Saturday April 29, 2017

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Blue Jean Nation 'Anatomy of an identity crisis'

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 Thursday, 09 March 2017
in Wisconsin

identity-crisisAmerican values? Conservatives and Republicans seem more confident in their beliefs, and they define Democrats by default. Trump is promising both guns and butter. But, what are your core values?

ALTOONA, WI - If my travels over the last several years have taught me anything, it’s that America — or at least our little corner of it here in Wisconsin — is in the midst of an identity crisis. I’ve been given the opportunity to meet with every imaginable kind of group — urban and rural, young and old, haves and have nots and used to haves, white and black and brown, left and right. One time we meet in a church or a school. Another time it’s a bowling alley or tavern. Next time it’s a VFW or American Legion hall. After that, a public library or bookstore.

Everywhere I go, I’m given a chance to share some thoughts. But I also get to ask questions and listen. I’ve asked the same questions at every stop: What are your core values? What do you stand for?

When I talk with conservative or Republican audiences, I’m struck by how quickly and confidently and uniformly they answer. Six themes surface time after time. Less government. Lower taxes. Free market economics. Individual liberty. Old-fashioned family values. Patriotism.

Sometimes the freedom they profess to love seems to clash with their definition of family values. Sometimes their love of country takes the form of military might or homeland security. Other times it comes out sounding like fear or even hatred of foreigners.

When I meet with Democrats or left-leaning groups and ask them my questions, what I typically hear is crickets. I get puzzled looks. Pregnant pauses. A few might bring up issues or causes they care about. I stop them. I ask again. What are your values? What principles form the basis of your positions on issues? Sometimes answers never come, only shrugs. When answers are offered, they generally are neither confident nor uniform.

In the vacuum that forms, Republicans define Democrats by default. Since Republicans say they are for less government and lower taxes, that puts Democrats on the side of more government and higher taxes. This current understanding will probably persist until either Democrats reach a consensus on what values guide them or a blossoming Republican identity crisis reaches full bloom.

Now that the GOP is Donald Trump’s party, the commitment to limited government is fading. Trump is promising both guns and butter, with his demands for a massive military buildup and a trillion-dollar domestic building program. Free trade is giving way to protectionism. Intrusive government authoritarianism is increasingly trespassing on personal freedoms. Both in style and in substance, Trump is at odds with what Reagan-style conservatives consider traditional social values. Those on the right are having a harder and harder time recognizing their party and agreeing on what it should stand for.

So again I ask both Republicans and Democrats: What are your core values?

Here are mine:

  1. Freedom with responsibility. Each individual has a right to be free. But with that right comes an obligation to make sure others are free as well.
  2. Democracy, both political and economic. Both our political system and our economy should be of the people, by the people, and for the people.
  3. Equality. We are all created equal, with inalienable rights. No one starts at third base.
  4. Caretaking. This means looking out for one another, and having each other’s back. It means taking care of the land and water and air.
  5. Service. To community. To country. To each other.

— Mike McCabe

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Don't Get Rid of the State Treasurer

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
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on Monday, 06 March 2017
in Wisconsin

matt-adamczykA constitutional amendment is making its way through the Legislature to eliminate the State Treasurer and residents need to understand why the action is being taken and why it is the wrong conclusion.

MADISON - Early in his term, Treasurer Matt Adamczyk (pronounced eDOMchek), was asked to sign a paper. The paper captured his signature.

Mr. Adamczyk recently testified at a Senate committee hearing saying, “My signature and the signature of the Secretary of Administration’s appears on state checks.”

But Mr. Adamczyk never sees any of the checks with his signature and never performs any functions overseeing payment of state bills. And he doesn’t want to oversee state funds. Instead, Mr. Adamczyk testified he wants to get rid of the whole constitutional Office of Treasurer, describing the role as “outdated and a waste of money”.

A resolution calling for a constitutional amendment to eliminate the role of state treasurer is likely to be finalized by the time you read this column. I will be voting “no” on the proposal to eliminate the office of state of treasurer and here’s why.

According to the nonpartisan Council of State Governments,

“Treasurers act as the watchdogs of the people’s money and, in most states, are elected by their own constituents. This check and balance in the executive branch of government provides an effective oversight mechanism and increased transparency.”

