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Tag: Washington County Daily News

2020 election paves road for Wisconsin’s next Republican governor

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

The recounts in Wisconsin have wrapped up and, pending ongoing legal action, the election results will likely be certified soon confirming that Joe Biden has won the state by about 20,000 votes or 0.4% of the voters. The results tell us a lot about the current makeup of the Wisconsin electorate and what the Republicans will need to do to win the governorship in 2022.

The biggest message of the 2020 election is that the Wisconsin electorate is almost perfectly evenly divided. In 2016, Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by about 23,000 votes. In 2020, with about 200,000 more ballots cast, Biden defeated Trump by about 20,000 votes. At the top of the ballot, the state is evenly split.

The state legislative results were less evenly split. The Republicans lost a couple of seats in the state Assembly, but still retain a substantial majority. The Republicans actually gained a couple of seats in the state Senate to give them their largest majority in that house in more than thirty years.

While Democrats will bemoan gerrymandering, those kinds of legislative majorities cannot be drawn by wily cartographers. Those majorities are a reflection of the fact that liberal Democrats have heavily segregated themselves into a few areas of the state and have become far more liberal. In doing so, the Democrats have moved away from middle-class and working- class Wisconsin and become the party of socialists, activists, and white-collar chauvinists who can afford to indulge bad ideas.

The 2020 election also showed that Republicans have made gains in most of the state. Trump increased his margins in the Fox Valley, central Wisconsin, northern Wisconsin, east-central Wisconsin, and in the rapidly growing Racine and Kenosha counties. The Democrats churned out huge vote totals in Dane and Milwaukee counties to win the state for Biden, but lost ground in almost every other area of the state.

In order to win in 2022, the Republican candidate for governor will need to appeal to those same Trump voters with the kitchen table issues that matter. First, a strong economy is good for all Wisconsinites and a strong economy is a diverse economy. Republicans must focus on championing the industries that matter to people who do not live in Madison and who do not have a college degree. Manufacturing, tourism, hospitality, construction, mining, milling, etc. are businesses that have provided family-supporting livelihoods for generations of Wisconsinites.

In particular, Governor Evers has spent the better part of a year ignoring the plight of small businesses with his dictatorial orders. Republicans must fight for the tavern owner in Fifield and the ski hill operator in Wild Rose. Fighting for them does not mean offering them a handout. It means getting government out of the way so that they can make a living.

Many Wisconsinites have seen the indifference of government throughout the ’Rona Recession. While government forced businesses to close and people out of work, many government employees continued to receive their full pay while not having to work. Schools closed, but teachers were paid. University of Wisconsin campuses sent kids home but kept the tuition and housing fees. Wisconsinites do not want to see their fellow citizens suffer, but they do want to see the suffering shared equally by government.

Republicans must work to make government accountable to the people it serves. Many of the people who voted for Trump did so because they felt that their government no longer served them. Republicans must champion government service in the humblest sense of the phrase. Republicans must champion a government that works for the people.

Specifically, too many of the public schools in Wisconsin have shown that their priority is not serving the kids or the community. Their priority is serving the employees and unions. Against the best scientific guidance, too many public schools have whipsawed between models and left parents struggling to educate their own kids while juggling their jobs. Too many public schools have made it clear that education is not really that important and that when there is a health concern, every kid can be left behind.

Republicans should focus on providing educational choices for families when their public school abandons its obligations. School choice, charter schools, virtual academies, homeschool support, etc. are all viable options for families that deserve public funding. Billions of dollars for education. Not one cent for empty schools.

Wisconsinites deserve a pragmatic, frugal, hardworking governor who works for the issues that impact their daily lives. Most Wisconsinites just want to earn a living, provide their kids a good education, enjoy a good fish fry, root for the Packers, and be left alone. The next Republican governor must work for them.

2020 election paves road for Wisconsin’s next Republican governor

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

The state legislative results were less evenly split. The Republicans lost a couple of seats in the state Assembly, but still retain a substantial majority. The Republicans actually gained a couple of seats in the state Senate to give them their largest majority in that house in more than thirty years.

While Democrats will bemoan gerrymandering, those kinds of legislative majorities cannot be drawn by wily cartographers. Those majorities are a reflection of the fact that liberal Democrats have heavily segregated themselves into a few areas of the state and have become far more liberal. In doing so, the Democrats have moved away from middle-class and working- class Wisconsin and become the party of socialists, activists, and white-collar chauvinists who can afford to indulge bad ideas.

The 2020 election also showed that Republicans have made gains in most of the state. Trump increased his margins in the Fox Valley, central Wisconsin, northern Wisconsin, east-central Wisconsin, and in the rapidly growing Racine and Kenosha counties. The Democrats churned out huge vote totals in Dane and Milwaukee counties to win the state for Biden, but lost ground in almost every other area of the state.

In order to win in 2022, the Republican candidate for governor will need to appeal to those same Trump voters with the kitchen table issues that matter. First, a strong economy is good for all Wisconsinites and a strong economy is a diverse economy. Republicans must focus on championing the industries that matter to people who do not live in Madison and who do not have a college degree. Manufacturing, tourism, hospitality, construction, mining, milling, etc. are businesses that have provided family-supporting livelihoods for generations of Wisconsinites.

In particular, Governor Evers has spent the better part of a year ignoring the plight of small businesses with his dictatorial orders. Republicans must fight for the tavern owner in Fifield and the ski hill operator in Wild Rose. Fighting for them does not mean offering them a handout. It means getting government out of the way so that they can make a living.

Integrity isn’t convenient

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

Once again, a sizable percentage of the people are going to spend the next four years disbelieving the results of a presidential election. With an electorate divided so evenly that elections are decided by just a few thousand votes, even the appearance of impropriety sows doubt and undermines the stability of our republic. We must reform our election process to rebuild the confidence of the electorate that the results — whatever they may be — are an accurate reflection of the will of the people.

