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Blue Jean Nation 'Right turn at the fork'

Posted by Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation
Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation
Mike McCabe is the founder and president of Blue Jean Nation and author of Blue
User is currently offline
on Sunday, 29 January 2017
in Wisconsin

occupy-democrats-posterThe Occupy movement on the left and the Tea Party movement on the right took different paths to effect political change. The new strategic blueprint called “Indivisible” is currently all the rage on the left, but may not be new at all.

ALTOONA, WI - During the Great Recession — the worst economic downturn in America since the Great Depression — more than 8 million jobs were lostfamily incomes dropped and poverty spiked. Nearly 4 million homes were foreclosed each year.

These traumas brought millions of Americans to a fork in the road politically. Some went right at the fork, others went left, giving rise to two landscape-altering social movements.

The Occupy movement on the left, with its “We are the 99%” catchphrase, changed the national conversation by bringing income and wealth inequality to the forefront of public consciousness. Democrats weren’t focusing on it to speak of, nor were most liberal advocacy groups. Before Occupy, the term “one-percenter” wasn’t part of our political vocabulary and little attention was being paid to how the nation’s rich were getting vastly wealthier while the poor were growing poorer and the middle class was disappearing. Occupy changed that. Occupy made talk of economic inequality commonplace. That’s no small achievement.

The Tea Party movement on the right, with its “Don’t Tread on Me” mindset, changed the Republican Party. In so doing, Tea Partiers changed Congress and state legislatures across the country. They put the fear of God into mainstream GOP politicians. Those politicians were given a choice. Either grant Tea Partiers their wishes, or face their wrath on the campaign trail. A few, like House Republican leader Eric Cantor, took their chances at the ballot box. Most others fell in line, spooked by how the Tea Party made examples of the likes of Cantor.

Other than obvious ideological differences, the big distinction between the Occupy and Tea Party movements is that one deliberately steered clear of involvement with elections while the other jumped into elections with both feet. That says a lot about the right and left today. One side is dogged in its pursuit of political power and will go to any lengths to get it. The other prefers to protest and march and picket.

Any honest assessment of the overall impact of these two movements has to conclude that the Tea Party has had the bigger influence on our country’s direction. Which suggests the ballot is mightier than the placard. Which calls into question the strategic impulses of the forces gathering in America to resist the turn the nation has taken.

A new strategic blueprint called “Indivisible” is currently all the rage on the left. The brainchild of some former Democratic congressional staffers, it suggests people on the left can block the Trump agenda by copying tactics the Tea Party used to stymie President Obama’s. They claim to offer “best practices for making Congress listen” to the people. Question: If former Capitol Hill staffers know the best practices for making Congress listen to us and now have a fail-safe blueprint for resisting Trump, how did they manage to become so utterly powerless in Washington and why couldn’t they prevent the Tea Party takeover of Congress?

A part of the Tea Party’s approach — the most important and effective part — is conspicuously missing from the strategy cooked up by these Capitol Hill operatives. Tea Partiers not only condemned Obama’s every move, they contested Republican elections. They ended up being unable to deny Obama a second term. But they did end Eric Cantor’s career and the careers of a slew of his establishment Republican colleagues. They seized power in Congress to the point where they could dictate terms to House Speaker John Boehner as well as his successor Paul Ryan.

Considering who concocted the left’s new recipe and what key ingredient they chose to omit, it looks less like an effort to cook up a Tea Party-style insurrection on the Democratic side and more like an attempt to head one off at the pass.

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PLA Legislation is Bad for Wisconsin

Posted by Janis Ringhand, State Senator Dist 15
Janis Ringhand, State Senator Dist 15
State Senator Janis Ringhand (D-Evansville) is a former mayor, small business o
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on Saturday, 28 January 2017
in Wisconsin

construction-workersProject Labor Agreements (PLA’s) are one of the few tools that local governments have left to put “Wisconsin first” when it comes to public construction projects, but Madison legislators want to eliminate it as part of the bidding process.