In advising all types of organizations from local nonprofits to large multi-national corporations, auditors tell their clients that when it comes to handling money there has to be segregation of duties. Simply put, the same person (or department in a large company) should not collect the money, deposit the money, spend the money and do all the accounting.

The argument for eliminating the office of treasurer is that the treasurer doesn’t do anything. Recent governors and legislatures have whittled away at the duties so the argument now is, “The treasurer doesn’t do anything, let’s abolish the office.”

That is the wrong conclusion. We should rather be bringing back the duties that have been transferred to the Department of Administration (DOA) and making sure that when it comes to handling billions of dollars in state funds there is segregation of duties. There is a check and balance. More than one agency is involved.

The erosion of the Treasurer’s duties has been gradual and started at least twenty years ago. Duties were moved to the DOA that reports to the Governor. When Governor Walker took office, the treasurer oversaw money used for the public funding of Supreme Court races, college savings programs, local government’s investment of public funds, and ran a program reuniting people with their property though the unclaimed property program. The governor eliminated the public funding of Supreme Court races and transferred other activities to executive branch agencies.

During his tenure, Governor Walker has centralized a lot of authority in DOA. In the budget he proposed last month, he transfers almost 500 employees from various agencies to DOA. These are the employees who do budgeting, information technology and hiring and firing. If these transfers go through and the office of treasurer is eliminated, it seems that all budgeting, all contracting, all payments, all accounting will be in one agency under the direction of one Secretary. There would be no segregation of duties. That is not good government or good business practice.

Waushara County Clerk Melanie Stake, a Republican, wrote to our committee:

“The wise authors of Wisconsin’s constitution created a divided government – and six state constitutional officers – for a reason. Transferring duties to personnel appointed by, and/or overseen by, the governor’s office creates a disconcerting consolidation of power that has the potential to compromise fair and transparent government.”

She quoted the Wisconsin Taxpayer that cited Wisconsin as the ONLY state where the treasurer did not oversee cash management, and one of two states where the treasurer is not responsible for the state’s bank accounts.

What would the segregation of duties look like? In a neighboring state an independent constitutional officer has the responsibility of prescribing a uniform accounting system, ensuring that all contracts are properly authorized, all vouchers are documented and all expenditures follow the law. A second constitutional officer keeps all the accounts and writes all the checks.

That may be more segregation of duties than is necessary but that system was created after one state official embezzled some $30 million in today’s dollars when there wasn’t any independent check.

Does Wisconsin need segregation of duties when it comes to handling billions of public dollars? Ask your local accountant!

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Trump Throws Another $54 Billion at War

Posted by Buzz Davis, Stoughton
Buzz Davis, Stoughton
Buzz Davis, now of Tucson, AZ, a member of Better With Bernie Gone Green and Tre
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 01 March 2017
in Wisconsin

vietnamwarPoliticians like Trump shovel praise upon our military, but feel that they, themselves, were too good to serve. It is time they learn the lessons of history. Wars do not beget peace.

TUCSON, AZ - Americans how long will it take for us to understand we have been “had?”

It is family, school, faith and community members who help each generation learn it is better to talk to people than fight, kill and destroy. These are the great Americans.

donald-trumpI am repulsed by so many politicians like Mr. Trump who shovel praise upon our military but who, themselves, feel they are too good to serve our Nation.

Nearly all the wars since WWII have been illegal wars of aggression under our Constitution, United Nations Charter and treaties. Yet the military, CIA, presidents like Bush, Obama and Trump and individual Congressional members keep howling for blood.

Did the Romans stamp out Christianity by all their killing? Did the US win in Vietnam by killing a million Vietnamese? Are we winning the hearts and minds of Afghans, Iraqis, Syrians, or North Africans by killing their families, lovers, babies and friends by the hundreds of thousands?

I say no! You cannot kill ideas with a bullet. Thinking human beings know that.

When Democratic and Republican presidential candidates call out “We will hunt down and kill all Al-Qaeda, ISIS, etc. members and their families” we know our Nation is being run by idiots.

Or, is it being run by lying actors who push wars for the benefit of the military/industrial/politician complex that makes big bucks off of continuous war?

On Nov. 6, 2018 we will elect a new Congress (all the House members and 33 senators will be up for election.) Is it time to throw the bums out, keep the few good ones and start turning America into a Nation of peace builders and turn our backs on war mongering?

