Tag Archives: Washington County Daily News

2nd Amendment advances as 1st Amendment retreats

Here is my column that ran in the Washington County Daily News earlier this week.

Our country is engaging in cultural and civic (not civil, yet) war that is challenging some of the national principles that used to be held inviolable. As we watch the 1st Amendment make a confused retreat, we are seeing the 2nd Amendment make a vigorous advance.

The 1st and 2nd Amendments refer, of course, to the Constitution’s prohibition of the federal government from infringing on our natural rights to speak (among other things) and to keep and bear arms, respectively. But they are also used as shorthand to express our collective support for the underlying natural rights.

While the practice of our 1st Amendment right to free speech has ebbed and flowed throughout our nation’s history, the general ethos has been robust support for people to say anything they want as long as it does not drift into defamation or incitement – and even then we have generally been very generous with where that boundary lies.

I am reminded of a comment by Jim Croce: “I don’t care, as long as they don’t be putting their hands on me. I don’t mind people talking and saying different things. Everybody gotta say something.” That pretty well sums up what our attitude used to be about people speaking their minds. Now we are seeing the onset of outrage mobs that seek out people who express opinions with which they disagree and try to destroy them personally and professionally. This is the so-called “cancel culture” where we no longer meet objectionable speech with more speech. Instead, these mobs consider contrary opinions to be so fundamentally immoral that they must not be spoken, and the people speaking them must be ruined to force adherence to the current, if fluid, orthodoxy. What is even more chilling is that the opinions being canceled are views that were mainstream as recently as a few months ago. Support for law enforcement, standing for the National Anthem, celebrating Independence Day, honoring George Washington, etc. are things that were commonplace and integral parts of the national psyche. Now such views are just as likely to attract an online or physical mob to your doorstep. There has been a very rapid and scary retreat of our collective support for free speech.

Meanwhile, support for the right to keep and bear arms is exploding. I recently witnessed a couple of protest marches in suburban communities. In both cases, firearms were plentiful and visible in the hands of both protesters and counter-protesters. Furthermore, as the mobs and the elected Democrats who support them defund the police and force law enforcement into a defensive crouch, The People are taking the hint and arming themselves for personal protection.

Across the nation, federal background checks, which serve as a proxy for measuring the sale of all guns, were up 69% in June versus last year. Background checks specifically for handgun purchases were up 80% over last year. In many cases, people are buying multiple guns at a time with Small Arms Analytics and Forecasting showing a 145% increase in guns sold in June compared to the same month last year. The June estimates are on top of similar trends for April and May. According to industry analysts, roughly 40% of gun purchases in the past few months are being made by first time buyers. A quick trip to any gun store will find empty shelves and depleted inventories.

At the heart of the surge in gun ownership are two trends. First, there is the general concern for personal safety. Democrats are echoing the mob’s demand to defund the police and several cities have already started the process. With fewer police with fewer resources, law-abiding people are empowering themselves to defend themselves and their families. The old saying that “when seconds count, the police are minutes away” has become a stark realization for many people.

Second, Americans are watching Marxists and anarchists violently take over parts of our country. Often, they are doing so with the permission or support of government officials. We are witnessing the violent overthrow of portions of our government with the intent to rebuild something that is no longer American. The right to keep and bear arms has always been the last resort for a free people to ensure their right to self-governance. An armed citizenry cannot be easily subjugated.

Our natural rights, as secured in our Constitution, are the bases and guardians of our government and way of life. While we continue to push our nation toward our founding ideals, we must never surrender the ground we have fought so hard to gain.

 

2nd Amendment advances as 1st Amendment retreats

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. Here’s a part:

I am reminded of a comment by Jim Croce: “I don’t care, as long as they don’t be putting their hands on me. I don’t mind people talking and saying different things. Everybody gotta say something.” That pretty well sums up what our attitude used to be about people speaking their minds. Now we are seeing the onset of outrage mobs that seek out people who express opinions with which they disagree and try to destroy them personally and professionally. This is the so-called “cancel culture” where we no longer meet objectionable speech with more speech. Instead, these mobs consider contrary opinions to be so fundamentally immoral that they must not be spoken, and the people speaking them must be ruined to force adherence to the current, if fluid, orthodoxy.

What is even more chilling is that the opinions being canceled are views that were mainstream as recently as a few months ago. Support for law enforcement, standing for the National Anthem, celebrating Independence Day, honoring George Washington, etc. are things that were commonplace and integral parts of the national psyche. Now such views are just as likely to attract an online or physical mob to your doorstep. There has been a very rapid and scary retreat of our collective support for free speech.

Meanwhile, support for the right to keep and bear arms is exploding. I recently witnessed a couple of protest marches in suburban communities. In both cases, firearms were plentiful and visible in the hands of both protesters and counter-protesters. Furthermore, as the mobs and the elected Democrats who support them defund the police and force law enforcement into a defensive crouch, The People are taking the hint and arming themselves for personal protection.

 

State needs leadership to navigate budget shortfall

Here is my full column that ran in the Washington County Daily News this week:

Gov. Tony Evers is calling on state agencies to cut $250 million from their budgets as state tax collections decline with the state’s economy. Already, various interest groups are making the case for why their piece of the pie should be excluded from budget cuts and the lobbyists are out in full force. The next several months are going to require real leadership.

