Tag Archives: West Bend Daily News

Ask not for whom the politicians toll

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

As one drives around these great United States, one is bound to find oneself on a toll road at some point. Thirty-five states require drivers to pay tolls on some 5,000 miles of roads as a way to raise money to pay for their transportation infrastructure. Is Wisconsin set to become the 36th?

Toll roads are nothing new. In fact, toll roads predate our nation. The first toll roads in the United States were constructed in the years immediately after the signing of the Constitution. The 1790s saw the construction of the Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike and the Great Western Turnpike in New York.

For many of us who grew up in the previous century, our memories of toll roads are long lines of cars jostling for position at a row of toll booths while digging for the correct change. Toll roads have come a long way since then. We have David Cook to thank for revolutionizing toll roads in 1989. David Cook is the Dallas entrepreneur who founded Blockbuster. Before 1985, video rental stores existed as small, independent, unremarkable enterprises. Cook’s innovation was to utilize barcode scanning and database-driven inventory management to rent videos on a large scale. He then used a centralized distribution system and leveraged the behavioral and demographic information his databases held to get the movies people wanted into their local stores. Until the next wave of digital transformation obliterated its business model, Blockbuster was a remarkable business.

While still at Blockbuster, Cook invested in Amtech, a company that was tinkering with technology that used radio frequencies to identify moving objects. They hoped to use the technology for railroads. Cook envisioned another use for the technology to make toll roads faster by removing the need to collect cash. Cook installed the technology for free in Dallas in 1989 with tremendous results. Other companies and toll road authorities quickly followed suit.

Most toll roads in the U.S. still use a variation of Cook’s transponder technology, but it has been improved to where vehicles can travel at full speed. Newer technologies are also being developed. For example, in Colorado, a sophisticated camera system eliminates the need for a transponder by taking a picture of each car’s license plates and sending the bill to the owner.

But while the technology of separating drivers from their money has become remarkably convenient and easy, that does not resolve the essential economic and political problems associated with tolling.

One of the core responsibilities with which we have tasked our governments is to construct and maintain an adequate transportation infrastructure. This is necessary primarily for economic reasons since the movement of goods and labor is vital for economic prosperity. But it is also for the pleasure and enjoyment of citizens to be able to move around our great nation with relative ease.

A good transportation infrastructure is not inexpensive and there are a variety of philosophies on how to pay for it. One way is to just use general taxes under the notion that every taxpayer benefits from the transportation system either directly or indirectly. This spreads the cost over the greatest number of taxpayers and our political leaders must balance transportation priorities against all of the other demands on general funds like education, law enforcement, etc.

Another way to fund transportation is to levy taxes and fees from the direct users of the transportation system. This is largely how the state of Wisconsin does it by using the vehicle registration fee and gas tax as proxies for users. In Wisconsin, if you register several or larger vehicles, or buy a lot of gas, you pay more transportation taxes because you are presumably using the transportation infrastructure more. In the age of electric cars, however, the proxy of the gas tax is less valid than it once was.

Toll roads are merely an extension of the latter philosophy for transportation funding. It is a direct tax on the people using a specific road at a specific time. There is nothing inherently wrong with the concept, but it must be put into perspective.

The reason that Wisconsin Republican politicians are talking about toll roads is because they want to spend more money on transportation and they cannot find the money elsewhere. Wisconsin’s gas tax and registration fee are already well above the national average and the public has no appetite to raise our ranking any higher. State lawmakers could tap the state’s general fund for more money or borrow more, but there is also stiff opposition to those ideas. The idea of toll roads are being floated as another possible option to get more money from taxpayers.

The intractable problem with the transportation budget in Wisconsin is not that there is too little money for our needs. The problem is that politicians want to spend far more than Wisconsinites can afford. Toll roads will not fix that problem. Fiscal restraint and leadership will. Are Wisconsin’s Republicans capable of that anymore?

Humbled and Thankful

My column for the West Bend Daily News is online. No politics this week. Here you go:

What became Memorial Day began during the aftermath of the American Civil War. In an effort to find a way to grieve and remember the hundreds of thousands of Union and Confederate soldiers whose graves were strewn around virtually every community in the newly reunited United States, Gen. John Logan, in his role as commander-inchief of the Union veterans group called the Grand Army of the Republic, designated May 30, 1868, as Decoration Day. He set aside the day for the purpose of decorating the graves of those who had given their lives in defense of their country during the Rebellion.

In the first national celebration of Decoration Day, former Union General and future President James Garfield, who was then a congressman from Ohio, gave a speech at the site of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s former property, which had been designated Arlington National Cemetery. After the speech, 5,000 participants decorated the graves of more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers in an act of national healing.

In the ensuing years, Decoration Day was renamed Memorial Day, fixed at the last Monday of May, and expanded to honor all those who have died in defense of liberty in all of America’s wars. The list of honored patriots is long — more than 1.1 million souls — and growing with each passing year. The price of liberty is indeed very, very high.

For most of our nation’s history, military service was compulsory. Men were expected to, and forced to by the government, serve in the armed forces in times of war and peace. Many men volunteered, as did many women, and after the draft was ended in 1973, every member of the armed services is a volunteer.

Although he was almost certainly not the first American soldier to die in combat, the honor of that distinction is generally given to Capt. Isaac Davis. One of the famed Massachusetts Minutemen, Davis set the mold for Americans for generations to come. He stepped forward when called to defend his nation, which was not even a nation yet, from the invading British Red Coats.

After seeing smoke in the town of Concord, the

Minutemen assembled on Punkatasset Hill decided to attack the British. Davis, accepting the honor, declared that, “I haven’t a man that is afraid to go,” and led his company down the hill to the Old North Bridge to confront the British. On the third volley from the disciplined British, a bullet pierced Davis’ heart just as he was raising his gun to fire. Private Abner Hosmer was also mortally wounded in the head during the same volley.

As of the time of this writing, we do not know the details of how Sergeants Joshua Rodgers and Cameron Thomas were killed. Aged just 22 and 23 years old, respectively, Rodgers and Thomas are the most recent casualties of America’s longest war. Both men were in the same unit and were killed by small arms fire on April 26 in Nangarhar province, Afghanistan. This Memorial Day will be especially difficult for their families in Bloomington, Illinois, and Kettering, Ohio.

When one strolls through one of the far-too-many cemeteries with countless rows of identical white stones or stands before the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier that honors those heroes without a stone of their own, the distinctions of how or why they entered the military, race, creed, gender, age, religion, and even time fall into insignificance. Every one of those heroes had one thing in common. When our nation needed them to pay the ultimate sacrifice, they paid it. And for that, we are humbled and deeply thankful.

Repeal the Minimum Markup Law

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

West Bend has been enjoying something of a retail renaissance in the past few years. Unfortunately, Wisconsin’s Unfair Sales Act, A.K.A. “Minimum Markup Law,” is preventing consumers to reap the benefits of such an upsurge in competition.

Just in the last year, Kwik Trip opened in West Bend, the Shell on Paradise upgraded with a car wash and Mad Max built a shining new gas station on South Main Street. Pizza Ranch is planning a new store on Washington, Morrie’s Auto Group is planning a new Honda dealership in town and Russ Darrow is already building a new Nissan dealership. The big news last week was the opening of a huge Meijer grocery store and Pick ‘n Save is planning a major upgrade to its stores.

The natural result of so much competition is to drive the price of identical goods down for consumers. After all, if one can buy the same gallon of milk for a dollar less at Meijer than at Pick ‘n Save, why would a consumer pay more? Sure there are other factors that consumers consider like convenience, service, etc., but everything else being equal, consumers will buy from the lower cost retailer.

Sometimes, businesses will use the practice of a loss leader to attract consumers in the hope those consumers will buy other products, too. This is where a business will sell one product for a price dramatically less than their competitors and often below their cost. It is a practice that cannot be sustained over time without risking bankruptcy, but it can be used as a temporary lure for consumers.