Take your choice on Nov. 6th. And if you choose continuous war, get ready to donate your sons and daughters to war’s meat grinding machine – the draft will return because the American volunteer military is broken.

Trump and fools in Congress can throw another $54 billion on top of the $600 billion the Pentagon already gets for more tools of war. But the military system is broken and cannot be fixed with more dollars.

For the truth they do not know.

The US has been checkmated in all the wars from Vietnam onward. Why? Because one “enemy” after another learns NOT to fight Americans as Americans want to fight. Washington won the Revolutionary War because he did NOT fight the way the British wanted. Europeans fought marching into one another, firing as they marched. Washington avoided that sort of fight. He sniped, attacked small groups with overwhelming force and ran from the British to keep his army from being destroyed. In short he DID NOT FIGHT the war the British wanted to fight.

Ho Chi Min and his leaders learned history well.

Americans want to fight as in WWII and Korea – massive armies, tanks and artillery going at each other in large battles. Vietnamese learned Washington’s lesson: snipe, ambush, trail bombs, surprise night attacks and withdraw before the Americans can get organized to fight back. Al Qaeda and ISIS have learned how to fight back against overwhelming American firepower and maneuverability by making American troops fearful of even leaving their bases due to roadside bombs, sniping and suicide bombers.

We Americans know: When we try our best again and again and it does not work, it is time to change what we are doing.

The conflicts we have over raw materials like oil or markets cannot be resolved by force. We must improve our skills and abilities to make peace and create understanding in a rapidly changing world.

Today, just 1% of the world’s 7.3 billion people control half the world’s wealth. Children are starving while food is buried in landfills, babies die of cheaply cured diseases, many do not have clean water to drink. The inequality of wealth, healthcare, education, future and the cruel use of power creates hatreds. Hatreds cannot be dissolved by bullets.

So Mr. Trump you are so wrong. You are proving to the world that the super-rich and powerful can be smart and ignorant simultaneously and lead great nations toward their destruction.

Americans we must work together for the next two years to throw the bums out on Nov. 6, 2018 -- or sooner via impeachment. For Trump, the man who admires law and order, does not follow the laws himself.

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Audit Hearing Highlights Problems and Way Forward with Transportation

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 Tuesday, 28 February 2017
in Wisconsin

crumbling-bridgeBridge collapse, storms and floodwaters weaken older roads, funds for local construction and maintenance that do not cover costs. Sen. Kathleen Vinehout writes about a DOT audit which highlighted these and other problems in the State Highway Program.

MADISON - “Deputies are trying to figure out what caused a bridge on a rural road west of Arcadia to collapse.” The WEAU-TV story broke the same morning as a recent Legislative Audit Committee hearing on the State Highways Program.

As horrifying as the bridge collapse was, the story highlighted problems locals, others and I warned about for some time. Summer storms and floodwaters weakened older roads and bridges. State funds for local construction and maintenance did not kept pace with costs.

The recent audit, conducted by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB), shined a light on long-standing problems with the Department of Transportation (DOT). Many lawmakers, including myself, advocated for this audit because an analysis of DOT programs has not been conducted for many years.

Road conditions have gotten worse over five years (2010-2015). Using information from the audit, I calculated 38 Wisconsin counties have less than 5% of local (concrete or asphalt) roads rated “good”. Using the “International Roughness Index” measure of road conditions, Wisconsin ranked lower than six Midwestern states and the national average.

Sixty percent of Pepin County’s state highways rated “poor” or worse than “poor”. The state road through the village of Pepin is so bad that dandelions sprouted in the cracks. Village officials asked me for help after they were told the DOT could not help with paving – even though this state road is slated for repair.

I met with DOT officials and requested money for Pepin and over a dozen other road projects in western Wisconsin. I received the same answer I often hear, that it is a “local decision” and assistance to deal with the “local problem” was not forthcoming.

Highway commissioners and town supervisors tell me that pushing blame onto local officials without sending additional local resources is a problem that got much worse in recent years.

Auditors reported similar findings. For example, 70% of county highway commissioners who responded to an LAB survey indicated roadway maintenance funds for state highways in 2015 were “less than adequate”.