When Governor Evers shut down the state’s economy with his original lockdown order, he also turned off the tax spigot for state government. Without people able to go to stores, restaurants, concerts, etc., the collections of sales taxes plummeted. Collection of the sales tax requires people to spend money in our economy. People were forbidden to shop, but many people also pulled back their personal spending as their own jobs and incomes were impacted. Even as the state opened, the job losses, reduced incomes, and uncertainty has depressed consumer spending and sales tax collections.

Like the federal government, the state of Wisconsin also delayed the income tax filing deadline to July 15. This had the practical effect that many people who were expecting refunds filed earlier than those who expected to pay, causing further strain on state tax flow. But the real impact on income taxes will not be felt until next year. 2019 was a bumper year for personal incomes and employment. 2020 is not.

The state sales and income taxes are the two largest sources of state tax revenue, but there are countless other taxes and fees that are being impacted by the government-imposed recession. The net result is that Governor Evers is anticipating at least a $2 billion shortfall in state tax collections over the next year. The governor’s estimate may be decidedly optimistic.

To put that in perspective, the state government planned to spend about $41 billion in this fiscal year. A $2 billion shortfall would represent about a 5% reduction. However, much of that spending goes to things like welfare, K-12 education, shared revenue for municipalities, the University of Wisconsin System, and things that are not under the direct control of state government officials.

Here is where the leadership comes in. Governor Evers has called on state agencies to cut $250 million from their budgets. As you may have noticed, $250 million is merely a down payment on the cuts that will be necessary to finish the fiscal year without a massive deficit. More cuts will be needed.

If there is one thing that any good manager knows, it is that small changes made now prevent much larger changes being necessary later. The governor has already waited too long. We knew that there would be huge budgetary implications when he locked down the state. Here we are at the end of July and he is just now asking agencies for their ideas? How long will that take for the agencies to submit their revised budgets, vet them, and implement them? Weeks? Months? The longer the governor sits around waiting to make changes, the more drastic those changes are going to have to be.

For example, the state of Wisconsin employs about 65,000 employees, including employees of the UW System, earning a median income of about $52,000. If Wisconsin implemented a 10% pay reduction for all state employees, it would save the taxpayers roughly $28 million per month. Private employers have been forced to implement such cuts and worse. In this case, it would be a 10% cut in pay and everyone keeps their jobs. Many private-sector employees, and taxpayers, fared much, much worse.

If Governor Evers had implemented a universal 10% cut in March, when he implemented his lockdown order, the state would have already saved over $112 million – almost half of what he is asking state agencies for not. That is $112 million that that will still have to be cut before the fiscal year is over, but because Governor Evers has failed to act, it will hurt a lot more.

Every day that state leaders sit around waiting for to make decisions, those decisions will be dictated to them by events. Wisconsin needs leadership. Now.

 

State needs leadership to navigate budget shortfall

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. I continue to be frustrated by the lack of leadership in Madison. We all KNOW there is, and will be, a huge budget shortfall, but nobody is actually doing anything about it. The result will be a big budget repair bill – probably in January – where they are making huge, painful, cuts. Those huge, painful cuts will be necessary because they are failing to make small, less painful, cuts today. Don’t get me wrong, I’d be happy to make large cuts in government, but the crying and wailing you will hear in a few months is completely avoidable.

Gov. Tony Evers is calling on state agencies to cut $250 million from their budgets as state tax collections decline with the state’s economy. Already, various interest groups are making the case for why their piece of the pie should be excluded from budget cuts and the lobbyists are out in full force. The next several months are going to require real leadership.

[…]

For example, the state of Wisconsin employs about 65,000 employees, including employees of the UW System, earning a median income of about $52,000. If Wisconsin implemented a 10% pay reduction for all state employees, it would save the taxpayers roughly $28 million per month. Private employers have been forced to implement such cuts and worse. In this case, it would be a 10% cut in pay and everyone keeps their jobs. Many private-sector employees, and taxpayers, fared much, much worse.

If Governor Evers had implemented a universal 10% cut in March, when he implemented his lockdown order, the state would have already saved over $112 million – almost half of what he is asking state agencies for not. That is $112 million that that will still have to be cut before the fiscal year is over, but because Governor Evers has failed to act, it will hurt a lot more.

Every day that state leaders sit around waiting for to make decisions, those decisions will be dictated to them by events. Wisconsin needs leadership. Now.

Wisconsin’s economy bounces, but has a long way to go

Here is my full column that ran in the Washington County Daily News yesterday:

I went to a restaurant the other night and something happened that has not happened in quite a while. I had to wait for a table. It was a sign that we are on a long, slow road back to normal. Outside of Milwaukee and Madison, the summer life of sidewalk tables, brat fries, live music, and outdoor recreation have returned, if muted, for these few precious months before those northern winds return Wisconsin to its deep freeze.

My anecdotal experience is borne out in the most recent employment numbers from the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development. According to the preliminary data, Wisconsin added 104,600 total non-farm jobs in June and the unemployment rate dropped to 8.5% from an adjusted peak of 12.1% in May. Wisconsin’s unemployment rate remains below the national unemployment rate of 11.1%, but the state rate traditionally lags the national rate due to the state’s economic mix. People are getting back to work as Wisconsin’s economy groans back to life.