America’s voting laws have been continuously changed throughout our history and every state conducts its elections a little differently. The twin objectives of our electoral process are to make it as easy as possible for as many citizens as possible to vote while also ensuring the integrity of the process. The former objective is to encourage a large enough turnout of voters to capture the will of the majority. The latter objective is to ensure that that will is accurately recorded.

As we have leaned our electoral system in favor of convenience to encourage turnout, we have opened it to fraud and the appearance of fraud. When election results are overwhelming, a little fraud does not threaten the result. When elections are decided on the knife’s edge, a little fraud undermines our system of government. In a system of government that relies on the losers willingly accepting the rule of the winners, legitimacy is based on the people’s faith in the outcome.

While still encouraging as many citizens who want to vote to vote, Wisconsin should once again lead the nation in electoral reform by creating a system that is the pride of democracy.

First, mail-in voting should be restricted to people who must have them. Overseas soldiers, ex-pats, and home or institutionbound people need a way to securely exercise their franchise. For most of the people who voted by mail this past election, it was simply a convenience. The problem with mail-in ballots is that they are inherently insecure. They pass through too many hands and are susceptible to fraud or being lost (intentionally or not). Greatly restricting the use of mail-in ballots to the people who really need them will reduce actual and assumed fraud.

Second, Wisconsin must insist on paper ballots in all jurisdictions and secure all of them for a reasonable time after every election. Electronic systems are convenient for clerks, but they leave no paper record of a vote in the event of a challenge or discrepancy. The beauty of paper ballots is that if there is a problem, authorities can always pull out the actual ballots and count them by hand.

In conjunction with the paper ballots, no counting machine should ever be networked to anything. Ever. Anything that touches a network is subject to widescale hacking. Simple, standalone counting machines may be inconvenient, but it is impossible to tinker with them on a large scale without a widespread conspiracy with people touching every machine. Such widespread conspiracies are improbable and unlikely to go unnoticed.

Third, local districts must purge the voter rolls on a more frequent basis. Having our voting rolls cluttered with the names of people who are dead or have moved is a ripe field for fraud. The simplest way to keep the rolls more hygienic would be to purge names of people who have been identified as having moved and those who have not voted in two election cycles. Given that Wisconsinites can register again on Election Day if they find their names removed, it is a minor inconvenience for a handful of voters for the sake of electoral security.

Fourth, all of the counting and recounting should be live-streamed and recorded. Nothing pushes away fraud and builds confidence like transparency. Anyone who has seen the incredible detail and angles available to watch a poker game on television knows how easy it would be to show every ballot up close for all the world to see. If there is a legal challenge over the count, the archived video would be easily accessible.

All of these measures would help secure our elections and restore the people’s confidence in our elections. They should also be coupled with measures to expand options for voters to cast a secure ballot. For example, the state should expand and fund a uniform in-person early voting period throughout the state.

For our republic to survive, the integrity of our electoral system must be above reproach. It does not matter if 90% of the people allegedly turn out if a large contingent of Americans do not trust the results. A substantial number on the left have never trusted the results of the 2016 presidential election. It appears that a substantial number on the right will never trust the results of the 2020 election. We have to do better for 2024.

Integrity isn’t convenient

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

America’s voting laws have been continuously changed throughout our history and every state conducts its elections a little differently. The twin objectives of our electoral process are to make it as easy as possible for as many citizens as possible to vote while also ensuring the integrity of the process. The former objective is to encourage a large enough turnout of voters to capture the will of the majority. The latter objective is to ensure that that will is accurately recorded.

As we have leaned our electoral system in favor of convenience to encourage turnout, we have opened it to fraud and the appearance of fraud. When election results are overwhelming, a little fraud does not threaten the result. When elections are decided on the knife’s edge, a little fraud undermines our system of government. In a system of government that relies on the losers willingly accepting the rule of the winners, legitimacy is based on the people’s faith in the outcome.

While still encouraging as many citizens who want to vote to vote, Wisconsin should once again lead the nation in electoral reform by creating a system that is the pride of democracy.

 

In Praise of Messy

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

There is a dangerous ethos slipping into our national psyche that has the power to upend our cherished republic. That ethos decrees that objectionable speech should be forbidden. Not challenged with more speech. Not ridiculed. Not debunked. Forbidden. Our nation’s downfall finds root in such concepts.

Our nation is not unaccustomed to robust public debate. Much of our history is the story of vigorous, heated, sometimes violent debates that burned hot in the friction created by the wheels of progress. Some of our national heroes are those who were able to introduce new, sometimes radical, concepts that lubricated the body politic in preparation for action. Such heroes of thought, pen, and voice would struggle in today’s enforced culture of leftist thought hegemony.

Liberty begins with the freedom of thought and the first public manifestation of liberty is the expression of thought. The measure of a free society is how many of those expressions are permitted. How restrictive can a society be before it toggles from a society that is considered free and one that is not?

In a perfectly free society, all expressions would be permitted without government sanction. Almost all nations, even those considered to be ardent adherents to the principle of free speech, criminalize some speech. Direct threats and defamation are almost never allowed, for example, but the bar for restricting speech is very high.

At the other end of the spectrum are those nations that maniacally regulate every utterance and have severe penalties for anyone who dares speak something deemed forbidden by the regime in power. The United States has moved along this scale throughout its history, but we are slipping toward the totalitarian end of that spectrum at an alarming pace.

In the American culture, people like to claim that they support free speech, but are increasingly willing to silence people who express views with which they disagree. Since it goes against the traditional American self-image to silence opposing views, the oppressors among us have taken the convenient moral shortcut of labeling thoughts with which they disagree as X-ist or hateful. Since everyone agrees that it is immoral to be X-ist or hateful, the oppressors can claim that silencing such thoughts, and the expression of them, as not only justified, but a moral imperative.