Wisconsin’s Minimum Markup law was passed in the 1930s when Progressives held majorities in Madison to prevent just such business practices. As the preface of the law states, “The practice of selling certain items of merchandise below cost in order to attract patronage is generally a form of deceptive advertising and an unfair method of competition in commerce.”

While the Minimum Markup Law was written in an anti-capitalism spasm of socialist protectionism, the modern justifications for keeping it are essentially two-fold. First, proponents argue it protects consumers by preventing “big business” from moving into a community, selling below cost until the competition fails and then jack up prices. Second, proponents argue by guaranteeing a profit, the Minimum Markup Law protects a diversity of competition by ensuring that small retailers can

compete with larger ones.

The problem with both of those arguments is neither are true. There is no evidence of large retailers using loss leaders to bankrupt competition and then increasing prices in the long term. The reason is economies are dynamic and consumers are mobile. If Wal-Mart in West Bend, for example, were to sell all of its goods at significantly below cost for a period of time, some other retailers may go bankrupt. But as soon as Wal-Mart raised their prices, consumers could travel to a neighboring town and another store could easily move into West Bend with lower prices. Market pressures keep Wal-Mart’s prices – and other retailers’ prices – competitive.

A study recently released by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty disproves the second argument. The study was co-authored by WILL’s William Flanders and the Cato Institute’s Ike Brannon. The study looked across all 50 states. Slightly less than half of the states have a minimum markup law similar to Wisconsin’s and a few have it just for gasoline. The rest of the states have no such law.

WILL’s study found there was no statistical difference in the number of small retailers or gas stations between states with a Minimum Markup Law and those without. For all of the proponents’ rhetoric about protecting Wisconsin’s small businesses, there is no evidence that in more than 80 years Wisconsin’s Minimum Markup Law being in effect it stops anything other than Wisconsinites from getting a good deal.

Wisconsin’s Minimum Markup Law is an antiquated anti-consumer law rooted in a discredited economic theory. It does not accomplish the goals it purports to achieve and forces consumers to pay more than necessary for essential goods. It is time to repeal Wisconsin’s Minimum Markup Law once and for all.

Release of the Walker Trilogy

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

In perhaps the most anticipated, but least surprising, announcement in Wisconsin politics, Gov. Scott Walker told fellow Republicans at the state Republican convention in Wisconsin Dells he is ready to serve a third term as governor.

Although he has said that, he will withhold an official announcement until after the budget is passed, there is little doubt that Walker will ask the voters to elect him as their governor for the fourth time.

One could not help but contrast Walker’s 2017 Wisconsin GOP convention speech to the one he made to the same audience last year. By the time the Wisconsin Republicans convened in 2016, Walker’s presidential campaign had been dead for nearly eight months, but Walker was clearly in no mood to talk about the presidential campaign or his future. In a speech that did not mention the Republican presidential nominee once, Walker focused on getting Republicans to focus on re-electing Sen. Ron Johnson.

The focus and mood were very different this year. Walker delivered a rousing highlight reel of his record as governor and enjoined the Republican stalwarts in the audience to rally to his campaign. Judging from the reaction of the crowd, Walker will have no problem turning out his base of supporters again. And while many conservatives became frustrated with Walker when he uncharacteristically flirted with nonconservative positions during his run for president, his record in less than seven years as governor is truly unmatched in advancing conservative principles and issues. Of course, Walker had the support of a Republican Legislature for much of his tenure, but those Republicans have been increasingly conservative thanks in large part to Walker’s leadership.

Most people place Act 10 at the top of the list of Walker’s achievements. Act 10 was a reorientation of the government paradigm that continues to pay dividends to Wisconsin’s citizens. It deserves to sit atop the list, but that list, taken in its totality, dwarfs Act 10.

Since Walker assumed office, Wisconsin has passed concealed carry legislation, required voters to present a picture identification, made Wisconsin a right-to-work state, expanded school choice,

frozen tuition at Wisconsin’s public universities and much, much more. Walker and the Republican Legislature also funded the state’s rainy day fund, cut billions of dollars in taxes and turned Wisconsin into a state that repeatedly runs surpluses instead of the perpetual deficits we saw under Gov. Jim Doyle.

The results speak for themselves. Wisconsin’s unemployment rate is the lowest it has been since President Bill Clinton was in the White House. At the same time, Wisconsin has one of the highest percentage of people in the workforce. And the average annual wage for private sector workers is up more than 11 percent since Walker was elected. Wisconsin is working.

It is small wonder why Walker would want to run for a third term. Most governors would be proud to run on one or two of Walker’s achievements. No governor in America can run on such a chockfull record of success.

The Democrats appear to agree. Walker’s impressive record and bursting campaign coffers has already scared away most serious contenders. The Democrats are scraping the edges of their party and the private sector for anyone willing to charge the Walker windmill and finding few takers. The Democrats will eventually find someone to run and will attempt to sell them to the voters as the second coming of FDR, but Walker will be exceptionally formidable even in a year when national trends point to Democratic wins.

The next gubernatorial election is still 18 months away, but it is difficult to envision Walker not sticking around as governor well into the next decade.

A rough road

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

After weeks of speculation and trial balloons, the Wisconsin Assembly leadership released a plan called “Road to a Flat Tax.” The plan was primarily authored by State Rep. Dale Kooyenga and cobbles together some 30 ideas with the promise of fixing the state’s long-term transportation funding issues and cutting taxes.

It has become fashionable in Washington, and now in Madison, to tackle every issue with these massive omnibus bills that are just complicated and opaque enough to provide politicians cover from contentious political issues. The Road to a Flat Tax plan is no different. It packages some truly terrific and transformative proposals with a few policy and political duds with the hope of convincing legislators to pass the package with the excuse that most of it is good.

Let us start with the great parts of this proposal. The Road to a Flat Tax does just that. It would eliminate the state property tax, as Gov. Walker has proposed, and gradually move Wisconsin to a flat 3.95 percent income tax over the next decade. It does so by eliminating and changing several major tax credits and phasing out four of the five tax brackets. Wisconsin would end up with a fair and flat income tax. Wisconsin’s Republicans are not ambitious enough to eliminate the state income tax like seven other states, but a flat income tax is the next best thing.

The Assembly Republicans’ plan also repeals Wisconsin’s prevailing wage law for state projects, which would save taxpayers at least $300 million per biennium, according to a 2015 study by Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance. The plan eliminates 180 positions from the Department of Transportation, which does not save any money yet, but gives the department more flexibility to reduce spending in the future. It reduces the state’s minimum markup law as it applies to gasoline (more on that later), lowers the gas tax, imposes a moratorium on roundabouts, imposes a fee on electric and hybrid vehicles and eliminates the ability of local governments to enact new wheel taxes.

Then there is the bad part of the proposal. The Road to a Flat Tax includes an intricate change to the way the state taxes gasoline that results in an overall tax increase. For the first time, the state would impose the state sales tax on gasoline. This is estimated to generate about $600 million in revenue over the biennium. In order to offset some

of that increase, the state would reduce the gas tax by 4.8 cents, thus shaving off $278 million of the increase. It would also change the minimum markup law to a mandatory 3 percent markup instead of the combined 9.18 percent. This would save consumers another roughly $50 million at the pump while cutting into the profits of gasoline retailers and wholesalers.

The end result after all of those changes is that Wisconsinites would see a tax increase of about $330 million per biennium. The increase in funding would be directed to paying down Wisconsin’s debt. Bear in mind, however, that funds that go into the Transportation Fund are fungible. Although the tax increase is allocated to debt reduction, that means that the money that would have been spent on debt service without the tax increase will now be spent on current transportation projects.