MADISON - As President Trump takes the initial steps to get America out of poorly negotiated trade deals like NAFTA and TPP, Wisconsin Republicans are negotiating amongst themselves to eliminate guarantees that public construction projects are completed on time, on budget and built using local workers.

The issue at hand is legislation to prohibit local governments from using Project Labor Agreements (PLA’s) as part of the bidding process for government construction projects like schools, libraries and jails. Poorly negotiated, like NAFTA and TPP, this legislation will take job opportunities away from Wisconsin workers on taxpayer funded construction projects.

Project Labor Agreements are one of the few tools that local governments have left to put “Wisconsin first” when it comes to public construction projects. Taxpayers throughout the state will be spending hundreds of millions of dollars building new schools and maintaining those already in use. Project Labor Agreements allow local governments to get up front guarantees to make sure that these schools are built by local workers and completed on time and on budget.

No one wants the jobs for these projects to be filled by workers from Iowa, Illinois, or Minnesota, but this legislation sets the table to allow just that. Project Labor Agreements protect Wisconsin jobs on Wisconsin construction projects. PLA’s are in place for the Northwestern Mutual expansion project in Milwaukee, Lambeau Field, Miller Park and the new Bucks arena. Toyota has used Project Labor Agreements for every American auto plant they have built. Even Wal-Mart is increasingly using PLA’s for their construction projects.

Like NAFTA and TPP, this legislation is another example of poorly negotiated policy from politicians who believe in a one size fits all approach. A one size fits all approach from Madison is bad for local governments, bad for construction workers and bad for Wisconsin.

This legislation is a completely partisan effort to undercut both local government and construction workers. The bill prohibits local government from asking for up front guarantees in the bidding process to make sure that school, libraries, jails and other public construction projects are done on time, on budget and built with local workers.

Instead, the proponents of this legislation believe that local governments should ask contractors to provide workplace guarantees out of the kindness of their heart. We are talking about hundreds of millions of dollars in construction projects in every part of Wisconsin. No guarantees for taxpayers, no guarantees for workers.

It’s poorly negotiated, completely partisan and bad for Wisconsin.

Proponents say that they don’t want to force non-union workers to contribute to a union. Wisconsin’s new Right to Work law specifically prohibits forcing any worker to join or make contributions to a union. The proponents of this legislation have brought forth a litany of “alternative facts” to defend these poorly negotiated bills. And last, but certainly not least, proponents of this legislation want to eliminate any up front leverage that local governments might have to guarantee that projects are done on time, on budget and built with local workers.

With wide majorities in both houses of the legislature, Republicans will decide the direction that Wisconsin is going take. The irony is that with one party rule in Madison, Republicans are negotiating with themselves to undercut both taxpayers and workers. The only question is just how far they will go.

Eliminating the use of Project Labor Agreements as part of the bidding process is a bad deal for Wisconsin. It is a poorly negotiated piece of partisan legislation. Unfortunately, the proponents of this legislation say that this is the path we are going to take whether you like it or not.

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Blue Jean Nation 'Trotting out the whipping boy'

Posted by Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation
Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation
Mike McCabe is the founder and president of Blue Jean Nation and author of Blue
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 25 January 2017
in Wisconsin

walkerWalker’s golden shower economics haven’t been the answer, which leaves him in need of a whipping boy, a scapegoat, someone to bear the blame for his administration’s failings. This time it's food stamp recipients.

ALTOONA, WI - For as long as there have been politicians, there have been whipping boys. Politicians need someone to punish for their own shortcomings.

No one is better with the whip than Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. He is highly skilled in the use of divide-and-conquer tactics, a master at pitting one group of struggling and vulnerable people against another.  It’s his favorite play, the governor’s political equivalent of Vince Lombardi’s Power Sweep or USC’s famed “Student Body Right.”

Walker turns to this page in his playbook repeatedly, whenever he’s feeling the least bit threatened politically. He just did it again, proposing stricter work requirements for those receiving food stamps in Wisconsin.

