal policy. The problem with the federal government is that in times of peace and economic expansion, when they should be taking advantage of natural surpluses to reduce the debt, they continue to spend and run deficits. The politicians in Washington need to be checked on their spending, but a Balanced Budget Amendment is not the way to do it.

But the debate over a Constitutional Convention has little to do with the actual justification for it. Opponents cite the Constitutional Convention of 1787, the convention that created our Constitution, as the reason to avoid another one. The delegates of the Convention of 1787 were convened with a limited charter to make slight adjustments to some perceived malformations of the Articles of Confederation. Instead, the delegates almost immediately jettisoned their original charter and decided to write a new constitution from scratch. Opponents of a new Constitutional Convention fear that modern delegates may follow their forbearers’ example.

Would that be a bad thing? Opponents are fearmongering that modern constitutional delegates would strip the Constitution of protections for minorities and disenfranchise people. Such fears are utter rubbish spouted by cynical hacks. What many of them really fear is that many of the courtimposed corruptions of the Constitution, like federal power to force people to purchase health insurance, will be annulled by a redrafting of our nation’s fundamental document.

There is a fallacy in historical study that forgets that while a few of the delegates to the convention that created our remarkable Constitution were brilliant, most were fairly average intellects. And all of them were subject to the human faults of vanity, envy, greed, selfishness, bigotry and all of the other sins that comprise the human condition. The divine spark in our Constitution is that it managed to acknowledge and balance many of these human failures to create a framework that has been responsible for the greatest expansion of liberty and prosperity in the history of the world.

A modern Constitutional Convention may stick to its stated charter to create a Balanced Budget Amendment, but it may also completely cast aside our venerated Constitution and try to write a new one. Perhaps that divine spark will once again manifest itself is something even greater than the sum of the delegates’ abilities. Perhaps not.

In either case it would take ratification by three-fourths of the states, which is a high standard that would represent a remarkably broad consensus by We the People. Such a high, but not impossible, threshold for Constitutional reform is yet another example of the brilliance of our 1787 Constitution and an affirmation of our founders’ wisdom. They wrote Article V with the humility that they were not perfect and the forethought that future Americans may wish to create a new Constitution. Perhaps it is time to see if we can do it any better.

 

Golf and Climate Change

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. Here you go:

Next week the U.S. Open Championship, one of the world’s marquee golf events, will come to Wisconsin for the first time in history at the Erin Hills golf course in scenic Washington County. The weeklong golf extravaganza is expected to bring thousands of visitors and have an estimated economic impact of $130 million. Wisconsin has officially become a golf destination.

Erin Hills is 652 acres of gorgeous pristine land that was scraped into the elegant curves, peaks, and valleys that distinguish the area known as the Kettle Moraine. The towering nearby Holy Hill will sentinel the visitors and the innumerable pockets of shade will provide a welcome respite from the warm (I hope) sun. Wisconsin welcomes the U.S. Open, but the inescapable fact is that this would never have happened had it not been for global warming.

The area we know as the Kettle Moraine is said to have been formed during the last Ice Age when a vast sheet of ice covered Wisconsin as far south as Walworth County. As the earth warmed, the ice melted and scampered back into Canada leaving behind a Wisconsin landscape teeming with biodiversity and sculpted into regions perfect for farming, fishing, and yes, golfing.

The mania over the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord indicates that some folks are no longer capable of having a rational discussion regarding climate change, what it means, and the costs and benefits of various public policy options regarding climate change. Various factions have galvanized into reactive shock troops that are divorced from reason and defend their positions with the religious fanaticism of David Koresh.

Let us start with the basics. The earth’s climate changes. It always has. It always will. It changes because of many forces at play including the sun’s activity, volcanic eruptions, celestial collisions, and the activity of organisms on it. The approximately seven billion humans on earth are part of the picture — particularly with our capacity to manipulate our surroundings to our benefit. It is common sense that the climate is changing and that human activity has an impact on that change.

The next question we need to answer is how is the climate changing? Many climatologists argue that the climate is warming and will continue to do so. Much of that research is in doubt because of numerable reports of fraud, manipulated data, and the fact that much of that research is funded by governments and people with a vested interest in reaching that conclusion (always follow the money). It is also worth noting that the global warming adherents have been almost universally wrong when making predictions.

But given that the climate is changing, there is some chance that it is getting warmer. Let us stipulate to that probability and move on to the next question, is it good or bad that the climate might be warming?

The answer to that question depends on one’s frame of reference and perspective. Any change has positive and negative consequences and climate change is not any different. If the globe warms significantly, scientists predict that many islands will be submerged and coastal areas flooded as the oceans rise. Conversely, vast areas of tundra in Russia and Canada that are now locked in permafrost would melt and become farmable, thus helping provide jobs and food for billions of humans. There are undoubtedly millions of additional consequences if the globe warms, but nobody can categorically predict whether the net effect of those consequences would be good or bad.

So if the globe might be warming and that might be a bad thing, what public policies should we enact to “combat” it? And at what cost? Therein lies the rub. There is broad agreement in America, if not yet in other nations, that we want to take reasonable measures to make our environment as clean and sustainable as possible. We are even willing to pay more and sacrifice some comforts to achieve those ends. We want that not really because of anything to do with climate change, but because we do not want to breathe toxins, spread diseases, or drink unclean water.

What we do not all agree upon is that we should surrender our way of life and cripple our economy in order to combat the possibility that the earth may be warming and that might be a bad thing. Humans have proven tremendously adaptable and are capable of weathering moderate changes in climate. Simply put, the cost of the Paris Climate Accord was too high for the perceived benefits rendered. President Trump was right to pull out of the deal, and the baying of foreign liberals has far more to do with the fact that they will not be able to fleece American tax payers (always follow the money) than it does with how warm the earth might be in the year 2200.

After golfers from all over the world come to Wisconsin to enjoy the beautiful landscapes and lush foliage of the Kettle Moraine, let us hope that some of them return to their homes thankful for the warming planet that made it all possible.