The tax increase to be spent on transportation has long been the ambition of Assembly Republican leadership and it at the heart of this proposal. Packaging it with a bevy of other tremendously positive initiatives appears designed to pull the tax increase through a reluctant Republican caucus. Rep. Kooyenga should be commended for advancing so many great ideas. Repealing the state’s prevailing wage law, implementing a flat income tax, eliminating the state property tax, and many other parts of the Road to a Flat Tax would be tremendously beneficial for Wisconsinites. But there is no rational reason, other than for political brinkmanship, to amalgamate all of these ideas into a single “take it or leave it” proposal. The legislature should take up each piece of the Road to a Flat Tax as separate bills and then vote on them based on their merits. Good legislation that would benefit Wisconsinites should not be weighed down by legislation that would not pass on its own.

Protect free speech on campus

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

There has been a virulent strain of anti-free speech fascism developing on our college campuses, and on too many campuses, this fascism has been nurtured and encouraged by the very faculty and staff that are charged with expanding minds.

The most recent high-profile example of this trend happened at the University of California, Berkley, over the past few weeks. A group of fascists rioted in order to prevent conservative firebrand Ann Coulter from giving a speech on campus. Under the threat of violence and Berkley officials’ unwillingness to control the rioters, Coulter cancelled her speech.

This has been happening to invited speakers who do not espouse leftist political beliefs at campuses all over the nation. In March, students at Middlebury College in Vermont shouted down American Enterprise Institute political scientist Charles Murry, pulled the fire alarm, banged on the walls, and assaulted a female professor. Berkley was the scene of more riots back in February when pro-free speech (not conservative) provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos was scheduled to speak. The fascists set fire to trees, attacked bystanders, and forced the speech to be cancelled.

Lest you think that such behavior is confined to the coasts, Madison and Milwaukee was the scene of similar actions when conservative public speaker Ben Shapiro came to Wisconsin last year. When Shapiro spoke at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, students organized to shout Shapiro down and prevent him from speaking. Over at Marquette University earlier this year, Marquette’s faculty was caught trying to sabotage the event by reserving seats for the speech as fake students in order to prevent actual students from attending. Such lying is apparently condoned by Marquette’s staff.

Protests on college campuses are nothing new. In the classical liberal tradition, college is a place for students to have their minds stretched, their beliefs questioned, and their prejudices challenged. Protesting for and against various causes and pushing against authority is part of the American college tradition. But what is going on now on college campuses is something different and vile.

Instead of merely protesting or offering a different viewpoint, liberal fascists on campus are acting -often

violently – to repress the speech of people with whom they disagree. That is not expression. That is oppression.

In years past, college administrators and faculty were often the most ardent defenders of free speech and would take necessary actions to defend and protect others’ right to free expression. Unfortunately, for too many colleges, those days have ended. Too often, we see college administrators and faculty either refusing to defend anyone except fellow leftists and, as in the case at Marquette, actively work to suppress anyone who would challenge leftist orthodoxy.

State Representative Jesse Kremer (R-Kewaskum) has introduced a bill titled the “Campus Free Speech Act” to attempt to force public college administrators to do what they should have been doing all along – defend free speech on their campuses. The bill would require the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents to develop and implement a system wide policy to defend the free expression of ideas. The policy must continue to allow protests, but would punish students who repeatedly attempt to quash the free speech of others.

In a perfect world, the legislature would not need to step in and require the Board of Regents to take action to defend free speech. In a perfect world, UW officials at all levels would so honor and cherish the right to free speech that they would marshal every weapon at their disposal to protect and defend people who are speaking their minds – however contrary to their own beliefs. But as we all know, the world is not perfect, and we must continue to push back the forces of oppression and fascism. Kremer’s bill is a necessary step to protect free speech for everyone precisely in the place where diverse viewpoints should be celebrated.

Finish the job and repeal prevailing wage

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

Another battle in the long war to repeal Wisconsin’s Prevailing Wage Laws was launched this month when Sen. Leah Vukmir (RBrookfield) and Rep. Rob Hutton (RBrookfield) reintroduced a bill in the state Legislature to repeal the prevailing wage law for state projects. The bill faces an uncertain future in the face of massive opposition from powerful special interests.

Wisconsin’s prevailing wage “law” is actually a series of laws that were passed during the Great Depression with the goal of protecting local workers from losing their jobs to migrant workers who were willing to work for lower wages. The law essentially requires that any businesses that work on a public project of any size must pay the prevailing wages for the area in which the work takes place.

The prevailing wage is determined by a flawed process by the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development that heavily favors inflated union wages. The result is Wisconsin’s prevailing wage law protects large, unionized contractors at the expense of inflated prices for taxpayers and non-union contractors.

Intrepid conservative Wisconsin lawmakers fought hard to fully repeal the prevailing wage law in the 20152017 state budget. The result was a compromise that repealed the prevailing wage law for local governments and school districts, but left it in place for state projects. The bill from Vukmir and Hutton would finish the job by repealing it for state projects too.

The reason the fight to repeal the prevailing wage law is so heated is quite simple: money. As it stands, Wisconsin’s prevailing wage law props up the profits for some of Wisconsin’s largest private contractors. Those contractors donate an extraordinary amount of money and support to politicians on both sides of the aisle who like to spend taxpayer dollars on big, expensive projects.

In the 2015 battle over prevailing wage, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and other members of the Assembly leadership actively worked to thwart the repeal of prevailing wage. They could not resist the overwhelming public pressure and were forced into the compromise repeal. Last legislative session, Representative Andre Jacque had the temerity to hold a hearing on prevailing wage reform in his role as the Chairman of the Assembly Labor Committee. Jacque’s fellow Republican,

Vos, punished Jacque by stripping him of his chairmanship for the current session.

The reason to repeal the prevailing wage law is one of conservative principle – or of laissez-faire economics, if you prefer. The government should not enforce artificial labor prices or meddle in the free market. Wisconsin’s prevailing wage law does just that and it results in the government distorting the market and encouraging crony capitalism.

While one would like to think that our state lawmakers would consistently act on principle, repealing the prevailing wage law would also be in their self-interest.

There is another war waging in the Legislature over transportation spending. The prevailing wage law aggravates that issue by inflating spending on state transportation projects. A 2015 study by the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance showed the state’s prevailing wage law was responsible for up to $300 million per year in unnecessary costs. In terms of Wisconsin’s biennial budget, that is potentially $600 million that could be used for additional transportation spending without borrowing or raising taxes. Such a windfall would release a lot of the political steam that is heating up the debate over transportation spending.

While it was disappointing that Wisconsin’s prevailing wage law as not fully repealed in 2015, state lawmakers now have the opportunity to finish the job for the benefit of state taxpayers. They should quickly pass Vukmir and Hutton’s bill and put it on Governor Walker’s desk – preferably before the state budget so that lawmakers can include the potential windfall savings into their budget calculations.

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.

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.

Taking back our civil rights

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

Shortly after the Constitutional Convention of 1787 ended, James Madison, whom John Adams labeled the “father of the Constitution,” began the arduous task of defending the intricate document signed by his fellow conventioneers and advocating for the state Legislatures to ratify it. The birth of a new nation was not to be had without some painful moments.

One of the immediate and most forceful attacks on the new Constitution came from his fellow Virginian, Richard Henry Lee. Lee was a powerful politician, forceful orator and fierce advocate for liberty. It was Lee who had called for the original resolution to break from Britain at the Second Continental Congress in 1776. But Lee turned his political prowess against the fledgling Constitution because he was fearful of the strong central government it created.

In order to retard the power of the new federal government, Lee proposed a declaration of rights that was to include the freedom of religion and the press. Madison was flabbergasted by the proposal because it was, in his mind, utterly unnecessary. The Constitution was firmly secured to the foundation that all power and rights rested in the People except for those few specific powers ceded to the government as enumerated in the Constitution. It was a bedrock enlightenment philosophical concept as articulated by the likes of Thomas Paine and John Locke.