This is the faux moral high ground that movements like antifa and the leftists who lend them support seek to claim. They stand in righteous judgment of everyone who they deem “fascist” or “hateful” or “bigoted.” Their definitions are fluid, but their fury is constant. And when the silencing of evil foes is a moral imperative, any means of doing so can be justified because it promotes a higher good.

Those means have manifested themselves across America in a hundred different ways. News organizations have spawned “fact checking” squads to seek out opposing thoughts and label them as untrue. These self-anointed arbiters of truth stride forth with the confidence and wisdom of 19-year-olds who are home from their first year of college. In an earlier column, I rang a warning bell about the tech giants who are using their market dominance to regulate which speech is allowed to be heard and which must be quashed into the digital abyss. Some Democrat politicians and leftists are espousing the virtues of blacklists to prevent any Trump supporter from being able to work or hold a position of public influence. In both Wisconsin and in Washington D.C., we saw how elected leaders and bureaucrats weaponized government agencies to silence speech and punish the speakers.

The crushing of American public debate under the pretext of purging it of hate, X-ism, and bigotry is an attack on the freedom of thought and an affront to the ideals upon which our nation was founded. That does not mean that all thoughts are good, helpful, or positive, but the way to eradicate them is not to mute them. The way to eradicate them is to allow the light of truth in the public space to show them for what they are and allow them to retreat to the fringe. Freedom means permitting the expression of all thoughts — not just the ones that are accepted by the current orthodoxy.

Freedom relies on people being able to think, speak, introduce new ideas, resurface old ideas, subject them to the gristmill of public debate, and allow the people a robust discussion of diverse viewpoints from which to formulate a consensus public policy. Many of the ideas espoused by our Founders were considered radical, subversive, and treasonous at the time. That is precisely why our founding documents include a full-throated defense of free speech. They understood that the world would change, and new ideas would emerge. Our nation should not fear those ideas. We should welcome them, debate them, and encourage more. It is messy, but freedom always is.

In praise of messy

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

In the American culture, people like to claim that they support free speech, but are increasingly willing to silence people who express views with which they disagree. Since it goes against the traditional American self-image to silence opposing views, the oppressors among us have taken the convenient moral shortcut of labeling thoughts with which they disagree as X-ist or hateful. Since everyone agrees that it is immoral to be X-ist or hateful, the oppressors can claim that silencing such thoughts, and the expression of them, as not only justified, but a moral imperative.

This is the faux moral high ground that movements like antifa and the leftists who lend them support seek to claim. They stand in righteous judgment of everyone who they deem “fascist” or “hateful” or “bigoted.” Their definitions are fluid, but their fury is constant. And when the silencing of evil foes is a moral imperative, any means of doing so can be justified because it promotes a higher good.

Those means have manifested themselves across America in a hundred different ways. News organizations have spawned “fact checking” squads to seek out opposing thoughts and label them as untrue. These self-anointed arbiters of truth stride forth with the confidence and wisdom of 19-year-olds who are home from their first year of college.

In an earlier column, I rang a warning bell about the tech giants who are using their market dominance to regulate which speech is allowed to be heard and which must be quashed into the digital abyss. Some Democrat politicians and leftists are espousing the virtues of blacklists to prevent any Trump supporter from being able to work or hold a position of public influence. In both Wisconsin and in Washington D.C., we saw how elected leaders and bureaucrats weaponized government agencies to silence speech and punish the speakers.

The crushing of American public debate under the pretext of purging it of hate, X-ism, and bigotry is an attack on the freedom of thought and an affront to the ideals upon which our nation was founded. That does not mean that all thoughts are good, helpful, or positive, but the way to eradicate them is not to mute them. The way to eradicate them is to allow the light of truth in the public space to show them for what they are and allow them to retreat to the fringe. Freedom means permitting the expression of all thoughts — not just the ones that are accepted by the current orthodoxy.

 

 

When nobody was looking, West Bend became liberal

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

While the national political scene continues to dominate our attention, local politicians are making decisions that will more directly impact our everyday lives. In the city of West Bend, the Common Council has taken a lurch to the left and is pushing for the second property tax increase in as many years. What is happening in West Bend is a good case study for how much local leadership matters and how easy it is for the big spenders to seize control when the citizens get lazy.

West Bend has always been a conservative community. Like many smallish conservative cities, the city was run by a close cabal of old-time Benders for a long time. Well-meaning, but without much vision, the city leadership plodded along steadily raising spending, raising taxes, increasing debt, and seemingly intent on just making sure everybody would go along to get along.

Springing out of the national tea party movement, local conservatives began to look seriously at the city’s governance in 2009. Groups like Concerned Citizens of Washington County sprang up with the express purpose of recruiting, encouraging, and supporting conservatives to run for local office.

It worked. Election after election, principled conservatives ran for local office and won. In the city of West Bend, the result was a slate of conservative council members and a conservative mayor who were intent on leading the city in a conservative direction. In 2011 they passed a flat-tax-levy budget and then cut the tax levy by 5% in 2012. For the rest of the decade, conservative leadership meant flat taxes year after year, a dramatic improvement in the city’s debt load, the shedding of unfunded liabilities for retired employees, and frugal spending. Along the way, the city upgraded the riverwalk, made parks selfsustained, expanded the police station and City Hall, and attracted businesses to locate and expand in West Bend.

It was a good run, but it is over now. After a decade of good governance, local conservatives got lazy. They stopped recruiting and supporting new conservatives to run for local office. The big spenders and lefties returned to power as local conservatives twiddled their thumbs and harrumphed at each other.

Over the past several elections, big spenders and lefties ran for, and won, seats on the Common Council. They are in firm control. The new mayor, Chris Jenkins, trumpets his conservatism in public, but has proven too weak to provide firm conservative leadership in the face of opposition.