Digging deeper into the data, there are some promising signs and some worrying signs. On the positive side, almost all of the job growth came from the private sector. Leading the way, private-sector service-providing sectors added 100,000 jobs. Some 16,400 of those were retail trade jobs as stores opened; 11,300 jobs were added in health care and social assistance. A whopping 47,700 jobs were added in the leisure and hospitality sectors. Many of the sectors of the economy that were hardest hit are bouncing back.

The troubling part of the report is just how far Wisconsin still is from where we were just a few short months ago. Despite the strong growth in jobs, there are still over 200,000 fewer people working than were in June of 2019. And while an unemployment rate of 8.5% is still nothing to brag about, it is still overstated. About 44,400 people have left the labor force completely and are not counted in the unemployment rate. The cause of the economic recovery is quite simple. In his initial overreaction to the onset of coronavirus, Gov. Tony Evers forcibly shut down the state’s economy. Widespread job losses and economic contraction was inevitable with the governor standing in the restaurant door. When Evers attempted to ignore the Constitution and extend his dictatorial rule, the state Supreme Court stepped in and stopped Totalitarian Tony’s economic stranglehold.

Since then, most of the state has opened. It has done so cautiously and unevenly, but it has opened. Outside of a couple of cities being run by liberal mayors, the state’s restaurants, shops, and factories have tried to get back to work.

In order to continue the state’s economic recovery, a few things need to happen. First, government needs to step back and let people and businesses manage their own lives. The virus is here to stay. Whether or not we ever have a vaccine, we cannot live perpetually petrified. We all know a lot more about how the virus spreads, who is at greatest risk, and how to mitigate the risk of catching and spreading the virus.

Second, we need our governments at all levels to stop threatening to shut down the economy again. The uncertainty continues to retard a recovery. Whether or not the initial lockdowns, and how and when they were implemented, helped prevent the spread of the virus will be subject to studies for years. What is indisputable is that the lockdowns had countless other negative outcomes on people’s health and well-being as health care systems denied treatment for non-COVID ailments and economic stress pushed people to the brink. What is also indisputable is that our politicians have proven that they are incapable of evenly enforcing a lockdown as they crack down on some people and allow others to violate them at will.

Furthermore, it is clear that the American people are done with being locked down. Even as some states and cities try to reimpose economic restrictions and infringe on civil rights, those actions are being widely ignored. After the initial shock and awe of coronavirus, Americans are finding their spines again and remembering that liberty is in our blood.

Finally, the only way our economy can truly recover is for Americans to feel comfortable returning to their normal activities. For some people, they will never feel comfortable returning to restaurants, shops, concerts, or anything else until they feel that everyone else is taking reasonable steps to prevent the spread of disease. That means that for those of us who may not have much, if any, fear of the ’rona, we must respect the concerns of others. Keep some distance, wash your hands, and, yes, put on a mask if the situation warrants. Such measures may keep you from getting sick, but they will definitely help our economy get healthier.

 

Wisconsin’s economy bounces, but has a long way to go

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. Here’s a part:

Second, we need our governments at all levels to stop threatening to shut down the economy again. The uncertainty continues to retard a recovery. Whether or not the initial lockdowns, and how and when they were implemented, helped prevent the spread of the virus will be subject to studies for years. What is indisputable is that the lockdowns had countless other negative outcomes on people’s health and well-being as health care systems denied treatment for non-COVID ailments and economic stress pushed people to the brink. What is also indisputable is that our politicians have proven that they are incapable of evenly enforcing a lockdown as they crack down on some people and allow others to violate them at will.

Furthermore, it is clear that the American people are done with being locked down. Even as some states and cities try to reimpose economic restrictions and infringe on civil rights, those actions are being widely ignored. After the initial shock and awe of coronavirus, Americans are finding their spines again and remembering that liberty is in our blood.

Finally, the only way our economy can truly recover is for Americans to feel comfortable returning to their normal activities. For some people, they will never feel comfortable returning to restaurants, shops, concerts, or anything else until they feel that everyone else is taking reasonable steps to prevent the spread of disease. That means that for those of us who may not have much, if any, fear of the ’rona, we must respect the concerns of others. Keep some distance, wash your hands, and, yes, put on a mask if the situation warrants. Such measures may keep you from getting sick, but they will definitely help our economy get healthier.

Government ponders response as cases rise

Here is my full column that ran in the Washington County Daily News yesterday.

Wisconsin is seeing an uptick in daily reported COVID-19 cases as the summer warms up. The statistic that we are supposed to be scared about continues to shift as the scare-mongers and power-grabbers grasp around for the most alarming statistic, but Wisconsin has been seeing an increase in daily reported cases for about a month. Should our state government do anything about it? Mark Twain once wittily classified statistics as one of the three kinds of lies. If we remember back to when the coronavirus crisis came to a head in March, the two statistics that were being trumpeted were deaths and hospitalizations. Deaths were being tracked because the models predicted 2.2 million deaths in the United States. Those models have now been proven woefully incorrect, but we believed them at the time.

We tracked the number of hospitalizations because of the great fear that we would overwhelm the capacity of our health care system and cause a lethally cascading event. This was the whole logic behind “flatten the curve” and “15 days to slow the spread.” The logic was sound in the face of models projecting a doomsday pandemic, so we implemented striking infringements of our civil rights to flatten the curve.