Madison initially saw danger in what became the Bill of Rights because to enumerate specific individual rights to be protected by the Constitution would lead some to think that those rights not specifically enumerated for protection are within the power of government to restrict or rescind. This is why the 10th Amendment became a catch-all for rights not listed.

Madison eventually came around to support and author the Bill of Rights as a practical necessity to assure skittish state legislators and secure their support for ratifying the Constitution, but Madison’s fears were prescient. The natural momentum of government is to expand its power and our federal government has often run roughshod over natural rights not enumerated in the Constitution, as amended. But our government has also not been shy about trampling those rights that are singled out for protection.

That is not to say that all rights are absolute. It is the appropriate function of government to intervene and set boundaries when one right rubs up against another. For example, it is undeniably my right to speak out and protest against my government. But the government can, and should, deny that right to me if I try to do it on another citizen’s private property. The government can, and should, also restrict certain rights in a more systematic way when there is a substantial or pressing government interest to do so. But the standard for what constitutes a “substantial government interest” is, and should be, extraordinarily high.

Since the ratification of our Constitution, the right to keep and bear arms, as enumerated in the Second Amendment, has been steadily eroded thanks to fear, ignorance, and opportunistic politicians. For the first several decades, this right was rarely restricted. People regularly carried firearms either openly or concealed.

During Reconstruction after the Civil War, a wave of restrictions to the Second Amendment swept over the South as a means for the federal government to maintain order and, as white southerners regained

control of their state legislatures, to suppress black Americans. Subsequent waves of government restrictions of the Second Amendment came as politicians took advantage of various opportunities to disarm the public. New York City required its citizens to obtain a license to carry a concealed firearm in 1911 after a brazen murder-suicide in broad daylight. Mayor Daley ordered that all firearms in Chicago be registered in 1968.

All of these restrictions of the Second Amendment grew out of fear, hate, ignorance, and complacency without anything that could rationally be called a “substantial government interest.” A couple of decades ago, Americans began to take back their Second Amendment rights with the steady loosening of gun laws in states and the universal legalization of concealed carry. Despite the lamentations of opponents, the evidence is clear that the public did not suffer any negative consequences of this movement. In fact, the data points to several possible benefits like lower crime. The nation’s most crime-ridden bastions remain those with the strictest remaining gun control laws.

The next progression in reclaiming our Second Amendment rights is the passage of what has been termed “Constitutional Carry,” and it has been introduced in Wisconsin. Constitutional Carry is simply the return to how our Second Amendment was originally conceived and how it was enforced for most of the first century of our nation’s history. Free Americans who have not committed a serious crime and who are mentally competent would be free to own and carry a firearm in any manner they so choose. All of the other restrictions, like respecting private property rights, would remain in place.

Opponents of Constitutional Carry rest their arguments in the same irrational fear and hate as those who opposed concealed carry. “It will be like the Wild West with blood in the streets,” etc. But history and facts disprove their arguments. As of right now, 12 other states already have Constitutional Carry. One of them, Vermont, has had Constitutional Carry since the Constitution was ratified in 1791. Alaska has had it for 23 years. Liberal New Hampshire and Conservative North Dakota both passed Constitutional Carry earlier this year.

None of the states that have Constitutional Carry have experienced any ill effects. The reason is simple and is the same reason why there has been nothing but positive effects since concealed carry was passed six years ago in Wisconsin: concealed carry or Constitutional Carry only really applies to good, law-abiding people. Much to our collective lament, the bad people already practice Constitutional Carry.

We should never allow our government to restrict any of our civil rights without a rigorous debate and an imminently justifiable cause for doing so. And when we have foolishly allowed our government to restrict our civil rights without just cause, we should take every opportunity to take back our rights. Wisconsin should return to Constitutional Carry.

Tweaking the WRS

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

The Wisconsin Retirement System is a great example of government working well. Thanks to decades of prudent management by both Democrats and Republicans, it has provided an ample retirement income to generations of Wisconsin’s public employees and remains one of the only fully funded public pension systems in the nation.

The operative word in the phrase “prudent management” is “management,” and that is what state legislators need to continually do. Making sensible small changes in the present makes massive sweeping changes unnecessary in the future.

Sen. Duey Stroebel (R-Saukville) and Rep. Tyler August (RLake Geneva) have reintroduced a bill that would raise the minimum retirement age for most new public employees from 55 to 60 and from 50 to 52 for public safety workers. Doing so would add solvency to the WRS and reduce pension contributions by the taxpayers by an estimated $59 million now and millions more in the future.

Most public employees in the WRS can receive their full retirement benefits beginning at 65, but they can retire early at 55 and take a fraction of their retirement based on their years of service. For example, if a public employee begins working at 25 and takes early retirement at 55, that employee would receive about 90 percent of their full retirement benefit. If that same worker only had five years of employment, his or her retirement benefits would be less.

What Stroebel and August are proposing is simply to slightly raise the minimum age at which an employee would be eligible for early retirement. Retirees would still be able to retire early if they are eligible and retire with their full benefits at the same age. And it would only apply to new employees. Current employees would not be impacted.

The reasoning is simple. People live longer. In 1960, the average life expectancy in the U.S. was 69.77 years. In 2012, it was 78.74 years. In other words, retirees are receiving many more years of retirement income than they used to. And more of those retiring early at 55 are spending more time in retirement than they worked. It is not only fiscally sensible to raise the minimum retirement

age, it is fundamentally fairer to the taxpayers — most of whom will not retire in their 50s.

Opponents of the bill argue that raising the minimum retirement age will make it more difficult to hire new workers. While that is theoretically possible, most 20somethings are not looking hard at the minimum retirement age of the pension system when considering a job. And if they are, they are probably not the kind of employees that the taxpayers want.

The opponents also argue that raising the minimum retirement age would increase government spending because the taxpayers would have to pay an older employee for longer at the higher end of the pay scale instead of being able to replace them with younger, cheaper employees. This argument neglects the fact that the taxpayers also funded the retirement of the outgoing employee. Thus, the taxpayers are on the hook for the current employee, the recent retiree, and perhaps even the retiree who had the job before both of them. No, it is a better deal for the taxpayers to hold onto a seasoned employee for a few years longer and pay them for the value they provide the taxpayers.

Stroebel’s and August’s bill is the smallest of possible tweaks to the WRS to help keep it solvent and fair. Also, since it only applies to new employees, any incoming employee will be able to decide for themselves if it is enough for them to turn down the job. Frankly, the state should go farther by raising the normal retirement age and perhaps indexing it to life expectancy. Or if state Republicans are really interested in longterm reform, they should move to a defined contribution system for new employees.

One vote for Gieryn, Miller and Cammack

My column for the West Bend Daily News is online. The resignation of Therese Sizer last night puts it in a different context this morning. Here you go:

April 4 brings us another opportunity to exercise our right to elect our political and judicial leaders. While the national and state elections tend to get all of the attention, it is our local elected officials who arguably have more of a direct impact on our everyday lives. It is also our local officials who often work long hours, deal with a lot of quirky citizens and do so for little money or fame. We should all give our neighbors a big “thank you” for being willing to serve our community.

One of the important races on the ballot in West Bend and neighboring communities is for the West Bend School Board. Three of the seven board seats are on the ballot with only one incumbent running for re-election. The results of this election could push the school board in an entirely new direction.

Two incumbent school board members decided to not seek re-election. President Rick Parks and Vice President Bart Williams are both concluding their second terms and deserve a sincere thank you. While ideologically different, both Parks and Williams went about their business on the school board in a thoughtful, thorough, collegial, and effective manner. During their tenures, they navigated the district through the aftermath of Act 10, implemented a merit pay system for teachers, started a charter school, started a clinic for district staff, hired a new superintendent and many other things for which they should be proud. Thank you, gentlemen.