He is counting on Democrats to rush to the defense of food stamp recipients. He wants them to accuse him of beating up on the poor. He needs them to. They surely will oblige, which is critical to the successful execution of the governor’s play.

Once they do what they always do, Walker can paint the Democrats as the party of handouts, the party devoted to taking from those who work and giving to those who don’t. And he can pit those who are having a hard time making ends meet but don’t qualify for food stamps against those who rely on them to eat.

Most importantly, he can divert attention from the dismal failure of his feed-the-rich economic policies. With Walker at the helm, Wisconsin is leading the nation in shrinkage of the middle class. The state is dead last in new business start-ups and entrepreneurial activity.

When Walker does what he always does and the Democrats respond how they always respond, the questions that most need asking don’t get asked. The debate that is most needed is never had.

Wisconsin should be debating how to create an economy where if you work you won’t be poor and won’t go hungry. It is undeniable that we don’t have such an economy today. We should be aspiring to an economy where food stamps and other forms of welfare become unnecessary.

We should be talking about the fact that government spends more on corporate welfare than it does on social welfare that makes up the proverbial safety net. We should be discussing how to create an economy anchored in a free and fair market for everyone, not crony capitalism for a favored few. We should be demanding that Walker’s corporate welfare office be shut down.

We should be acknowledging that demand and not supply is the primary driver of economic growth and that feeding the rich in hopes of stoking supply has been a miserable failure, never producing more than a trickle for the masses and causing the grotesque economic inequality and the slow but steady extermination of the middle class we are experiencing today.

Wisconsin is a shadow of its former self economically. Walker’s golden shower economics haven’t been the answer, which leaves him in need of a whipping boy, a scapegoat, someone to bear the blame for his administration’s failings. That’s where food stamp recipients come in handy to him, so long as the Democrats play into his hands and do their part to help him isolate and stigmatize them.

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Audits Raise Cautions about Pension Fund Management

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
User is currently offline
on Monday, 23 January 2017
in Wisconsin

union-members-at-capitolThe Legislature’s Joint Audit Committee scheduled a public hearing on the Wisconsin Retirement System pension fund after recent audits revealed it's performance fell to 9th among ten comparable state pension plans.

MADISON - “GOOD NEWS” read the text with a short article about how our pension funds grew 8.5%. My friend forwarded the article with a cryptic note, “apparently the lies keep working.”

In what seems to me to be an effort to get ahead of a bad story, the agency responsible for investing almost $100 billion in pension funds – the largest single pot of money anywhere in state government - issued a press release touting an 8.5% increase in its core fund.

As radio commentator Paul Harvey used to say, here’s the rest of the story.

Yes, things are better in 2016. However, in 2015, the state pension funds lost money. An increase over a loss is good but not nearly as good as continual year-to-year growth. Especially when the fund is assumed to return over 7% a year!

Recently the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) released several audits related to the Wisconsin Retirement System (WRS). Among many findings, auditors reported 20-year returns fell from over 10% in 2006 to about 7% in 2015.

To understand how well Wisconsin is doing compared to other states, auditors contrasted performance in ten comparable state pension plans. Wisconsin’s performance ranked 9th of ten states in nearly every measure. Wisconsin’s core fund 5-year return was also considered 3rd most volatile of all of ten plans.

Wisconsin had a history of ranking well compared to other states. For example, in 2013, Wisconsin ranked 4th of nine states in 5-year returns.

The State of Wisconsin Investment Board (SWIB) oversees management of WRS and five other state insurance and trust funds. The governor appoints seven of the nine member board – 6 members directly and the governor-appointed secretary of administration.

In 2011, the governor and legislative majority gave SWIB authority to set its own budget and positions. No other state agency has this authority. Since 2011, the operating budget of SWIB grew by 78% and the number of positions grew by 48 or a 38% increase.

Some out-sourcing of fund management was brought back in-house. It is still unclear if this practice saved money.

Despite the fact the fund lost money in 2015, the board waived its own policy of not giving bonuses when the funds lost money. The board awarded bonuses of $1,100 to $468,300 to employees.