Last year the Common Council passed a property tax increase even though the city had the money to pay for the entire budget without raising taxes. They passed a tax increase because they wanted to see if the public would scream too loud. Aldermen John Butschlick, Mark Allen, Steve Hoogester, Justice Madl, and Roger Kist voted to increase taxes. Aldermen Andrew Chevalier, Chris Jenkins, and Rich Kasten voted against a tax increase. Since then, all three of the aldermen who voted against the tax increase have left the council and Jenkins was elected mayor.

This year, the council is proposing a 5% tax levy increase that will be used to increase spending and pad employee compensation. Most city employees will receive a pay increase with at least one high-level employee receiving a $12,125, or 11%, raise. Meanwhile, the city in increasing the percentage of premiums that taxpayers cover by about 1%. A city employee will pay 13% of the premium for a family plan under the new budget. The average going rate for Wisconsin private-sector employees is more than twice that.

Just like last year, the city does not need to increase taxes. Thanks to new construction, the city will get a 4% increase in the tax levy without increasing taxes on everyone. Just like last year, the Common Council seems determined to raise taxes anyway. The budget calls for a 5% levy increase. A council dominated by former public employees seems resentful that a year should pass without increasing taxes. It is easier to keep increasing taxes a little every year and finding a place to spend it instead of only asking for a tax increase when they need it.

Alderwoman Meghann Kennedy has been the lone voice for fiscal conservatism on the council as the rest seem intent on passing annual tax increases irrespective of the need or the property owners’ ability to pay. 2020 has been a tough year for many, but that fact seems lost in the halls of city government.

As I write this column, the public hearing for the budget is in the future. As you read this, the hearing is in the past. Irrespective of how the hearing went or how the council votes, the only way to truly return West Bend to conservative fiscal management is to elect the principled conservatives who will lead future councils. The liberals will always fill a leadership vacuum. If conservatives in West Bend want to see conservative leadership, they will need to get off their duffs and put some effort into it. The same is true all over Wisconsin. Leadership starts locally.

When nobody was looking, West Bend became liberal

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. Last night’s vote pretty well proves the thesis. Here’s a part:

It was a good run, but it is over now. After a decade of good governance, local conservatives got lazy. They stopped recruiting and supporting new conservatives to run for local office. The big spenders and lefties returned to power as local conservatives twiddled their thumbs and harrumphed at each other.

Over the past several elections, big spenders and lefties ran for, and won, seats on the Common Council. They are in firm control. The new mayor, Chris Jenkins, trumpets his conservatism in public, but has proven too weak to provide firm conservative leadership in the face of opposition.

Last year the Common Council passed a property tax increase even though the city had the money to pay for the entire budget without raising taxes. They passed a tax increase because they wanted to see if the public would scream too loud. Aldermen John Butschlick, Mark Allen, Steve Hoogester, Justice Madl, and Roger Kist voted to increase taxes. Aldermen Andrew Chevalier, Chris Jenkins, and Rich Kasten voted against a tax increase. Since then, all three of the aldermen who voted against the tax increase have left the council and Jenkins was elected mayor.

This year, the council is proposing a 5% tax levy increase that will be used to increase spending and pad employee compensation.

[…]

A council dominated by former public employees seems resentful that a year should pass without increasing taxes. It is easier to keep increasing taxes a little every year and finding a place to spend it instead of only asking for a tax increase when they need it.

Alderwoman Meghann Kennedy has been the lone voice for fiscal conservatism on the council as the rest seem intent on passing annual tax increases irrespective of the need or the property owners’ ability to pay. 2020 has been a tough year for many, but that fact seems lost in the halls of city government.

As I write this column, the public hearing for the budget is in the future. As you read this, the hearing is in the past. Irrespective of how the hearing went or how the council votes, the only way to truly return West Bend to conservative fiscal management is to elect the principled conservatives who will lead future councils. The liberals will always fill a leadership vacuum. If conservatives in West Bend want to see conservative leadership, they will need to get off their duffs and put some effort into it. The same is true all over Wisconsin.

Leadership starts locally.

The campaign is never over

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

Another driver of the growing relevance of politics in our lives is that we have ceded too much power to the political realm. In earlier years, debates over the next Supreme Court justice or which party controlled the U.S. Senate were important, but not imperative. Our far-away federal government made big decisions about big things, but was relegated to a narrow part of our daily lives.

Now we have allowed our federal government into the most intimate corners of our lives. We have allowed politicians and bureaucrats we have never met, who live and work in distant cities to which we have never been, to make the most granular decisions about how we live our lives. They are deciding what kind of cars we can drive, how we see our doctors, how much water our toilets can use, what fuels our lawnmowers can use, what our schools teach our children, what foods we can eat, how we make our neighborhoods safe, and so much more.

Throughout most of our history, these decisions were left to the good sense of individuals and the cooperation between neighbors. Now we task our government to homogenize and codify the most minor of human interactions into law. If it seems that politics are taking a larger role in our lives, it is because we have allowed it. Some have insisted upon it.

 

The elusiveness of legitimacy

Here is my full column from the Washington County Daily News that ran last week.

One of the many strengths that has sustained our great nation through the centuries is the peaceful transition of power. What makes this possible is that the people whose candidate did not win are willing to accept the legitimate governance of the winner and channel their energies into winning the next time. My fervent hope is that this presidential election will continue our nation’s history of peacefully transitioning power irrespective of who wins.

In any civic society, the stability and success of the government requires that the vast majority of the people consider the government to be legitimate, but legitimacy is an elusive concept that is largely in the mind of each citizen. Some argue that democratic governments are inherently legitimate because democracies are designed to enact the will of the majority of the people. Democracy, however, is a method of making decisions. It is not, in and of itself, a basis of legitimacy.

Thomas Jefferson got to the root of it in the Declaration of Independence when he echoed John Locke’s contention that governments are instituted, “deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” The word “consent” is the basis of legitimacy and can be just as easily given or withdrawn in a democracy as in an autocracy. A relatively free society like ours relies on almost everyone agreeing to abide by the laws enacted by government of their own free will — even when they disagree with the law or the means by which it was enacted. Unlike a totalitarian government, democratic societies purposefully lack the police power to enforce widespread disobedience and face stiff resistance when they try. For order and stability to prevail, almost everyone must generally consent to the laws. They will only do so when they think that the government is legitimate and that there is a general sense that we are all in this together.