The third incumbent school board member did choose to seek re-election. Ryan Gieryn is running for his second term and wants to see through some of the issues he worked on in his first term including continuing to refine the teacher merit pay system, evaluate the effectiveness of the district’s testing regimen, direct the new superintendent that he helped hire and look ahead to replacing Jackson Elementary. While I did not support Gieryn when he ran the first time, his thoughtful and measured service on the board has been commendable and he has earned my vote for a second term.

There is also the issue with experience on the board. Our republican form of government is kept healthy by the constant refreshing of elected officials, but some experience in governing is necessary. An inexperienced and naïve school board shifts power to the unelected administration. If Gieryn does not win re-election, then every board member except one, Therese Sizer, would be serving their first term. Gieryn’s experience on the board will be particularly important as the new superintendent settles into his role.

Bob Miller is running for the school board for the second time having fallen just short last year. He has spent the past year talking to people, participating in school events and learning more about the district. Miller is a graduate of the district with three kids attending schools in West Bend.

He is a fiber optic technician, school bus driver, Boy Scout leader, father and husband who has some great common sense ideas to improve the district’s outcomes. A fiscal conservative, Miller wants to ensure that the district spends money wisely and has seen enough working and volunteering in the district to have some tangible ideas on how to save money. The second time is the charm for Miller and he deserves a seat on the board.

Richard Cammack has lived in West Bend for 22 years and wants to see the district improve in many areas. He believes in the importance of family, students, teachers and business and a school district that serves all constituents. Cammack considers himself a realist who needs to fully understand an issue and listen to the district’s stakeholders before making a decision. Cammack is receiving my third vote April 4.

The remaining three candidates, Tonnie Schmidt, Joel Ongert and Nancy Justman, are running as a bloc with virtually identical platforms. They all claim to be conservatives (one stands little chance of winning election in a district that is 70-plus percent conservative if one does not claim to be one). They trumpet “accountability” but only seem to want to hold administrators accountable. While that is a laudable goal, their reluctance to continue or strengthen even the mild performance pay standards for teachers is troubling.

Their repetition of the talking points coming out of the local teachers union and lefty talking heads leads one to believe that these three would be reliable agents for whatever the West Bend Education Association wants. Many of the yards in West Bend whose Hillary and Bernie signs died during the winter have now sprouted signs for Schmidt, Ongert and Justman with the coming of spring.

I will note that all three of these candidates refused to be interviewed for this column. Despite claiming to be conservatives, they had no appetite to be probed by the district’s only resident conservative columnist.

Once again West Bend is privileged to have some great people running for local office. I am happy to support three of them for the West Bend School Board. I will be happily voting for Ryan Gieryn, Bob Miller, and Richard Cammack on April 4.

 

The future of education in Wisconsin is on the ballot

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

For years the teachers unions and the rest of the liberal education establishment has considered the Wisconsin State Department of Public Instruction to be their exclusive domain and rightfully so. Almost all previous superintendents in the past several decades have been put into office by the money and power of the teachers unions and each superintendent has returned the support by pushing the union agenda. The current superintendent is no exception. Fortunately, Wisconsin has a real opportunity to make a change April 4 and elect a superintendent whose values and priorities are more in line modern educational thought.

The Department of Public Instruction is a somewhat unusual department in Wisconsin. Although part of the executive branch headed by the governor, the superintendent of the department is a constitutional non-partisan office that is elected every four years. The state constitution simply says that the state superintendent is responsible for the supervision of public instruction and that their “qualifications, powers, duties and compensation shall be prescribed by law.”

In the 169 years since the office was created, the legislature has granted more and less power to the office and shifted the responsibilities with the needs and wants of the time. The DPI is responsible for a wide swath of responsibilities including distributing state money to local districts, administering federal programs and money, providing operational and technical services to local school districts, crafting curriculum, compiling state education data and many other things. With a budget of over $6 billion per year, it is one of the largest state agencies.

The incumbent superintendent, Tony Evers, is asking for a third term in office. Evers’ agenda for the previous eight years has been to advance the liberal and union education agenda. He has passionately and aggressively fought back against the expansion of school choice in the state. Evers has been in step with the Obama Administration’s federal intrusion into education including pushing Common Core. After eight years of Evers’ leadership, the state’s education infrastructure is still languishing in mediocrity and he has fought every innovation coming from the legislature to try to improve it.

Thankfully, Wisconsin has an excellent alternative to just doing the same tired thing and getting the same disappointing results. Lowell Holtz, a selfstyled “Kidservative,” plans a new path for Wisconsin education.

Holtz has a broad and varied resume. He was a teacher in both private and public schools in Minnesota and Wisconsin. He was once Wisconsin’s Principal of the Year and was recognized as a National Distinguished Principal. Holtz has been the superintendent or district administrator of three Wisconsin public school districts in Palmyra-Eagle, Beloit and Whitnall. What is interesting about these districts is that they cover a range from rural to urban, small to big and homogeneous to diverse. In every leadership position, Holtz can point to a strong record of making a positive change.

More importantly, Holtz has a vastly different vision than Evers for improving education for Wisconsin’s kids. In fact, Holtz’s vision for education is much more in alignment with what the voters have been supporting as reflected in their choices for state and local leaders in the past several years. Holtz breaks down his vision into three basic categories.

First, Holtz wants to push more control back to the local districts and pull back state and federal mandates – including Common Core. Second, he wants to improve the graduation rate and close the achievement gap. He proposes to do this by providing resources and collaboration to the school districts who need it. Third, Holtz wants to empower teachers by pulling back burdensome administrative hurdles and improving classroom discipline.

Perhaps most importantly, Holtz supports innovation in educational choices including choice, charter, and online school options. Instead of trying to maintain the education establishment of the 1950s, Holtz welcomes a 21st century educational infrastructure to serve 21st century kids.

April 4 is a chance for Wisconsin to force the Department of Public Instruction to look to the future instead of protecting the past. Vote for Holtz.

 

Wisconisn’s Pioneer Days Are Not Over

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

The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty’s Will Flanders has released a study comparing the recent test performance of Wisconsin’s children from Wisconsin’s public, charter, and private schools. The results confirm that Wisconsin needs to continue to lead in education reform.

The study, called “Apples to Apples,” evaluated the results of the 2016 Forward Exam and the ACT. The Forward Exam is required in all Wisconsin public school and private schools that participate in any of Wisconsin’s three school choice programs. The ACT is also required for all public and choice students. While there are exceptions for private schools that do not participate in a choice program, home-schooled kids, and kids whose parents opted to not have their children take the tests, the wide participation in these two exams give a broad view of the academic performance of Wisconsin’s schools.

The results of the study show that, “private schools in the choice programs and public charter schools in Milwaukee and Wisconsin perform significantly better on the ACT and Forward Exams than traditional public schools.”

These results are hardly groundbreaking. Various studies have been done for years and have consistently shown that choice schools and charter schools outperform the public schools in the same communities. In the past, these studies have been dismissed by anti-school choice advocates. They claimed that the only reason for the better performance of choice schools was because they could skew the results by only accepting the “best” students.

But the WILL study took it a step further. The key difference in WILL’s study is that it isolated school performance by accounting for the students’ socio-economic status and demographic differences. After adjusting for these variables, the study still shows that choice and charter schools outperform their public school counterparts.

Some of the details are further enlightening. In Milwaukee, while choice and charter schools outperform Milwaukee Public Schools, long-standing Catholic and Lutheran schools are top performers. Faith-based education works. Also, the best performing charter schools are those authorized by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Perhaps the most troubling result in WILL’s study is the racial achievement gap. The study shows that racial achievement gap is massive and it cuts across every kind of school. Specifically, “a school with a nonwhite student make-up is predicted to have 52.9 percent lower proficiency in English/Language Arts and 46.5 percent lower proficiency in math than a school that is all white.”