Thankfully, as it turns out, we never came close to overwhelming our health care system and the overflow hospitals that were built were left unused. After the Supreme Court struck down Governor Tony Evers’ unconstitutional dictatorial power grab on May 13, the number of hospitalizations remained manageable and eventually declined. The death rate also continued to decline.

Now, two months after the state reopened, we are seeing an increase in daily reported cases and we are told by the media and our government that the state must act to lock down the state, require masks, or some other reactive measure to keep everyone panicked and docile.

Let us return to the statistics that we were originally concerned about. As of this weekend, there were 264 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 out of 7,305 active cases. That is a hospitalization rate of 3.6%. Wisconsin has 11,390 hospital beds of various uses – not including the overflow beds built by the state. At the peak of this crisis, 446 people were hospitalized. Wisconsin’s health care system still has ample capacity to handle the ongoing spread of the disease.

There seem to be two main reasons why Wisconsin is adding more cases every day but the hospitalization and death rate continue to be flat or decline. First, Wisconsin is testing more than ever. With a capacity of over 24,000 tests per day, testing has become easy and routine. Early during the pandemic, only people who were sick or suspected of being sick were tested. As such, the percentage of positive results was high. Now we are routinely testing entire workplaces or facilities and finding more people who have, or had, the virus without ever actually being sick.

Second, many of the cases being discovered are people who are younger, healthier, and fight off the virus as easily as a cold. The age group of 20-29 now comprises a full 25% of reported cases and growing, but only has a hospitalization rate of 3%. Whether the virus is spreading through the younger portion of the population or we are merely noticing it now that we are testing more is subject of speculation. In either case, it is a good thing. The virus is working though the least vulnerable portion of our population and building a natural community immunity. This is the surest way to protect the most vulnerable parts of our population.

The goal of our public policy was never to stop the virus completely, nor should it be. Such a goal is impossible and has the fetor of a hubris only a politician could entertain. Our government’s response should be to do exactly what this column said months ago. Our government should pool resources to respond to outbreaks, provide the latest recommendations, and provide the legal protection to allow Wisconsinites to continue to work. Other than that, our government should stay out of the way and let Wisconsinites manage their own lives.

 

Government ponders response as cases rise

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. I’ll get to the point:

The goal of our public policy was never to stop the virus completely, nor should it be. Such a goal is impossible and has the fetor of a hubris only a politician could entertain. Our government’s response should be to do exactly what this column said months ago. Our government should pool resources to respond to outbreaks, provide the latest recommendations, and provide the legal protection to allow Wisconsinites to continue to work. Other than that, our government should stay out of the way and let Wisconsinites manage their own lives.

 

Celebrating Juneteenth

Here is my full column that ran in the Washington County Daily News yesterday.

Proving that nuance and rational discussion is currently disallowed when it comes to debating anything related to race, Senator Ron Johnson stepped into the a hornet’s nest when he offered an amendment to a bill to designate Juneteenth as a federal holiday.

There is currently a bipartisan push to make June 19th, or Juneteenth, a federal holiday. June 19th, 1865, is the day that federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, to occupy the state and announce that all enslaved people were free. It is regarded as the date when the news of emancipation reached the last of the remaining slaves in the United States. While it is not the date of the Emancipation Proclamation (January 1, 1863), or the date of ratification of the 13th Amendment (December 6th, 1865), Juneteenth has become the anniversary that we celebrate the end of the evil practice of legal slavery in the United States.

The first question to ask is should we celebrate Juneteenth as a federal holiday? Absolutely. Slavery was the original sin of our nation and we atoned for it with the blood of hundreds of thousands of Americans in a brutal Civil War. Ending slavery was a seminal moment in our nation’s history that brought us closer to the ideals of liberty and equality as beautifully enunciated by Thomas Jefferson in our Declaration of Independence. It is long overdue that we have a formal celebration of the abolition of slavery.

To this end, a bipartisan assemblage of senators drafted a bill to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. First, we must be clear on what that means. The federal government cannot mandate that Americans celebrate anything. A designated federal holiday simply means that the federal government is giving all non-essential federal employees the day off of work to commemorate the event. Usually, but not always, states and private businesses follow the federal government’s lead. For example, almost everyone gets a days off for Independence Day and Memorial Day, but the same cannot be said for Washington’s Birthday or Columbus Day. The designation of a federal holiday, or lack thereof, has absolutely no bearing on whether or not people choose to celebrate or commemorate an event.

There is, however, a cost associated with the federal government granting a holiday to its employees. That cost is estimated to be about $600 million that the taxpayers have to bear for paying federal employees to not work. In order to save the taxpayers that expense, Senator Johnson offered an amendment to trade Columbus Day for Juneteenth Day. Columbus Day is largely celebrated in the Italian-American community, but overlooked by most other Americans.

Johnson’s amendment set off a firestorm of criticism from the political Right accusing him of surrendering to the radical Left. And the political Left lambasted Johnson and accused him of racism for putting up a roadblock to the Juneteenth bill. Both sides were wrong. Senator Johnson is staying true to form as a fiscal hawk. Those birds are more and more rare in an age of sweeping deficits, trillion dollar spending packages, and mounting federal debt.