There are many things that can rend the sense of legitimacy in a democracy. Marxists rely on dividing people by class and race to delegitimize the government by convincing people that the government is not working for them. Democracies can devolve into mob rule where a substantial minority is subjugated to the majority. Technocracies can develop in democracies where the public will is subverted by unelected experts. Human history is replete with the rise and fall of governments. They always fall when the people no longer think they are legitimate and, therefore, no longer feel a need to obey them.

I began dwelling on legitimacy while enjoying a delicious fish fry at one of Wisconsin’s myriad supper clubs. Like many people, I have accepted that COVID-19 will be with us for the long term and that when I get it, it is exceedingly unlikely that I will suffer long-term effects from it. I am going about living my life with reasonable precautions that I would make to avoid catching any virus. As I have gone to stores and restaurants, it is clear that most Wisconsinites are doing the same thing and are largely ignoring the various orders flowing out of the Madison bureaucracy. While it is good to see free people behaving as such, it is a warning sign that the legitimacy of state government is waning.

When the presidential election is over, either Donald Trump or Joe Biden will be our next president. Many people are questioning the integrity of our election process and casting doubt on the legitimacy of whoever wins. The Marxists who have been burning cities are intentionally working to undermine the legitimacy of our government. They can be isolated for the insurgents they are, but only if the vast majority of the people can accept the election results and our next president as the legitimate president.

My heartfelt hope is that all of the people working in this election do so with the utmost integrity. The American people have a long history of accepting the results of elections even when their side loses. But if the election is fraught with errors, fraud, distrust, allegations, and other malarky, the result will be more and more people refusing to accept our government as legitimate. If even 15% or 20% of the people no longer accept our federal government as the legitimate government of the people, then civic society breaks down and becomes ungovernable. America becomes Portland.

People often suffer from recency bias or historical ignorance when they say things like “this is the most important/ contentious/dishonest presidential election in our history” (I would say it was the 1796/1860/1876 elections, respectively), but every election is an inflection point. History will tell us if this was just another peaceful transition of power or a step in our nation’s decline.

The elusiveness of legitimacy

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

In any civic society, the stability and success of the government requires that the vast majority of the people consider the government to be legitimate, but legitimacy is an elusive concept that is largely in the mind of each citizen. Some argue that democratic governments are inherently legitimate because democracies are designed to enact the will of the majority of the people. Democracy, however, is a method of making decisions. It is not, in and of itself, a basis of legitimacy.

Thomas Jefferson got to the root of it in the Declaration of Independence when he echoed John Locke’s contention that governments are instituted, “deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” The word “consent” is the basis of legitimacy and can be just as easily given or withdrawn in a democracy as in an autocracy. A relatively free society like ours relies on almost everyone agreeing to abide by the laws enacted by government of their own free will — even when they disagree with the law or the means by which it was enacted. Unlike a totalitarian government, democratic societies purposefully lack the police power to enforce widespread disobedience and face stiff resistance when they try. For order and stability to prevail, almost everyone must generally consent to the laws. They will only do so when they think that the government is legitimate and that there is a general sense that we are all in this together.

There are many things that can rend the sense of legitimacy in a democracy. Marxists rely on dividing people by class and race to delegitimize the government by convincing people that the government is not working for them. Democracies can devolve into mob rule where a substantial minority is subjugated to the majority. Technocracies can develop in democracies where the public will is subverted by unelected experts. Human history is replete with the rise and fall of governments. They always fall when the people no longer think they are legitimate and, therefore, no longer feel a need to obey them.

Time to regulate Facebook, Twitter like the publishers they are

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

The New York Post, the newspaper founded by Alexander Hamilton, broke a story last week about Joe Biden’s family. The story was supported by credible evidence and implicated Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, in a long-term scheme to shake down foreign entities for money in exchange for favorable American government action. It is the kind of story that, if true, is the most serious kind of government corruption imaginable — the selling of American foreign policy for cash.

The bombshell story was instantly quashed and hidden by Twitter and Facebook. Both companies actively censored the story, blocked accounts that attempted to share the story, and disabled links under the faux-truistic cover that they were upholding journalistic standards by insisting on stronger sourcing. This is despite a lengthy history of allowing every conspiracy theory and liberal fake news story to propagate unmolested. In choosing to put their digital thumbs on the Biden story, both companies crossed the line from internet platforms to publishers and require a different regulatory treatment.

Twitter and Facebook both benefit from Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which is credited with providing the legal umbrella that allowed the internet to flourish into what it is today. Section 230 simply states, in its entirety, “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”

While simple, the distinction has massive implications in law. By not being deemed a publisher, internet companies are protected against liability for libel or defamation for what appears on their platforms. Section 230 is an evolution of an ancient English common law practice of “common carriage” or common carrier. The crux of common carriage is that private enterprises who are engaged in something imperative to the common good are granted some special protections by the government in exchange for certain obligations. In the case of internet companies, the free exchange of ideas these platforms facilitate is considered the lifeblood of a free, self-governing society and a common good worthy of such protections.

In the 20th century the common carrier that dominated technology for the better part of 70 years was AT&T. In exchange for a monopoly on long-distance lines and the ability to use eminent domain, AT&T agreed to let the government regulate their rates and, what was critical, to not discriminate against what was said on those lines. This was a stark contrast to the great monopoly of the telegraph, Western Union, which might have helped sway the presidential election of 1876 to Rutherford B. Hayes by secretly providing the Hayes campaign the Democrats’ telegrams and suppressing others. AT&T’s great bargain was to agree to be regulated in exchange for a monopoly.