That is a massive problem and is also reflected in a recent study about the next step in education — college. A recent report from The Education Trust showed that UW-M has one of the worst graduation rates for black students in the nation. Only 21 percent of full-time black students at UW-M graduate within six years.

Given that UW-M and MPS are both, obviously, in Milwaukee, and that many MPS graduates feed into UW-M, the results of both schools are irrevocably linked. The graduation rate for black kids at MPS has been falling in recent years. The four-year graduation rate for black kids in MPS was 54.7 percent in 2016 and 67 percent after five years.

What all of this data reveals is that while choice and charter schools improve the probability of educational success for the majority of kids, none of them improves the achievement gap between white and non-white children. There is an expansive and pervasive issue that is holding back Wisconsin’s non-white children — particularly black ones. Since WILL’s study corrected for socioeconomic and demographic differences, there is something beyond poverty or unemployment driving the gap.

Flanders’ study reminds us that Wisconsin, once at the forefront of education innovation, still has a lot of work to do. We must continue to offer more Wisconsin families the opportunity to send their kids to the school of their choice, but that is only the beginning. We must also get serious about breaking the fetters that are preventing Wisconsin’s non-white kids from achieving their God-given potential.

Propaganda War

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

The 115th Congress took a break last week from wrestling over repealing Obamacare, confirming appointees and all of the other ideas bubbling around the beginning of a new session. It was a brief opportunity for our elected representatives to return home and spend some time listening to the people in their respective districts. And boy, did they get an earful.

If you were watching the news in the past few weeks, the scene was repeated over and over again. A Republican Congressperson or Senator hosted a town hall or attend a public event. They were greeted by dozens of protestors who would interrupt, shout, wave signs, chant, and generally try to be as disruptive as possible. Given President Trump’s temporary travel ban from unstable countries, enforcement of immigration laws, and continued insistence on building a wall on America’s southern border, the most frequent topic of unrest was immigration and/or illegal aliens.

Wisconsin’s own Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner was one such recipient of this treatment. Sensenbrenner has been listening to his constituents in town halls since President Carter was in the White House. As a conservative Republican, Sensenbrenner has been a prime target of protestors. At a recent town hall in Menomonee Falls, the mob shouted down other attendees with chants of “No ban. No wall. America has room for all.” The video of it filled social media and the local news broadcasts.

If one were to just watch the news, one could be forgiven for thinking that there is overwhelming opposition to Trump’s immigration policies. The polls disabuse that perception.

According to a survey conducted by Harvard-Harris Poll and provided to The Hill, the public overwhelmingly supports Trump’s immigration policies. Eighty percent of respondents oppose sanctuary cities and support the federal government compelling sanctuary cities to comply with immigration laws — including local police reporting illegal aliens with whom they come into contact to federal immigration authorities. Seventy-seven percent of the poll’s respondents support an overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws.

Slightly lesser majorities, but still majorities, support Trump’s other efforts regarding immigration. 53 percent support Trump’s temporary travel ban. Fifty-one percent think that the United States should accept fewer Syrian refugees with only 15 percent thinking that the country should accept more.

The only point on which the poll showed disapproval was when it came to the wall. Fifty-three percent of respondents oppose the wall, but 75 percent support increased border patrols. The public clearly wants a less permeable southern border, but is less enthusiastic about that being accomplished with a wall.

How does one reconcile the media perception of massive opposition to Trump’s immigration policies with the Harvard-Harris’ poll’s findings of overwhelming support for those policies? First, one must remember that this is the same media that told the world that Trump was unelectable right up until the day he won the election.

Second, the media, intentionally or not, is the mouthpiece for an intentional misinformation campaign being conducted by Barack Obama’s activist stormtroopers, Organizing for Action (OFA). In a Facebook post on Feb. 9, OFA called on activists to attend Republican town halls to protest. The instruction manual distributed by OFA advises protesters to enter the town halls quietly, sit in the front but “not all sit together,” and spread out in pairs to give the impression of broad opposition.

Then the activists are advised to confront Republican elected officials and “loudly boo the GOP politician if he isn’t ‘giving you real answers.’” The goal is to make Republicans feel uneasy about supporting the Trump agenda and seed “the ground for the 2018 midterms when Democrats retake power.”

Most importantly, activists are told to record their interactions with Republicans, post it to social media, and then feed the video to local and national media. The intent of OFA is to create the impression of broad opposition to Trump’s policies and to destabilize and delegitimize our Republic.

While there is certainly opposition to various policies, and some of it is quite intense, the efforts by OFA to create and feed a fake perception is subversive and reprehensible. It reeks of the tactics used by communist revolutionary organizations for decades. The ability to distribute propaganda instantly through social media and a media willing to parrot their false narrative makes their work easier and more effective.

Freeing Fees

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

In this most recent era of heated factional discord, there is one issue about which virtually everyone can agree. College is too expensive and is driving too many students into debt for degrees that are decreasing in value in the economy.

For decades, the price of college has increased far faster than inflation, personal income or any other economic metric.

The very simple reason that college costs so much is because many colleges spend way too much. Fueled by easy money from the taxpayers and a culture that puts an almost mythical value on a college education, many colleges — particularly public ones — spend an inordinate amount of money on things that have little to do with educating young adults.

Gov. Scott Walker has made controlling the cost of college a major initiative in his proposed budget. One small proposal in Walker’s budget is creating a fierce backlash. Both the proposal and backlash brilliantly illustrate the scope of overspending in the University of Wisconsin System.

In an effort to give students the choice to lower the cost of attending the University of Wisconsin, Walker has proposed to allow students to opt out of paying about 15 percent of their student fees called allocable segregated fees. These fees are mandatory for all students and go to pay for organizations and services as designated by student-led committees at each campus. Walker’s proposal does not touch the other 85 percent of student fees, called non-allocable fees, which go to pay for things like the student unions and campus healthcare services.

The list of organizations receiving allocable student fees is long and varies from campus to campus.

Most of the recipient organizations are not controversial and are just student special interest clubs, student service organizations, or student government.

For example, the Greater University Tutorial Service, Student Leadership Program, Wisconsin Black Student Union, Student Judiciary, Oshkosh Gaming Society, Chess Club, Student Radio and student bus passes are all funded in part with allocable fees.

Some organizations are quite controversial. For example, at UW-Madison, a group called Sex Out Loud, which offers programs like “Advanced Pleasure 369” and “Kink 401” received more than $100,000 this year.

Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (MEChA) received more than $87,000 in student fees. MEChA is a radical activist anti-American organization that promotes separatism and non-assimilation of what they call “Our Chicano Nation.” They openly state that, “we are a nationalist movement of Indigenous Gente that lay claim to the land that is ours by birthright. As a nationalist movement we seek to free our people from the exploitation of an oppressive society that occupies our land.”

Whether the organizations being funded by allocable fees are controversial or not, Walker’s principle is a simple one. Students should be able to choose whether or not to fund these organizations.

Opponents to the proposal argue that the diverse range of organizations funded by mandatory allocable fees enrich the experience of all students and provide some vital student services (tutoring and bus service). Proponents argue that students should not be forced to pay for organizations with which they disagree and/or in which they do not participate.

Both sides are correct. While these organizations provide some services and marginally add to a diverse college experience, students should not be forced to fund them. If students value these organizations and services, Walker’s proposal leaves open the option for students to pay the allocable fees. Even if a student chooses not to pay the fee, they can still pay for organizations and services on an individual basis. Walker’s proposal neither mandates nor forbids students from paying for these organizations. All it does is give them a choice that they do not currently have.

For the average Wisconsin resident, it costs about $25,655 per year to attend UW-Madison. Walker’s proposal would allow students the option to reduce that cost by a scant $178.