The audit contains two very interesting charts of county road conditions. I reviewed the proportion of state highways in “poor or worse” condition. I discovered half of the counties ranked in the top twenty-five percent as worst in the state were in the western Wisconsin and included EVERY county that touched the Mississippi River.

When I raised the issue of how money was spent by region of the state, newly appointed DOT Secretary David Ross could not answer me.

The audit did highlight solvable problems within DOT. Secretary Ross shared his willingness to accept all the audit recommendations and to work on fixing what he could right away.

But many of the problems are serious institutional issues related to the way DOT does its work and will not be resolved by the time the Legislature passes the 2017-19 state budget.

Our transportation fund has an imbalance that worsened in recent years. Projections show by the end of the next budget, nearly one in four dollars spend on transportation will go to pay debt – leaving less money available for roads and bridges. Delaying some projects is inevitable but every delay only drives up costs.

Governors of both political stripes paid for this transportation debt from the general fund. Governor Walker used more than $900 million of the General Fund – over three budgets – to pay for transportation projects and debt. This transfer left less money in the general fund to pay for needs like schools, the UW System and local government.

Robbing Peter to pay Paul should no longer be an option. Spending more and adding unsustainable debt cannot be the ‘go-to’ option again.

To fix the transportation fund we should improve efficiencies. The Audit Committee introduced a bill to adopt the legislative considerations in the audit. We will keep careful watch on the progress of the department and its new secretary and require periodic written reports.

However, efficiencies alone will not provide all the help needed to fix the deteriorating roads, bridges and other transportation needs of the state. Lawmakers should revisit the revenue options detailed by former DOT Secretary Gottlieb and figure out how to fix the long-term problems we face.

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Revenue Collections Could Indicate More Budget Trouble

Posted by Gordon Hintz, Rep. 54th Assembly District
Gordon Hintz, Rep. 54th Assembly District
Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh), State Representative 54th Assembly District, is a memb
User is currently offline
on Monday, 27 February 2017
in Wisconsin

scott-walker-budget-talkWith state revenue growth flat, Gov. Walker is trying to spend his way out of problems he created to distract voters and provide massive giveaways to the wealthy. Real state revenue growth under the Walker/Trump tandem may make this budget proposal unrealistic.

MADISON - Last week, the Department of Revenue (DOR) released the monthly revenue collection report for January 2017. The report shows a sluggish month of revenue collections, with January 2017 revenue growth up just 0.2% over last January.

The same report shows state revenue growth of just 2.1% through the first seven months of the 2017 fiscal year ending June 30. In January, the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) forecasted revenue growth for the current budget year 2017 at 2.7%, a number that was included in Governor Walker’s proposed budget. The difference would mean almost $90 million less in revenue for Governor Walker’s 2017-19 budget.

The month-to-month volatility in state revenue collections highlights the uncertainty of revenue forecasts and budget projections for the 2017-19 budget.

The wish list of proposals aimed at restoring cuts to education made over the past six years relies on fantasy budgeting. However, the basic arithmetic contained in the Governor’s own budget documents show his chronic budget mismanagement will result in a barely balanced general fund, with just $6.7 million remaining beyond the statutorily required end balance.

That balance will not be able to survive even the smallest dip in state revenue performance.

The revenue report also continues a recent and dramatic pattern of low corporate tax collections. For his last three budgets, Governor Walker prioritized massive giveaways for the wealthy that were passed with zero job creation requirements. In order to afford these tax giveaways, he slashed funding for public school classrooms, higher education, and local communities.

The most regressive of the Governor’s tax giveaways, the so-called Manufacturing and Agriculture tax credit, will cost Wisconsin more than $1.4 billion dollars by the end of the Governor’s 2017-19 budget. There is no job creation requirement for the credit, and data from the LFB shows that three out of four people who claim the credit on their income taxes are millionaires.

The Governor is trying to spend his way out of a problem he created to distract voters. Unfortunately, these numbers indicate this may be too little too late. Wisconsin continues to pay the price for the untargeted tax giveaway for the wealthy passed in 2011. Republicans cut over $1 billion from public schools, over $700 million from our university system, and borrowed money on the taxpayer dime for the last two years - just to keep the budget in the black.

With unpredictable state revenue growth under the Walker/Trump tandem, January’s revenue collections show how unrealistic Governor Walker’s budget proposal is.

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