Section 230 took the grand bargain a step further by providing all of the benefits of legal absolution in exchange for nothing. Under this law, companies like Twitter and Facebook grew up into dominant natural monopolies because their users provided petabytes of content for other users to consume without having to police the content for accuracy or even sanity.

Make no mistake, if you are not paying for it, you are what is being sold. In the case of Twitter and Facebook, their business model is to collect incredible amounts of personal data about their users and sell that data for the purpose of target marketing, research, and whatever other moneymaking purpose they can divine. Their algorithms target people for specialized content and might have already broken the common carrier trust that the public bestowed on them.

In purposefully, actively, and personally deciding to stomp on a negative story about Joe Biden that was published by a reputable newspaper in the midst of a political campaign, Facebook and Twitter have definitively and unmistakably crossed the line from being internet platforms to publishers. As such, the legal protections granted to them under Section 230 must be withdrawn so that they can be regulated like The New York Times, Fox News, MSNBC, and all of the other publishers that filter, edit, and curate the information they provide to their subscribers.

Facebook and Twitter can’t have it both ways. If they want the legal protections provided under Section 230, then they must allow all information to flow freely. If they want to be information gatekeepers, then those protections must be withdrawn so that people have legal remedies against abuse.

Time to regulate Facebook, Twitter like the publishers they are

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. I know what you’re thinking… what the heck did President Hayes do to make the news this week? You’ll have to read and see.

In the 20th century the common carrier that dominated technology for the better part of 70 years was AT& T. In exchange for a monopoly on long-distance lines and the ability to use eminent domain, AT&T agreed to let the government regulate their rates and, what was critical, to not discriminate against what was said on those lines. This was a stark contrast to the great monopoly of the telegraph, Western Union, which might have helped sway the presidential election of 1876 to Rutherford B. Hayes by secretly providing the Hayes campaign the Democrats’ telegrams and suppressing others. AT& T’s great bargain was to agree to be regulated in exchange for a monopoly.

Actions matter

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. Note that I wrote this before the judge ruled in favor of letting Evers continue with perpetual emergency orders. Here’s a part:

In my column last week explaining why I will be unreservedly voting for President Trump, I reiterated the old axiom that actions matter more than words. One might further truncate that statement to just “actions matter.” The Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature should take note.

[…]

When Evers issued his mask order, the Republicans issued scathing press releases and did nothing. The mask order was politically popular and rarely enforced in Republican areas, so several Republican legislators decided to sacrifice good government to political convenience.

Now Evers has ordered restaurants and bars to limit capacity to 25%. This will be the death knell to numerous small-business owners who will not survive another forced restraint of their trade. Again, legislative Republicans are issuing stirring press releases, but they are doing nothing. Fearful of political retribution in a few Assembly swing districts, Republicans have ceded their power to the governor. If they are unwilling to use the power granted to them by their supporters when it is needed most, then their supporters should look for someone who will.

Trump has earned this conservative’s vote

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

In 2016, disillusioned with the Republican Party, distrustful of Donald Trump’s agenda, and fearful of the rise of populism in America, I cast my vote for a third-party candidate. I strive to not repeat mistakes. This year, I will cast my vote without reservation for President Trump. He has earned this conservative’s vote by advancing and defending issues about which I have deeply cared for my entire adult life.

In politics, as in life, it is more imperative to judge people on what they do rather than on what they say. In most cases, this advice is a lesson to watch for oily people who say what you want to hear while doing the opposite. In the case of Trump, you have to sometimes ignore his ramblings and bombast to see that he has a record of conservative accomplishments strong enough to rival any president.

In the modern era where we have allowed our federal government to reach into the smallest crevices of our lives, federal court judges and justices have become critical to preserving our liberties — particularly those continuously threatened liberties enumerated in the 1st, 2nd, 4th, and 5th Amendments to the Constitution. Supreme Court Justices get all the press, and rightfully so. For the high court, Trump is 3 for 3 in appointing superb judicial conservatives. He has strengthened the Supreme Court and helped protect our civil liberties.

Only a small percentage of federal cases, however, ever end up at the Supreme Court. The vast majority of cases are decided in the Appeals Courts. Trump has appointed 53 mostly conservative Appeals Court Justices. In doing so, he has even begun to turn the heretofore rogue 9th Circuit Court of Appeals into a court that is more balanced and constructionist. Combined with the 161 federal District Court judges that Trump has appointed, Trump has significantly shifted the federal judicial branch to one that is more conservative and more protective of individual liberties.

Beyond shaping the judicial branch, Trump has advanced many conservative domestic policies. The Trump-Ryan tax bill was a landmark piece of tax reform. It decreased the corporate tax rate to be more competitive with the world. It lowered individual tax rates until 2025. It reformed tax perks, incentivized companies to repatriate their foreign profits, and cut the death tax. Importantly, it also ended the unconstitutional individual mandate provision of Obamacare that forced people to buy health insurance.

On foreign policy, Trump strengthened our nation’s border. He removed the United States from the destructive Paris Climate Agreement and from President Obama’s dangerous Iran nuclear deal. Trump unleashed our military to defeat ISIS and moved the American Embassy to Jerusalem to strengthen our ally Israel. Despite liberal prophecies of Middle East doom, Trump helped negotiate the normalization of relations between the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Israel, thus ushering in the promise of stability in the region. It also signals the realignment of the region against America’s most volatile enemy in the region, terrorist-exporting Iran.

The big policy items necessarily get the attention, but the Trump administration’s unrelenting push to the right has racked up hundreds of successes that get overlooked in the mix. Bureaucracies are slashing regulations to let Americans and their businesses breathe and thrive. The Department of Education is encouraging school choice and rejecting the socialist indoctrination that has permeated public education. Trump reformed Veterans Affairs to bring accountability and more health care choices — including telehealth technology — to give our veterans more and better health care.