If we cannot abide even this exceptionally modest attempt at reducing the cost of college, then we are not even remotely serious about making college more affordable and accessible for all.

It’s About the Spending

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

Gov. Scott Walker has taken the first step in Wisconsin’s biennial budget process by introducing his executive budget. Walker calls it a “reform dividend” budget that is able to boost spending thanks to the reforms enacted in earlier budgets. There is a lot to like about Walker’s budget, but it suffers from a fundamental flaw: it spends way too much.

The governor’s executive budget is the first step in what will be a lengthy legislative process before Wisconsin gets to a final budget. The Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee will begin working through the governor’s budget to add and remove their own priorities. The budget that comes out of the JFC will then be debated and passed by both houses of the legislature; the versions that pass each legislative house will be reconciled and sent to the governor; the governor will issue vetoes; the legislature will consider overriding vetoes; and then we will have a final budget. There is a long way to go.

Despite the fact that the governor and both houses of the Legislature hail from the same political party, there are some sharp differences of opinion regarding Wisconsin’s budget priorities. There have already been fierce intraparty clashes over transportation funding, debt load, potential tax increases, and other issues. The final budget will look substantially different than the governor’s budget proposal, but Walker has begun the conversation by making his priorities clear.

Signaling that Walker intends to run for reelection next year, his budget includes a lot of tax cuts and spending increases targeted at various interest groups. Most of the nearly $600 million in tax cuts comes from changes to the income tax and eliminating a portion of the state property tax, but the budget also includes several smaller targeted tax cuts.

The governor’s budget increases spending in a number of areas including an additional $649 million for K-12 schools and $105.2 million more for the University of Wisconsin System. There are also spending increases for tech schools, welfare, work force development, prisons, historical society, health services, transportation, the building commission, shared revenue and more.

Walker’s budget also includes some terrific reforms and accountability measures. The budget finally eliminates prevailing wage statewide, which will save taxpayers millions of dollars on needed work. It contains reforms to welfare and work force development designed to help people break the cycle of poverty and become successful in the work force. Under this budget, Wisconsin will self-insure its employees for health coverage. This is something that many large companies already do and will save taxpayers millions of dollars.

In what is garnering the most pushback, Walker’s budget increases spending for K-12 education and the University of Wisconsin, but does so with some added accountability. K-12 schools that have not already taken advantage of the tools given them in Act 10 to make reforms may not be eligible for the increased state funding. Much of the increased spending on UW will only come after UW makes reforms like offering a 3-year degree option.

But for all of the good it contains, one cannot escape the fact that Walker’s budget still spends too much. Indeed, despite the myth of “cuts” and “austerity” perpetuated by both political parties, Wisconsin has increased spending in every budget Walker has signed. This is despite the fact that Wisconsinites’ ability to pay has still not recovered from the Great Recession.

Let us look at the numbers. Gov. Jim Doyle’s last biennial budget for 2009-11 spent $61.9 billion. The first Walker budget spent $64.1 billion. Since then, Wisconsin’s biennial budgets have increased spending every time to $68 billion to $72.6 billion and now $76.1 billion. The budget that Walker just proposed spends a full 23 percent more than Gov. Doyle’s final budget. “Austerity,” my foot.

Meanwhile, over the same time period, Wisconsinites’ income has struggled. In 2008, the year before Gov. Doyle passed his last budget, the real median household income in Wisconsin was $57,348. It took a beating in 2009 after the Great Recession and dropped to $55,227. Since then, real median household income has dropped more before finally inching up last year. It still has not recovered to the 2008 level. The real median household income since 2009 has moved to $53,269, $53,110, $52,709, $52,370, $52,683, and finally in 2015, to $55,638. As you can see, the median Wisconsin household is earning $1,710 less per year since 2008, but being asked to pay for a state budget that spends 23 percent more.

If Wisconsin’s state spending largesse cannot be justified by an increase in Wisconsinites’ ability to pay, then perhaps the increased spending is being offset by an increase in population and new taxpayers? No. Since 2010, Wisconsin’s population has only increased 1.6 percent. And according to IRS migration data, the aggregate adjusted gross income for people leaving Wisconsin is greater than those coming in. Essentially, Wisconsin is losing higher-earners and retirees to low-tax states and replacing them with lower earners.

Gov. Walker and the Republicans deserve tremendous credit for the immensely beneficial and consequential budgetary reforms they have enacted and for managing the state’s finances in a responsible manner. Long gone are the Doyle budgets of massive deficits and illegal fund raids thanks to mature management of the state’s finances.

But Wisconsin remains a tax hell precisely because it remains a spending hell. For all of the good that Walker and the Republicans have done, they have not addressed this fundamental problem and it drags down everything from economic growth to work force availability to the everyday lives of Wisconsinites just trying to keep enough of their money to build a better life for themselves.

The power and politics of the court

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

Almost exactly a year ago, the Conservative Lion of the Supreme Court of the United States, Antonin Scalia, passed away. His death triggered a titanic political battle that is only now beginning its final phase.

The fact that the battle over a single appointment to the Supreme Court is so important and so heated is distressing because it is the result of two concentrations of power that should be abhorrent to small “r” republicans. The first concentration is into the federal government in distant Washington. Over the past two centuries we have allowed our federal government to grow so large and powerful that it wields an extraordinary amount of authority over our lives.

The second concentration is into the Supreme Court itself. While intended to be a coequal branch of government on equal footing with the Legislative and Executive branches, the Supreme Court, headed by Chief Justice John Marshall, quickly assumed the power to be the final arbiter of the constitutionality of laws in its 1903 decision, Marbury v. Madison.

The combination of the Supreme Court being the final arbiter of the constitutionality of laws for government with massive power and control over Americans’ lives necessarily makes the decisions of the court, and the people who make those decisions, of vital importance to all Americans. And the fact that Justices for the Supreme Court serve for life renders the decision regarding each selection of generational impact.

When Justice Scalia passed away, he left a Supreme Court with a slight ideological tilt to the Left after years of it having a slight tilt to the Right. President Obama had hoped to appoint another leftist Justice to the bench, thus cementing a leftist majority on the court for years to come. The Republicans who controlled the Senate exercised their authority to thwart the President and leave the choice to the next president. When the Senate took that action, the outcome of the Presidential election was months in the future and polls predicted a strong victory for Hillary Clinton. As we know, Donald Trump won the election against all odds and has now chosen his nominee to succeed Justice Scalia.

Despite fears from Conservatives and constructionists, President Trump made a choice that is exemplary in every regard. Neil Gorsuch is widely acknowledged as brilliant, eloquent, and well-liked by colleagues from all sides. He was unanimously confirmed to serve on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals just eleven years ago. He has an impeccable resume including degrees from Columbia, Oxford, and Harvard, where he was a classmate of President Obama. Gorsuch was a clerk for two Supreme Court Justices, and has served with distinction for a decade in the Court of Appeals. It is also worth noting that Gorsuch, at 49-years-old, is young He has the potential to serve for a generation.

Most importantly, Gorsuch’s rulings indicate that he is a highly-principled judicial conservative, but one who is more constructionist of even the indomitable Scalia. Gorsuch is steeped in Natural Law and vehement in his protection of the individual from the overreaches of government. This might put him at odds with some conservatives in issues regarding the 4th Amendment, and with liberals regarding the 1st Amendment. But he clearly states in view in his 2006 book, The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia, “…the whole purpose pose and ideal of government as envisioned by the founding document of our country, is to establish a government that is aimed at securing and protecting what our founders considered to be self-evident human rights and truths.”

The Democrats have already reflexively announced their opposition to Gorsuch, even though their criticisms have failed to rise to any cogent standard. Wisconsin’s own Senator Tammy Baldwin has even refused to meet with Gorsuch, thus abdicating her role in the process and retreating behind nasty press releases and daft commentary.