In the face of a withering crossfire, Johnson has since withdrawn his amendment and is, instead, planning to introduce a bill to reduce paid leave time for federal employees to offset the cost of adding an eleventh official federal holiday to the calendar. This proposal will likely run into the buzz saw of opposition from the federal employee unions and will never be passed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s House.

In the end, we will add Juneteenth as a federal holiday. It will be a welcome and long overdue celebration of the abolition of slavery in the United States. Unfortunately, the taxpayers will be stuck with yet another bill for which we will borrow money to pay.

Celebrating Juneteenth

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. Here’s a part:

There is currently a bipartisan push to make June 19th, or Juneteenth, a federal holiday. June 19th, 1865, is the day that federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, to occupy the state and announce that all enslaved people were free. It is regarded as the date when the news of emancipation reached the last of the remaining slaves in the United States. While it is not the date of the Emancipation Proclamation (January 1, 1863), or the date of ratification of the 13th Amendment (December 6th, 1865), Juneteenth has become the anniversary that we celebrate the end of the evil practice of legal slavery in the United States.

The first question to ask is should we celebrate Juneteenth as a federal holiday? Absolutely. Slavery was the original sin of our nation and we atoned for it with the blood of hundreds of thousands of Americans in a brutal Civil War. Ending slavery was a seminal moment in our nation’s history that brought us closer to the ideals of liberty and equality as beautifully enunciated by Thomas Jefferson in our Declaration of Independence. It is long overdue that we have a formal celebration of the abolition of slavery.

Back to school

Here is my full column that ran in the Washington County Daily News this week:

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction has released an 87-page guidance for reopening K-12 schools this fall. The responsibility and plans for reopening actually falls to each individual public school district or private school, but the DPI offered a wide array of options for how to mitigate the risk of spreading COVID-19 while still educating kids.

Before getting into the details a bit on what schools could, and should, do to reopen, we must pause and come to agreement on a few underlying facts. First, while COVID-19 can be deadly for older people and those with underlying health conditions, it is exceedingly rare for people under the age of 20 to die from it. Far more of our children die from suicide, drug overdoses, traffic accidents, diarrheal diseases, cancer, or heart disease than from COVID-19. That is not to say that kids will not have serious complications or be carriers of the disease, but they are not at a high risk of dying from it. The school staff, however, are in a different risk category.

Second, education is a priority. This has become even clearer as we see wave after wave of ignorance-fueled hate wash over our communities. Education is a cure to a lot of social ills including bigotry, hubris, and avarice. Education is not only a well-trod path for individual success, it is the prerequisite for an advanced civilization. Some may have forgotten or ignored the importance of education in the panic over COVID-19, but we must not lose sight of it again. COVID-19 will be here forevermore and we may never have a vaccine. We must not let it lead to the abandonment of our kids’ education.

As schools get back to their mission this September, the DPI provides a number of different scenarios to consider depending on the grade level. These options include a four-day week, a two-day rotation, and a two-week rotation — all of which would be supplemented and supported by distance learning techniques and robust parental support. All of these options are designed to limit the number of kids in the school buildings and the time they spend there. What is conspicuously missing from the DPI’s guidance is a traditional five-day, in-person school week.

If there is anything we learned from the last few months in education, it is that for most kids, classroom teaching is the most effective way of delivering education. Some did great at distance learning, but many kids were left behind. And for some school districts, those kids were intentionally left behind as teachers failed to adapt to a different education delivery style.

Even in the Slinger School District, which was reputedly one of the districts that successfully pivoted to distance learning, a district survey revealed that 51.7% of respondents said their kids spent less than two hours a day learning. An overwhelming 76.1% of respondents are in favor of returning to a traditional, in-classroom learning environment.

School Districts throughout the state should get back to the business of educating kids on a full-time basis. There will need to be some reasonable changes to mitigate the spread of disease, whether it is COVID-19 or something else. Rigorous sanitation, routine hand washing, masks where appropriate, and quickly sending sick kids and staff members home should become the norm, but so should rigorous and routine education.

Also, accommodations must be made for kids and staff members who are at a higher risk by providing real distance learning alternatives. This does not mean broadcasting a class that is usually delivered in the classroom and sending some worksheets. This means designing education specifically to be delivered remotely. There are already several online public and private schools in Wisconsin that do a phenomenal job educating kids who learn better outside of the classroom. Wisconsin must learn from these schools, amplify their success, and waive restrictions to allow kids to transfer into those schools immediately.

Wisconsinites invest a tremendous amount of money, time, and effort into our K-12 education system precisely because we believe in the necessity and promise of education. It is past time for them to get back to doing the work our kids deserve.

Back to School

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. We must open the schools:

School Districts throughout the state should get back to the business of educating kids on a full-time basis. There will need to be some reasonable changes to mitigate the spread of disease, whether it is COVID-19 or something else. Rigorous sanitation, routine hand washing, masks where appropriate, and quickly sending sick kids and staff members home should become the norm, but so should rigorous and routine education.

Also, accommodations must be made for kids and staff members who are at a higher risk by providing real distance learning alternatives. This does not mean broadcasting a class that is usually delivered in the classroom and sending some worksheets. This means designing education specifically to be delivered remotely. There are already several online public and private schools in Wisconsin that do a phenomenal job educating kids who learn better outside of the classroom. Wisconsin must learn from these schools, amplify their success, and waive restrictions to allow kids to transfer into those schools immediately.