I have only begun to scratch the surface of Trump’s conservative record. Sure, Trump still spends too much, supports tariffs, and supported weakening our criminal justice system, but for conservatives who purport to care about protecting unborn lives, the 2nd Amendment, free speech, lower taxes, less regulation, an America-centric foreign policy, and a love of country, President Trump has made more tangible movement in advancing and protecting those principles than any other president in my lifetime. He is not the perfect conservative messenger, but he sure is an effective conservative doer.

As I pray for the speedy recovery of our president and those close to him, I also look forward to casting my vote for his re-election.

Trump has earned this conservative’s vote

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. Pick up a copy!

In 2016, disillusioned with the Republican Party, distrustful of Donald Trump’s agenda, and fearful of the rise of populism in America, I cast my vote for a thirdparty candidate. I strive to not repeat mistakes. This year, I will cast my vote without reservation for President Trump. He has earned this conservative’s vote by advancing and defending issues about which I have deeply cared for my entire adult life.

In politics, as in life, it is more imperative to judge people on what they do rather than on what they say. In most cases, this advice is a lesson to watch for oily people who say what you want to hear while doing the opposite. In the case of Trump, you have to sometimes ignore his ramblings and bombast to see that he has a record of conservative accomplishments strong enough to rival any president.

[…]

I have only begun to scratch the surface of Trump’s conservative record. Sure, Trump still spends too much, supports tariffs, and supported weakening our criminal justice system, but for conservatives who purport to care about protecting unborn lives, the 2nd Amendment, free speech, lower taxes, less regulation, an America-centric foreign policy, and a love of country, President Trump has made more tangible movement in advancing and protecting those principles than any other president in my lifetime. He is not the perfect conservative messenger, but he sure is an effective conservative doer.

As I pray for the speedy recovery of our president and those close to him, I also look forward to casting my vote for his re-election.

Evers’ DWD failed Wisconsin

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

In response to the disgraceful management of the Unemployment Insurance program by the Department of Workforce Development, the nonpartisan Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau audited the response and performance of the state’s call centers. The audit uncovered the exact kinds of lethargy, indifference, and poor leadership that confirm the worst stereotypes of government bureaucracy.

The scale of the problem the DWD faced was real and unprecedented. Governor Evers declared a public health emergency on March 12, closed schools on March 13, and after ratcheting down public gatherings, ordered everyone home on March 24. The governor’s order shuttered most businesses in the state and forced hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites out of work. Evers caused an unprecedented rush of people filing unemployment claims.

In 2019, an average of 4,700 Wisconsinites per week filed an initial unemployment claim. The DWD’s UI call center took about 6,300 calls per week. According to the DWD, 93.4% of initial claims were filed online with only 6.6% being filed through the call centers. The DWD UI call center had a staff of 90 employees.

Beginning the week of March 15, the number of initial claims skyrocketed. It peaked the week of March 22 with 116,129 initial claims filed and was half that by the week of April 5. The DWD call centers received 1.4 million calls the week of March 22 and almost 6 million calls the week of April 12. All told, there were 41.1 million calls made to the DWD call centers between March 15 and June 30. Of those, 93.3% were blocked or received a busy signal; 6.2% of callers got through but hung up before being answered; and only 0.5% of calls were answered.

The DWD woefully underreported the extent of the problem to the Joint Legislative Audit Committee. The DWD reported the number of calls blocked, abandoned, and answered. The calls it reported as “blocked” were calls that reached the system and the caller was told to call later and disconnected. They did not report the number of callers who just received a busy signal. In doing so, the DWD failed to report 75% of the calls that were unable to reach the call centers.

When challenges arise, leaders rise. Unfortunately, there were not any to be found at the DWD or in the governor’s mansion.

It is important to follow the dates. On March 31, two weeks after Evers declared a public health emergency, DWD began increasing the staff of its call centers. By the end of April, six weeks after the emergency declaration, they had added four employees. A month later, they had added a total of 37 employees. By the end of July — a full 20 weeks after the emergency declaration — they had added a total of 98 employees. Meanwhile, Wisconsinites continued to get busy signals and wait for checks that never came.

One would think that the DWD employees were burning the midnight oil to help their fellow citizens in these unprecedented times, right? Wrong. From March 15 to July 31, while hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites were unemployed and looking for help, DWD call center workers worked a scant average of 1.6 hours of overtime per week. The call center was only open for 39.58 hours per week until May 20 before they began expanding hours slightly.

The DWD also dragged its feet to contract with outside call centers. Again, the dates are important. The governor declared a state public health emergency on March 12. On April 9, DWD began the process by requesting approval from the Department of Administration to waive a competitive bidding process. The DOA gave approval on April 16 and on April 20, the DWD requested bids. It awarded the contract to Alorica on May 7 — eight weeks after the emergency declaration.

As Alorica call center took several weeks to ramp up to capacity, the DWD did not require that they provide any information about the actual effectiveness of the call centers. The DWD has no idea if they were able to actually resolve the callers’ issues after the initial call. More calls were finally being answered, but nobody is certain to what effect.

If Wisconsin had a competent governor with a competent administration, they would have anticipated the rush of Wisconsinites seeking to file unemployment claims when they effectively shut down the state’s economy. They would have aggressively worked to expand the capacity of the DWD UI staff, expanded hours, worked overtime, accelerated outsourcing, and done everything possible to serve Wisconsinites who were forced out of work due to government action. Instead, the governor, DWD secretary, and agency bureaucrats plodded along at government speed while unemployed Wisconsinites waited and worried.

Governor Evers forced his DWD secretary to resign as the administration’s scapegoat, but he should take a hard look in the mirror and ask why his administration failed precisely when so many Wisconsinites needed it most.

Evers’ DWD failed Wisconsin

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

Beginning the week of March 15, the number of initial claims skyrocketed. It peaked the week of March 22 with 116,129 initial claims filed and was half that by the week of April 5. The DWD call centers received 1.4 million calls the week of March 22 and almost 6 million calls the week of April 12. All told, there were 41.1 million calls made to the DWD call centers between March 15 and June 30. Of those, 93.3% were blocked or received a busy signal; 6.2% of callers got through but hung up before being answered; and only 0.5% of calls were answered.