Far be it from me to advise the Democrats, but their overreach on Gorsuch may neuter them further on future picks. Remember that former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid killed the filibuster rule for all but Supreme Court picks in his effort to ram through President Obama’s lower court appointments, but left it in place for Supreme Court appointments. In doing so, Reid laid the ideological groundwork and precedent for killing the filibuster rule for Supreme Court picks too.

If the Democrats in the U.S. Senate choose to filibuster and obstruct what is clearly a brilliantly qualified choice for the Supreme Court, the Republicans can rescind the filibuster rule for Supreme Court picks too and confirm the appointment without needing to make a single concession to the minority party. The Democrats’ intransigence and unwillingness to even participate in the process, and the precedent already established by Harry Reid, will provide ample political cover for the change in rules.

Then, if and when Trump gets another opportunity to appoint a Supreme Court justice, the rules will already be set to allow an easy confirmation. If the Democrats participate and allow a vote – even if all of them vote against the nominee – they will likely preserve the filibuster for future Supreme Court nominations while undercutting the political justification to rescind it next time.

If the political battles of the past few years in Wisconsin have taught me anything, it is that Democrats will overreach. Their base of radicals demands unbending fealty to ideology – even at the expense of victory.

Neil Gorsuch is eminently qualified to sit on the Supreme Court and should be confirmed with broad support in the Senate. Then we should begin the process of reducing the scope and power of the federal government and the court so that these nominations wane in importance.

Management by proverbial drunken sailors

If it weren’t such an insult to drunken sailors… my column for the West Bend Daily News is online. Here you go:

Although some substantial progress has been made on reducing taxes in Wisconsin, the state stubbornly remains as one of the highest taxed states in the nation. The cause of exorbitant taxation is extravagant spending.

Wisconsin taxes so much because it spends so much.

While many Wisconsinites like to delude themselves into believing that Wisconsin’s government spends so much in order to maintain an acceptable standard of life, the truth is far less defensible. Wisconsin does spend more than other states as a matter of choice, but it also continues to waste billions of dollars because of flawed priorities, corruption and rank incompetence.

Two recent examples regarding two of the state budget’s largest spending items have bubbled to the surface.

Last week, the Legislative Audit Bureau released an audit of the Department of Transportation that paints a picture of a department rife with sloppy work and frivolous spending. One finding was that the DOT was utterly incompetent at providing cost estimates for projects. In one example, of the agency’s 16 ongoing projects, the DOT underestimated the cost by $3.1 billion. The audit cites the agency’s failure to account for inflation, meet performance goals or control expenses as reasons for the bloated costs.

The audit goes on to detail the DOT’s poor reporting practices that thwart adequate oversight, the repeated failure to get competitive bids on projects and careless management. The result is despite increased spending in the past few state budgets, the state’s roads are in increasingly worse condition.

Meanwhile, a lawsuit stemming from a State Department of Justice investigation alleges illegal financial dealings at the University of Wisconsin- Oshkosh. According to the lawsuit filing, former UW-O Chan-cellor Richard Wells and retired UW-O Vice Chancellor of Administrative Services Tom Sonnleitner worked together to make illegal financial guarantees and use taxpayer dollars for building projects being done by the UW-O Foundation.

The UW-O Foundation is a nonprofit group that raises private money to spend on things to support the university. As part of their investment initiatives, the foundation invested in several local building projects including a conference center, two biodigesters, a sports complex and a Best Western hotel. The foundation hopes to gain a profit from the investments since these are mostly private, for-profit, enterprises.

But the foundation did not have enough money for the investments, so the lawsuit alleges the former UWO Chancellor guaranteed the loans and provided taxpayer money to the tune of $11 million to get the projects done. That is illegal. As the fallout from the lawsuit unfolds, the UW-O Foundation is considering filing for bankruptcy, which would leave the taxpayers on the hook for even more millions.

Both the stories regarding the Department of Transportation and UW-O are revealing in that the behavior has gone on for years — even decades — without anyone blowing the whistle. And even now, the wasteful and possibly illegal behavior continues unabated. Just because the Legislative Audit Bureau released a scathing report and a lawsuit has been filed does not mean that anything has changed. Nobody has been held accountable. There is a pervasive cavalierness in much of government about spending our money.

These are just two small windows into the workings of our government that show billions of dollars’ worth of wasteful spending. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Department of Transportation and the University of Wisconsin System are also two of the loudest recipients of taxpayer dollars that are crying poor and demanding even more tax dollars from the next budget.

Wisconsin continues to have a tax problem as a direct result of its spending problem. And unless state leaders get control of the bureaucracy, enforce rigid accountability for mismanagement, and infuse a culture of frugal stewardship, Wisconsin will continue to have a spending problem for the foreseeable future.

 

 

The Trump Era Begins

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

“So help me God.” When Donald Trump repeated those words to Chief Justice John Roberts with his hand resting on two Bibles, he became the duly elected 45th president of the United States. One hopes that he appreciates just how much of God’s help he will need, because the rest of us certainly do.

The Trump Era has begun and it bodes to be unique in American history. President Trump’s inaugural address reminded the nation of why he was elected and bluntly declared the priorities that will guide his administration.

Standing in front of three former presidents and dozens of generational creatures of Washington, Trump declared that we were witnessing more than the hallowed American peaceful transfer of power. We were witnessing the, “transferring (of) power from Washington, D.C., and giving it back to you, the American People.” Much of the rest of Trump’s address affirmed the populism and patriotism that catapulted him to the highest office our nation has to offer.

President Trump stated, “From this moment on, it’s going to be America first. Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families.”

Such a statement should not seem so revolutionary, but perhaps it is a sign of how far we have drifted into the waters of globalism and postnationalism that it is. The previous administration eschewed the notion that our nation’s policies should be based on advancing the interests of our own nation and people, so the contrast in priorities is stark.

Trump has begun his administration by aggressively following through on his campaign commitments. After the normal administrative business necessary for any new administration, the first order Trump signed was to instruct the various federal agencies to use every bit of statutory and discretionary power they have to delay or waive any part of Obamacare. This order will help mitigate the destruction that Obamacare has been perpetrating on our nation while the Congress works on legislation to tear it down completely.

By the time this column is read, there will likely be dozens of other sweeping orders issuing from Trump’s pen as he thrusts his vision for America into an unwilling bureaucracy. Trump has shown a willingness to slaughter sacred cows, so expect a lot of blood and red meat for his supporters.

One of the most positive aspects of the dawn of the Trump Era is that liberals have rediscovered a reverence for American principles like limited government, separation of powers, federalism and judicial restraint.

When President Obama was governing with a “phone and a pen,” the liberals cheered. When the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage for all 50 states, they paraded in the streets. When Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid quashed the filibuster rule to get Obama’s judges through the Senate, they chortled approval.

Now that Trump is the president and the Republicans control both houses of Congress, our liberal friends have become paragons of constitutionalism. Lefty celebrities are making videos of themselves taking oaths to support and defend the Constitution while the decrepit leaders of the Democratic Party rediscover the rigors of parliamentary procedure. I, for one, welcome our liberal friends to embrace conservative principles. If we had not allowed our federal government to become so involved in our lives and for the president to assume so much power, then the political passions of the resident of the White House would not matter so much. He or she would simply be an administrator of the few limited tasks relegated to the office by the Constitution to be replaced periodically by the citizenry.

While our liberal friends dust off their copies of the Constitution, I pray that President Trump and the Republicans who control Congress do the same.

Instead looking for ways to get around the Constitution in order to force their will on the public, they should embrace the wisdom infused into our Constitution. If a law cannot pass the Congress and be enacted into law with due process, then it likely is not good law. Except for times of war, governing is supposed to be plodding and tedious to allow time for bad ideas to die. Follow the Constitution and the results will be good and lasting.

The Trump Era is here. Strap in.