Wisconsinites invest a tremendous amount of money, time, and effort into our K-12 education system precisely because we believe in the necessity and promise of education. It is past time for them to get back to doing the work our kids deserve.

Tommy Thompson to lead UW system

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. Here’s a part:

The University of Wisconsin System has been struggling to find a new system president to replace the retiring Ray Cross. After an exhaustive and expensive search that yielded a single final candidate, that candidate withdrew his application saying that, “it’s clear they have important process issues to work out.” Indeed, they do.

Last week, the University Of Wisconsin Board Of Regents paused their search for a permanent president and appointed former Gov. Tommy Thompson as an interim president for at least the next year. It is an inspired choice. The UW System is desperately in need of a fundamental transformation and Thompson is one of the few people who might be able to build enough unity to pull it off.

As Wisconsin’s only four term governor, Thompson is known as a pragmatic, consensus- building leader. He is also a cheerleader par excellence for everything Wisconsin. Wisconsin’s political landscape, however, is very different than when Thompson held power in Madison. Time will tell if Thompson can still build political bridges in this climate.

 

Evers’ record(ings)

Here is my full column that ran in the Washington County Daily News on Tuesday. Since I wrote this, there have been some very serious developments and it looks more and more like Evers might be covering up for a felon. I wonder… the Dane County DA and AG won’t investigate, but couldn’t the Jefferson or Racine County DAs (or wherever Vos and Fitzgerald were when they took the call)?

After the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down Governor Tony Evers’ unconstitutional lockdown order, our state government leaders needed to figure out what, if anything, the state should do in its continuing effort to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. Dutifully, Governor Evers and the two leaders of the Legislature, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, got on a phone call to discuss the path forward. What the legislative leaders did not know what that Governor Evers’ staff secretly recorded the conversation for dubious reasons and then released the recording to the media. Such a breach of trust, and his reaction to it, tells us a lot about our governor.

The rough details of the transgression are known. There were five participants in the call: Governor Evers, Speaker Vos, Majority Leader Fitzgerald, Evers’ Chief of Staff Maggie Gau, and Evers’ attorney Ryan Nilsestuen. The call was recorded and given to the media. Vos and Fitzgerald were shocked to learn that it was recorded. Evers claimed that he did not know it was being recorded, but wouldn’t say who did it. Gau and Nilsestuen have not admitted to anything.

Wisconsin law allows a call to be legally recorded if one participant of the call knows. The law does not require that all participants be notified that the call is being recorded, but it is considered both impolite and unethical to not make such a disclosure. However, if one of Evers’ other non-participant staffers recorded the call, it would be a crime. Since Evers will not disclose who recorded the call, he is either covering up for a staffer’s unethical behavior, crime, or both. What does all of this tell us about Governor Evers? Quite a bit. If we believe that Evers is telling the truth that he was ignorant of the recording, then he does not have any control over his staff. Whether a CEO, general, governor, or any other person of great responsibility, it would be unthinkable for a staff member to record the boss’ phone call with other leaders without the boss’ knowledge and consent. If Evers truly did not know, then he is not managing his staff. They are managing him.

Further, Evers’ refusal to disclose or discipline the perpetrator tells us more about him. It tells us that he is either afraid to hold his staff accountable for bad behavior, or he condones it. Recall that we do not yet know if the perpetrator committed a crime or merely violated ethical boundaries. Either way, Evers is allowing staff members to run rogue with no consequences.

Whether Evers knew or just condoned his staff’s recording of the call, it also shows that his administration is willing to use slimy tactics for political gain – even on an official call that was supposed to be about working together to respond to a pandemic. They recorded the call and released it to the media in an effort to embarrass political opponents. Despite the Evers administration’s claims of innocent motives, the results speak for themselves. Look at what they do — not what they say.

Finally, since the disclosure of the recording, Governor Evers has not seen fit to apologize to Vos and Fitzgerald for recording their conversation. He may have not known that the call was being recorded at the time, but he knows it now. His stubborn refusal to even do the simple mannerly thing and apologize for the breach of trust shows his inability, or unwillingness, to build relationships with people with whom he disagrees politically. His lifetime as a bureaucrat has not equipped him with the skills and he lacks the natural acumen to develop personal relationships outside his rigid ideological sphere.

After almost a year-and-a-half in office, Governor Evers has not made any progress in learning how to govern in a divided government. He has lurched from insults to partisan attacks to cursing to violating trusts. Is it any wonder why he resorts to unconstitutional dictatorial actions instead of working with the Legislature on behalf of the people of Wisconsin?

Evers’ record(ings)

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. Governor Evers’ secret recordings and his reaction to the news tells us  lot about him as a governor and as a person. Here’s a little:

Further, Evers’ refusal to disclose or discipline the perpetrator tells us more about him. It tells us that he is either afraid to hold his staff accountable for bad behavior, or he condones it. Recall that we do not yet know if the perpetrator committed a crime or merely violated ethical boundaries. Either way, Evers is allowing staff members to run rogue with no consequences.