One of the reasons the funds lost money was poor performance in high-risk investments. Over the past few years, Wisconsin increased investment in risky financial devices like hedge funds and derivatives. These investments are among the speculative instruments that led to the financial crash in 2008.

Hedge funds, managed by an outside firm, cost the funds a staggering $57 million for a meager .6% return – about what you might get from a savings account. Auditors note that several other large public pensions eliminated the use of hedge fund investments.

Wisconsin also uses a risky strategy of borrowing to leverage assets. The use of debt to leverage assets lost money in all periods as of December 2015 including a negative 30% return in 2015. The leverage strategy contributed to the fund losses in 2015. Despite this, SWIB still has a goal of leveraging a staggering 20% of its funds.

Other audit findings raise questions about the structure and oversight the board provides the funds. Especially concerning is a finding that the board does not review final budget-to-actual expenses.

In addition, a recent audit of the Department of Employee Trust Funds, which manages the operations of the WRS, found a number of accounting errors, including mistakes in reporting over $90 million and bank reconciliations that were not done on a monthly basis for several months.

The state investment board oversees the retirement benefits of over 600,000 public employees and is now largely out from under legislative oversight. These recently released audits give us red flags about how things are going. Legislators have a responsibility to ask hard questions and insist on responses to protect the investments made by employees and retirees.

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Blue Jean Nation - 'Why not repeal and replace?'

Posted by Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation
Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation
Mike McCabe is the founder and president of Blue Jean Nation and author of Blue
User is currently offline
on Tuesday, 17 January 2017
in Wisconsin

handsoff-medicareRepublicans simply say “repeal and replace”, but simple solutions don’t work. One well established and widely supported federal health care system is available as a model for all, Medicare.

ALTOONA, WI - Republicans have simple answers to every question, simple solutions to every problem. Simple solutions that don’t work.

Health care is no exception. Republicans simply say “repeal and replace.” They’re talking about the Affordable Care Act, more popularly known as Obamacare.

They’ve got the repeal part down. Since the law was approved in 2010, Congressional Republicans have voted more than 60 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act. It’s the replace part that has them stumped. They offered no alternative in the past, and haven’t yet figured out what to put in its place.

It should be noted that all those votes were taken to repeal the law when GOP lawmakers weren’t actually in a position to make it happen. They were merely posturing. Now they are in control of both houses of Congress and will be working with a Republican president who says he’s committed to repealing and replacing Obamacare. There’s nothing standing in their way anymore. Except for the politically uncomfortable fact that only about a quarter of Americans want to see the law repealed. And that pesky business of coming up with something to replace it with.

If the new Congress and the new inhabitants of the White House are bound and determined to repeal and replace Obamacare, then do it right. Do it in a way that makes health care more accessible and affordable. Do it in a way that makes the health care system less bureaucratic and brings down administrative overhead costs. Here’s how. Repeal the law, then roll the existing Medicare and Medicaid programs into one and call it Americare. Make every American eligible for it. No one would be forced to enroll. If you want to continue to buy private insurance, you should be free to do so. But Americare would be there for everyone who wants it.

Two federal programs and their accompanying bureaucracies as well as the federal infrastructure devoted to administering the Affordable Care Act and its insurance exchanges would be brought under a single roof, making the federal health care system more streamlined and efficient. Medicare provides a sturdy foundation upon which to build Americare. Medicare is well established and widely supported by the seniors it serves, so popular that one of the signs most commonly seen at Tea Party rallies carried the message “Keep Government Out of My Medicare” or some variation on that theme.

Any program that has earned that kind of loyalty from Tea Partyers and is so highly valued by the nation’s elderly should be made available to Americans of all ages. All Americans should be allowed to benefit from the fact that Medicare does a far better job of controlling costs and is much more administratively efficient than the rest of the U.S. health care system.

Our country is ranked at or near the bottom in the developed world in the efficiency and effectiveness of health care. We spend more and get less. We can do better. Way better.

Out with Obamacare. In with Americare.

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