The DWD woefully underreported the extent of the problem to the Joint Legislative Audit Committee. The DWD reported the number of calls blocked, abandoned, and answered. The calls it reported as “blocked” were calls that reached the system and the caller was told to call later and disconnected. They did not report the number of callers who just received a busy signal. In doing so, the DWD failed to report 75% of the calls that were unable to reach the call centers.

When challenges arise, leaders rise. Unfortunately, there were not any to be found at the DWD or in the governor’s mansion.

It is important to follow the dates…

[…]

If Wisconsin had a competent governor with a competent administration, they would have anticipated the rush of Wisconsinites seeking to file unemployment claims when they effectively shut down the state’s economy. They would have aggressively worked to expand the capacity of the DWD UI staff, expanded hours, worked overtime, accelerated outsourcing, and done everything possible to serve Wisconsinites who were forced out of work due to government action. Instead, the governor, DWD secretary, and agency bureaucrats plodded along at government speed while unemployed Wisconsinites waited and worried.

Governor Evers forced his DWD secretary to resign as the administration’s scapegoat, but he should take a hard look in the mirror and ask why his administration failed precisely when so many Wisconsinites needed it most.

 

Evers wants to extend illegal mask mandate

My column for the Washington County Daily News in online and in print. When it comes to the mask mandate, Governor Evers is wrong on the law and wrong on the science.

Governor Tony Evers’ illegal order that all Wisconsinites wear face masks is set to expire on September 28 and he covets an extension of his despotic rule. Any extension of the order would not only be the third intentionally illegal power grab by the governor through emergency declarations, but it would be an admission that his actions are not rooted in science or data. Evers’ emergency orders are about power — not people.

[…]

If you think that a governor creating a permanent state of emergency where he issues arbitrary orders at his sole discretion is an acceptable way to govern, then the governor should at least be able to explain why the order is necessary and will work. The evidence is clear that the current mask mandate has not had any impact on the spread of coronavirus.

The commoditization of a college education

Here is my column that ran in the Washington County Daily News earlier this week. Yes, I do use “college” and “university” interchangeably because the content applies to both but it gets wordy to keep saying “colleges and universities.” Enjoy!

Wisconsin’s colleges and universities have begun their fall semesters with a variety of plans for mitigating the spread of COVID-19. Students throughout the state and nation are living through an unpredictable whipsaw of experiences as colleges change the rules depending on the latest COVID-19 test numbers. These changing experiences are perhaps forever changing the fundamentals of the college experience and the value proposition of a college degree.

As a parent of three kids who are currently in college and one college graduate, the value of a college education is something that I have always considered undeniable. Both of my parents had college degrees and I was reared to believe that a college education is the golden ticket to the middle class. The mere possession of a sheepskin opens doors and careers that are otherwise unavailable.

While the actual education is the most important part of college, the campus experience is also a key part of shaping a person for the larger world. Being physically on a college campus is the first time away from home for many people and is where they learn to interact, socialize, work, collaborate, and play with people from vastly different backgrounds and experiences. It is also where one forms bonds and relationships that can help one get started and progress in their careers.

In more recent years, the value proposition of a college education has been eroding. Greased by easy money from the federal government, the cost to attend college has increased far faster than the ability of most people to pay for it. At the same time, the rise of lucrative careers in technology and the global commercial reach of the internet have made a college degree less important as a ticket to wealth. There will always be careers that will require a rigorous advanced education, but a bright kid can do very well for him or herself with a couple of key technical certifications or a catchy online business.

As the perceived worth of a college degree has been slowly declining for many people and the cost of that degree has been increasing, traditional colleges have been investing more and more into the campus experience. To visit some college campuses is to visit monuments to extravagance. Dormitories look like modern upscale apartments. The workout facilities are expansive and beautiful. Lecture halls and classrooms are equipped with the most sophisticated technology. The shared spaces are littered with study nooks, coffee shops, entertainment distractions, movie theaters, restaurants, and more.

All of those campus amenities cost money — a lot of money — and they are part of the reason for the ballooning cost of college. What happens when students are paying for all of those amenities but do not get to use them? That is what is happening for college students all over the state and nation as college administrators decide to lock down campuses, quarantine entire dorms, and move classes online.

Families and their college students might have been a bit more forgiving in the spring when colleges precipitously closed in the face of an unknown virus with scary predictions of millions of dead. Now we are entering a new phase. Colleges are demonstrating how they will react to any future health concern and creating uncertainty that students will ever be able to rely on having a true campus experience.

When a traditional college decides to close the campus and provide all of their education online, they are changing the value proposition of the education they are offering. The students are still paying for all of the amenities that sit empty and unused. The only thing that the students are getting for their money is the education provided through a computer screen as they sit alone in a dorm, apartment, or at home. If that is the case, then why are they paying so much? How is the education provided by UW-La Crosse or Marquette University any better than the education provided by tenured online universities like Capella University or the University of Phoenix? If universities are to be judged solely by the quality of the education they are providing through their online portals, then many traditional universities will struggle to differentiate themselves without being able to use their beautiful campuses to lure students.

The longer that universities forgo access to their campuses and deliver learning only online, the more students will shop around for their college experience. While a student may not be able to put a proper price on sitting on UW-Madison’s Memorial Union Terrace tapping out a research paper with an eclectic guitar player strumming nearby, that student can certainly put a price on sitting in their bedroom listening to a lecture on their computer.

The great commoditization of education happens when the intangibles of campus life are squeezed out and students are left to simply decide if taking Math 240 from Online University A is better or worse than that offered by Online University B. As traditional colleges underwrite the move to online education and close off their campuses, they are hastening their own decline.

 

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