Whether Evers knew or just condoned his staff’s recording of the call, it also shows that his administration is willing to use slimy tactics for political gain – even on an official call that was supposed to be about working together to respond to a pandemic. They recorded the call and released it to the media in an effort to embarrass political opponents. Despite the Evers administration’s claims of innocent motives, the results speak for themselves. Look at what they do — not what they say.

Finally, since the disclosure of the recording, Governor Evers has not seen fit to apologize to Vos and Fitzgerald for recording their conversation. He may have not known that the call was being recorded at the time, but he knows it now. His stubborn refusal to even do the simple mannerly thing and apologize for the breach of trust shows his inability, or unwillingness, to build relationships with people with whom he disagrees politically. His lifetime as a bureaucrat has not equipped him with the skills and he lacks the natural acumen to develop personal relationships outside his rigid ideological sphere.

Evers issues major budget policies that protect government spending

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. I dug into Governor Evers’ Major Budget Priorities and they are problematic. Here’s a part.

The exceptions that Governor Evers listed excludes roughly 60% of GPR spending from his “zero” increase directive. Further, by excluding debt service from the directive, Governor Evers opens the door for state agencies to continue their spending largesse by issuing debt.

The UW System gave away the game in a request from UW System President Ray Cross asking the Legislature to call a special session to allow the UW System to establish a $1 billion line of credit to support their spending. While the UW System is the first to ask to borrow more money, they will not be the last. Governor Evers has given them the green light to borrow to keep the government troughs full.

As Wisconsinites suffer job losses, declining incomes, lost businesses, bankruptcies, and foreclosures, Governor Evers knows that asking for tax increases is politically untenable – especially with a Republican Legislature. So his ploy is to pretend to push for a zero-increase budget, which a compliant media will trumpet, while he excludes the majority of spending and offers the back door or debt for government to keep spending.

Governor Evers may be oppressively mediocre, but he knows where his supporters are. As Wisconsinites suffer, he will protect government spending. And if the Wisconsinites of today can’t afford his spending, he will yoke our children by borrowing money that will take a generation to pay off.

Evers administration fails Wisconsin’s unemployed

Here is my full column that ran in the Washington County Daily News on Tuesday. Evers’ incompetence handling Covid is only matched by his incompetence in handling the riots.

As hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites were forced out of work by Governor Tony Evers’ rolling shutdown edicts, he and his Department of Workforce Development utterly failed to prepare or react to the predictable onslaught of unemployment claims. The contemptible consequence is that almost three months after Governor Evers created an economic crisis, his DWD has a backlog of over 700,000 unpaid unemployment claims and the administration is telling the public that they may not get caught up until October.

One could excuse Evers and his DWD in that there were some struggles and hiccups as the waves of unemployment claims swamped the state agency. One cannot excuse, however, the fact that their lethargic response and incompetent leadership has failed to rise to the challenge.

Before issuing an order to shutter the majority of the state’s economy, a competent governor would have been able to anticipate some of the obvious consequences and plan accordingly. In this case, a steep rise in unemployment claims was the obvious and predictable result of a government shutdown order. Yet, despite such a predictable outcome, Governor Evers and his DWD failed to proactively plan for the claims. Their response was the slow, plodding, indifferent, response that underscored the caricature of a bureaucracy full of uncaring government drones. (As a side note, Evers has also failed to proactively react to the predictable massive decline in tax revenue and future deficits, but that’s a column for another day.) When Evers shut down the state, the DWD also shut down its job centers, thus eliminating in-person support for Wisconsin’s unemployed. That left Wisconsinites to either apply for unemployment online or call the state agency. As applications submitted online languished without a response, people were left with the only option of calling the DWD to get answers.

According to the MacIver Institute, the DWD unemployment call center had 57 employees when Evers shut down the state. One would note that Evers did not increase the amount of staff or capacity before shutting down the state. Such foresight is apparently beyond his capacity. The day after the lockdown with into effect, the DWD was getting 160 attempted calls per second on its 450 phone lines.

The DWD eventually transferred and hired additional staff to bring the call center up to about 150 people to try to answer the calls about over 2.1 million weekly claims that have been received. Even with the additional staff, the call center was still only open Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Now, months after Evers forced an economic crisis (whether one thinks that the economic shutdown was necessary or not), the DWD is finally beginning to contract with private companies to expand their capacity. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites wait for an unemployment

check that still might not come for another six months.

Last week, DWD Unemployment Division Administrator Mark Reihl told a legislative committee that “we have done a great job” and DWD Secretary Caleb Frostman blamed the problems on an antiquated benefits system that is unable to accept new claims while it is processing old ones. Secretary Frostman admitted that the problems with their systems have been known for decades. If such problems were known, why was nothing done about it?

What were Frostman’s priorities in this budget request? According to his agency’s request for $735 million over the biennium and 1,610 employees, updating technology was not a priority. What were the priorities?

“Full funding of continuing position salaries and fringe benefits.” “Overtime.” “Grants to the UW System, Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS), and the Wisconsin Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.” And, of course, the positive things like worker training, economic development, and other normal operations were included. For the 2019-2021 Capital Budget agency request, the only mention of the DWD is as part of a $98.5 million new building and parking garage that would house the DWD and other agencies.

If the technology was known to be so old, why didn’t the DWD make it a priority to request money to update it? Why was the ability to support unemployed Wisconsinites not prioritized over the making sure that 1,610 bureaucrats got their full wages and fringe benefits? Why was money allocated to replace a 55-year old building and not to replace 50-year-old software? Budgets are a statement of priorities and it is clear where the priorities of Evers and his DWD lie — the comfort and financial security of government employees.

Nobody expects perfection from Governor Evers and state government, but at the very least, Wisconsinites deserve a basic level of competence.

Evers administration fails Wisconsin’s unemployed

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. Believe it or not, there are other things happening outside of Rona & Riots (incidentally, Rona & Riots was a small eclectic bar on Manhattan’s upper East Side.) Here’s a part:

What were Frostman’s priorities in this budget request? According to his agency’s request for $735 million over the biennium and 1,610 employees, updating technology was not a priority. What were the priorities?

“Full funding of continuing position salaries and fringe benefits.” “Overtime.” “Grants to the UW System, Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS), and the Wisconsin Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.” And, of course, the positive things like worker training, economic development, and other normal operations were included. For the 2019-2021 Capital Budget agency request, the only mention of the DWD is as part of a $98.5 million new building and parking garage that would house the DWD and other agencies.

If the technology was known to be so old, why didn’t the DWD make it a priority to request money to update it? Why was the ability to support unemployed Wisconsinites not prioritized over the making sure that 1,610 bureaucrats got their full wages and fringe benefits? Why was money allocated to replace a 55-year old building and not to replace 50-year-old software? Budgets are a statement of priorities and it is clear where the priorities of Evers and his DWD lie — the comfort and financial security of government employees.

Nobody expects perfection from Governor Evers and state government, but at the very least, Wisconsinites deserve a basic level of competence.

Liberty, but …

Here is my full column that ran in the Washington County Daily News yesterday.

For over 150 years, Americans have taken a day at the end of May to pause and reflect upon the great sacrifices that have been made for the cause of liberty. Decoration Day, now Memorial Day, is a nerve that runs through our national body that aches to remind us of the tremendous price of freedom.

Over 1.1 million Americans have given their lives for the liberties protected by our Constitution and the national aspiration enshrined in our Declaration of Independence. It is a heavy price and a heavy burden that those of us who live under those principles have a responsibility to respect, honor, and defend.

While not without blemish, for no human endeavor is without marring from the weaknesses of the human condition, our nation has spent over 240 years spilling our blood for an idea — not for land, not for treasure, not for dominion – but for the idea that all people have an natural right to be free. Free in their person. Free in their thoughts. Free in their faith. Free in their property. Free.

That right to freedom is part of the spark put in us by God and is the natural right of every human. It is not subject to abridgment or restriction except by consent through a freely elected government. We institute government for the purpose of preserving our liberty. Our government protects our liberty through a well-defined system of laws that were consented to after an adversarial lawmaking process that is intentionally designed with checks and balances to ensure that broad consensus is achieved. Our rule of law is what protects our liberties from the arbitrary use of the police power of government. It is what protects us from tyranny.

Such a rudimentary summary of the concepts of liberty and self-governance should be known by any American with a high school education. They are the tenets of a free society, which over a million Americans have given their lives to preserve.

This is why it is so astonishing that we have so easily surrendered our liberties, suspended the rule of law, and abandoned self-governance over a virus.

When Thomas Jefferson wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” he did not end the statement with “except if there’s a nasty virus.”

In the Wisconsin Constitution’s Declaration of Rights, it reads, “All people are born equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights; among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…” That sentence does not end, “but those rights are void if the governor says so.”

Within days, our government stripped us of our most basic rights to freely assemble, practice our religion, use our property, operate a business, move freely, and even visit our own families. In Wisconsin, this was done on the sole authority and discretion of a single man. In other states, the same thing was done by the pen stroke of a single man or woman. And if a person dared to violate the order by simply having guests to their home or playing outside, the full police power of the state was brought to bear to force compliance. Such an arbitrary and cavalier use of police power is the stuff of totalitarian regimes. It does not belong in America.

When we have finally wrested our rights back from the tyrants, we must reform our statutes to ensure that such power may never be levied again under the color of law. Our nation has faced pandemics before and will face them again, but we must never let a health crisis be used an excuse for the wholesale abandonment of the very principles of liberty upon which our nation was founded.

Liberty, but …

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. Here’s a part:

In the Wisconsin Constitution’s Declaration of Rights, it reads, “All people are born equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights; among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…” That sentence does not end, “but those rights are void if the governor says so.”

Within days, our government stripped us of our most basic rights to freely assemble, practice our religion, use our property, operate a business, move freely, and even visit our own families. In Wisconsin, this was done on the sole authority and discretion of a single man. In other states, the same thing was done by the pen stroke of a single man or woman. And if a person dared to violate the order by simply having guests to their home or playing outside, the full police power of the state was brought to bear to force compliance. Such an arbitrary and cavalier use of police power is the stuff of totalitarian regimes. It does not belong in America.

When we have finally wrested our rights back from the tyrants, we must reform our statutes to ensure that such power may never be levied again under the color of law. Our nation has faced pandemics before and will face them again, but we must never let a health crisis be used an excuse for the wholesale abandonment of the very principles of liberty upon which our nation was founded.